JJJ ON THE LST
In July of 1943 my father, Lieutenant Jerome Joseph Judge, completed a tour of duty in Central America
and was scheduled for a similar post in Madrid.
He refused the post.
“Are you out of your mind?” asked his commander. Madrid was considered light duty.
But he wasn’t crazy, just bored, tired of diplomatic duties and ready to see some action. The man on the
move needed to move on.
He was reassigned to an amphibious force and sent for advanced navigation training at Great Lakes
Naval Training Station at Fort Schuyler. He came out as Executive Officer (XO) of a ship, second in
command to the captain. At the end of 1943 he reported to Solomon’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay,
where he was assigned to Fleet Amphibious Base for the East Coast.
In early 1944 he traveled to Chicago to report for duty on a Landing Ship Tank. The LSTs were wide, flat-
bottomed boats built to carry troops and supplies to American and Allied troops fighting in Europe and the
Pacific theaters. They were given numbers instead of names and by war’s end, 1051 had been built and
placed in action
Jerome picked up his newly built LST 521 in Seneca, Illinois where the Chicago Bridge and Iron
Company was “turning them out like donuts and dropping them over the side into the river." The boat was
commissioned on February 9, 1944, docked just long enough to be outfitted with the basics, then a pilot
came aboard and they set off. The LST's flat bottoms made them difficult to handle so they couldn't stop
easily, and with all the other river traffic it made for a hair-raising trip. The ship went up one river and down
another until it reached the Mississippi River, where an old-time riverboat pilot, one of the few men who
really knew the river, met it. These men were newly commissioned as Lt. Commanders in the Coast Guard
and came aboard to pilot the LSTs down the Mississippi River. They sailed during the day, then at night
took the boat in to shore at various spots they knew along the river, tied them up for the night, then went
ashore to hit the gin mills the old-timer knew from the old days. It was vintage Mark Twain and Jerome
enjoyed every minute of it.
Once they arrived in New Orleans they completed outfitting the ship, then headed north to Baltimore for
training. Once that was completed they joined one of the convoys making the Murmansk run and Jerome
found himself on his first trip to Europe.
Murmansk, in northern Russia, was the destination of one of the convoys that regularly crossed the
Atlantic. Each convoy was made up of an assortment of ships traveling together for safety. The destroyers
escorting the convoys hated the LSTs because they were so slow and clumsy-they would rock back and
forth in the water and slow everyone down. Although they were frequently referred to as "Large, Slow
Targets" by the sailors who traveled on them, the LSTs were relatively safe from attack on these
crossings, since their wide, flat bottoms generally enabled them to ride on top of the water, out of the
range of most of the torpedoes fired by German submarines. The crossing took about two weeks and the
convoy was attacked constantly, especially at night. At one point torpedoes hit the ships on either side of
LST 521. Radar had just been discovered so it wasn't commonly used, and the convoy was at the mercy of
the German submarines that patrolled the waters of the Atlantic.
Jerome and his ship arrived safely in England and docked at Southampton. In the days leading up to D-
Day, everyone knew something big was coming, but no one knew exactly when. The captains eventually
were issued orders for Operation Overlord. The huge stacks of papers began to pile up in their offices and
while most of the Executive Officers were assigned the task of reading them, few of them actually did. The
night before the invasion, Jerome and several other XOs got together to compare notes. Two of his fellow
officers were Anthony Biddle Duke of the Philadelphia banking family, and the lawyer-writer Louis
Auchinchloss. (Auchinchloss actually began writing his first book while waiting in Southampton for D-Day to
begin so he probably didn't spend a lot of time reading his orders either).
When the operation finally began, Jerome and LST-521, under the command of Captain Reginald
Kennedy Wing, left the Port of Southampton around 3 am on June 6. The ship traveled with British and
Canadian troops who were headed for Juneau, Gold and Sword beaches, farther north on the Cherbourg
peninsula than Utah and Omaha beaches where the majority of the American troops were landing. Jerome
never knew which beach he hit, because he never read the orders.
"How did you know where to go if you didn't read the orders?" I asked my father, years later.
"We just followed whoever was in front of us, and he probably just followed whoever was in front of him,"
Most of their cargo consisted of huge tanks, along with jeeps, oil and water tanks and Red Cross hospital
trucks, all of them chained down on the tank deck with cloverleaf winches. The channel crossing took
about three hours and the water was very choppy. The previous evening the sailors had been fed a huge
meal, which most of them tossed up into the Channel once the choppy crossing began. The ship reeked of
vomit for weeks afterward.
Upon arrival at the French beaches, the Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel – LCVPs - went in first, hit the
shore, dropped their fronts and unloaded the infantry. Then the LSTs approached, ran in as close as
possible to the beach and dropped their stern anchor. Getting in to the beach was a precarious operation,
since the clumsy LSTs could not be easily maneuvered. Jerome felt as though the captain were playing a
game of dodge-em cars as he tried to position the ship for unloading. Dropping the anchor was another
ordeal, as they had to estimate the exact point at which to drop it. If dropped too soon, it was like "choking
the dog" and the ship would bob around in the water, too far from shore to unload. If they waited too long,
the ship would run aground. Once in position, the ships disgorged their cargo, which slowly lumbered off
the tank deck and onto the beaches. It was difficult to see what was happening on land because the air
was full of smoke, dropped to confuse the enemy aircraft.
LST-521 made many trips on and after D-Day. After their return to Portsmouth Harbor the ship was
assigned to different tasks and for the next several months was busy making other runs. The Allied forces
were trying to cut off the Germans on the Cherbourg Peninsula and Patton's army was working its way
down from Italy to take over the operation. LST-521 was ordered up to Wales to pick up tanks for Patton.
Upon returning with the cargo, the ship had to land on a French beach located somewhere between Mont
St. Michel and the Cherbourg Peninsula. That they even found the beach was a stroke of luck, since they
had very little information to go by. They beached in the dark, on a very high tide, and unloaded the tanks.
The next morning they looked back out to sea and saw assault obstacles – mines mounted on the top of
pilings - sticking out of the water in every direction behind them. Had the tide been lower, the ship would
have been caught up and trapped, but the high tide swept them right over the obstacles. French troops
then came along the beach and told them the Germans had just left the day before, and that they
shouldn't let anyone out on the beach because it was still mined. The ship had to stay on the beach for
several days until there was an extra heavy high tide to sweep them over the obstacles.
In the fall of 1944, Jerome was given command of his own ship, LST-541. He took over a demoralized
crew, whose previous captain had not cared much for this particular command, and delegated most tasks
to his Executive Officer, particularly the task of bringing the ship in to port. So it was the XO who was at the
helm that day when LST-541 hit every British ship docked in Portsmouth Harbor. The XO was transferred,
the Captain relieved of his command, and Jerome took over the ship.
As the war in Western Europe eased up, his ship began to carry other cargoes. One regular trip he
made was up the Seine River to Rouen carrying jeeps, tanks, infantry, or whatever was needed at the
front. Another time he traveled up to Oslo to pick up German prisoners and transport them back to
England; he could carry 1000 prisoners at a time on the tank deck. When he traveled through the fjords
he had to pick up a local captain to pilot them through, since they didn't know the waters well. Another time
he took a load of Norwegian resistance fighters from Oslo to Bergen on the other side of the Atlantic.
In the spring of 1945 his LST was in Plymouth for repairs and he had some leave coming to him. He
called the Benedictines at Buckfast Abbey on the River Dart to see if he could spend Holy Week there, and
they told him to come along. He arrived with two suitcases, one containing clothes, the other filled with
such diverse offerings as cigarettes, whiskey, hams, candy and other delicacies. That was enough to earn
him a seat at the head table, and to break bread with the Abbot and the Bishop, who had taken up
residence at the Abbey after being bombed out of London.
Barter also proved useful in the art galleries of Plymouth where he got to know a painter through a friend
in the Royal Marines, whose ship was docked near his in the port. The painter invited him to dinner one
night and Jerome offered to bring the food, an easy offer for him to make since the LST had plenty of
victuals. When he arrived with an assortment of canned goods, including a ham, which the English hadn't
seen in ages, he was the toast of the evening. He eventually departed with three watercolors of St. Ives,
Flushing, and Widdecombe Church.
In May of 1945, after V-E Day, he returned to Norfolk, Virginia, and eventually was reassigned to the Far
East, with orders to go to the Pacific. He was to sail down to Panama to pick up an amphibious vehicle
there, but other events intervened. He was dining with a group of officers in a Washington hotel on August
6 when they heard the news of the bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. His orders to the Pacific were
canceled; he was reassigned to Boston and sent to the Air Rescue Squad.