History of the WIT Shoal II / LST 467
We had dived the wreck of the (West Indies Trading Company) WIT Shoal II for many years, we knew she was an inter island freighter plying her trade around the Caribbean before being wrecked in Krum Bay, South St Thomas, on 6th November 1984 during Tropical Storm Klaus. But something did not ring true, she looked like a war ship with gun emplacements still visible on her bridge. she was also sitting bolt upright on the ocean floor, which was due to the fact that she had a flat bottom. These were most unusual characteristics for an inter-island freighter.
Upon further investigation we were informed that she had originally been an LST (Landing Ship Tank). What on earth is a landing Ship Tank we wondered. This was the start of the long investigation that was to bring two second world war US Navy veterans back to St Thomas to visit their old war time ship that was in fact a highly decorated war hero.
Sir Winston Churchill, after the rout at Dunkirk tasked his war office with the following typically dramatic statement:-
" Let there be built great ships which can cast upon a beach, in any weather, large numbers of the heaviest tanks." - Winston Churchill, 1940
Precedence of awards is from
top to bottom, eft to right
John C Niedermair
designer of the LST
Aitch started the investigation by researching the LST fleet of the second world war, there was a wealth of information available about these unsung heroes of the biggest conflict in human history. There were 1051 of these ships built during the later part of the Second World War and they were used in all the amphibious landings towards the end of the war. They were pivotal in the abilities of the allies to carry out the D day landings and the campaign in the East under General Macarthur.
In their first attempt at filling this gap, in October 1940, the British constructed 30 ALCT's (Atlantic Landing Craft, Tanks), but upon testing they found they were too small for ocean voyages and they were used only for cross channel commando raids. They then tried converting three civilian oil tankers by cutting off the bow and adding bow doors and a ramp. But the shallow draft of the vessels and the blunted bows seriously reduced their speed and stability.
So, in August 1941 at the first meeting between Prime Minister Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, they concurred with the Admiralty's view that a new type of specialized landing ship was needed. Due to the wartime pressure on England's shipbuilding resources it was agreed that the design and building of these ships would be done in the US.
The US Navy had already decided what was needed; an all new type of the ship that had oceangoing stability, a reasonably sleek hull, and the ability to deposit tanks, troops and sorely needed combat machinery directly onto a beach, even if under attack. John C Niedermair of the US Navy's Bureau of Ships sketched out the basic design that was the foundation of over 1000 LST's built by 23 shipbuilding yards scattered across the USA
One major design obstacle was how to reconcile the deep draft needed for stable ocean travel with the shallow draft needed for beaching. The Navy solved this problem by designing an exceptionally large ballast system that could be filled with sea water for stability in ocean passage and then be pumped out for beaching operations. For ocean travel the vessel was capable of a draft of 14 feet and when beaching a minimum draft of only 3 feet 9 inches.
The first 1051 ships were 328 feet long 50 feet wide and displaced 1653 tons (light). 670 of these were built by five inland shipyards. Transport capability was 15 forty ton or 27 twenty-five ton tanks.
Because of the flat bottom and shallow draught needed for beach landings, relatively small propellers were fitted, this made these ships slow by wartime standards. The crew that sailed on these workhorses nicknamed them "Large Slow Targets"
Working through the various copies of the Lloyds Register of shipping, Aitch was able to find out that the WIT Shoal II had been purchased in 1973 by the West Indies Trading Company, she was converted to a freighter in 1952 by Davie Shipbuilding & Repairing Co. Ltd. of Louzon Quebec and then named the Frank J Humphrey. But this was where the trail went cold. Aitch did not have access to the 1952 Register in order to find out what number LST she had been.
A trip to the Lloyds shipping registry in London was on the books.
Upon receiving permission to browse through the library and locating the 1952 Register Aitch was dismayed to find that the previous LST number was not listed in the register. Thinking that all was lost, he then spent the remaining couple of hours browsing the war ship section of the library. It was here that a remarkable discovery was made.
Nestling between several large wartime volumes was a small exercise book titled:-
"Lloyds Index of War Built Vessels 1940-1945 Commissioned Oct 1966"
This was the jewel in the crown this tiny study commissioned all those years ago had the listing for the Frank J Humphrey as the Ex LST 467.
This was where Jim Wilkinson entered the story. Jim, researching on the Internet, came across information about a veterans society in Denver from the LST 467. Bill Schutz was in the process of trying to discover what had happened to his old warship, but the trail had gone cold at the Frank J Humphrey. Jim contacted Bill Schutz and Aitch and Bill had found their Golden Spike.
Similar ship to the Frank J Humphrey
Lloyd's Register of Shipping in London
A dive into History.
Now that the true identity of this decorated warship had been established a project was hatched to reunite two of the veterans of LST 467 with their old wartime ship. In May of 2004 Bill Schutz accompanied by four of his sons and many other members of the family along with Clarence Anderson, came to the Virgin Islands to visit their old warship once again.
Bill was a member of the Black Gang, which meant he served in the engine room of the LST 467 he was aboard her for 20 months in the pacific theatre during some of the fiercest sea battles in US Naval history. Clarence was a machinist and was on the maiden voyage of the ship in 1943 from Vancouver Washington to San Francisco. It was here that Clarence left the ship and Bill joined for the wartime service in the Pacific.
LST 467 laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet at Long Beach Navy Yard, Long Beach, CA.
Photo by The Inman Co., Long Beach, CA..
LST-467 moored at Pontoon Wharf, Tarakan, Borneo, 18 May 1945 while wounded Australian patients from the 110 Casualty Clearing Station, are carried aboard by 2/12 Field Ambulance personal.
LST-467 tank deck stripped bare to allow use as a temporary ward. Shown are some of the more serious cases which have just been transferred from jeeps and ambulances off Pontoon Wharf, Tarakan, Borneo. The wounded were transported to the Australian Army 2/5 General Hospital at Morotai, 18 May 1945
On May the 6th 2004 it finally all came together. Atlantis Submarines undertook the massively complex task of towing Atlantis Four to Saba Island where the veterans and accompanying TV, Newspaper reporters and relatives, boarded the submarine for the dive into history. Follow these links for the newspaper articles
The dive was a resounding success and the two veterans were able to recognize their old ship despite the many refits that she had undergone. Submarine Pilot Johnny Willis was able to land the sub on the quarter deck while Bills sons Steve and Pat held up a brass plaque commemorating the event and the service of all the veterans of LST 467.
A TV documentary and DVD is currently under production.
Here we see the two veterans looking out from the porthole of Atlantis IV and a shot of the Atlantis submarine passing by the stern deck of the warship. You can see the orange cup coral that adorns the wreck making it a truly magnificent underwater reef. she has become a living monument to the unsung and unsought heroism of the men who took these machines into battle under the most remarkable circumstances.
We have much to be thankful for today.
The dive is one of the best in the Virgin Islands. She is in a tidal area so careful calculation of the currents is necessary but this makes for a beautiful dive. The crystal clear waters allow for awesome views from the bridge all the way to the crane now keeping silent vigil on the deck.
After the dive a celebration on the beach at Honeymoon bay was held where Bill was presented with the ships telegraph recovered from the engine room where he served his duty all those years ago. Bill now takes the artifact to all his LST 467 reunion meetings in Denver CO. We are now in the process of trying to have the site of the LST 467 registered as a site of historical interest, so that it can be preserved for future generations.
For more photos and information on the dive site today, see the Interactive Dive Site Map
Bill and Clarence get the first glimpse of their ship after fifty nine years
<< Bill being presented with the ships telegraph (Annunciator).
To view the latest info on the LST-467 Click here
Bill Schutz and another Veteran, Stu Knickerbocker visited their old ship once again in May of 2007. A DVD of this dive and the story so far is available see the DVDiveguide page for more details
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