Dock Landing Ships were conceived during WWII. They were designed to sail to the site of amphibious operations carrying landing craft and other amphibious vehicles which would them be launched directly from the ships well-deck.
Eight Ashland (LSD-1) class dock landing ships were laid down by Moore Drydock Co, Oakland CA from June 1942 to April 1943. These commissioned in the US Navy between June 1943 and January 1944. These ships were originally authorized as APM-1 thru 8 (mechanized artillery transports) but this designation was changed to dock landing ship (LSD) on 1 July 1941 prior to construction. The Ashland class represented an entirely new amphibious concept design and were commissioned in time to take part in the 1943 Allied amphibious landings in Italy and in the Pacific.
As the first ship of a new type, her strange lines brought many curious stares. The Ashland's huge docking well was a cavernous opening 44 feet wide and 396 feet long which ran from the stern to clear up under the bridge ending near the bow. Landing craft left the flooded dock under ther own power, through stern gates. Almost one hundred feet longer than a football field, Ashland's well deck was only 61 feet short of the ship's 457 foot overall length.
They are designed to serve as docking ships for landing craft. They could carry 18 LCM (Landing Craft, Medium, with one LCVP in each) or 3 LCU (Landing Craft, Utility) in the well dock which runs three quarters of the length of the ship. Alternative loading could include 3 LCT (5) or (6), each with 5 medium tanks, or 2 LCT (3) or (4) each with 12 medium tanks, or 14 LCM (3) each with 1 medium tank, or 1,500 long tons cargo, or 41 LVT, or 47 DUKW, or 27 LCVPs, three LCU, one LSM - or anything small enough to fit its nose through the stern opening (during the Korean was another LSD would take aboard a destroyer escort for dry dock repairs).
The LSD was designed for steam power, an engine room being located in the wings amidships on both sides of the docking well. Ashland and seven sisters built in Oakland were equipped with Skinner eight-cylinder reciprocating uniflow steam engines of 7,000 horsepower each. Later LSDs starting with those launched by Newport News during 1944 would, however, switch to steam turbine power of the high-pressure impulse reaction, single flow Parsons type. LSDs could make 15-16 knots, easily putting them in the "fast transport" category.
It was realized from the beginning that the Ashland and her sisters to follow would be very versatile and handy ships to have around - not just during infrequent major amphibious landings but for general transport and day to day odd jobs that arise particularly including small craft maintenance. In fact, this is exactly what maintenance became far better known for, their ability to take smaller craft aboard for on the spot dry dock repairs. Each LSD was equipped to change screws, shafts and other parts of smaller craft by virtue of a fully equipped machine shop as well as a complete wood shop for working on the smaller wooden-hulled landing craft and PT-boats.
The entire class was laid up in reserve 1946-47 but were reactivated 1949-51 for use in the Korean War. In 1951-52, provisions were made for accommodations of up to nine helicopters.
Whitemarsh (LSD-8) was transferred to Taiwan in 1960 which purchased her in 1977. The remainder were withdrawn from service 1967-70 and sold for scrap.
APM-1 / AV-21 Ashland
On 1 November 1956 Ashland was transferred to the control of Commander, Naval Air Forces, Atlantic, for alterations enabling the ship to tend aircraft. By July 1957, she was configured to handle six P5M-2 aircraft. The ship deployed to the Caribbean from 1 August to mid-September. At the conclusion of this assignment, the dock landing ship was decommissioned on 1 September 1957 and placed in the Norfolk Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
Three units of this class, including the Ashland, were planned in 1959 for conversion to a tender for Seamaster seaplanes, but the Seamaster program was cancelled soon thereafter. The docking well would have been used as small drydock for the seaplanes. Ashland had been initially classified APM-1 under this plan.
MCS-7 Epping Forest
Epping Forest (LSD-4) was decommissioned, 25 March 1947 at San Diego CA and placed in Reserve at Long Beach CA. She was recommissioned, 1 December 1950, and redesignated Mine Countermeasures Support Ship (MCS-7) 30 November 1962. The minesweeping launches [MSL] were 36' wooden boats powered by Boeing Gas Turbine engines (502-10C Boeings). Three boats were carried on the flight deck, and seven more boats were carried in the well deck on wheelable skids. The MSL's were hoisted aboard by large cranes, located midship on both the port and starboard sides of the ship. The MSL was designed to sweep for mines in shallow water to clear the path for the LCVP. It could sweep for the three different types of mines, magnetic, acoustic & moored. They were a wooden hull boat fitted with degausing coils.
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