Editor's note: This is part two.
The reason for the rigorous training in landings that Nicholas Andin of the U.S. Navy was involved in was later learned. It was required by all units that were involved with the upcoming invasion on French soils.
Simulated landings were done so much, that most now could have done them in their sleep. With no actual date given, one lived with the thought that he may possibly be living the last day of his life. Very few knew of an invasion.
Very few knew of the date, and only one knew of the amount of troops that were involved. There was no training that was taken lightly. For some, it was continual training. Once you learned your job, you had to learn the job of that sailor that was in your group. As one looked over the side of his ship, he could start counting the number of vessels just anchored and waiting for that red flare that would start the largest fleet of ships assembled in one small area of water. Some ships were loaded with lumber, some had tanks, others had cranes or artillery pieces. As time passed, everyone knew that it wouldn't be long for all this training to pay off.
Finally, around 1500 hours (3 p.m.), a flare was fired and the U.S. group of LCTs (landing craft tanks) left the safe, mine protected harbor at Plymouth, England, headed for an area that only the captain was aware of. The date listed in the U.S. ships' log read June 5, 1944. Later, the group realized that they were sailing slowly so it could meet up with the main invasion body.
Many on board, according to Andin, had taken bets on the actual invasion date. It was clear that whoever had June 6 would have a great chance of being the winner. About an hour later, the ship started gaining speed, and as one looked into the English Channel, one would now have the experience of being involved in the largest invasion ever recorded in history. An executive officer yelled out to those standing on the side of the ship to get back in their racks and get some sleep. They would need to be fresh and ready for the events that would be coming up soon. Little did anyone on the U.S. ships realize that this new day that was only three hours old would go down for many as the longest day of their lives.
We all know now that the ship was heading for Normandy. A landing would take place on a group of beaches in France.
Being on deck on the ship's conning tower, as the group approached Normandy, while still sailing at a fast rate of speed, the captain yelled out the orders, "Drop anchors while full speed ahead!"
The ship came to an immediate stop and the entire ship shrugged and felt as if it was going to be ripped to pieces. "It was an ear-splitting, defending, horrendous sound that I will never forget," Andin said. "As we stood still in the water, it seemed as if someone was firing a car over us."
It was actually the USS Texas, the large battleship firing a volley of three of its 16-inch guns. If one today stood near a 2,000-pound projectile from a battleship, the round would stand as high as a 6-foot man. This year is the 100th anniversary of the USS Texas.
Now all our training was to be put to the test of landing troops and equipment on the beaches. The LCTs are designed to float in as little as 3 feet of water. In peaceful landings, a captain could actually take his ship and sail it right on the beach, drop its back ramp, and men could actually walk off and equipment such as tanks or jeeps could drive off. When the landings were completed, the captain who had dropped his anchor in the front of the ship about 300 yards off shore would then bring in his anchor, moving the ship back out to deeper water.
On Normandy, the captain did not have that luxury. He had to bring in his ship as close to the beach and wait under heavy machine gun and mortar fire for his ship to unload. "In our landings, I witnessed two soldiers that only a few days earlier I had breakfast with being cut down by machine guns," Andin said. "Some soldiers, while walking onto the beach, were taken under water by the heavy loads they were taking in. They may have walked into a deep water area. Our ship took heavy machine gun fire. Three sailors were injured."
Unloading a LCT that was fully loaded usually took about one hour. The LCT was loaded making it as easy as possible to get unloaded. It seemed that the 6th day of June 1944 took hours and hours to unload. The next day the log read, "unloading time: 18 minutes."
"Now empty, the captain took us out of harm's way into the safer waters of the Channel. Thinking maybe the worst was behind us could have never been further from the truth," Andin said. As the group sat out in safe waters, the order of the day changed from 12 hours on and 12 hours off. The only variation was that when it was your 12 hours off, soldiers would help load the wounded and dead that were being sent to the ship from the fighting on the beach. When loaded with the wounded, dead and equipment that needed repair, the ship headed back to Plymouth. The U.S. then completed three more landings with more troops and much more needed supplies. The landings were safer. The beaches were secure. The only difference was the numbers of dead the ships were receiving.
After the last delivery of fresh troops and much needed combat equipment, the captain received word that some members of the ship were being reassigned duty. Being among this group of reassigned men, Andin was transferred to LST 692 (landing ship tank). The prime duty of his new ship LST 692 was the transportation from the beach and taking soldiers to a hospital ship that was stationed out in the English Channel and out of harm's way.
"While on duty one day, hearing a loud bang, I discovered that one of our gunners mates had accidentally shot himself in his leg. With no one around with medical experience, I then called using our ship's radio to the hospital ship, explaining the situation," Andin said. "They then advised me on how to treat this sailor. After getting him to the hospital ship and finally recovering, the young sailor had to face the embarrassment of shooting himself in the leg."
With the U.S. forces now in control of many towns and communities and the Army establishing field hospitals, the need to transport soldiers was now done on land. For minor injuries, the soldiers were treated, then released back to their units. For the more severe cases, the men were now flown to established hospitals in England.
With the invasion over and the Navy having hundreds of LSTs and LCTs in the European Theater, many were now not needed. Knowing now that the war in Europe was being fought on the enemy's soil, the end was getting clearer to see.
Fearing that the war with Japan may go on until the last Japanese was living, most military experts felt that a landing on Japanese soil was imminent. It would be a landing that was never seen before, a landing twice the size of that at Normandy. Preparing for this upcoming landing on Japan's soil, naval experts started to gather as many naval vessels which were not damaged in the European Theater to get them ready to regroup on the west coast.
As for Nick's last orders, it was to sail the LST 692 to Lido Beach Island. From there, the 692 was ordered to the St. Johns River in Green Cove Springs where she was put on a list of ships that were to be decommissioned. Decommissioning of a U.S. Naval ship doesn't mean it is no longer needed.
Decommissioning could mean anything from refurbishing, updating, or just being put in reserve.
At times, parts could be needed, or if the ship was no longer needed, it could be sold for scrap. As for the fate of Nick's LST 692, she sat on the St. Johns River until 1952. Records show that she was recommissioned again and renamed, and was then sold to the Philippines where she proudly served until 1976, where she was then sold for scrap. Over 1,200 LST were built during World War II. There are now none officially being used.
Next week: Part three.