~ 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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Hundreds of thousands of visits each year to 200  web pages & 4000 photos. The Website has been published & hosted by Geoff Slee since 2000.

Around 40 D-Day Stories by veterans of the Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines who served in or alongside Combined Operations

~ USS LANDING SHIP TANK 28 - USS LST 28 ~

Dog Red, Omaha Beach

During World War II, USS LST 28 was assigned to the European Theater and saw action in North Africa and Normandy. She was an LST (1) Class Tank Landing Ship, laid down on 8/12/42 at Dravo Corp, Pittsburgh, PA. She was launched on 19/4/43 and commissioned USS LST 28 on 19/6/43.

Written from material provided by the late Wilson Earl Kelly. Full acknowledgement below.

[Photo; the crew of USS LST 28.]

Joining the US Navy

I was working as a ship fitter at the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, USA when, on September 29, 1942, I volunteered for US Navy Service using subterfuge to circumvent Government regulations that would have prevented me from doing so, because of the importance of my job to the war effort.

If I followed the normal procedure in notifying my employer of my '2-B' 'essential worker' draft status, my application to volunteer for Navy service would have been rejected. Consequently, when I received my 2-B notice in the summer of 1942, I did not inform my employer as I was supposed to do. As a result I was soon classified 1-A, which was a draft classification.

There was a risk that I might be found out, so 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 29th, 1942, accompanied by my wife Martha. We said our goodbyes at the recruiting office, since it would be quite some time before I qualified for leave.

Initial Posting

The next night I was back home in Norfolk, in uniform! The skills I had were in such demand in the Navy that, the following day, I was posted directly into service without attending boot camp for basic training. Although the world was to become my oyster, I started my naval career in Little Creek, next door to the naval shipyard I had worked in as a civilian. At the time, Little Creek was a quagmire of a building site that would become an amphibious base.

Tarpaper lined wooden shacks masquerading as the more substantial and comfortable Quonset huts (the North American equivalent of British Nissen huts) became our home. Each hut was approximately 100 feet long and 20 feet wide and heated by two wood/coal burning stoves, which  required feeding during the night to keep reasonably warm. This usually fell on the security detail, 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 an amphibious invasion force of overwhelming power would be required to establish and hold a large beachhead against the enemy's entrenched coastal defences on mainland Europe. Since there would be no convenient harbours, the invasion force would be landed directly on to unimproved landing beaches. The size of the task ahead in the USA and the UK was, therefore, almost beyond comprehension. Thousands of landing craft of many different types and sizes had to be designed and constructed and many hundreds of thousands of troops, the navy crews to man the craft and the air crews to provide support and cover, required training both separately and together as a combined force.

Dozens of landing craft designs emerged as particular needs were identified. For example LCV(P)s (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) were 36 feet long, LCMs (Landing Craft Mechanised) were 50 feet long and LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) were 300 foot long. There was a mountain to climb, since many rookies could hardly get their flat bottomed 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.

While I stayed at the amphibious base in Little Creek during this period, Martha moved to Ocean View, a suburb of the town. Whenever I wasn't on duty I would ease on down there but this cosy arrangement ended abruptly on March 26, 1943, when my temporary ship's duty expired. I was in the draft and due to be shipped out. There was no notice or general warning. I was told, unceremoniously, to pack my sea bag and go. I left my car and various goods and chattels behind. I phoned my mates at the Army base at Bradford to pick my car up but could tell them nothing about my destination, because I didn't know myself. 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 Solomons, Maryland to an organizing base for the crews of LSTs. All the crews needed to operate, repair and service their landing craft and, initially, we were allowed to get acquainted and to go through training. This included some drilling or 'square bashing' and training in the operation of LSTs, including seamanship,  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, which I stumbled through, almost literally! About a month later we were 'shipped' by bus to Washington and then by troop train to Panama City, Florida. We arrived there on May 10, 1943, 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 USA for me... Florida! It was May and beautiful.

We were assigned to LST 202 to give novice crews '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, Pennsylvania and boarded 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. With a special skeleton crew, who knew the Ohio River, we sailed to the Mississippi river and 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. As usual we were not told our destination but the color of the camouflage told us which theater we were destined for. 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. A good friend's ship was painted green and mine was blue. We were heading in different directions. With a limited crew we brought her up to Norfolk. I think her armaments included a 5.38mm and, at the stern, four 40mms, although these may have been later replacements for 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 Atlantic ocean. It took us 30 days to reach our final destination in Africa.

Our first planned landing was at Bizerte, Tunisia but, on April 1, while off Algiers, we had our first taste of action, as German planes from Laissez in France attacked at about four o’clock in the morning.  General quarters sounded. In no time I was at my station 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 usually supervised by 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 with their guns 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 destruction I saw and the very hazardous position we were in, I felt a bit wobbly in the knees. This initial reaction was not uncommon but we soon rose above it as our 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 hide under it. This was, however, an isolated instance. 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, as though they had shot down one of the German planes. The truth was that the pilot flew too low, hit their mast and crashed into the sea!

Tunis was about 20 miles from Bizerte. It had changed hands about four times in the war and was bombed and shelled on each occasion. There was scarcely a building with an intact roof but, despite the devastation, it was easy to see it had once been a beautiful city. We were loaded with ammunition packaged in cartons on the tank deck, all kinds. If we took a direct hit with this cargo, there wouldn’t be anything left of us or the craft. We unloaded at Bizerte and embarked tanks for the Anzio beachhead in Italy. We unloaded at Nettuno to the east of Anzio and made our way to Oran with a disabled LCT in tow. The LCT rammed a couple of holes in our stern in the rough weather. I later repaired the damage..

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 Free French forces in England. The journey from North Africa was very rough once we entered the Atlantic on leaving Gibraltar. The smell of the heavy diesel fuel that powered the ship was, by itself, very unpleasant but the combination of the two was nauseating. 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.

We had no idea that we were shortly to be part of the largest amphibious invasion force in history. We travelled to various ports along the south coasts of Wales and England, taking in Swansea, Cardiff, Milford Haven (21st May), Falmouth (26th May), Southampton and Plymouth.

D-Day and its Aftermath

And so the day arrived… D-Day, the 5th of June, 1944. We embarked 500 soldiers aboard our little LST. This done, the ship was sealed for security reasons, which meant there was no hot food available for the troops. There was, however, a mountain of corned beef hash cans on the deck, which they could eat to their heart's content. We had one cook, who could prepare hot food for about 40 but feeding 500 soldiers was quite impossible. For the most part, we had K Rations. C Rations were available but these needed to be heated. Our Skipper, 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 made ready to leave the harbor at Weymouth on June 5th at about two o'clock. However, we never left it for the open sea, because the whole invasion had been pushed back by 24 hours because of bad weather.

[3 Photos; departure and crossing of the English Channel.]

We had to live in these cramped conditions for a further 24 hours 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 for Normandy.

We were part of the US Eleventh Amphibious Force, Force 'B' of Division 23 and 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. From high up in the Conn I could see a vast armada of ships as far as the eye could see! If the thousands of ships were placed end to end, I think you could have walked to France that day!

A medical team was aboard, since we were designated as a medical ship to take casualties off the beach and return them to England for hospital treatment. The medical team comprised four doctors and about sixteen medics - Army medics and Navy hospital Corpsmen stationed with us. One of the Doctors took pictures continuously of the whole proceeding, despite being forbidden for security reasons. While I didn't take photos I did keep a notice from Admiral Cook, which was issued to all of the ships under his command. It should have been destroyed but it made a nice souvenir and was of no value to the enemy.

We were detailed to go to Dog Red landing area on Omaha beach. There were 5 landing 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 and with little progress through the beachhead, men and vehicles just bottled up on the beach. I think they ran into a German Panzer Division that just happened to be in that Sector.

[Extract from the Admiralty's 'Green List' showing the disposition of Force B of the US Eleventh Amphibious Force, which includes US LST 28.]

Unable to disembark our cargo of men, we moved about three-quarters of a mile offshore to await further instructions. We came under shell fire, most likely from the ubiquitous 88s. So long as the initial assault troops remained pinned down, everything behind them was piling up as wave upon wave of new arrivals and supplies rolled in. We were, perhaps, at the outer range of the German guns, since only a few landed close by but an LCI, closer in than we were, was hit.

We stood by for hours while our cargo was transferred onto a Rhino Ferry - a large, flat floating barge with a powerful outboard engine. We took great care in transferring the tanks, since the slightest error would send the tank to the sea-bed. One of our small boats hit a mine and was lost but we never heard if there were any survivors.

Once we unloaded, we steamed to Southampton without delay, where we loaded up again and immediately returned to Normandy as part of another convoy. The route of about seventy-five miles, including  zig-zagging to confuse any marauding submarines, usually took about 12 hours. This second trip was also to Omaha, which by then (D-Day+1) was a little quieter but still hazardous. We beached without incident, unloaded and got off real fast.

On June the 9th, we arrived in Portland after our second trip. On the way, German E boats (small, fast torpedo boats) hit a couple of vessels. Danger was not confined to enemy action, as we found out when we were almost rammed by LST 331 in what were very congested waters. It was about 9 pm and our attention was distracted by a big air attack. Anyway, we brought back 24 wounded and there was one German POW. On another trip we had so many German POWs that they covered the whole tank deck!

On June 14 we returned to the Omaha beachhead, this time in convoy with just four LSTs, having missed the regular main convoy. Before we had completed unloading our cargo, we became stranded on the beach as the tide went out. This was not an uncommon predicament, as craft were often not unloaded and re-floated on the same tide. Fortunately the Allies had air supremacy, so enemy attacks were much lighter than anticipated.

There was a menu of measures to help disembark our heavy tanks in difficult conditions. If a particular landing area was unable to carry the weight of tanks and heavy lorries, the Engineering Corps would construct a 'hard', or concrete platform, onto which our ramp was lowered. For less serious situations, pontoons and landing mats were used as a temporary fix. Beaching could be very tricky when there were strong tides, coastal currents and strong winds. In all circumstances we tried 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 did experience a number of air attacks, when 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 seriously damaged vessels of our type but we heard that an LST hit a mine off the English coast. It struck toward the aft end of the ship, causing sixty fatalities and many more wounded casualties. Mine sweeping remained a top priority during this period of intense movement across the English Channel and the minesweepers worked continually but couldn’t guarantee to 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 a British beachhead. This was 18 days after D-Day and the front line was still only six miles inland, since it was proving difficult to dislodge the Germans in Caen. We were constantly shelled from behind the front line and two LSTs 499 and 133 were sunk.. One may have been salvaged, since I saw engineers working on it. We had a barrage balloon tied to our craft to deter low flying enemy air attacks. However, the enemy heavy guns that were shelling us may have used it for range finding, so the Skipper let it go. In any event low level strafing was not really a problem.

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 time the demand for landing craft shifted to the war in the Pacific and LST 28 received orders to return to New York for re-fitting. 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 the hull was 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.  USS 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.

Full specification of USS LST 28 https://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/160028.htm

USS LST Ship Memorial 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 held its 'Water Week'  in 2009 - the first time the event has been staged outside Europe in its then 20 year history.

Acknowledgments

Written by Geoff Slee from material provided by the late Wilson Earl Kelly, SF1c with additional information from James Edwards, Electrician's Mate. Photos, maps and an extract from the Admiralty's "Green List" of landing craft dispositions just prior to D-Day have been added for illustrative purposes.
 

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