Curator’s Corner: Ship-to-Shore Part 3 – Landing Ship, Tank

LST’s unloading from a beach landing. 1943 [U.S. Navy Seabee Museum]

LST’s unloading from a beach landing. 1943 [U.S. Navy Seabee Museum]

To conclude our ship-to-shore series this week, it’s important to discuss the ships that made these amphibious operations possible. One ship in particular is truly an “amphibious” ship, the Landing Ship, Tank (LST) which could be maneuvered onto a beach. If the water was too shallow for a landing of this type, pontoon causeways were launched from the LST to form a temporary pier from which its vehicles, troops, and cargo were directly unloaded. This unique feature enabled the LST to be offloaded swiftly and efficiently by the Seabees.

Seabee’s have “married” a pontoon causeway to an LST to offload the ship’s cargo to shore. 1944 [U.S. Navy Seabee Musem]

Seabee’s have “married” a pontoon causeway to an LST to offload the ship’s cargo to shore. 1944 [U.S. Navy Seabee Musem]

It was made clear by the British in 1940 that the Allies needed relatively large, ocean-going ships capable of ship-to-shore delivery of tanks and other vehicles in amphibious assaults in Europe. The first concept was to transform ships with shallow drafts (vessels whose keel is not far below the waterline) and add bow doors and ramps to create the first LSTs. Although they proved their worth, their design made them inadequately slow and an all-new design needed to be incorporated into a sleeker hull.

After a discussion with President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in 1941 confirmed the need for these kinds of ships, the British and United States Navy worked together at the Navy’s Bureau of Ships to develop ideas for this ship.

John Niedermair of the Bureau of Ships sketched out an awkward looking ship that became the basic design model for the more than 1,000 LST’s that were built during WWII.

To meet both the conflicting requirements of deep draft for ocean travel and shallow draft for beaching, the ship was designed with a large ballast system, which allowed the ships to adjust their buoyancy in the water by filling a ship’s compartment with water during ocean passage and pumped out for beaching operations.

In the final plans, the LST stretched to 328 feet in length which would distribute the ships weight over a greater area enabling it to ride higher in the water when landing on beaches. It was capable of carrying a load of 2,100 tons and included a crew of 160, carrying 600 troops, and 500 tons of battle cargo. The bow door opening and ramp measured 14 feet wide to accommodate most Allied vehicles and an elevator (which was later changed to a ramp) was provided to lower vehicles from the main deck to the tank deck for disembarking.

Seabees waiting to offload cargo from the top deck of the LST. 1943 [U.S. Navy Seabee Museum]

Seabees waiting to offload cargo from the top deck of the LST. 1943 [U.S. Navy Seabee Museum]

Once the design was completed, a high priority was assigned to the construction of LSTs. The need for them was urgent and the LST program stayed a high priority thought out the war.

The LSTs combat debut was in the Solomon Islands in 1943 and stayed in use until the end of the war in 1945. They participated in many invasions in the European Theater and were an essential element in the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific which included the capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Not only were LSTs remarkably versatile ships, they could also be repurposed. Some LSTs became landing craft repair ships, small hospital ships, or fitted with flight decks for small planes and helicopters.

Throughout the war, the LSTs demonstrated a remarkable capacity to withstand enemy fire. With the nickname, “Large Slow Target” given by crew members, they suffered few losses in proportion to their number and their operation. Their ingenious structural arrangement provided unusual strength and buoyancy. Although the LST was considered a valuable target by the enemy, only 26 of the 1,051 LST’s constructed were lost due to enemy action and a mere 13 actually sunk.

Although most of the LSTs were scrapped or sunk after the war ended, the LSTs performed an integral service in WWII and played a vital role for the ingenious ship-to-shore concept.

LST model on display at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum.

LST model on display at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum.

Be sure to visit the museum and check out the WWII Atlantic Theater presentation to view a model of the LST as well as the other items discussed in this ship-to-shore series.


150225-N-JU810-010Meet the Curator: Robyn King
Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

2 comments on “Curator’s Corner: Ship-to-Shore Part 3 – Landing Ship, Tank

  1. Bryan Bredhold says:

    Thanks for featuring this series. I only caught the last of three but it was very interesting especially since I am a crew member of LST 325 based in Evansville, Indiana. We strive to educate every visitor on the importance of the LST in all of the landings and operations during WWII and Korea. I never sailed on one as they came before my time in the Seabees, but it is good to help preserve or history. Bryan Bredhold EOC retired.


  2. Barry Oringer says:

    To Ms. Robyn King,
    Hi I have pics of NMCB1 landing ashore in Beirut Lebanon in 1983 on Green beach. The SEABEES were deployed to build bunkers housings artillery and underground bunkers for the Marines of the 20/22 MAU. After the barracks were attacked by Hezbollah terrorists If you are interested I can email you copies of those pics. thank you Barry


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