The LSTs had their very own special place in winning WWII, and the last remaining functional LST has its own incredible tale of D-Day bravery and even modern-day piracy…
When Laura Libs from the Evansville Visitors Bureau suggested we check out the city’s WWII crown jewel, the LST-325, we’re sad to say we had no clue what an LST really was… Sure, we’d toured retired battleships and what not, but never an “LST.” It was time to change that with a visit to a ship that not only helped on D-Day but also sailed the sea decades later as a pirate ship manned by determined veterans…
For those of you like us, here’s what an “LST” is… (thanks to the LST 325 website)
LST stands for Landing Ship, Tank. These ships were designed in 1942 to land battle ready tanks, vehicles, soldiers, and supplies directly onto enemy beaches. Over 1,000 of these ships were built for World War II. Many more were built for the Korean and Vietnam Wars for their ability to navigate inland waterways.
Our tour guide for the day, Bob, an LST veteran, helped give more information on the bizarre history of the LSTs… Supposedly the brainchild of Winston Churchill, the LST’s ability to float in just 4ft of water (8ft in the stern) made it an immediate success in the war effort. The demand for LSTs was so fierce during the peak of WWII, the navy didn’t bother giving them names like other major vessels. They were simply named for the order in which they were produced.
So, we began our tour on the deck of the 325th LST to be produced: LST 325
On the deck, Bob talked about Evansville’s important role in producing many of the LSTs, making it a fitting place to dock the last remaining functional LST. During WWII, the city’s shipyard could produce an LST in a matter of days, often finishing the interiors as the ship traveled down the Ohio towards war.
Once under deck, we were immediately hit with a wave of heat and humidity as we toured the “soldiers quarters,” which, as Bob laughingly reminded us, was not built for comfort.
From the racks we moved into the massive cargo area of the ship. Large enough to hold everything from soldiers to tanks, it boggles your mind this ship can float in such little water.
For us, the most powerful moment of the tour came when we stood at the open doors. Imagining men driving Jeeps and tanks off the ship onto a hostile beachhead is enough to give you chills. Another reminder of why they’re called the Greatest Generation.
Speaking of hostile beaches, the LST 325 saw its fair share. Most notably, this ship stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day in addition to the invasion of Sicily dubbed Operation HUSKY. The LST 325 still bears some of its wartime wounds like a couple bullet holes. We were also amazed at this picture of the 325 beached in France. The specks in the photo are actually rounds shot both at and by the 325. The blurs around each gun show the 325 firing back from its beached position.
After WWII, the 325 and remaining LSTs continued to serve during Korea and Vietnam, lasting longer than ever originally imagined. When finally decommissioned from military use, some LSTs were used by other countries for commercial use. The LST 325, like many others, sailed under the Greek flag until finally being sent to the scrap pile.
The LST 325 sets sail again with its geriatric crew of pirates
Meanwhile, veterans who served on LSTs, started talking… “There should be an LST memorial like many of the battleships and aircraft carriers.” Long story short, a group of vets traveled up in Greece at their own expense, trying for several months to make the LST 325 seaworthy once again.
After 4 months, the volunteer crew was ready to get the LST 325 back to the US, but the US Coast Guard, citing, some, uh, “problems,” couldn’t issue a US flag for the 325 to set sail. Greece, not wanting to send a group of vets into the open sea on an unsafe ship, also refused to provide a flag.
Put simply, the LST 325 was now a pirate ship.
Of course, don’t underestimate a group of veterans on a mission. With no flag, the LST 325 went ahead and set sail for Mobile, AL (and eventually Evansville, IN) with a crew of pirates whose average age climbed into the 70s.
Today, plaques hang to honor the men who worked so hard to bring the LST 325 home. Now, a crew of roughly 40 still work to both restore the 325 and to keep her usable. Unlike most warship memorials, the LST 325 still undocks and travels the Ohio River to help recreate famous battles and bring her unique history to other nearby cities like Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh. (Visit their website for updates about upcoming cruises) As you can see, the kitchen and officers’ quarters are still much in use.
When docked, you can tour the LST 325 for only $10 (ages 6-17 for $5, 5 and under are free). Families of 2 adults and their children can tour together for only $20.
More photos from our tour:
An added bonus to our time on the LST 325? The Blue Angels just happened to be practicing in the skies above.
More from our trip to Evansville, IN:
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