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HISTORY OF USS LST-355
To meet the complex needs of amphibious warfare, including the delivery of mechanized equipment and personnel directly to the beachhead, some 79,000 specialized landing craft of all types were mass-produced on both coasts and by many inland yards. Workhorse of the landing craft flotillas, the versatile LST (Landing Ship, Tank) is a barge-shaped ship of shallow draft, self-propelled by Diesel motors. Loaded topside with smaller craft, their tunnel-like holds packed with tanks, vehicles, guns, or cargo, the LSTs were a vital weapon in the battle of logistics.
The LST-355, along with its sister ship the LST-356, was commissioned as a vessel of the U. S. Fleet in formal ceremonies held at the U. S. Navy Yard, Charleston, South Carolina, on 22 December 1942. A representative of the Commandant, SIXTH Naval District, read the directive authorizing the commissioning of the ship and Lieutenant Norman L. Knipe, Jr., D-V(S), USNR, assumed command as her First Commanding Officer.
The month of January 1943 was spent in outfitting the ship for sea, and on 3 February 1943 the ship sailed for Little Creek, Virginia, where she underwent training in the Chesapeake Bay. The ship proceeded to New York; there on 28 February 1943 she joined the second group of LSTs destined for overseas duty in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. On March 1943 she proceeded in convoy from New York for North Africa. The convoy touched at Bermuda for four days before proceeding to North Africa, arriving off Oran, Algeria, on 13 April 1943. The ship was further ordered to Arzew where she docked the same day.
At this time fighting was still in progress up the coast toward Tunisia, and Arzew and other ports in the vicinity were subjected to periodic air raids. This was the ship's first combat experience and the first time her guns had actually fired at the enemy. During the last week of April 1943, Captain Knipe volunteered to use the ship in a beaching operation near Arzew. The ship broached on rocks and was severely damaged. She was towed back to Arzew where she lay dock-side during May, June, and July 1943. During this time she was cannibalized a great deal by repair forces who used mechanical parts from the 355 for repairs on LSTs operating around Tunis and Sicily. The damage she received during the beaching operation near Arzew prevented the ship from participating in the Invasion of Sicily.
On 31 July 1943 LST-355 was towed to Oran, Algeria, where she was placed in the huge French floating dry-dock which had been repaired and put in operation by the Americans. When repairs were completed the ship proceeded to Bizerte, Tunisia, arriving on 3 September 1943 to prepare for combat operations. Lieutenant A. J. Cadaret, USN, was commanding officer of the ship at this time; succeeding Lieutenant Knipe officially while the ship was under repairs at Oran. On 6 September 1943 she sailed as a part of the invasion convoy for Salerno Bay. On the night prior to clearing Bizerte, a large force of German bombers set off an ammunition dump and a gasoline dump near the harbor.
Severe enemy air attacks were encountered while underway for Italy and several vessels were hit. While under repairs at Oran it had been decided to install various anti-aircraft armament on the main deck of the 355; base forces and repair forces filled the main deck with 40MM, 20MM, and .50 calibre weapons. The installation was originally made to provide ack-ack training for amphibious gunners, but the extra guns came in very handy around Tunisia and Italy.
The ship arrived unscathed in the Bay of Salerno on 9 September 1943, despite a torpedo bomber attack and a daylight aerial attack by German planes using several glider bombs. Soon after daylight on D-Day LST-355, along with 12 other LSTs, was ordered to Red Beach, Safta, "to beach at all costs." Stiff opposition by the Germans had made all our beaches precarious and radio communications to most of the beaches had failed. Shortly after daylight it was observed that the Red Beach was heavily armed with German equipment. LST-355 weighed anchor about 0930 and in company with the other LSTs started in toward the beach from the outer transport area. A destroyer led the column of LSTs toward the beach. While proceeding to the beach German fighters attempted to bomb and strafe the ships. LST-355 was credited with the downing of one enemy plane, which was believed to be an ME109.
As the LSTs arrived within artillery range of the beach, directly North of Agripoli, Italy, German shore batteries and mobile guns promptly opened fire on the LSTs. The destroyer returned the fire but found more targets than she could handle. As a result the USS PHILADELPHIA, a light cruiser, launched her observation planes and moved in to provide additional fire support. Some of the LSTs turned back toward the open sea before reaching the beach, but the LST-355 continued toward the beach under fire with most of the other ships. All the lead ships were proceeding at flank speed and this vessel is believed to have been the first LST to actually beach with the other LSTs hitting the beach in quick succession.
Despite the flank speed, the flat gradient of the beach prevented this ship from discharging its combat engineers with their equipment, and also the ship lost its stern anchor and cable in the attempt. The majority of the other ships discharged their equipment over pontoons brought in by LSTs such as the LST-356 and 338. All the ships were under heavy enemy fire at this time and hits were being scored by German gunners. Another destroyer had been called in to provide fire support, but German armored equipment could be plainly seen on the hills back of the beach. Tanks rolling off LSTs came off firing and tank battles developed right before the eyes of the LST personnel, Seabee Officers, and men who were handling pontoon gear.
It was at this hectic moment that a German Tiger tank came over the brow of a hill directly in front of the ship. The Gunnery Officer of the 355, Lieutenant (jg) L. A. Wilson, USNR, ordered the bow 40MM – a single mount Army-type gun – to open fire on the tank. The gun crew promptly began to pour HE shells into the body of the tank from maximum range and the tank caught fire and was destroyed. Both the Army and the flag aboard the USS BISCASYNE gave the 355 official credit for destroying the enemy tank. This ship is believed to be one of the few LSTs in the fleet having a destroyed tank to its credit.
The ship than managed to retract from the beach and returned to the transport area where it remained until discharging its equipment on LCTs. Concentrated air raids were being made by the enemy day and night; the ship’s antiaircraft weapons were fully manned at all times. Upon unloading, the ship was ordered to Palermo, Sicily, and then to Bizerte. Enemy air attacks continued through this period and several ships were damaged by mines.
The ship was then ordered to prepare for a trip to the United Kingdom, and sailed on 12 November 1943 from Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria, for Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. She was in company with eleven other LSTs, under the flag of Capt. W. D. Wright, USN, who at that time was aboard the LST-356. At Gibraltar the LSTs joined Convoy MKS 30 for the voyage to the United Kingdom. There were about 85 ships in the convoy with the U. S. LSTs being the largest group of American ships in the convoy. Operational control was British and all the escorts were British or Canadian. After several days out of Gibraltar, an enemy search plane was sighted. He continued to follow the convoy during the daylight hours, and was apparently spotting for submarines.
Several submarine attacks were made during the night; as a result of the attacks one British destroyer was sunk. Anti-submarine aircraft from the Azores furnished support during the several surface battles with enemy submarines. On the fifth day out of Gibraltar while approximately 500 miles off the Bay of Biscay, a force of about 27 German HE177s suddenly attacked the convoy with glider bombs and ordinary high explosives. The American LSTs, steaming at the after end of the convoy where the major attack was being launched, engaged the enemy planes with their 3-inch guns and other weapons but scored no definite kills. During the two and one-half hour attack on the convoy, one ship was sunk and three damaged by glider or other type bombs. Four to six enemy planes were destroyed either by ack-ack or friendly patrol planes. During the trip the escorts had been increased from about 13 to 37 to provide additional sub and air protection. No LSTs were hit in the attack but a near miss caused minor casualties on one LST.
No more enemy aircraft were encountered in the remainder of the voyage, but submarines continued to be active, and escorts were kept busy fighting off the attackers.
One Canadian corvette engaged a German sub in a surface gun battle in sight of LST-355 and sank the sub after a short engagement. When the convoy arrived off the tip of Southern Ireland, the LSTs were detached from the convoy and sent - with a Canadian anti-aircraft cruiser and five escorts - directly to the South Coast of England. This convoy (MKS 30) later received much publicity in England and the United States. A detailed story was printed in the Bupers Monthly Bulletin with a chart showing the exact location of the convoy when it was taken under attack by the HE177s. Four enemy submarines were known to have been sunk during the voyage and two believed damaged.
The 355 put in at Falmouth, England, on November 1943 and was promptly given duty training anti-aircraft gunners for the coming invasion of France. During the next six months it remained on the South Coast of England training thousands of amphibious craft gunners. It also participated in Operation Duck around Dartmouth, Devon. Numerous enemy air raids were experienced as the enemy struck at Southern England ports with its Luftwaffe. Enemy planes attacking Plymouth during May 1944 flew in at masthead height over the ship to bomb and strafe the harbor, as well as mine the entrance channel.
The last days of May 1944 was spent loading the ship for the Neptune operation and LST-355 sailed from Falmouth on June 5 1944 with Force "B" for Omaha Beach. It arrived off the beach on D-Day loaded with field artillery, personnel, and equipment (155 MM rifles), but did not discharge until the following day, 7 June 1944. Two boatloads of medical supplies were sent in on 6 June 1944 to Omaha Beach. The ship returned immediately to England and joined the now-famous LST shuttle service across the English Channel. From D-Day to 16 April 1945 when the ship left the United Kingdom for the United States, she had completed 44 trips from England to France. During this time it carried wounded and dead Allied troops and enemy prisoners of war. Two Navy medical officers and one Army doctor, including many enlisted medical aid men, were aboard during the early days of the invasion to give medical attention to casualties.
LST-355 was also part of the railroad shuttle from Southampton Hants, England to Cherbourg, Normandy, France and carried hundreds of U. S. Army railroad cars to France. Special rails were laid in the tank deck for this work and the cars were loaded and discharged over specially built ramps operated by U. S. Army railroad companies. During this shuttle service every conceivable piece of equipment - from bicycles to the heaviest tanks and road grading equipment - was carried successfully across the Channel to France. During the terrific storm that lashed the Allied beachhead several weeks after the initial landing this vessel was underway from the beachhead area to England, and made the trip intact despite the fact that many LSTs were opening seams in their main deck during the trip.
During the Ardennes break-through in December 1944, this vessel was pressed into service as a straight troop carrier for infantry replacements taken directly to France to stop the Nazi Offensive. It continued to operate without the benefit of radar through the worst of the winter in the Channel and is believed to be the last LST in the ETO to receive radar equipment.
On 13 March 1945 Lieutenant Cadaret was relieved of his command by Lieutenant E. L. Rankin, Jr, 149376, USNR(D), at Portland, Dorset, England. The ship was ordered to Falmouth, Cornwall, for availability and there received a radar set. During her availability period orders were received to remove all her deck guns and make the main deck ready to lift an LCT back to the States. This was accomplished in record time and the LCT was lifted at Plymouth, England for its return to the U. S. On 16 April 1945 LST-355 sailed as a part of an LST convoy consisting of 15 LSTs for Norfolk, Virginia, escorted by three American and three English DDs. Heavy fog was encountered soon after leaving Plymouth, so for three days the entire convoy had to depend on their radar equipment and accurate maneuvering to bring them through safely. Several sub contacts were made and the escorts made depth charge attacks. The British DDs left the convoy near Brest and the remains of the convoy proceeded to the Azores and from there to Norfolk, arriving on 5 May 1945.
After five days in Norfolk the ship sailed as part of a Coastal convoy for New Orleans, arriving there on 23 May 1945 and reporting to Commandant, Eighth Naval District, for a 30-day overhaul and conversion into an ordnance installation ship. All hands were granted 30 days leave, with one half of the officers and crew reporting back to Camp Bradford, Virginia, for reassignment; while new officers and men reported to the ship to replace the crew members who had been transferred. Getting underway from New Orleans LST-355 proceeded to the Todd-Johnson Shipyard at Algiers, Louisiana, where she remained across the Mississippi River from New Orleans until 27 July 1945 when it proceeded to Gulfport, Mississippi, to pick up side carry pontoons. While at New Orleans the LST-355, along with LST-308 and LST-392, was given a ten-ton crane on the main deck, a 40MM dual mount, and full equipment for installing 40MM dual mount guns with Mark 51 directors on ships in the forward area. The ship's company was increased to 10 officers and 127 enlisted men. When the ship sailed from New Orleans it carried approximately 15 million dollars worth of ordnance equipment on board.
From Gulfport, Mississippi the LST355 steamed to Galveston, Texas for a brief inspection that resulted in having a new radar antenna installed. On 3 August 1945 the ship sailed from Galveston to Coco Solo, Canal Zone, arriving there on 10 August 1945. Following this date she transited the Panama Canal heading for Pearl Harbor, T. H. On 14 August 1945 word was received of the Japanese surrender.
The ship continued on its original course until it was within five days of Pearl Harbor, when radio orders were received directing her to proceed to San Francisco, California. From San Francisco LST-355 was ordered to Mare Island, Navy Yard, and Vallejo, California for removal of all its ordnance gear. Here she was stripped of all her 40MM dual mount guns including the ten-ton crane and special equipment that had been installed at New Orleans, Navy Yard. The ship's company was reduced to eight officers and 104 enlisted men to serve as a full complement for the LST-355.
On 26 September 1945, 355 sailed for Pearl Harbor, T. H., arriving off Diamond Head on 4 October 1945. Soon after arrival the ship was ordered to Kewlo Basin to load cargo for Japan. Shortly after shoving off for Japan the vessel developed engine trouble and had to be returned to the Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, for repairs.
By 1 November 1945 USS LST-355 had completed a total of 35,503 miles of steaming since it left Charleston, South Carolina in February 1943.
On 5 November 1945 while at Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant E. L. Rankin, Jr. (D)USNR was relieved of command by Lieutenant John J. Kelley, (D) USNR, who took over as commanding Officer of the LST-355.
Having made an excellent war record with the amphibious force during World War II, the LST-355 was placed out of Commission and disposed of by the War Shipping Administration in March 1946.
Commanding Officers of the LST-355
Lieutenant N. L. Knipe, Jr., USNR
Lieutenant A. J. Cadaret, USN
Lieutenant E. L. Rankin, Jr. USNR
Lieutenant J. J. Kelley, USNR
Stenciled: 10/14/48 Submitted by Al Cadaret
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This page is created by David W. Almond and maintained by Gary P. Priolo
Submitted by Al Cadaret