USS LST-531

Overview

Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
1463495
Date first listed:
29-Apr-2020
Location Description:
Lyme Bay, Sidmouth, Devon

Map

Ordnance survey map of USS LST-531
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Lyme Bay, Sidmouth, Devon
National Grid Reference:
SY4711559676

Summary

USS LST-531 comprises a Landing Ship, Tank that was torpedoed on 28th April 1944 during a full scale rehearsal for D-Day. The wreck is a military maritime grave and remains the property of the US Government.

Reasons for Designation

USS LST-531, located off Sidmouth in Lyme Bay, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: as a material record and an eloquent witness to the preparations around England’s coast for the largest amphibious invasion ever undertaken, on June 6th 1944;

* Rarity: one of only two surviving Landing Ship, Tanks anywhere within UK waters;

* Potential: forming a primary source of archaeological evidence relating to material preparations and personal equipment for Exercise TIGER;

* Survival: although its hull plating is holed, the wreck has been described as "sound". The stern is the most intact section as the ship was torpedoed in the bow area;

* Group value: directly co-located and associated with the loss of LST-507 (also a scheduled monument, National Heritage List for England entry 1463496).

History

In preparation for the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Commanders realized that a combined arms operation on such a scale had never been attempted and most of the Allied sailors, soldiers and airmen had not been involved in an amphibious landing before. This necessitated the use of coastal training grounds that resembled the invasion beaches of Normandy as closely as possible; the D-Day landings would never have been such a success if it wasn’t for the numerous practice assaults that occurred in south west England in the spring of 1944.

Exercise TIGER, which occurred in late April, was the last full scale rehearsal for Force U (destined to land on UTAH Beach on D-Day) before the invasion, which was now only 5 weeks away. The plan was to put the bulk of the US VII Corps ashore at Slapton Sands, from where it would advance and ‘capture’ Oakhampton, some 25 miles inland. Co-ordination and communication problems resulted in friendly-fire deaths during the exercise, and an Allied convoy positioning itself for the landing exercise was attacked by German E-boats, resulting in the deaths of at least 749 American service personnel and the sinking of both LST-507 and LST-531 in Lyme Bay, Devon, in the early hours of the 28th.

The Landing Ship, Tank (LST) is an ocean going ship capable of shore to shore delivery of tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, and troops. Developed in response to a need for amphibious armoured infantry assaults, the bow of the LST had a large door that would open to allow for the embarkation of vehicles. A special flat keel allowed the ship to beach and remain upright while twin propellers and rudders had protection from grounding. The LSTs served across the globe during the Second World War, particularly in the European and Pacific theatres. Over one thousand LSTs were built in the United States during the war with a further eighty built in the UK and Canada.

USS LST-531 was a LST-491-class landing ship launched at Evansville, Indiana, in November 1943. Displacing 4080 tons (when loaded), the one hundred metre long landing ship had a complement of some 117 officers and enlisted men.

In preparation for Exercise TIGER, the LST carried an additional 25 naval personnel plus 354 officers and men of the 462nd Amphibian Truck Company and the 3206th Quartermaster Service Company. Various calibre of live ammunition was also carried.

Just after 0215hrs on the 28th April, LST-531 was struck by two torpedoes fired during a German E-boat attack. The result was later described as a ‘gigantic orange ball’ of flame following two thunderous explosions and the ship began to sink almost at once. Ammunition started firing from the bow armament and surviving personnel immediately jumped into the freezing sea – amid burning fuel oil – many of whom could not swim. Many personnel were trapped below decks as the ship rolled over and sank within six minutes. Out of the total of 749 US personnel who died during the German attack, 424 army and navy servicemen were lost from LST-531.

Two other LSTs were severely damaged during the attack: LST-289 was torpedoed but was able to make headway to Dartmouth; LST-507 was also torpedoed and was later sunk by Allied gunfire.

Details

Discovered by divers, LST-531 was found to be lying mostly on its side - stern to the north-west. Although its hull plating is holed, the wreck has been described as ‘sound’. The stern is the most intact section as the ship was torpedoed in the bow area.

In 2014, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) survey was undertaken by Hydroid, Inc., with additional data provided by the Royal Navy's Maritime Autonomous System Trials Team. This survey confirmed the positions of LST-507 and 531.

Survey commissioned by Historic England in 2018/19 confirmed that LST-531 lies with a break amidships separating the two halves by as much as 30m. The bow door shows signs of traumatic failure and an impact location can be seen on the port side. The entrance to the vehicle garage on the third deck preserves its original shape. Five vehicles lie on the seabed between the two section of hull, including at least three 2.5-ton trucks and a jeep; other seabed debris includes frames, shell plating and ammunition. The remains of a Higgins boat (technically, a landing craft, vehicle, personnel - LCVP) lies close to the north side of the stern section. Sonar inspection revealed significant damage at the stern and the original shape of the stern is not apparent.

LST-531 is a sensitive archaeological site. Though not designated as a military maritime grave, it does comprise the final resting place of an unknown number of US service personnel who died almost 76 years ago in the pursuit of liberty. As such, the wreck is deserving of respect, particularly as the deceased are commemorated annually at the Exercise TIGER memorial, Torcross, Devon.

Records held by Historic England show that LST-507 and LST-531 are the only two Landing Ship, Tanks in British waters. Despite being built in substantial numbers during the Second World War, LSTs are very rare. Only one other LST survives; LST-325, which landed at OMAHA beach on D-Day, and is preserved on static display in Indiana, USA.

The scheduling consists of an area 80m around 50.434545, -2.745998.

Sources

Books and journals
McDonald, K (author), Dive South Devon, (1995), 39
Small, K (author), The Forgotten Dead, (1988), 70, 222-24
Symonds, C L (author), Operation Neptune, (2016), 210-18, 339
Dunkley, M, Scott, G, 'Exercise TIGER: Archaeological echoes of rehearsals for the D-Day landings' in Current Archaeology, , Vol. 350, (2019), 42-45
Websites
Exercise Tiger Memorial, accessed 08/03/2019 from http://www.exercisetigermemorial.co.uk/
Marine Robots Survey D-Day Rehearsal Wreckage for the First Time in History, accessed 08/03/2019 from https://www.km.kongsberg.com/ks/web/nokbg0238.nsf/AllWeb/A0FA6A82A56A9F67C1257CC40030388A?OpenDocument

Legal

This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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