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LSM Landing Ship, Medium

Needing a landing ship somewhere between the size and displacement of an LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) and an LST (Landing Ship, Tank), the Navy turned the problem over to its architects and designers who came up with the compact and maneuverable LSM (Landing Ship, Medium). The LSM held a crew of 54 enlisted men and four officers, and were used in the Pacific to transport equipment, supplies and troops during the final campaigns of World War II. An LSM was the smallest of the ocean-going ships. It didn't have to be hauled to its destination like a DUKW, manufacturer's code for a type of military wheeled amphibious landing-craft, or a Higgins boat. The LSM was in charge of delivering tanks, various other equipment and Marines to shore.

The high bow featured doors like those on the LST (landing ship, tank), opening with a loading ramp for jeeps, trucks, and tanks to drive directly from the ships well deck onto the beach. The LSM was highly maneuverable, with a flat bottom that slipped across sand bars and beaches. The nickname Sandscrapers stuck, as the ships drew only six feet of water at the bow when loaded. When an LSM approached a beach, the stern anchor, a design adapted from the LCI, was dropped and a chain played out, helping her go straight to the beach. When the ship was ready to withdraw, the stern anchor was pulled in, retracting the ship from the beach.

There were 554 of this unique class of ship commissioned during the war, 60 of which were converted to LSMRs (Rocket Ships). Most saw enemy action in the Pacific theatre of the war. Some saw duty in the Korea War and three LSMRs were on duty in the Viet Nam War. There remain several of this class of ship in the navies of those countries allied to the United States during World War II.

Naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison likened them to floating medieval fortresses their cylindrical amidships pilothouse and numerous alidades looking more like the turrets and ramparts of a castle than a modern amphibious warship. Admiral Daniel Barbey, chief of Pacific invasion forces, called them the ultimate amphibious ship by saying each was worth its weight in gold at Leyte, Iwo Jima, Luzon, and Okinawa. Indeed, they were, for the ugly duckling Landing Ship Mediums represented the ultimate in the wartime evolution of amphibious landing vessels. The British had learned some bitter lessons on how not to conduct amphibious warfare in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of the Great War. Early invasion attempts against Norway in the opening stages of WWII further showed them the inadequacy of small personnel-carrying landing barges.

The Landing Ship, Medium [LSM] was an ocean-going tank landing ship designed to operate with LCI(L) convoys. This new design was derived from a combination of LST and LCT(6) elements, and was initially designated LCT(7). A US version of the LCT, smaller than the British designs and capable of being carried on the deck of an LST, was produced as the 105-foot LCT(5). A modified drive-through version, the LCT(6), had a gate at the stern that could be opened to allow vehicles to drive off an LST ramp, through the LCT, and onto the beach in situations where the LST could not get close enough to the shore. An increase in the size and weight of tanks and the poor sea-keeping qualities of the LCTs led to yet another amphibious ship in 1943, the 203-foot landing ship, medium (LSM). Smaller, faster, and more maneuverable than an LST, the LSM could carry five medium tanks and operate on steeper beaches than the LCT.

Originally, the program for production of landing craft was also a modest one of low priority, concentrated almost entirely on small and medium-sized boats and lighters for Navy ship-to-shore operations. The decision in April 1942 to invade northwestern Europe across the English Channel in the spring of 1943 (ROUNDUP), or, under emergency conditions, in 1942 (SLEDGEHAMMER), gave the program a strong new impetus and an entirely different turn. The cross-Channel invasion was conceived primarily as a shore-to-shore operation, and the British succeeded in convincing their American allies that great quantities of large vehicular and personnel landing craft would be necessary to negotiate the difficult Channel waters. It was also mutually agreed that almost all of them would have to be produced by the American shipbuilding industry. The result was a crash landing craft production program in the United States, with schedules and objectives drawn up almost exclusively in terms of ROUNDUP and SLEDGEHAMMER.

The abortive planning for a cross-Channel operation in 1942 or 1943 left as one of its legacies a large pool of landing craft either in being or in production. The crash program compensated, at least partially, for earlier failure to plan for adequate quantities of amphibious equipment in the general munitions and shipping pool. Yet its effects were clearly disruptive of other naval building programs and created within the Navy an aversion to any further emergency programs of the kind.

Although the Navy's plans as early as June 1943 had contemplated a moderate increase in landing craft production in the fall, the first strong impulse for a new "crash" program on the scale of that undertaken in 1942 came in August 1943. In that month pressure to produce more landing craft became heavier in both main sectors of the warin the Pacific as a result of the JCS decisionto seek means of defeating Japan within a year of the defeat of Germany; in the European war as a result of the appearance of the OVERLORD outline plans and demands from many quarters to strengthen the OVERLORD assault. At the same time, the unmistakable completeness of the victory over the U-boat promised to release facilities and materials hitherto pre-empted by construction of escort vessels. Yet the new landing craft program was not designed for a two-front war. A companion piece to the Navy's big new combat loader program, it was shaped by the demands of the Pacific war, not the war in Europe.

Owing to the changeover from the LCT (5) to the improved LCT (6) no LCT's had been produced in the United States between January and August 1943. Admiral King was not prepared to slow down or dilute his Pacific program in order to provide more lift for OVERLORD, particularly in the light of his oft-stated conviction that the British would probably contrive, in one way or another, to prevent its execution.

On 17 August 1943 the Navy's Bureau of Ships, in response to Admiral King's telephoned inquiry from Quebec, reported that it would be possible to expand production of landing craft by as much as 35 percent. (On the following day King told the conference that no increase greater than 25 percent was being considered). The greatest limitation would be the output of diesel engines, the power plant for all principal types except LST's. At the planners' meeting on 22 September the Navy members belatedly produced a copy of a directive from Admiral King to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and approved by the Secretary of the Navy, ordering an increase of "approximately thirty-five percent" in the program. It was dated 6 September, three days before the JCS had approved the 25 percent increase, and implementing instructions had gone out to the bureaus on the 13th.

The real significance of the Navy's new program was not a matter of percentages, but of types and timing. The entire emphasis was put on a brand new type of craftthe LCT (7), a longer and heavier model than the LCT (6), with a cruising radius of 1,500 miles and ocean-going capabilities. It was essentially a smaller edition of the LST, equipped with the characteristic bow doors of that vessel, and in fact was soon to be renamed landing ship, medium (LSM). Production had not yet begun. First deliveries were expected in May or June 1944, rising to a monthly level of 25 by October at the earliest. Not only would the new ship contribute nothing to the war in Europe, but the production effort it would absorb would detract heavily from the output of older types. Apart from the LCT (7), the new program promised an increase of only 15 percent over the old program in gross tonnages of craft produced per month. It added only two LST's to the existing average monthly output, and no LCT (6)'s at all. None of the scheduled increases, finally, was expected to be realized before spring of 1944. In short, the program was designed specifically, very nearly exclusively, for the war in the Pacific.

The first LSM (landing ship, medium) was completed in April 1944. Soon, six shipyards were producing one per month. More than 550 of them were launched in just over a year, each crewed by about 55 enlisted men and officers who were quickly but rigorously trained. As the war progressed some shipyards only took as little as 53 days from the time the keel was laid up through commissioning. The Navy built 500 LSMs during World War II, which were eventually decommissioned and sold to various companies and countries. The LSM was developed as a tank carrier and was 203 feet long with a beam of 34 feet. It could carry either five M4 medium tanks, or six Landing Vehicles, Tracked (LVTs).

Weather conditions around Iwo Jima on D-day morning, 19 February 1945, were almost ideal. The assault divisions embarked many of their tanks on board medium landing ships (LSMs), sturdy little craft that could deliver five Shermans at a time. But it was tough disembarking them on Iwos steep beaches. Even the larger landing craft, the LCTs and LSMs, had great difficulty beaching. Sea anchors needed to maintain the craft perpendicular to the breakers rarely held fast in the steep, soft bottom. The stern anchors could not hold in the loose sand; bow cables run forward to deadmen LVTs parted under the strain. On one occasion the lead tank stalled at the top of the ramp, blocking the other vehicles and leaving the LSM at the mercy of the rising surf. Other tanks bogged down or threw tracks in the loose sand. Many of those that made it over the terraces were destroyed by huge horned mines or disabled by deadly accurate 47mm anti-tank fire from Suribachi. Other tankers kept coming. Their relative mobility, armored protection, and 75mm gunfire were most welcome to the infantry scattered among Iwos lunar-looking, shell-pocked landscape. From the time the engagement was joined until the mission was completed it was a matter of frontal assault maintained with relentless pressure by a superior mass of troops and supporting arms against a position fortified to the maximum practical extent.

The following were not decommissioned after WW II: 297, 397, 398, 399, 419*, 448, 462, 401R*, 403R*, 404R*, 512R, 514R, 515R, 517R. The following were recommissioned between Aug 1950 and Jan 1951: 58*, 110*, 125*, 161*, 175, 226*, 236*, 268, 316*, 355*, 362*, 422, 429*, 455, 546*, 547*, 405R, 409R*, 411R, 412R*, 520R, 525R*, 527R*, 536R*. All of the above ships except one were decommissioned between Dec 1953 and Nov 1955. LSM 161 was decommissioned 19 April 1965, 14 years 3 months and 19 days of continuous active duty. (*=earned battle stars) USS Clarion River (LSMR 409), USS St. Francis River (LSMR 525), and USS White River (LSMR 536) were recommissioned in Sep/Oct 1950 and decommisioned Apr/May 1970. All earned battle stars. Tours of duty during Korea and Vietnam were much longer than WW II, usually three to four years and longer. Jim Caldwell served aboard the USS Owyhee River (LSMR 515) for five years, five months, and 12 days. Note that on 1 Oct 1955 all 401 and 501 Class LSMR's were given names of minor rivers and LSMs still on active duty were also given names. The LSM-45 is the last remaining ship in the United States still configured for its original purpose. During the ship's era, the Navy had approximately 500 LSMs in use. The LSM-45 was used to shuttle supplies, ammunition and equipment ashore just after the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The LSM-45 was built by Brown Shipyard in Houston, Texas, and was commissioned July 28, 1944. During its voyages, it housed 54 enlisted and four officers. Prior to its home in Freedom Park, the ship was docked in Greece. After its decommissioning in March 27, 1947, the ship was transferred to the Greek Navy in November 1958 and was named Ipopliarkhos Grigoropoulos. In August 1998, the ship came under full control of the USS LSM-LSMR Association, made up of former shipmates who served on LSMs and similar ships from 1944 to 1970. The ship was refurbished as a floating museum by the group and made the trek to Omaha, Neb. Rolf Illsley, organizer, Amphibious Ships Museum, was able to locate it while preparing a history book for the Amphibious Ships Museum. After four years of red tape and paperwork they brought the ship to Freedom Park, a naval museum in Omaha, Neb., but according Illsley to the Museum wanted to donate the landing ship to the Marines.

Marines from the Air Station revived a piece of naval history in June 2004 in Charleston, S.C. when they helped to restore a World War II era Landing Ship Medium. Corporal David W. Alexander, tower controller, Air Traffic Control, Lance Cpl. Brandon K. Metcalf, final controller, ATC, and Pfc. Jay A. Lawson, final controller ATC, worked about 11 hours a day from May 24-26 on USS LSM-45, which arrived in North Charleston May 23. The 203-foot veteran of the Pacific Campaign docked at Deytens Shipyards to get dressed for her trip to Jacksonville, N.C. where she will be a permanent exhibit at the new Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas, which is currently under construction.

The Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas is dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of Carolina Marines and Sailors, and to highlight the unique contributions of those communities that helped form the Marine Corps presence in the Carolinas since 1941. The museum will be built in Jacksonville, NC, with a projected opening date of 2009. When complete, the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas was to be a 40,000 square foot complex featuring hands-on, multimedia experiences, first-person stories, recreated environments and displays of original uniforms and equipment, including war-fighting vehicles and aircraft.

A 60-year-old Landing Ship-Medium 45 was donated from the Amphibious Ships Museum to the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas 31 July 2004 during a transfer ceremony at Mile Hammock Bay. Marines, retired veterans, government officials and family members gathered to witness the massive ship on its 60th birthday and to support the donation to the museum. Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle, executive director of the Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas, and Senator Cecil Hargett of the North Carolina State Senate, welcomed the guests and said a few words about the donation. Hargett helped raise $1.5 million through fundraisers, benefits and grants to donate to the museum to help with the costs of its construction as well.

LSM-60 suspended the bomb detonated during the Baker Atomic bomb test. Quite normal, not a single trace of her was found.

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Page last modified: 18-10-2019 17:58:17 ZULU