HISTORY OF USS FORT MANDAN
Landing ship Dock Nr. 21
USS Fort Mandan bore the designation Landing ship, dock, the 21st such ship in the Navy, thus was known as LSD-21, a member of the Ashland Class for the first ships of the type. They had the mission of lifting landing craft, or other small craft, to an amphibious landing site, or simply as cargo. The LSD was like a bathtub with a low, gated, end that would submerge partially to allow small craft to float in. When the water was pumped out of the tanks of the LSD it would rise, and the small craft would sit high and dry on keel blocks or on their flat bottoms on the well deck. The LSD could also carry cargo by simply loading it on the well deck using their own cranes, or those on the pier. Typically this would include tanks, trucks, and other heavy vehicles. LSDs are a very useful class of ship, and newer and modern versions have been built up to this day.
The main characteristics of the ship are as follows:
- 458 feet; exteme beam - 72 feet; and maximum draft - 18 feet. The well deck measures 366 by 40 feet. Maximum displacement - 9375tons. Her complement for wartime was 17 officers and 309 enlisted men, but in normal operations for her type would embark other personnel, principally those to man the lifted boats and those being lifted in those boats to the shore. These could number up to 160 men with their officers. Her armament originally included one five-inch, dual purpose, gun, and two twin and two quad mounts of 4Omm anti-aircraft guns.
Naming of this type of ship is interesting. They are named for land-marks, especially early colonial houses, such as Gunston Hall, home of George Mason, and Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. Rushmore and the later Fort Snelling, a name very familiar to every North Dakotan who entered the service during World War II, were also of this type, and there were also Fort Marion, and famed Fort McHenry. Early official histories of Fort Mandan state that it was named for the Hidatsa Indian tribe, but that was later corrected to the proper meaning of honoring the wintering over sits of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-05. Her crews liked to call her "The Fort".
Fort Mandan was built in Boston Naval shipyard, launched June 2nd, 1945, and commissioned on October 31st that year. thus she saw no service in World War II. When laid down, she had been intended for the British Royal Navy, but instead it went to the U. S. Navy, and assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. One of her earliest tasks was transporting supplies from one base to another on the eastern seaboard. A highlight was the training cruise to Northern Europe for midshipmen of the Naval Academy in 1947. She departed from Newport, RI, on June 7th, visited Rosyth, Scotland on June 21st, and Oslo, Norway from June 30th La July 5th. She anchored in Portsmouth, England on July 8th for a 10-day visit, and on July 28th returned to Newport. Caught up in the cutbacks following World War II, she was decommissioned in Orange, TX, on January 16, 1948, but still listed as in reserve.
The aggression in Korea brought her back out again, recommissioned
on October 25th, 1950, and assigned again to the Atlantic Fleet Amphibious Force, where she engaged in routine exercises along the Coast and in the Caribbean. Her homeport for most of this period was Little Creek Amphibious Base, VA, near Norfolk. She was selected to sail in the first NATO Naval Exercise, Operation Mainbrace. This took her from Norfolk to Rosyth to Copenhagen to Algiers. Then with the Mediterranean Sixth Fleet, she operated for the next two months in those waters, and visited nearly all its major ports. She arrived back in the United States on February 4th, 1953, docking at Moorhead City, NC, and soon beginning eight months of local operations.
On September 3rd, 1953 she departed New York with other ships to carry supplies and construction material to Thule, Greenland, for building of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Site. For two months she operated in the waters around Newfoundland, Labrador, and Baffin Island, visiting their major ports. She returned to Norfolk on October 13th, stopping on the way at Goose Bay, Labrador, and Argentia, Newfoundland. Four days later she was underway again for Argentia with more supplies, but back to Norfolk on November 24th. For the next year she was on training exercises on the Coast, while making another trip to Greenland in September and October 1954.
Another supply mission to Greenland (SUNEC 1955), beginning July1955, had Fort Mandan even further north, crossing the Arctic Circle, and visiting frontier posts along the east coast of Baffin Island, Cape Dyer, Durban Island, Cape Hiooper Kivitoo, and Ekalugad Fjord. In September she passed through the Hudson Strait for Coral
Harbor on Southhampton Island at the mouth of the Bay. She visited Eskimo Point and Chesterfield Inlet on the westcoast of Hudson Bay. After return to Norfolk on October 4th, 1955, the crew was treated to a trip to Bermuda, taking naval reservists on a cruise.
More routine exercises were conducted in 1956, but once again she headed north in August, spending time in Fox Basin north of Hudson Bay, and visiting again the east coast of Baffin Island. On return in October, the crew picked up a distress call from a motor vessel, the Canadian Lady Cecil, broken down, drifting helplessly, and in danger of grounding on the rugged Labrador coast. Despite severe wind and weather, and a small language difficulty of having to communicate in French, Fort Mandan succeeded in getting her under tow, and took her 140 miles down the coast of Newfoundland where a Canadian ice-breaker took over. For this feat of seamanship and rescue, the ship and crew were highly commended by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Fleet Commander, as well as others in the chain of command. Fleet exercises followed, but these were curtailed in November by the emergency situation in Europe then, beginning with the invasion of Suez.
Both routine and major fleet exercises were conducted in 1957, and from September to November the ship lifted Army personnel from Thule and Sondre Stromfjord in Greenland for the winter closing out of operations at those two locations. More Fleet exercises, then a lift of CBs (Navy Construction Battalion members) from Bermuda to Rhode
Island, encountering a hurricane on the way north. More training of the type appropriate for this ship occurred in 1958.
In 1959, Fort Mandan served in the Mediterranean with the sixth Fleet. A highlight occurred on July 3rd while visiting the French port of Sete. While there an Italian gasoline tanker blew up in a canal running through the town. It was Fort Mandan bluejackets who first boarded the tanker, entered the burning compartments, and extin-guished the fire. On return to the united States she was instrument-al in recovering "Sam", America's first monkey in space. In November and December 1962 she served as a recovery ship for NASA's Project Mercury and its astronauts. This followed a six-month overhaul to extend the ship's life, this being called a FRAM for Fleet Rehabili-tation and Maintenance.
There are gaps in the record during the 1960s. The ship continued operations of its type, with the Amphibious Forces, under advancing readiness concepts, such as formation of "Ready Groups" to which ships were assigned in turn, with embarked Marines and sometimes other personnel and, in the case of Fort Mandan, landing craft. Being in the "Ready Group" usually meant remaining in foreign waters for extended periods. Much of the time was spent in the Caribbean on exercises with other ships, but including visits to virtually all ports in the area. Anyone serving on board during that time would find much to relate, but significant highlights are!
a. Relieving USS Fort Snelling off Haiti and standing by during the crises of 1963 in that country.
b. Picking up the scientific submersible Aluminaut from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands and delivering her to Port Everglades, FL.
c. Receiving a visit by the Venezuelan Commandant of Marines at La Guaira. There also the ship delivered Project Hand Clasp material to the Venezuelan Children's Bureau.
d. Participating in naval operations connected with the Dominican Republic crisis of 1963 and 1964.
e. In 1969, undergoing a further major modernization, with upgrade of radio communications facilities and improvement of berthing and facilities for the crew.
Nevertheless, in spite of her readiness and the substantial upgrades just completed, she was decommissioned from the Atlantic Fleet in February 1971, having most honorably served during the Korean War, although not in the Far East, and the most critical periods of the Cold War. Among all ships off the Navy, she was distinguished for her difficult and successful service in Arctic regions, a fact that should make her memory warm to North Dakotans. It is a guess that, other than icebreakers, she spent more time in the Arctic than any ship of the Navy.
The same year she was sold to the Greek Government, to serve in its
Navy under the name Nafkratoussa, and with that new name the bell
became surplus. Technically, the "sale" was actually a lease for ten
years, that period having expired it is not; clear what her status is.
The foregoing was extracted and rewritten from official records in the U. S. Naval Historical Center, Washington DC,
by the author, and is entirely unofficial.
U.S. Blue Jackets from the landing ship dock Fort Mandan (LSD~1) as sisted local French firemen m ex tinguishing fires on the Italian gasoline tanker "Ombrina" which was burning in a canal in the middle of the French Mediterranean port town of Sete.Fort Mandan sailors were the first to board the burning tanker and enter burning compartments. They played a major part in extinguishing the fire at the request of the tanker skipper.
The U.S. sailors moved the burning ship with an LCM from her anchorage in the middle of the canal to the bank to permit local shore firefighting equip ment to help fight the fire and medical personnel to transfer the injured.
The rescue and assistance detail was under the command of Chief Warrant Officer Robert P. O'leary of Princess Anne Court House, Virginia. The boat was commanded by Warrant Officer John C. Abbott of Kinston, N.C. Other personnel included David B. Montgomery, Shipfitter Class; Robert H. Dunham, Boatswain Mate second class; Robert F. Vennard, Hospitalman second class; George G. Josars, Shipfitter third class; Daniel I. Richards, Engine man third class.
Others who assisted are: Hugh A.Bond; James J. MeNaughton; Joseph R.
Neubauer; Robert Vanderlofski; Myron L. Ryifrey; Lawrence A. Brown; Billy J. P. Kaufman; David P Karpinski; Mare Genmallaro; David D. Amight;
Bobby D. Hunter; Dennis Gebheim: Levon Brown; Thomas Thomas; William R. Fair; and Ray R. Markle.
In addition, sailors and embarked Marines on Shore Patrol Duty under
LtJG Gilbert Perry of Norfolk, assisted French police in maintaining order.
Fort Mandan is assigned to Amphibious Squadron Four of the Atlantic Fleet
Amphibious Force and is commanded by Cdr Robert G. Laurie.
FIRST OF SEPTEMBER, 1959
RESCUE OF THE SS LADY CECILE
Submitted by: RD Ross
It was on the Arctic return of 1956. We were on our way
While in Hudson Bay enroute to Churchill someone realized we had neglected
to leave a dump truck at Ellesmere Island.
We turned back to Ellesmere to
deliver the truck, when we arrived there the truck was loaded onto a LCU by
crane and delivered to the beach.
It would not crank due to a frozen battery,
and was towed off the LCU by a dozer.
Apparently the brakes were not set,as
the truck rolled back into the water and sank when detached from the dozer.
The LCU was enroute back to the ship by then.
We proceeded back to Churchill and while there encountered a terrible storm in Hudson Bay that lasted from Friday PM until Monday AM.
The Fort Mandan proved her
mettle in that storm, withstanding two consecutive 35 degree rolls.
Cooking was impossible and we survived on cold cuts for the duration of the storm.
The mighty Fort expressed her agony through many loud moaning and groaning
sounds, pops and snaps.
We were very concerned as to whether she could
survive the stress.
The seas were as high as the '03 deck on occasion.
fear was overcome by concern for the safety of the ship.
It could be considered irony that we were in position to rescue the Lady
Had it not been for the truck to Ellesmere and the resultant delay
returning, it would not have happened.
I was radar operator on mid-watch when we spotted her next to the beach.
characteristics indicated the contact was a ship, although it seemed
improbable due to it's location.
I reported her to the Conn and was told
"forget it, we are going home".
Can you believe that? Within minutes the
Captain came up the ladder from Officers Country.
He would always pause
look at the radar when he came through.
He saw the contact and questioned
he had not been notified, asking if I had reported it to the Bridge.
I said I
He then asked what was their response.
I had no choice but to tell him.
With that he headed for the Bridge and within moments they were asking
range and bearing to the Cecile.
(she was a small Canadian freighter with a crew that spoke only French,
and of course that presented a language barrier.
The rescue took place on the
Eastern shore of Strait of Belle Isle in the more narrow Northern region.
seas were very rough and it was for sure a night to remember).
About that time, radio central received a
very weak MAYDAY.
We would later learn the distress had been sent via hand
crank generator as the Cecile had no power, rudder or screw, having been
beached several times.
In near total darkness Captain Pugsley, conning
port aft fantail brought the Fort in close enough to secure a cable to the
That brought her away from danger until daylight when a more
secure line could be made.
We kept her in tow for five days until a Canadian Ice
Breaker arrived and took her in tow.
That extra five day delay along with
return to Ellesmere caused us to run short of food, but fortunately there
a reported 1001 ways to prepare ground meat, and I think we found them all.
To my knowledge there were no citations awarded the Fort Mandan, however, letters of commendation were given to all the crew members by the Captain.
Just thought you would like to know. Perhaps there are others that can add
RETURN TO QUARTER DECK