This U.S. Navy Ship Played an Important Transport Role during World War II

January 29, 1943

Just over a year after the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allies, one of the many ships built for service in that global conflict was commissioned into the U.S. Navy. This new vessel was an LST (formally classified as a Landing Ship, Tank). The ship had been designated USS LST-374 and, at the time of her commissioning, she was placed under the command of U.S. Navy Reserve Lieutenant Norman L. Knipe, Jr.

Ten days earlier, LST-374 had been officially launched at the Bethlehem Steel Company’s Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. Massachusetts. The sponsor for the ship during that ceremony was Cathleen Nolan Herbster. She was the wife of Navy Captain Victor D. Herbster. More than three decades earlier, he helped make U.S. military history as one of the members of the Navy’s first aviation unit.

LST-374 was one of approximately 1,000 LSTs built for amphibious operations during World War II. This type of ship was specifically designed to transport troops, cargo, tanks, and other vehicles either directly onto or near the shore of a battlefront. After being commissioned, LST-374 was assigned to the war’s Europe-Mediterranean Theater.

During the summer of 1943, LST-374 was among the vessels taking part in large-scale amphibious landings on Sicily during the Allied invasion of that island. This military campaign, which was codenamed Operation Husky, resulted in the Allies’ victory over the Axis powers in Sicily and paved the way for the Allied invasion of the Italian mainland.

The following year, LST-374 participated in an even larger military campaign: Operation Overlord, the codename for the Allied invasion of Normandy in France. (The above photo shows supplies being loaded onto LST-374 at a port in England for the Normandy invasion.) After starting the eight-hour trip across the English Channel with a large Allied flotilla shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, LST-374 stopped just a few miles (kilometers) off Omaha Beach on the Normandy coastline and was anchored there. It was at that location that a large number of troops on board LST-374 piled into amphibious boats to head onto shore for the fierce fighting between the Allies and Germany.

LST-374 remained at that location for nearly 20 hours before heading back to England. During her time off the Normandy coast, LST-374 was used for the medical care of wounded servicemen transported to the ship for immediate treatment. Doctors on board the ship used a table in the officers’ dining room for carrying out those medical procedures.

Despite being an easy target, the 328-foot (100-meter) ship was never besieged by German artillery during her extended time in the vicinity of the battle. “Our ship never fired one shot,” recalled LST-374 crew member Clayton Hayden in a 2016 interview with the Massachusetts-based MetroWest Daily News. “We never got fired on. We were very fortunate.”

The overall good luck experienced by the ship throughout the war did not go unnoticed by others across the globe. “In assaults on Sicily, Italy and France, the LST-374 escaped with scarcely a scratch,” reported the Virginia-based Times Dispatch early in 1945. LST-374 and her crew earned two battle stars for their wartime service.

In 1946, the military career of LST-374 came to an end when she was removed from the Naval Vessel Register. The following year, she was sold to the engineering firm A.G. Schoonmaker. That firm sold the vessel to the Austral Metallurgical Company of Argentina in 1948 for use as a transport ship for minerals and chemical products in South America. The ship was renamed Estrella Austral. In 1953, the ship was acquired by the Argentinian firm Sociedad Anónima Importadora y Exportadoara de la Patagónia.

A decade later, the ship was sold to Naviera Argentina Alfacrucis. This company eventually renamed the vessel Mar Austral. In 1968, the ship was wrecked when she collided with another vessel in the portion of the Paraná River in Argentina.    

For more information on USS LST-374, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_LST-374

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