A historic U.S. Navy ship that provided a crucial service in the pivotal D-Day invasion of Normandy, France during World War Two will sail up the Mississippi River this month, docking for tours in two Iowa cities.
Known as LST 325, the landing ship tank changed the course of the war, according to volunteer Chris Donahue, who serves on the ship’s board of directors. “It can go to any unimproved beach in the world without the use of port facilities,” Donahue says, “unload 20 battle-ready Sherman tanks, about 30 trucks and 200 troops.”
The LST was commissioned in 1943 and served in multiple battles in North Africa and Italy before heading to Normandy for the D-Day invasion — part of the largest armada in history — on June 6th of 1944. Because of its versatility, Donahue says the U.S. never lost an invasion once this type of ship was put into use, allowing the military to land tanks and troops right on the beach.
“The LST won the war,” Donahue says. “Between ’43 and ’44, it was the most sought-after ship because they had all these invasions to do. We talk a lot about Europe on our ship because it was at every major European invasion. The 60-some-odd landings in the Pacific after D-Day and the LST was at the forefront of all those.”
The LST 325’s home port is on the Ohio River at Evansville, Indiana, which produced more LST’s than any other shipyard in the country. More than 1,000 LSTs were built during the war, but this is the only one remaining that’s preserved and able to sail under its own power.
“I won’t say it’s full of holes but it’s got holes in it from German aircraft,” Donahue says. “It’s got some dents and bends in the sides. Other than painting it up, we wanted to keep it as it was.” The ship is almost as long as a football field and measures 50 feet across. It craft is being brought to the shores of Iowa so aging veterans who were carried into battle aboard one of them some 74 years ago can get another look.
Donahue says the tours are very popular. “Really, people of all ages, and we do see a lot of the old timers, this means a whole lot to them, some of the guys who were on these,” Donahue says. The rare ship will dock at the Port of Dubuque from August 23rd through the 27th, and then will visit the Isle Casino Hotel in Bettendorf from August 30th through September 3rd. Tours are available daily for a fee, while World War Two veterans can come aboard for free.