Landing Ship Dock History and Facts

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This Page Last Edited 01/11/2015

This hybrid sea going vessel was initially conceived in November, 1941. As the design progressed and developed, the Tank Landing Craft (TLC) was re-designated an Artillery Transport, Mechanized (APM) - 8 vessels (APM 1-8), were authorized for the U. S. Navy and 7 vessels - (BAPM 1-7) were ordered for the Royal Navy under the Lend Lease Act. Before actual construction of these 15 vessels began, the designator was again changed, this time, to Landing Ship, Dock (LSD). The Navy twice expanded orders of the design during WWII - first to total 19 vessels, then to total 27 LSDs.


Landing Ship, Docks (LSDs) were designed to transport loaded landing craft, amphibious vehicles and troops into an amphibious landing area; ballast down to flood their well decks; lower the stern gate to the sea, and disembark their craft and vehicles for the assault on a hostile beach. Once a beachhead was established, they acted as offshore repair docks for damaged ships, craft and vehicles up to Landing Ship Medium (LSM) and Landing Ship Infantry (LSI) sizes. In at least one reported case, the bow of a Destroyer Escort (DE) was docked for emergency repairs. Equipped with their long dry docks; shipfitter's shop; machine shop; and a carpentry shop; these vessels were able to handle extensive repairs at the scene of the assault. The first 27 of the LSD design were considered prototypes. As soon as one LSD was launched, commissioned and tested in actual combat conditions, successive launchings of the LSDs reflected the latest improvements in armament and transport capacity with their "super" or "portable" prefabricated decks. The end result, is that no two LSDs of the World War II design are exactly alike!

The United States Navy Landing Ship Dock (LSD) class of ships support amphibious operations to transport and launch of amphibious craft and vehicles such as the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), conventional landing craft and helicopters along with their crews and embarked personnel which include United States Marine Corps personnel. The Landing Ship Dock also provide docking and repair services for LCACs and for conventional landing craft. The Landing Dock Ship's company consisted of approximently 18 officers and 330 enlisted men in different Divisions. The ship could also hold up to 325 combat troop personnel.

Following quote from Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet, "Korean War, US Pacific Fleet Operations: Interim Evaluation Report No. 1 Period 25 June to 15 November 1950," Naval Historical Center, Washington, DC, DC.

"This specially designed amphibious ship grew rapidly in popularity by experience in Korean employment. Carrying loaded LSU, LVT or LCM, this ship has distinct advantages for assault work due to its rapid discharge of pre-loaded smaller craft. Experienced LSD commanding officers are of the opinion that the full capabilities of these ships have not been exploited and that they have potential, undiscovered value in amphibious work. During the peacetime years, LSD were little used for the purpose for which designed. During fleet exercises the LSD was generally used only as a rough weather haven for LVT and boats, and were taken on exercise operations almost solely for this purpose. Additional uses for LSD include:

(1) Use as a boat repair base for which it is well equipped and was so used in World War II operations.
(2) Provide transportation of essential warping tugs, salvage craft and other small vessels needed at the objective, too small for independent movement to distant shores."

Excerpts from publication "Hell on the Beach Landing Craft at War"

The keel for the first LSD was laid on 22 June 1942, launched 21 December 1942 with Mrs. Jabez Lowell chosen to observe the tradition of smashing the bottle of champagne against the hull of the USS Ashland (LSD-1). It had earlier been decided to name the first group of LSDs after the famous homes of famous Americans. Ashland, for instance, for the estate home of the famous statesman Henry Clay at Lexington, Kentucky. She was commissioned 5 June 1943.

As the first ship of a new type, to say that her strange lines brought many curious stares would be an understatement. She looked like something that had gotten away from her builder too soon.

What made the Ashland so strange in appearance was her huge docking well, a cavernous opening 44 feet wide and 396 feet long which ran from the stern to clear up under the bridge ending near the bow. Almost one hundred feet longer than a football field, Ashland’s well deck was only 61 feet short of the ship’s 457 foot overall length. In it would fit 27 LCVPs, 18 LCMs with one LCVP in each, three LCU, one LSM - or anything small enough to fit its nose through the stern opening (during the Korean was another LSD would take aboard a destroyer escort for dry dock repairs).

It was realized from the beginning that the Ashland and her sisters to follow would be very versatile and handy ships to have around - not just during infrequent major amphibious landings but for general transport and day to day odd jobs that arise particularly including small craft maintenance. In fact, this is exactly what maintenance became far better known for, their ability to take smaller craft aboard for on the spot dry dock repairs. Each LSD was equipped to change screws, shafts and other parts of smaller craft by virtue of a fully equipped machine shop as well as a complete wood shop for working on the smaller wooden-hulled landing craft and PT-boats.

The LSD was designed for steam power, an engine room being located in the wings amidships on both sides of the docking well. Ashland and seven sisters built in Oakland were equipped with Skinner eight-cylinder reciprocating uniflow steam engines of 7,000 horsepower each. Later LSDs starting with those launched by Newport News during 1944 would, however, switch to steam turbine power of the high-pressure impulse reaction, single flow Parsons type. LSDs could make 15-16 knots, easily putting them in the "fast transport" category.

The next Moore-built LSD to enter service was the USS Belle Grove (LSD-2) in August followed by Carter Hall (LSD-3), Epping Forrest (LSD-4), Gunston Hall (LSD-5), Lindenwald (LSD-6), Oak Hill (LSD-7) and White Marsh (LSD-8).

After Newport News Shipbuilding built four built-for-Britain LSDs, they went on to build what would become the Casa Grande Class. Starting with the Casa Grande (LSD-13), the additional ships included, in order of their launching, Rushmore, Shadwell, Cabildo, Catamount, Colonial and Comstock (LSDs 14 through 19).

Cabildo and Catamount were able to see the later stages of action in the Pacific only by virtue of the fact the ever efficient Newport News Shipbuilding had delivered the two ships some six months ahead of schedule, a rather amazing feat when one considers that the construction of these ships had been tacked on to an already full building schedule.

Eight more LSD were contracted for during the war years, seven of which were completed and delivered. Donner (LSD-20) and Fort Mandan (LSD-21) were built by the Naval Shipyard at Boston during early 1945 and were both in commission by October of that year.

Gulf Shipbuilding of Chicasaw, Alabama received the contracts for LSDs 22,23 and 24 but the war was drawing to a close. The USS Mandan (LSD-21) was launched in May 1945 but was not completed until January of 1946, six months after Japan’s surrender. She was nevertheless commissioned and went on to enjoy a long and distinguished career serving into the 1970s.

The USS San Marcos (LSD-25) the single example of that type built by Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Laid down in September 1944 and commissioned in mid April 1945, she had just arrived off Okinawa with her first war cargo when the Japanese surrended in August. This ship, too, went on to enjoy lengthy career with the U.S. Navy and then was finally transferred to the Spanish Navy in mid 1971 where she served as the Galicia

The last two war-built LSDs, numbers 26 and 27, were also built by the Boston Naval Shipyard but were launched too late in the war to participate in combat operations. Both of these ships, the USS Tortuga (LSD-26) and the USS Whetstone (LSD-27) went on, however, to enjoy long service lives with the Navy.

The Navy thought so much of the capabilities of the LSD that in the early 1950s it was decided to build a new class of eight ships. Along with the lead ship of the class, the USS Thomaston (LSD-28) which was launched in September 1954, the seven additional ships included Plymouth Rock (LSD-29) Fort Snelling (LSD-30), picking up the name from the WWII LSD-23 which had been canceled, Point Defiance (LSD-31), also picking up the name of the canceled LSD-24, Spielgel Grove (LSD-32), Alamo (LSD-33), Hermitage (LSD-34) and Montecello (LSD-35). These ships sported redesigned superstructures as well as sleeker and more eye pleasing hull lines. This class could be identified from the earlier ships in that its ship had their main lifting cranes and smoke stacks offset from one side to the other.

A decade later, the Navy once again decided to build new LSDs. Authorized in 1956-66, this would be a five ship class named after the lead ship, the USS Anchorage (LSD-36) which was launched in 1965 by Ingalls but not commissioned until March of 1969. The remaining four ships of the class were built by General Dynamics at their Quincy, Massachusetts facility, all being launched during 1966-67 and commissioned between 1970-72. Differing somewhat in superstructure and side view appearance from the Thomaston Class, the five Anchorage Class ships USS Portland (LSD-37), USS Pensacola (LSD-38), USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39) and USS Fort Fisher (LSD-40) were 553 feet in length, 43 feet longer than the earlier ships and could carry a slightly heavier load with a well deck measuring 430’ x 50’. The ships are easily distinguished from earlier LSDs by their enclosed twin 3-inch gun mounts on either side just ahead of the bridge.

The Whidbey Island Class consists of USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41), USS Germantown (LSD-42) and Fort McHenry (LSD-43), all of which were along with the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44), USS Comstock (LSD-45), USS Tortuga (LSD-46), USS Rushmore (LSD-47) and USS Ashland (LSD-48).

The most recent class of ship are the Harpers Ferry Class - Cargo Varient consists of USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-CV 49), USS Carter Hall (LSD-CV 50), USS Oak Hill (LSD-CV 51) and the USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-CV 52).

The USS Pearl Harbor, the first ship to carry the name honors the heroic actions of the members of the armed services as well as the citizens of Oahu during December 7, 1941 attack. Pre-commissioned in July of 1997 and commissioned May 30, 1998, the ship was built by Avondale Industries, Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Like other dock landing ships in its class the Pearl Habor has been built and designed to project power ashore by transporting and launching amphibious craft and vehicles and equipment manned by Marines for amphibious assault. The ship can also render limited docking and repair service to small ships and craft and act as the primary control ship in an amphibious operation. The Pearl Harbor is 609 feet long and will carry a crew including 24 officers and 308 enlisted personnel and a flanding force that includes more than 500 Marine personnel.

More Excerpts from publication Hell on the Beach Landing Craft at War

The following wartime account by a reporter observing operations aboard the USS Lindenwald (LSD-6) best explains how it is all done:

"It takes 330 men and 18 officers to man this LSD and they're all busy when her snubby bow approaches the embarkation area. Though operations look simple, they are extremely complex. According to the skipper, 'It takes an hour and a half to ballast her down until there's enough water in the docking well to float the small craft. So we start while we're still underway.'

"As the ship plows along, you can see preparations being made. Men with telephone gear stand at six different stations around the ship to report ballasting progress. Each phone connects with the ballast-control center - a tiny shelter on the starboard wing well, lined with huge panels of wavering dial needles reminiscent of the control room in a submarine. The trembling deck underfoot tells you the big pumps are pulling sea water into the ship's 36 tanks, located along the keelson, under the wooden planked floor of the docking well.

"'We watch like hawks,' explains the skipper, 'to keep from having any half-full tanks with free surface - where water can slosh around. If the ship is rolling in a heavy sea swell, free surface water will slosh steeper than the roll and keep the roll going - an invitation to capsize.'

"The engineering officer on the wing wall orders the 45-foot steel stern gate open a crack, and the first sea spills in around its lower edges as the ship ' settles in the sea. Slowly, the well fills like a big bathtub. Before the destination is reached, 7000 tons of salt water will flood the docking well. Actually, 3500 tons are enough to float the 40-foot LCMs sitting snugly side by side, and they soon bob like corks, their steel sides screeching as they rub together in the swell.

"Gears whirl and down goes the gate, folding neatly in half, then doubling back under the stern. Boat engines roar. A blue, smoky, exhaust haze fills the docking well. Three at a time the boats emerge from the pungent fumes, through the open stern of the mother ship."

The exhaust haze to which the wartime report refers was undoubtedly enhanced by the covering superdeck which tended to keep exhaust gases trapped within the well deck. It should be noted, however, that early operations with the first LSDs saw the ships sortie without superdecks in place. The same reporter went on to witness the process of taking the LSDs landing craft back aboard.

"Up on the after end of the port wing wall stands the docking officer, holding a power megaphone with which he calls signals. Like the LSO on an aircraft carrier, it is his responsibility to bring each of the boats aboard again safely. Only he "talks" them in like this:

'Number six aboard center; seven and eight follow port and starboard,' booms the big speaker.

In they come; the first LCM roaring right down the center of the mother ship right up to her bow. Two others follow, flanking it, until they are wedged in and secured. The loading proceeds, three at a time, until the last of the little craft have disappeared into the dark maw of the big ship. Then, the stern gate closes part way, to allow the ocean inside the ship's belly to seep back out where it belongs as the ship deballasts underway.

Reloading landing craft was a pretty smooth operation in a calm sea. But in rough water, it took skilled crewmen aboard both the ship and the boats to handle and secure the five ton landing craft. Typically, as they would enter the heaving docking well, they would whirl and spin, bashing the ship's bulkheads and each other as the action of the confined sea water tossed them around like corks in a typhoon. To make matters worse, were such rough water operations being undertaken in an actual combat area where the ship might be endangered by, say, air attack (indeed, LSDs accounted for several kamikazes downed during the later stages of the Pacific war), the skipper often made the decision to order the landing craft to back in. This would allow them to make a quicker getaway should the need arise. Although to the untrained eye, the pandemonium of bringing the landing craft back aboard in a rough sea might have seemed like mass confusion - men scrambling along the wing walls, climbing over each other to grab lines and make them fast - the operation was typically well orchestrated. It had been practiced many times. If the captain wanted to get his ship out of the area, everything would be timed to the last second. As the first boats would come aboard, the LSD would begin to deballast at once - forward tanks first. If all went well, the forward end of the docking well would be progressively tipped up and dry, the first boats grounded seconds after being lashed in place thus preventing them from banging about.

The skipper of one LSD once pointed out another minor advantage of this unique ship's abilities. "Plenty of times after deballasting, nice big fresh fish are left flopping around the docking well. We've had lots of fresh sea bass for supper as a result."

The United States Navy

Dock Landing Ship - LSD

Updated: 1 October 2003

 USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 56) arrives in San Diego Bay Description: Dock Landing Ships support amphibious operations including landings via Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), conventional landing craft and helicopters, onto hostile shores.

Background: These ships transport and launch amphibious craft and vehicles with their crews and embarked personnel in amphibious assault operations

LSD 41 was designed specifically to operate LCAC vessels. It has the largest capacity for these landing craft (four) of any U.S. Navy amphibious platform. It will also provide docking and repair services for LCACs and for conventional landing craft.

In 1987, the Navy requested $324.2 million to fund one LSD 41 (Cargo Variant). The ship differs from the original LSD 41 by reducing its number of LCACs to two in favor of additional cargo capacity.

Point of Contact:
Public Affairs Office
Naval Sea Systems Command
Washington, DC 20362

General Characteristics, Harpers Ferry Class

Builders: Avondale Industries Inc., New Orleans, La.
Power Plant: Four Colt Industries, 16 Cylinder Diesels, two shafts, 33,000 shaft horsepower
Length: 609 feet (185.6 meters)
Beam: 84 feet
Displacement: 16,708 tons (16,976.13 metric tons) full load
Speed: 20+ knots (23.5+ miles per hour)
Landing Craft: Two Landing Craft, Air Cushion
USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49); Sasebo, Japan.
USS Carter Hall (LSD 50); Little Creek, Va.
USS Oak Hill (LSD 51); Little Creek, Va.
USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52); San Diego, Calif.
Crew: Ships Company: 22 officers, 397 enlisted; Marine Detachment: 402 plus 102 surge
Armament: Two 25mm MK 38 Machine Guns, Two 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts and Six .50 cal. machine guns
Date Deployed: 7 January 1995 (USS Harpers Ferry)

General Characteristics, Whidbey Island Class

Lockheed Shipbuilding, Seattle, Wa. - LSD 41, 43
Arondale Shipyards, New Orleans, La. - LSD 44 - LSD 48
Power Plant: Four Colt Industries, 16 Cylinder Diesels, two shafts, 33,000 shaft horsepower
Length: 609 feet (185.6 meters)
Beam: 84 feet
Displacement: 15,939 tons (16,194.79 metric tons) full load
Speed: 20+ knots (23.5+ miles per hour)
Landing Craft: Four Landing Craft, Air Cushion
USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41); Little Creek, Va.
USS Germantown (LSD 42); San Diego, Calif.
USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43); Sasebo, Japan
USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44); Little Creek, Va.
USS Comstock (LSD 45); San Diego, Calif.
USS Tortuga (LSD 46); Little Creek, Va.
USS Rushmore (LSD 47); San Diego, Calif.
USS Ashland (LSD 48); Little Creek, Va.
Crew: Ships Company: 22 officers, 391 enlisted; Marine Detachment: 402 plus 102 surge
Armament: Two 25mm MK 38 Machine Guns; Two 20mm Phalanx CIWS mounts and Six .50 cal. machine guns
Date Deployed: Feb. 9, 1985 (USS Whidbey Island)