We discovered a very important piece of American Naval history berthed on the waterfront in Muskegon, Michigan. Now a floating museum, LST 393 was an LST-1-class tank landing ship built for the United States Navy during World War II.
The Landing Ship Tank (LST) was an ocean going ship capable of shore to shore delivery of tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, and troops. Using LSTs, American forces could bring troops and heavy equipment through enemy fire right to a beachhead, enabling the full might of America’s military power to join a battle immediately, rather than waiting for the landing zone to be secured.
The LST program was developed in response to a need for armored infantry divisions in invasions by sea. After England’s failed attempt at the invasion of Dunkirk, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged the United States to design a ship that was large enough to cross an ocean, but capable of quickly unloading armored vehicles and troops on an unimproved beach. The resulting ship design proved to be among the most successful in the history of the United States Navy.
The flat-bottomed LSTs were designed with a special ballast system similar to that used in submarines, which allowed them to ride lower in the water for seaworthiness when in the open ocean. When it came time to land their cargo, the ballast tanks could be pumped out to raise the ships so they could operate in shallow water. The design called for a ship 328 feet long and 50 feet wide.
LSTs were so versatile that building them was a high priority, and over 1,000 were launched by the end of the war. The demand was so high that they were built both in Navy shipyards and by private companies, in places like Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. They were used in the invasions of Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Southern France, the liberation of the Philippines, and the capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
LST 393 was built in just over three months by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company. Construction on the ship began in July, 1942, and she was launched on November, 11, 1942. Lieutenant John H. Halifax was given command of the new vessel.
As soon as the ship’s required sea trials were completed, she was put into action. The LST carried over 9,000 troops into battle, as well as 3,248 vehicles ranging from tanks to Jeeps. During the D-Day invasion, she made thirty round trips, carrying vital troops and supplies to the beaches at Normandy. By war’s end, LST 393 had proven herself repeatedly in combat. She made 75 voyages to three continents, logging over 51,800 nautical miles, carried over 5,000 enemy prisoners away, and earned three battle stars for her contributions to the invasions of Normandy and Salerno, and the occupation of Sicily.
Though their crews called them Large Slow Targets, the LSTs proved so sturdy that over 1,000 of the 1,051 built survived the war. Only 26 were actually lost to enemy actions. Many LSTs went on to see service during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Following the war, the Navy scrapped many of its LSTs, while others were sold to private companies and put into commercial service.
LST 393 sailed back to the United States and was decommissioned on March 14, 1947. Two weeks later she was sold to the Sand Products Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, and renamed the M/V 16. At one time U.S. Highway 16 ran from Detroit to Muskegon, Michigan, and then continued on the other side of Lake Michigan, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was named in honor of this highway and became a merchant ferry, carrying new cars from the factories of Detroit across Lake Michigan for delivery to automobiles dealers further west.
In May, 2002, the ship was acquired by the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum and work began to restore the historic old warship. She is one of only two World War II LSTs still know to exist. She is moored in Muskegon and managed by the 393 Preservation Association. After the Normandy invasion, LST 393 was painted in a camouflage pattern for service in the Pacific theater, and she proudly wears those colors today.
Today visitors can tour the old warship and walk the top deck, where men crouched nervously as they waited to go into combat, and the living quarters where sailors lived while assigned to the ship.
The inside cargo deck of the LST has displays about the war years with an emphasis on Muskegon military veterans. Exhibits include communication equipment, pilots’ flight helmets, medical equipment, and a target kite with an airplane silhouette printed on it that was used for gunnery practice.
A series of rather steep ladders and steel stairways lead to the upper decks where narrow passageways take you through the enlisted and officer’s sleeping quarters, the dining halls, and kitchens. While the lower deck is handicapped accessible, a tour of the complete ship requires covering six decks, and the ability to do a lot of climbing and walking.
The pilothouse towers over the top deck, and here visitors can see the controls that were used to maneuver the LST across the ocean and into shallow water to deliver her cargo of men and equipment to the battlefield.
LST 393 is located at the Mart Dock, on the Muskegon Lake waterfront, just off Shoreline Drive in the heart of downtown Muskegon. The ship is open daily from May through September, and admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students, and children under age 4 are admitted free. Visitors can pick up a map for a self-guided tour, or arrange for a guided tour from one of the many knowledgeable volunteers. Plan at least 45 minutes to an hour to tour the ship, and longer if you are like me and want to stop and read every sign and see everything in every exhibit. For more information about LST 393, or to arrange a group guided tour, call (231) 730-1477 or visit the ship’s website at www.lst393.org.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Big Lake, the first book in my Big Lake mystery series, which made the New York Times bestseller list and has 779 reviews on Amazon. To enter, click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – My wife and I had words this morning, but I never got to use mine.