A county in southeastern Tennessee, the seat of government for which, Pikeville, is located about 75 miles north of Chattanooga.
(LST-356: dp. 4,080 (f.); l. 328'0"; b. 50'0"; dr. 14'1"; s. 11.6 k. (tl.); cpl. 119; trp. 147; a. 1 3", 6 20mm.; cl. LST-1)
LST-356 was laid down on 7 September 1942 at the Charleston (S.C.) Navy Yard; launched on 16 September 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Harold Rivington Parker; and commissioned on 22 December 1942, Lt. George A. Jacquemot, USNR, in command.
Following shakedown in Chesapeake Bay and post-shakedown repairs at the New York Navy Yard, LST-356 set out for the coast of Africa on 19 March 1943. She stopped at Bermuda between 23 and 27 March and reached Senegal on 13 April. From there, she moved north and entered the Mediterranean Sea. For the next few weeks, she conducted shuttle runs between ports on the North African coast--Oran, Arzew, Tunis, and Bizerte--before she took part in Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily.
For that assault, she beached at Beach Blue Two, in the "Cent" area on the afternoon of 10 July and unloaded her embarked tanks and other vehicles within an hour. Then, she turned to the task of unloading ammunition, gasoline, and general stores until directed to retract and lie to offshore. During the retraction phase, though, LST-356 grounded on a sandbar on her port bow, rupturing a fuel tank in the auxiliary engine room. However, she managed to struggle free under her own power in about 20 minutes and then proceeded to the transport area.
The following day, she resumed unloading, using her boats in the effort. Later, on the 12th, she assisted Charles Carroll (APA-28) in unloading her cargo despite frequent interruptions by enemy air raids. Beaching again on the 13th, the tank landing ship, helped by Army engineers, started to unload the remainder of her own cargo, and her crew completed the job on the 14th.
Over the ensuing weeks, LST-356 voyaged thrice to Sicilian ports bringing supplies into Scoglitti, Gela, and Palermo. During this time, she also carried a cargo of radar equipment and night fighter directing gear to the island of Ustica, some 40 miles north-northwest of Palermo.
Before the year was out, the ship took part in her second amphibious action Operation AVALANCHE, the invasion at Salerno, Italy. She arrived in the Gulf of Salerno on D-Day, 9 September, and immediately commenced discharging DUKWs. Upon completing this task some 40 minutes later, she lay to, ramp and bow doors secured, to await orders. During that period of inactivity, enemy planes appeared overhead, and the tank landing ship’s gunners joined in the fire to drive them off.
LST-356 launched pontoons and arrived off the beaching area at noon. She approached the beach under fire from shore batteries. Unloading her vehicles swiftly, LST-356, still under fire, retracted from the beach without difficulty suffering neither damage nor casualties. After retrieving her boats and embarking German prisoners of war, she returned to the rendezvous area.
Underway again, LST-356configured with a “flight deck”began launching the first of four U.S. Army Piper L-4A “Grasshoppers” for liaison missions. As she increased speed to flank, the first L-4A took off, but narrowly missed the guardrail to the forecastle-mounted 40-millimeter mount. The second took off two minutes later, but it struck the guardrail and fell into the sea off the starboard bow. Executing hard right rudder and stopping her engines, LST-356 swung to starboard to avoid running down the splashed “Grasshopper.” Fortunately, a boat from Procyon (AKA-2) picked up the Army pilot, and the attack transport took him on board and treated his injuries. Determining the runway to be faulty, Lt. Jacquemot and the officer in charge of the planes decided against launching the other two L-4As. For the rest of the day and throughout the night, LST-356 remained in the vicinity, her crew at general quarters because of periodic enemy air attacks.
On the 10th, LST-356 set out in convoy for Bizerte and thereafter conducted follow-up trips from Bizerte to Salerno; Tripoli to Salerno; and Bizerte to Taranto, lifting both American and British troops and equipment. While engaged in one such mission on 15 September, LST-356 came under “extremely heavy enemy shore-based gunfire” off Green Beach in the northern attack area. Shells landed on both sides of the ship, under the stern and on the beach immediately off the ramp; but, except for a British Army passenger who suffered a severe leg wound, those embarked in LST-356 again came through without a scratch.
Leaving the Mediterranean in the fall of 1943, LST-356 proceeded to England where she spent the ensuing months refitting and training for the Normandy invasion. While not part of the initial phase of Operation “Neptune,” she did take part in follow-up action. She sortied from the Thames in convoy, and arrived off “Sword” Beach early on the evening of 14 June, streaming her barrage balloon “to lethal height,” and made smoke during dusk and evening hours. Although sporadic air attacks punctuated the night, she withheld her fire in accordance with instructions from the beachhead commander.
The following day, LST-356 and six other American LST’s received orders to proceed to “Queen Red” beach. An hour after high tide, the tank landing ship still had 10 feet of water at the ramp’s end, making it obvious “that we would have to dry out in order to discharge our troops and vehicles.” About an hour later, while waiting for the tide to recede, LST-356 observed shellfire down the beach, from the direction of the Orne River, where the Germans were known to have placed artillery batteries. Within half an hour, the fire crept up the beach and began to fall close aboard. For the next four hours, LST-356 lay exposed to the enemy guns, unable to return fire in her own defense since her 3-inch gun had been removed during the recent refit.
Around noon, the tide had withdrawn enough to permit unloading; but a shell crater directly in front of the ramp held that task up until a woven steel mat was bridged the hole and allowed the first of 47 Canadian Army vehicles to cross it shoreward. Lt. Blanco made all passengers take cover behind the superstructure or under the trucksand ordered his crew to remain under cover as much as their duties permitted. As a result there were no casualties. Within 50 minutes of the start, all vehicles had left the ship, and LST-356 proceeded to the anchorage. A short time later, however, more long-range enemy shelling compelled her to move back out to sea, but not before a shell had whistled directly over her bow and penetrated the side of LST-360. In all, five LSTs took hits from the German guns and suffered damage.
Between June 1944 and April 1945, LST-356 carried 39 loads of men and material across the English Channel. Sent home in May 1945 for a thorough overhaul, she remained at the Hoboken, N.J., yards of the Bethlehem Steel Co., undergoing repairs and alterations until the end of July 1945.
Clearing New York on 9 August, LST-356 conducted post-overhaul shakedown in Chesapeake Bay until late August. The tank landing ship then visited New York from 21 to 29 August. At the end of August, she sailed from New York on her way to deactivation in Florida. Pausing at Hampton Roads from 30 August to 13 September, the tank landing ship continued via Morehead City, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla. Reporting to the 16th Fleet on 26 September 1945, LST-356 was decommissioned on 2 July 1946 and was berthed with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Green Cove Springs. Although named Bledsoe County (LST-356) on 1 July 1955, the tank landing ship never returned to active service. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 September 1960, and she was sold to the Mechanical Equipment Co., New Orleans, on 8 March 1961 for scrapping.
LST-356 earned three battle stars during World War II.
Robert J. Cressman
12 January 2006