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The Only Operational 'Landing Ship, Tank' In The World To Dock In Pittsburgh

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Harry Zillion
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The USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc.

After crossing the English Channel, the LST-325 landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1994. Now, it’s going to be docked adjacent to Heinz Field from Sept. 2-8.

This particular “Landing Ship, Tank” is the only operational LST ship in the world, originally built in Philadelphia in 1942.

The ships were non-existent prior to World War II, during which 1,051 were built, which was more than any type of ship at the time, according to Bob Kubota, captain of the LST-325. Some ships were built locally by the Dravo Corporation on Neville Island in Allegheny County and also by the American Bridge Company in their shipyard in Ambridge, Pa.

The LST ships could carry 20 Sherman tanks in the ship’s giant hold and were designed to deposit cargo onto hostile beaches and then get more vehicles and equipment, which was effectively demonstrated on the shores of Normandy.

“They landed there at D-Day and they made, I believe it was, 43 more trips back and forth across the channel, hauling everything from wounded soldiers and prisoners back to England and all different types of war materials that needed to go to all the different landings in France,” said Kubota.

In the past, big freighters carrying tanks required a pier to be tied to and a crane to lift the tanks and set them on the dock.  

During WWII, Germans destroyed many of the Allied powers’ harbors. So instead of waiting for new harbors, the Allies built a ship which could land practically anywhere.

“These ships could load anything up to tank-size you can drive on and you can drive right into the beach and lower the ramp and drive it right off,” said Kubota.

Another notable feature of the LSTs was that they were shallow draft vessels, meaning they were able to be built on waterways, including Pittsburgh area rivers.

After the war, many LST ships, including the LST-325, were decommissioned and then brought out later to build the “DEW line,” or Distant Early Warning Line, a radar system built across Greenland, Northern Canada, and Alaska, so the U.S. could spot incoming Russian missiles.

Decommissioned once again, the LSTs were given to the Greek Navy which ran them until 1998, when they began scrapping the ships. Former LST sailors then sought to save the historical vessel.

“They took an act of Congress from the United States Congress to be given the ship and they went over to Greece and picked one out and sailed it home,” said Kubota.

Now, the ship is owned by the USS LST Ship Memorial, Inc.,  a nonprofit which houses the LST-325 in Evansville, IN for 11 months out of the year. During the remainder of the year, the organization takes the ship around for tours.

This year features the “Pittsburgh Cincinnati Cruise,” where the ship arrives in Pittsburgh on Sept. 1 and departs Sept. 9. The ship will then arrive in Cincinnati on Sept. 11 and return to its home in Indiana Sept. 19.

Tours in Pittsburgh will take place between Sept. 2 and 8, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tickets cost $10 per person, with family and school rates. Admission allows for visitors to walk on and tour the ship.

“If you’re at all interested in history, especially WWII history, we’ve tried to keep this ship pretty much as it existed in World War II. If you have any family connection with it or with the Navy or anything, I think you’ll enjoy it,” said Kubota.