~ COMBINED OPERATIONS ~

WW2 land, sea and air forces of the Allied Nations planning, training and operating together as a unified force on amphibious raids and landings against the enemy.

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~ USS LST 28 ~

USS LST 28, an LST-1 Class Tank Landing Ship, was laid down on 8/12/42 at Dravo Corp, Pittsburgh, PA. It was launched on 19/4/43 and commissioned US LST 28 on 19/6/43. During World War II she was assigned to the European Theater.

Draft Dodging! Initial Posting Training&WorkUp North Africa D-Day & Aftermath
Postscript Further Reading Acknowledgments    

Dodging the Draft to get into the Service!

I volunteered for US Navy Service on September 29, 1942 when I was working as a ship fitter at the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, USA. It took a little subterfuge to get into the service since the Government felt that qualified shipyard workers were more valuable to the war effort than they would be in the Military.

I had no chance of enlisting if I followed the normal procedure in notifying my employer of my '2B' essential worker draft status. When I received my 2-B notice in the summer of 1942 I did not, therefore, hand it over to my employer as I was supposed to do. As a result I was soon classified 1-A, which was a draft classification. All I had to do was to wait around for a month or two in the hope that I would not be found out before being drafted.

To speed things along I contacted Chris Bentz, the local Navy Recruiter and he promised me a 3/c ship fitter’s rating in the US Navy. I  signed up on September the 29th accompanied by my wife Martha. I said good-bye to her at the recruiting office expecting not to see her for some time. [Photo; the crew of US LST 28.]

Initial Posting

The next night I was back home in Norfolk, in uniform! There was such a demand for welders and ships' fitters that they didn't send me to boot camp for basic training. Instead, I found myself at the receiving station in Norfolk and the following day I was posted directly into service. Although the world was to become my oyster I found myself  in Little Creek just next door to the Naval Shipyard I had worked in as a civilian. Little Creek was the location of a partly constructed amphibious base…  it was a quagmire.

Tarpaper shacks masquerading as the more substantial and comfortable Quonset huts (the North American equivalent of British Nissen huts) became our homes. Each hut was approximately 100 feet long and 20 feet wide and heated by two wood/coal burning stoves. These stoves had to be fed during the night usually by those on security duties who were awake anyway. The huts were arranged in groups of four with a washroom, showers and laundry room in a nearby hut.

The strategic planners knew that a large amphibious force would be required to recapture territory occupied by the Axis powers. The big problem was that there was little or no experience of such large scale amphibious invasion forces. At a basic level the Allied armies would need to be delivered by sea onto the beaches of enemy occupied territory together with all their supplies, equipment, machinery and armaments.

There were many designs of landing craft to serve particular needs from landing troops to tanks. For example LCVPs were 36 foot,  LCMs were 50 foot, LSTs, 300 foot. There was a mountain to climb insofar as training was concerned and many of the rookies could hardly get their craft into the docks without causing damage. It was clear where my welding and plating skills would be most in demand - patching plates over holes in the hulls. The repairs were pretty rough and ready because further damage in the same vulnerable areas was almost a certainty. All in all it wasn't a bad duty.

I stayed at the amphibious base in Little Creek during this period and Martha moved to Ocean View a suburb of the town. Whenever I wasn't on duty I would ease on down there but all this ended on March 26, 1943 when my temporary ship's duty expired. I was in the draft, which was a term used for shipping out. As far as I was concerned it was very inconvenient there being no notice or general warning. You were told, unceremoniously, to pack your sea bag and go. I left my car and various goods and chattels behind. I just had enough time to phone the Army base at Bradford to get friends there to pick the car up. I couldn't tell my friends or family where I was going because I didn't know. In any event secrecy was paramount during the war and only those who needed to know were informed in advance of our destination.

Training and Work-up

In the event I was shipped out to the Solomons Islands, MD which was an organizing base for the crews of LSTs. All the various crews needed to operate, repair and service the landing craft were banded together and were, more or less, left to get acquainted and to go through training. This included some drilling or 'square bashing' and training in the operation of LSTs...  beaching, retraction from the beach, loading and unloading procedures, firefighting, maintenance procedures and so on. This was the only time during my service that I undertook any marching drill. I was not a natural at this sort of activity so I was attached to the crew. In any event there appeared to be no experts in drilling so I managed to stumble through, almost literally! About a month later we were 'shipped' by bus to Washington and then by troop train to Panama City, FL. This time we knew we were going on a landing craft for specific training purposes.

On May 10, 1943 we arrived at Panama City after two days on a very dirty and slow troop train pulled by an obsolete engine which had been brought back into service after retirement. This was a new part of the the USA for me... Florida! It was May and beautiful.

We were assigned to LST 202 to assist with the training of novice crews. It was common practice for experienced LST personnel to provide novice crews with 'hands on' experience under supervision while they waited for their own ship to be completed. This posting lasted for the duration of the trip back up to Norfolk. On June 10, 1943 we arrived at Coraopolis, PA and went aboard the recently commissioned LST 28 which was to be my home for some time. She was built by the Dravo Corporation at Neville Island, just outside Pittsburgh. We sailed this brand new ship with a special skeleton crew who knew the Ohio River. Our destination was the Mississippi river and once there we made our way down the river picking up pilots on the way as required. It was a beautiful trip which I really enjoyed.

On reaching New Orleans we tied up in an amphibious base called Algiers. We had a good idea which theatre of war we were destined for by the color of the camouflage - those painted in a light and dark green mottled effect were destined for the South Pacific while others painted in three shades of blue/grey were destined for Europe. The craft of a good friend of mine was painted green and mine was blue. We were heading in different directions. With a limited crew we brought her up to Norfolk. If my memory serves me correctly her armaments included a 5.38mm and, at the stern, four 40mms although these may have been later additions replacing 20 mm anti aircraft guns.

North Africa

We left Norfolk in early March 1944 for Europe. The ships travelled across the Atlantic in convoy. It was not unusual for LSTs and other slower vessels to be 'escorted' by Destroyers and even a submarine or two on occasions. U Boat attacks were a constant threat as the LSTs transported crew and material across the ocean. It took us 30 days to reach our final destination in Africa. [Assuming some delays or stops on the way? Ed].

Our first planned landing was at Bizerte, Tunisia but, on April 1 while off Algiers, we had our first taste of action courtesy of German planes from Laissez in France. About four o’clock in the morning general quarters sounded. In no time I was at my station forward at the bow of the ship where I took charge of the 'repair gang.' The Commissioned Officer was in overall command and took direct control of half of the Damage Control Party while the other half was supervised by another person - usually a subordinate officer - who reported to the Commissioned Officer. On this occasion I had the other half as the leading Petty Officer forward.

The crew of our ship and the others nearby were soon on deck and their guns were firing skyward. The planes and bombs were invisible to us although the explosions were all too obvious. The Germans hit a tanker setting it on fire. With all the destructive power I saw, and the very hazardous position we found ourselves in, I felt a bit wobbly in the knees. This initial reaction was not uncommon but the average person soon rose above it and got on with their jobs as their training kicked in.

There was the odd person who panicked under the stress of it all and failed to man their station. One such was a crew member of an LCT we were carrying. He was supposed to man a gun but chose instead to dive for cover under it. This was, however, an isolated instance.

As it was we didn’t receive a direct hit... just fragments of spent shells fired by other ships, and no one was badly hurt. A couple of days later when we arrived at Bizerte one of our ships proudly displayed a swastika up on their Conn apparently for shooting down one of the German planes. The truth was that the pilot flew too low, hit their mast and crashed into the sea!

Bizerte, about 20 miles from Tunis, was a sorry sight to behold. It had changed hands about four times in the war and was bombed and shelled on each occasion. The damage was such that there was scarcely a building in the city with a roof intact. Despite the devastation it was easy to see that it had once been a beautiful city.

We were loaded with ammunition packaged up in cartons on the tank deck. All kinds. We figured if we ever took a direct hit there wouldn’t be anything left of us or the craft. We unloaded that at Bizerte and took a load of tanks aboard for the Anzio beachhead in Italy. We unloaded at Nettuno to the east of Anzio and then made our way to Oran towing a disabled LCT. The LCT rammed a couple of holes in our stern in the rough weather which I fixed later on.

It was the 15th of April 1944 when we set off for England – Merry Old England! We carried French Provincial Sailors from Oran who were destined to join a Tank Corps and to link up with other French forces in England. The journey from North Africa was very rough once we were exposed to the worst the Atlantic could throw at us on leaving Gibraltar. In addition the heavy diesel fuel that powered the ship was, by itself, gut wrenching; but the combination of the two influences made for a very uncomfortable trip. We were all affected by severe sea sickness but the French contingent more so than others. We arrived at Swansea in South Wales on the 3rd of May and on the 4th we tied up in nearby Cardiff.

All this activity was in preparation for the big day – the invasion of France of which we knew little or nothing at the time. We traveled to various ports along the southern coast of England taking in Swansea, Cardiff, Milford Haven (21st May) on the way to, Falmouth (26th May), Southampton and Plymouth.

D-Day and its Aftermath

And so the day arrived… D-Day, the 5th of June 1944. We had loaded 500 soldiers aboard our little LST. Once the ship was sealed there was no hot food available but there was a mountain of corned beef hash cans on the deck. You could have all you wanted of that but corned beef hash after a while gets a little monotonous. We had one cook who had the means to feed about 40 but with 500 soldiers aboard there was just no way hot, tasty food could be provided. For the most part we had K Rations. C Rations were available but these needed to be heated. Our Skipper, a fellow by the name of Findley from Baltimore, decided that we, the crew, would eat the same food as the soldiers we carried. I suppose that was fair enough but as soon as we unloaded them we got back to hot chow! The soldiers' prospects of hot meals were pretty remote in the short term.

We left the harbor at Weymouth on June the 5th early in the morning at about two o'clock. We sailed inside the harbor for a while which was the first indication that something was amiss... the weather was deteriorating and the seas very rough. We heard through the grapevine that the whole invasion had been pushed back by 24 hours. Nobody wanted to live in these cramped conditions for a moment longer than was necessary but somehow we all survived. Poker and crap games sprung up all over the ship. The next morning we set off once more but this time it was the real thing. [Photos; departure and crossing of the English Channel.]

We took our place in line with our Flotilla. It was an overcast grey morning but, as it got lighter the most awesome sight I have ever seen came into view. I was up on the Conn doing a little work and from my elevated position I had a good view of the armada of ships... as far as the eye could see there were many hundreds if not thousands of ships. If put end to end I think you could have walked to France that day!

We had a medical team aboard since we were designated a medical ship. This meant that after discharging our cargo onto the Normandy beaches it was our duty to take casualties off the beach and back to England. In addition to our regular crew we had four doctors and about sixteen medics - Army medics and Navy hospital Corpsmen stationed with us. One of the Doctors had a camera and took pictures continuously of the whole proceeding. I would have loved to have done the same but at this time taking photographs was forbidden for security reasons. However, I did confiscate a notice from Admiral Cook which was issued to all of the ships under his command. It should have been destroyed but I kept it as a souvenir because it was of no value to the enemy.

We were detailed to go to a landing area called Dog Red on Omaha beach. The total landing area comprised 5 beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Juno, Sword and Gold. Americans landed at Utah and Omaha and the British and Canadians at the others. At the initial landing, Omaha turned out to be the toughest but we didn’t know it at the time. Things were all bottled up on the beach. The soldiers weren’t advancing inland for one reason or another. I think they ran into a German Panzer Division that just happened to be in that Sector.

Unable to disembark our cargo of men we moved away from the beach and stood by about three-quarters of a mile offshore. We were being shelled, but not by heavy stuff... most likely by the ubiquitous 88s. Our men were having so much trouble on the beach and, as they remained pinned down, everything was piling up as wave upon wave of new arrivals and supplies rolled in. A shell would drop close to us now and then but others vessels were less fortunate. The German gunners hit an LCI that was closer in than we were. I think we must have been at the outer edge of their range.

Everything was at a standstill as we stood by for hours. I’m not sure what time it was during the day that they unloaded our cargo onto a Rhino Ferry - a large floating raft with a powerful outboard engine. We unloaded the tanks one at a time in the knowledge that the slightest error would send the tank to the sea-bed. One of our small boats hit a mine and was lost. We never found out who survived and who died although the feeling at the time was that it was highly unlikely that anyone on board lived.

Once we unloaded we set off without delay and, in single file, made our way back to Southampton. On arrival we loaded up again as fast as we could and returned to Normandy once more in convoy. The route was about seventy-five miles taking account of zig-zagging and usually took about 12 hours. This second trip was back to Omaha, which by then (D-Day+1) was a little quieter but still hazardous. We hit the beach without incident, unloaded and got off real fast.

On June the 9th we arrived back at Portland after our second trip. On the way we had some contact with German E boats (small, fast torpedo boats) but their attention was focused on a couple of other ships which were hit. However, there were other dangers in these congested waters as we learned when we almost rammed another LST - the 331. It was at night, about nine, and our attention was distracted by a big air attack which was taking place. On that occasion we brought back 24 wounded and there was was one German POW. We went back to Portland and Weymouth – they were pretty close together. On one  trip we had so many German POWs that they covered the whole tank deck.

On June 14 we returned to the same beachhead at Omaha this time in convoy with just  four LSTs having missed the regular main convoy. On this occasion we were stuck on the beach which made us a 'sitting duck' to enemy air attack. This was not an uncommon predicament as craft were often not unloaded and re-floated on the same tide... they had no choice but to wait for the next tide.

Where the beach was unable to carry the weight of tanks and heavy lorries the Engineering Corps would sometimes construct what they called 'the hard' – a concrete platform onto which our ramp was lowered. Less serious measures included the use of pontoons and landing mats. Maneuvering was tricky because of strong tides, coastal currents and winds. In any event the normal procedure was to carefully nose in and, once secure on the landing beach, to off-load the vehicles by driving them forwards, the vehicles having been reversed into position on loading.

We experienced  a number of air attacks. Single planes were nothing to worry about but when they came in numbers we felt very vulnerable stuck on the beachhead sometimes until the next tide. On one occasion I saw a number of wrecked LCTs and LCIs as if to prove the point. I didn’t see any vessels of our type but we heard that an LST hit a mine off the English coast. The mine hit toward the aft end of the ship and sixty fatalities were sustained. There were, of course, many more wounded casualties and it was little wonder that mine sweeping remained a top priority during this period. Minesweepers were working continually but they couldn’t recover all the mines. It's my understanding that many of these mines were dropped by German planes.

By June 24th we made a trip to the British beachhead. This was 18 days after D-Day and the Allies were still no more than six miles from the beach. We were shelled the whole time from behind the front line. Two LSTs were sunk there – the 499 and the 133. One of them may have been salvaged since I saw engineers working on it. We had a barrage balloon over our craft to deter low flying attacks. However, the enemy heavy guns appeared to use it for range finding so the Skipper let it go. It was causing more trouble than it was worth. We weren’t getting that much strafing and most of the damage came from the shelling.

Postscript by James Edwards, Electrician's Mate

LST 28 continued it's service in the ensuing months with many supply runs to the Normandy beaches and taking wounded and prisoners back to England. In the meantime the demands of war in the Pacific had taken a toll on American ships and soon LST 28 received orders to return to New York for re-fitting where she was put into dry dock. All Officers and crew were given leave and replaced with a new crew complement.

 
The new crew prepared themselves and the ship for the invasion of Japan. The 3" stern gun was removed and replaced with dual 40mm guns which had a 'new' electric control. The bow gun was replaced and all equipment was refurbished and reconditioned.
 
The ship was moved to New Jersey where an LCT was loaded on the main deck and the hull painted in Pacific theatre camouflage. After approximately three months of work, stores, supplies, cargo and munitions were taken on board. However, atomic bombs were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the war came to an abrupt end. The entire world went wild - on board ship, the air was filled with the sound of horns and bells from LST 28 itself and others ships in the vicinity.

I had a problem after the war ended. The new Skipper said I had to have a replacement electrician's mate before I could go home. Since I was the last electrician on board at that point, every day I would ask every man coming aboard "Do you know anything about electricity or batteries?" It seemed a long time waiting. One day a young boy came on board and to my surprise he said "I worked in a filling station and know a little about batteries - how to charge them." I virtually dragged him into the Skipper's office and asked "When can I go home?" It wasn't long after that when I was sent to Oklahoma and discharged.

LST 28 later returned to the shipyard in New York and was re-painted ship blue. After a short period of inactivity she was decommissioned on 16/8/46, struck from the Naval Register on 29/10/46 and sold for scrapping on 19/5/48 to George H. Nutman, Brooklyn, NY.  LST-28 earned two battle stars for World War II service.

Further Reading

There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page which can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE) whose search banner checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Type in or copy and paste the title of your choice or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords. Click 'Books' for more information.

USS LST Ship Memorial Read about the remarkable journey of US LST 325 from Crete in the Mediterranean to the Mississippi in late 2000/early 2001. The landing craft is now berthed at Evansville, Indiana where the European World Amphibious Association will hold its 'Water Week'  in 2009 - the first time the event has been staged outside Europe in its 20 year history.

Acknowledgments

Prepared from a text by the late Wilson Earl Kelly, SF1c with additional information supplied by James Edwards, Electrician's Mate.

News & Information

 

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WW2 Combined Operations Handbook

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The Gazelle Helicopter Squadron Display Team

The Gazelle Squadron is a unique team of ex-British Military Gazelle helicopters in their original military colours and with their original military registrations. The core team includes four Gazelles, one from each service; The Royal Navy, The Royal Marines, The Army Air Corps and The Royal Air Force. A fifth Gazelle in Royal Marines colours will provide intimate support for the team. Their crest includes the Combined Operations badge. The last, and possibly, only time the badge was seen on an aircraft was in the early mid 40s. A photo of the Hurricane concerned is included in the 516 Squadron webpage.

Legasee Film Archive

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