Probus hears from an Old Sea Salt

Brian Nagle (right) with Probus Vice President Alan Porter

Bryan Nagle, although Manchester born and bred has lived in Sherborne St John for many years as he had worked for Wycombe District Council as Chief Officer Environmental Health. His badminton and tennis days are now behind him but golf and being a member of the Jane Austen Society keep him and his wife Sheila busy in their retirement years. Since 1998 Bryan has been a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke the social organisation for retired professional and business managers to which august body of men he gave an illustrated talk of his war time service in the Royal Navy.

Moving to the south he trained for thirteen months as an Electrical Engineering Rating at the Grand Hotel in Lyndhurst followed by operational service encompassing both the European and the Far East theatres of war. However the specific topic of his presentation was about his research that has uncovered the apparent lack of public recognition in this country, but not in the USA, of the major role played by the LST (Landing Ship, Tank) in both Europe and the Pacific. Bryan was Petty Officer (Electrical) in charge of the generation and distribution on two LST vessels and he has great affection for the unsung heroes that played such an important role during the hostilities of WW2.

“Operation Dynamo” the evacuation from Dunkirk of the British Expeditionary Force between 27 May and 4 June 1940 that involved many privately owned small boats also clearly demonstrated to the Admiralty the need for ocean going ships in any future amphibious operations. Something considerably more substantial was needed than the landing craft so often depicted in war films. It highlighted the need to have ships capable of delivering substantial number of tanks, vehicles and troops direct to the shore and therefore had to have a shallow draught. In recognition of this and as an interim measure, three 4000 to 4800 tons tankers which had been built with shallow draughts to pass over restrictive sand bars in Venezuela were converted with new bow doors and loading ramps. These, then, became the first tank landing ships, the name being later altered into LST (Landing Ship, Tank). They proved their worth in the 1942 invasion of Algeria but their blunt bow made for inadequate speed and a sleeker hull design was sought. Both the Royal and the US Navies jointly designed the Mk 2 version which had to carry from 13 Churchill tanks up to thirty 3 ton tanks below deck, 15 lorries above plus up to 200 troops. Some could carry the landing crafts mentioned earlier. Vessels were also designed to become hospital ships and command centres fitted with radar and wireless. Production started in the USA where inland iron foundries on navigable rivers could quickly be converted into production. At the height of production one could be built in two months.

In total 1150 LSTs were built, some 80 in the UK and Canada for use in future European and Pacific invasions. The British built versions were slightly larger, of hot riveted hull design making them capable of withstanding gale force weather, whereas some of the US welded hull design were known to have failed in heavy conditions. A shared important feature of both types, the brainchild of British designer, Sir Rowland Baker, was the provision of floodable side wall buoyancy tanks. This allowed for effective trimming of the ship with the bow needing a draught only about four feet of water which enabled the beach approach to be made at speed ready to get the bow doors open and ramp down.

The Normandy landings, starting on D Day 6 June 1944, was the largest seaborne invasion in history and involved 311 LSTs with only three being lost. Most then spent the next three months, doing 50 round trips carrying tanks, supplies and troops outbound and wounded troops and German POWs on the return. Both General Eisenhower and Field Marshall Alan Brooke (later Viscount Alanbrooke who lived during and post war in Hartley Wintney and is buried there) agreed that the LST was an essential element in the overall success of “Operation Overlord”, the code name for the Normandy campaign which had to be won to turn the tide of the war in the Allies’ favour. There was no Plan B!

HMS Bachaquero at Bone
LST Loading UK
LST Anzio.