HISTORY OF THE USS LST 983
By Frank Wahler
LST 983 was laid down by Boston Naval Shipyard, 22 December 1943; launched 10 February 1944; sponsored by Mrs. (Lucille) Orrin R. Hewitt; commissioned 25 March 1944. Lt. Woodrow W. Weir USNR in command.
A week after commissioning she proceeded to Portsmouth, Virginia where the LCT 659 was loaded on the main deck. At the same time, preparations were made for sailing to the European Theater of Operations.
Upon completion of preparations for sea, she sailed to New York await convoy sailing. On April 18, 1944, she sailed out of New York as the flagship of Commander LST Group 52 with Commander W. J. Whiteside aboard, in convoy with 112 ships.
This was the first time at sea for most of Ship's Company and the majority of them had much to learn before becoming a seasoned crew, but through constant drilling and teamwork the crew was slowly molded into an excellent fighting unit.
After sixteen days of sailing, on the afternoon of May 3rd, the ship arrived in Londonderry, No. Ireland to discharge fuel oil that had been carried across the Atlantic as ballast. From Londonderry she proceeded to Milfordhaven, Wales and then to Plymouth, England where the LCT 659 was launched from the main deck.
A week later the ship sailed through the English channel, passing through the Straits of Dover and into the Thames River, proceeding a to London. After, two days in London she moved down to Tilbury Docks where final preparations were made for the assault on Fortress Europe. It was here that she was loaded for D Day. This load consisted of British personnel and material including engineers, paratroopers, infantry and radar aircraft units. Upon completion of loading she moved down the Thames River to assigned anchorage to await final orders.
By the evening of June 3rd, the mouth of the river was full of ships of all types awaiting the final word to get underway. Word came the evening of June 4th and at 0900, June 5th she got underway as Vice Commodore of Task Unit GL3 which included 27 American LSTs destined the British sectors of the Normandy beaches. In early morning hours the convoy was of the Isle of Wight where it rendezvoused with other units and then proceeded across the channel.
The Task Unit arrived at Juno Beach at 1600 on June 6th and was to unload at 1700. However, due to the tremendous number of ships involved in the operation, the unloading did not go according to plan. The ships that were scheduled to unload were anchored off the beach to await further orders. Air activity during the afternoon was very slight do to the great superiority of Allied air power. At 2300 all Allied planes were ordered out of the area since plane recognition is almost impossible at night. At 2245 the Luftwaffe showed up in force. Their first attach was sporadic strafing and bombing the hundreds of ships anchored in that area. However, this attack didn't meet with too much success. The attack then shifted to the beach where the results were much better; destroying the beach battalion, quantities of equipment and firing ammunition dumps with phosphorus bombs.
At 0230, on the morning of June 7th, this ship proceeded to the beach and unloaded. Upon completion of unloading she returned to her anchorage and later that day set sail for Southhampton for more troops and equipment.
In the first thirty days this ship made ten trips to Normandy, supplying all of the various beaches at the beachhead. Up until December she operated continuously to Normandy from different ports in England including London, Portsmouth, Portland and Southhampton.
The first bad luck came the first of November while beached at Le Harve France during a storm. Here a wire was fouled around the starboard propeller and the ship was sent to Plymouth, England for dry docking.
After dry docking, operations were again started. By this time the beaches were closed and unloading was done at various captured ports in Europe. Trips were made to Cherbourg, Le Havre and Rouen the latter port being sixty miles up the Seine River.
Christmas Eve was spent underway from Le Havre to Southampton and on Christmas Day the ship was ordered to Portland, England.
By this time the Battle of the Bulge was underway and it was a battle of submarines as well since the Nazis had staked everything they had in their last desperate effort. During this critical period the ship was constantly on the move from Portland to Le Havre and Rouen carrying 500 more troops each trip to be thrown into the Battle of the Bulge. This period also marked the last contact with the enemy. She was returning from La Harve on the night of January 12th with seven other LSTs when the convoy was attacked by submarines. Fortunately, the convoy was heavily escorted and the excellent performance by our Canadian escorts drove off the U-boats.
V-E Day found this ship back at Tilbury Docks in the Thames River she had originally set sail for D Day. At this point she had made 46 trips to the Continent. Five more trips were added running from Tilbury to Oost in Belgium. The next trip, number 52, was the longest and last trip she made. This time see left from Tilbury to load troops in Germany to be transported to Norway. On May 25th her course was set for Germany and she sailed forty miles up the Elbe River being the first American ship to enter Germany since the war. After five days in what was left of Hitler's Reich she sailed northward through the North Sea to Oslo, Norway carrying British troops for the Army of Occupation.
From Norway she sailed to Plymouth, England for repairs before returning to the United States. She arrived in Norfolk Va., 17 July 1945, bringing 103 men freed from German Prisons and PT-199 which had been secured to her main deck for the crossing.
During Normandy and later in World War II, LST-983 crossed the Channel 102 times, transporting over 10,000 troops and over 3000 vehicles to beachheads and ports of Europe, and returning more than 2,000 Prisoners to England.
From the time the commissioning pennant was hoisted until this ship returned to the United States, she was commanded by Lieutenant Woodrow W. Weir, USNR, of Georgetown Texas. Lieutenant Weir was a veteran of the North African campaign, Sicily and Salerno where he served as an Executive Officer aboard an LCI(L).
During the decade following World War II, LST 983 has played a prominent role in the training of Naval, Marine, and Army personnel in the skills needed to maintain a high state of operational readiness. Based at Norfolk, VA. She participated in amphibious training with the Marine Corps at Quantico, VA., and at Camp LeJeune, N.C. She also took part in amphibious warfare demonstrations and exercises during annual summer midshipmen training cruises. Each spring she also joined in maneuvers of the Atlantic Fleet in the Caribbean, making amphibious assaults on Vieques, P.R, In addition, the landing ship replenished several isolated bases in the Arctic. Her duties took her to many ports in the Caribbean and on the eastern seaboard of the United States.
On 1 July 1955, LST 983 was named Middlesex County. Her status was reduced to in commission in reserve in October, and she decommissioned at Green Cove Springs, Fla., 10 January 1956 and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
Middlesex County recommissioned 27 September 1961 and soon established a pattern of alternating operations between the Virginia Capes area and the Panama Canal Zone training marines and soldiers in the technique of modern amphibious warfare. In the spring of 1962 she participated in operation DEMOLEX, and amphibious demonstrations for President Kennedy at Onslow Beach, N.C. That fall she was awarded the battle efficiency "E" for being the top ship of 16 activated for the Amphibious Force during 1961.
News of the Cuban missile crisis found Middlesex County heading home for Virginia. Ordered to Port Everglades, Fla., she immediately began training with troops of the Army's 1st Armored Division. The efficiency of the naval quarantine of Cuba and the mobilization of American Armed might quickly persuaded the Soviet Union to withdraw its offensive missiles enabling Middlesex County to return home 16 December.
On 17 May 1965, the LST steamed to the assistance of Panamanian National Guard Launch No. 2. The next morning they found the craft adrift, dispensed food and water to 50 prisoners and 5 guards, and took the launch in tow to return her to Isla Cobia that night. A year later she again served as a good Samaritan of the sea. Her two LCVPs were used to refloat La Bonita after the tramp steamer had run aground near Tumaco, Columbia, 11 May 1966. Late in June she carried heavy equipment for the Inter Oceanic Canal Study Group.
After overhaul in the spring of 1967, begun at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Baltimore, and completed at Jacksonville Shipyards, Jacksonville, Fla., the LST returned to Little Creek 19 June for training She got underway 25 August for another deployment with the Canal Zone Amphibious Group. During this deployment she transited the canal on four occasions for operations along the Pacific coast of Central and South America. After returning to Little Creek 27 December the tank landing ship resumed training operations. Throughout 1968 Middlesex County conducted local operations in the Atlantic and Caribbean, continuing these operations into 1969.
Middlesex County (LST 983) received one battle star for World War II service.
Stricken from Navy List in 1969. Sold to L.P. Callimros, Athens, Greece, November 12, 1975.
After sailing many thousands of miles, she was finally lost by running aground at Benghazi, a seaport in Northern Libya on 4 December, 1980. Thatís years of sea duty, the equivalent of 9 hash marks, and if that "ainít" a record for an LST, it must be mighty close to it.
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