Monday, September 16, 2013

Work on USS LST-447

September 1943 was a big month for repairing LSTs ("Landing Ship Tank"). Dad's ship, USS Vestal, worked on at least 7 of them* this month.

On today's date in 1943, Vestal began repairs on LST-447, sister ship to LST-448, which Vestal repaired in August. LSTs were relatively large ships capable of shore-to-shore delivery of tanks and other vehicles, supplies, and personnel for amphibious assaults. These unique ships were designed with large ballast systems that could be filled for ocean passage and then pumped out for beaching operations. Over a thousand of these ships were completed in American shipyards by war's end and they played a significant role in the European and Pacific theaters.

These tank landing ships were constructed to carry multiple tanks, wheeled and tracked vehicles, artillery, construction equipment, and military supplies. Their design allowed for them to land their cargo on the beach. LSTs also could transport troops, with accommodations for 16 officers and 147 enlisted men in addition to her own crew complement of 7 officers and 104 enlisted men. Armed with 2 twin and 4 single 40MM, plus 12 single 20MM guns, LSTs had the capacity to defend themselves.

LST-447 was launched in 1942 and was the 447th member of her class commissioned into service with the US Navy. She entered service with the U.S. Pacific Fleet in December 1942, deployed to the South Pacific. Like many LSTs  that were rushed into service in the South Pacific at this time, LST-447 and her crew were given on-the-job training in ship operations while serving with the Allied force in operations in the Southern Solomon Islands in early 1943. It was during this period that the ship sailed into Espiritu Santo for "hull and engineering underwater repairs" by Vestal while in dry dock.

USS LST-447 unloading supplies at Bougainville
Source: NavSource Online

Apparently her repairs were not related to battle damage since LST-447's first amphibious landing was at Bougainville in November. Following that action, the ship went on to take part in the Bismarck Archipelago and Hollandia landings in the South Pacific through April 1944. Then, she shifted north to assault Guam in July through August 1944. Detached from frontline units after duty in the Marianas, the ship was overhauled at Pearl Harbor during the Philippine Landings. Following repairs at Pearl, LST-447 sailed in early 1945 for Ulithi Atoll where she joined the huge American Naval force massing for the planned assault on Okinawa scheduled for April 1st.

In late March, departing in a convoy fully loaded with men, munitions, and supplies, LST-447 was forced to wait offshore while other ships offloaded before she could beach and discharge their cargo on April 4th. By this time, the heretofore unopposed landings had turned into fierce fighting onshore, and an increasing number of Japanese kamikaze planes were operating overhead throughout the daylight hours. Despite these hazards, the ship's crew successfully off-loaded her cargo and debeached with the high tide in the evening of April 5th, before proceeding offshore to await orders. The next day brought reports of large numbers of Japanese aircraft approaching Okinawa, prompting the LST-447's crew to their battle stations to await the inevitable arrival of Japanese aircraft.

Closing ranks with other ships to combine firepower, the LST's crew was soon facing dozens of suicide attackers which began strafing, bombing, and diving all around them. Despite a valiant effort, the gun crews simply were overwhelmed by the mass attack. A single bomber dove out of the clouds, and despite taking several hits, its pilot slammed his plane into LST-447. The force of the crashing aircraft and the detonation of its full bomb and fuel load created a massive fireball and blew out the port side of the empty hold, causing fatal damage to the ship and numerous casualties. The LST’s captain quickly ordered the crew to abandon ship, but he remained onboard as the ship seemed to stabilize in the next few minutes. The stricken ship was placed under tow to more protected waters. The LST-447 almost made it to safety when she finally began to sink. Her skeleton crew was forced to abandoned her while the assisting tug pushed it out of the channel, allowing her to flood and sink.

USS LST-447 hit by a Japanese Kamikaze
April 6, 1945, off the Okinawa beachhead
Source: NavSourceOnline

For her actions on that day, the proud LST-447 earned her 6th Battle Star for WWII service. She also received the Navy Unit Commendation.

* In September 1943, Vestal repaired LST-354, 395, 398, 399, 446, 447, and 448, as well as numerous other Navy vessels.

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, September 1943

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