20 March 2010

A little 'Gator Navy

I've decided to go back to my milgeek roots. I've tried to do clever and funny, but being neither, I might as well go back to what I know.

I read recently of the possible imminent sinking of the USS LSM-45. The term 'LSM' stands for 'Landing Ship Medium'. The LSM was an oceangoing vessel, unlike the smaller LCT (Landing Craft Tank), but smaller than the LST (Landing Ship Tank). The typical Landing Ship Medium could haul a 4-tank platoon, their crews, and their gear on short ocean hops at a breathtaking 13.5 knots full out.

The LSM-45 served mostly in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, she was laid up in reserve, then transferred to the Greek Navy in the late 1950's. By the 1990's, the ship was getting long in the tooth. A group of LSM veterans raised the funds to have the ship towed back to the United States for restoration to a museum ship. This trek was not unlike the experiences of the return voyage of LST-325 from Greece. By 1998, the ship was moored on the Missouri River at Freedom Park in Omaha (home of minesweeper USS Hazard and submarine USS Marlin) and restoration work commenced.

I saw and toured the LSM-45 in 1999. At the time she was about half restored and in pretty decent shape.  I thought that the ship was something of a marvel in that there was some exteremely ingenious use of space. A lot of the ship's work spaces were located on either side of the vehicle deck as shown in the pictures above and below:

I found it amazing how complete the facilities on board were. 4 officers and 54 enlisted called the LSM 'home', along with temporary accomodations for 40-50 troops. The crew and troop accomodations were under the vehicle deck on the hold deck, and I can't help but think those guys would have baked down there.

Armament for the basic LSM consisted of a 40 mm gun and 4 single 20 mm-good for light anti-aircraft work. Some of the class were modified to fire 5 in (127 mm) barrage rockets. These vessels were used for shore bombardment.

Making a long story long, in the early 2000s, the LSM-45 was moved to the Museum of the Marine in North Carolina. The ship was planned to be part of a major expansion of the museum and waterfront.

By the end of the decade, the expansion plans fizzled out and the LSM-45 has been left to rust. By 2009, the plan was to remove the mast and superstructure and scuttle the hull as an artificial reef. It would appear to be something of an ignominious end for this old vet, and a tremendous waste of time, energy, and planning over a 20-year period.

I think a lot of groups don't realize the expense required to keep up a museum ship. On paper, it sounds like a winning deal: Find the ship, clean and paint, add a souvenir stand, and voila, instant tourist attraction! There's actually a lot of mechanical upkeep involved. Ships always need chipping and painting. The bilge pumps have to kept running. A trip to a drydock is necessary every so often for getting rid of barnacles and checking for damage to the hull plates. A tour route has to be figured out and made reasonably safe and accessible for a majority of visitors. Air conditioning may be desired for visitor comfort, and most ships built during WWII don't have a ventilation system designed for A/C. Volunteers and staff are required. Stuff that at one time could be requistioned by the Navy is long unavailable. The list goes on and on. And the available pool of people who have knowledge of the systems on board an LSM are dwindling. Unlike the LST's, which were used into the Vietnam era, the LSM's were discarded after WWII. That means most of the LSM sailors are in their upper 80s and not probably up to the rigors of financing and running a museum vessel. The LST can draw on Vietnam vets for knowledge.

I also wonder why the Navy and Marine Corps don't have a proper museum for the Amphibious Force. They have been used in all of our major combat operations since WWII and are a vital part of today's armed forces. LSM-45 belongs in a decent display-perhaps on a simulated stretch of beach, unloading vehicles. This won't be its likely end. A shame. But I'm glad I got to see her when I did. 

A similar saga played out with the USS Cabot (CVL-28), which was a light carrier. This ship was built on a cruiser hull and filled the gap between the big fleet carriers and the numerous tiny escort carriers built on merchant ship hulls.

The Cabot served in World War II and was transferred to the Spanish Navy in the 1950s. Spain operated her as the carrier Dedalo into the 1990s (with a complement of Harriers and Huey helicopters), when their own design, the Principe de Asturias, entered service.

The ship was towed back to the States with big plans to make her a museum ship. But taking care of a ship a size of an aircraft carrier is an even more expensive proposition than a relatively small and simple landing ship. Mismanagement and lack of funds caused the ship to be seized and sold for scrapping:

So ends the career of the Cabot. Can't save them all, I guess. But I wish I could have seen her when she was afloat.

I've been on a fair portion of the museum ships in this country, and I appreciate the history of these vessels and the crews who sailed in them. The stories the ships and sailors could tell...

One thing that is depressing about touring these beasts is that it shows how far the US has sunk as an industrial nation. Everything on those ships was built here-the engines, the armor, the heavy guns, the electronics-you name it, it was designed and built here in America. We couldn't build a battleship here now if our nation's survival depended on it. We don't have the facilities to do things like turn a heavy gun barrel or roll heavy armor plate. Maybe our survival here doesn't depend on the ability to build armored capital ships, but oh, the people they employed. Everyone that wanted to could work, and be proud of a quality product at the end of the day. I'm not sure we'll survive as a nation selling hamburgers to one another. A major power still has to have the ability to build stuff, not buy it from overseas.

While the song is old and a bit trite, I suppose-Billy Joel's hit from 1982, Allentown, seems to fit, where he laments the massive losses in basic industry and the opportunities those industries provided for workers of all kinds-from the guy on the shop floor to the maintenance crew to the draftsman to middle management. An Englishman could probably substitute 'Sheffield' for Allentown and an Australian substitute 'Newcastle' for that steel town in the Alleghenies.

Oh yes, finally. I do like 'baby boomer' rock, much maligned in some circles. I also like old country music. If I embed a piece that offends you, here's what you do: Talk to the regimental chaplain. He'll help you fill out a 'Tough Shit' slip like what's shown below.


Write legibly in the box and send it back.


yankeedog out.


  1. Always sad to see old ships go (and take a part of their history with them).

    The loss of industry is always going to happen when some one else can build it that much cheaper. Sad but true

  2. Great clear and engaging piece, and IMO your stuff was always clever and funny.

    England has lots of songs about the decline of industrial towns.

  3. Bangar-Yeah, we 'stole' a lot of the industrial business from England in the late 19th Century. The Chinese are doing it to us now. Perhaps another nation will in time do the same to them-almost certainly will given the ebb and flow of history.

    Barnesy-Well, I try to be informative at least. Some people are clever and engaging. My new motto is going to be 'Let them hate, so long as they fear.'

  4. Nicely put together YD. The decline of employment intensive industries is a sad constant. Wha'ts also sad is seeing those venerable craft either rust out or get chopped up for scrap.

  5. Therbs-Thank you, sir. At what point does a nation's industrial base corrode so badly, though, that it can't produce what it needs to defend or feed itself? I fear we're well down that path.