In the past I have written various things about LST's, so this time I thought I would "swing the lamp" and tell you of an incident in the life of my LST 62. Going back to the night of Sunday, February 13, 1944, when we were sailing to Pozzuoli, near Naples, after our ninth visit to Anzio, it was a dark moonless night and, of course, no lights were shown. I was in my bunk, for I was due to go on watch at midnight, when there was a loud noise that shook the ship. I quickly jumped from my top bunk to the deck and went to see what happened, and found that we had been hit by another ship, amidships on the port side. The impact had made a gaping hole in the ship's side at deck level, well above the waterline, and also sparks had set the insulation on fire, which was soon extinguished before it had time to spread.
I learned later that the ship had been hit by HM LST 416, (It's good that LSTs don't have pointed bows) which was on its way to Anzio. Several years ago I had contacted John McFadden, who was aboard the 416, to get his memories, but he had no recollection. However, he was told by a shipmate, Alan Birmingham, who said tha.t in the collision, LST 416 suffered damage to its bow doors, which meant they could not unload until army engineers forced them open. This delayed their departure and they missed the escort convoy back. 'The ship received a message which said, "When you have off-loaded, make your own way back, best wishes"
LST's played a major role in the survival of Anzio. 58 British, 22 American and 3 Greek LST's were involved, transporting material, including the less desirable U.S. Army trucks filled with shells and cther ammunition, which, on arrival, would be driven to where they were needed. Naturally, troop's were carried to Anzio, and other times we brought back British and U.S. wounded.
When LST's reached Anzio, it was normal to anchor off-shore until told to enter the harbor. This was usually a cause for some anxiety, for "Anzio Annie," a 280-mm mobile gun would start firing on the LST's at anchor. Watching the spouts on the sea erupt where the shells landed was a little worrying. It is surprising that no ships were hit.
There is a second part to this story, for at the time of the collision we had aboard 419 Italian refugees, including one pregnant lady who, because of the turmoil, felt that her time was about to come to give birth. This presented a problem for the only medical person we had aboard was a 19-year old S.B.A. (Ship Berth Attendant) who hadn't received training in childbirth. So two long-serving regular seamen were given the task possibly it was thought they would know what to do. However, they never got the chance to become midwives, for the lady was able to go ashore and have her baby.
There is a book written by William Brinkley entitled "The Ninety and Nine," so called for the ship's crew was ninety men and nine officers. It's the"story of the fictitious u.s. LST 1826. It tells of its time during the Anzio campaign, going back and forth from the Naples area to the beach-head. It gets involved in many exciting adventures, and by some coincidence it mentions the time when returning from Anzio with Italian refugees which included a pregnant woman. Did the author make this up, or did he know of the 62 experience? However, a baby boy was born on their ship. It proudly says it was delivered by a pharmacist's mate second class. At that rate, our S.B.A. could have done it: It appears that the next day the crew painted on the conning tower of the 1826 a baby in a crib. I am sure that nothing like that would have appeared on the 62.
After unloading the refugees at Pozzuoli, the 62 moved to Naples where temporary repairs were begun. The ship stayed there for 12 days and left on February 27, 1944 and made another four journeys to Anzio, making a total of thirteen.
The Anzio invasion called "Operation Shingle" was a costly venture in which LST's performed superbly. Durrng the time the 62 was out of action, three LST's were sunk off Anzio, two Royal Navy ships, numbers LST 418 on February 16, 1944, and LST 305 five days later. Both were sunk by the same submarine, U-230. The third was u.s. LST 348 sunk February 20, 1944 torpedoed twice by U-410, almost half the crew perished. (Earlier on January 26, 1944, HM LST 422 struck a mine off Anzio and sank.) Who knows what might have been the fate of the 62 had it not been in Naples for repair for 12 days. In terms of danger to the Royal Navy, Anzio probably ranks higher than Normandy: Of the two navies, the Royal Navy sustained the heavier loss in ships: two cruisers, three destroyers, three LSTs, one LCI and a hospital ship, the St. David.
The United States Navy lost one minesweeper, one small minecraft, one LST, two LCIs, three LCTs and two Liberty ships.
The British award "Mentioned-in-Dispatches", known as the "M.I.D", is given to officers and other ranks of the Military for outstanding duty,this is a small Oak Leaf which is attached to a medal ribbon, three members of the 62 were honored with this for the Anzio Operation. The invasion commenced on January 22 1944 and continued untill the allied break out May 23/25 1944,ten days later allied troops entered Rome. By this time all the LST's were in Britain, in fact the 62 had left Naples on March 14 1944 and on April 4 1944 it was docked in Glasgow, Scotland. Winston Churchill's problem was though the ships were needed in Italy, at the sametime he insisted on an early date for them to be in Gt Britain, for the coming "Overlord", the Normandy invasion.
LST's were fondly called," Large Slow Targets", they could absorb much damage and survive, they actually suffered few losses compared to the number built.
General history of the LST 62
Built by Jefferson Boat & Machine Co, (Jefferson, Indiana, U.S.A) laid down 5 Aug 1942 and launched 23 Nov 1942, transferred upon completion to the Royal Navy and commisioned in New Orleans 4 March 1943, and was returned to the US Navy 10 June 1946, sold 12 May 1948 for scrapping. The 62 was the second ship that this shipyard built, which took 197 days, and cost $1,612,120.53, later on in early 1944 in Glasgow, Scotland, railway lines were fitted to the tank deck, for carriage of rolling stock, plus a temporary emergency operating room was installed with stretcher racks fitted in the tank deck.
The 62 took part in 4 invasions, Sicily, 2 in Italy, Reggio and Anzio, and Normandy when Canadian troops were taken to Juno Beach on D-Day June 6th 1944. The 62's last channel crossing was to Ostend, after which it sailed to Falmouth, in Devon, arriving Jan 6 1945, its war service over, when it was paid off into "Care and Maintenance". When the entire crew left the ship.
It was in 1946 that the 62 was returned to the USA, (they were supplied under Lend-Lease) and later scrapped in 1948, however the 62 still lives on, for on April 15th 2006 a model of the 62 was presented to the D-Day Museum, Southsea, Portsmouth, Eng.,where it is now on display to be seen.
Of the original 90 LST's that were supplied to the Royal Navy, they were divided into flotilla's, the 62 was in the Fourth, which had it's own motto, this was painted on the ventilation shafts below the bridge, these words were spoken by Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General, (Cavalry) during the U.S civil war, he was a military genius, ( he entered the Confederate forces as a Private and left as a General), for when asked for the secret of winning battles, he replied, "Get Thar Fustest with the Mostest", the 62 certainly lived up to this. In modern strategy this can mean, "Move Fast, occupy territory, and Win Big.
With the end of the European war in sight, LST's, were being kepted busy in the far east, especially in the Pacific, capturing places, fortunately because of the Atom bomb, the forthcoming US invasion of Japan and the British invasion of Malaya and Singapore, did not take place, fortunately, for tremendous losses were to be expected.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill is credited with being the leading proponent of LST's, for in 1941 he sent a delegation from the British Admiralty to the United States to pool ideas for the delvelopment of the required ship, it was the U.S Navy Architect John C Niedermair who finally designed it.
HM LST 62
Greenwich, CT, USA