North Korea

Navy’s LSDs Carry a ‘Kangaroo Punch’

It was the morning of the invasion. The eastern sky glowed with morning sun and mist as a huge Navy task force lined up off the coast of North Korea. A helicopter spotter had reported that the channel ahead was filled with mines and the ships would not be able to move through it.

Then out of the mist it came - an unusual ship-of-war with a blunt, stubby bow, a huge bridge house and weird lines that sloped away to a squared-off stern that looked like the back end of a truck.

The strange vessel moved smoothly through the water straight toward the mine-infestd channel. Then, all at once, it squatted down in the water like a mother duck covering her brood. When its hull was half submerged the flat stern folded downward into the sea and revealed that the ship’s interior was flooded with sea water. A Marine with the task force looked at his buddy. “What kind of ship is that?” he asked. “A ship that fills with water but doesn’t sink?”

Then as if in answer to the question, a roar of motors came from the strange vessel. A haze of blue exhaust smoke appeared over its super-structure and through the gaping hole where the stern had been came a bevy of “ducklings” - a small navy of pint-sized minesweepers. LCMs and LCVPs that had been fitted out with special minesweeping gear.

As they came out the “ducklings” circled behind the mother ship. Then they formed a line three abreast, streamed their sweeping gear out behind them and moved through the mine-infested channel. The boats were staggered so that the area covered in their sweep would overlap and no part of the channel would be left unswept. The path they cleared would allow the bigger ships to move in.

When their job was done the “ducklings” streamed back to the mother ship and entered the open stern. The stern gate closed up behind them and the big ship steamed away slowly rising out of the sea as it disappeared back into the mist.

This unique ship made its initial appearance in World War II. She was named “LSD” (for landing ship dock) and her function was to carry and launch landing craft with amphibious task forces in the Pacific. However, it wasn’t long before she was doing all sorts of odd jobs for the fleet. She’s a ship with a ‘kangaroo punch.’ Her ability to take aboard small boats and ships made her an ideal dry-dock repair ship. Her huge docking-well enabled her to carry tremendous cargoes of invasion equipment. She was an important cog in the amphibious wheel. Now in Korea she has added another job to her list of duties - that of a mother to minesweepers.

She steams along in convoy with her docking-well filled with little minesweeps ready to be turned loose at any spot they’re needed to clear a path for the task force. Where combat forces were previously hampered by having to move slowly so that regular-type minesweepers could keep up with them they are now able to steam along on their missions at full tilt.

At first glance an LSD looks like something that got away from its builders before it was finished. It has a tremendous shell of a hull and a docking-well 396 feet long and 44 feet wide which tunnels from the stern clear up under the bridge to the bow.

The vast docking-well is only 60 feet short of the entire length of the LSD. In it will fit 27 LCVPs, 18 LCMs with one LCVP in each, three LCUs, one LSM - or anything narrow enough to get through the stern gate.

An LSD has a “superdeck” of steel grating that covers the top of her water-garage. On this grating go 350 tons of invasion cargo which may include tanks, cars, trucks, jeeps or other vehicles.

The superdeck comes in six-ton sections and has a six-ton traveling bridge crane that rides tracks along the top of the wing-walls. This crane can lift the deck sections overboard when they are not needed.

The average LSD has a crew of 330 men and 18 officers. Her big 7000-horsepower reciprocating engines enable her to steam along at 16 knots.

It takes about an hour-and-a-half to ballast her down until there’s enough water in the docking-well to float the small craft. In order to save time, ballasting is usually started while still underway.

Men with telephone gear stand at six different stations around the ship to report ballast progress as the ship takes on water. Each phone connects with the ballast control center - a tiny shelter on the starboard wing-wall lined with huge panels of wavering dial needles that gauge the ballasting.

Crewmen are careful to see that there are no half-full tanks with “free surface” where water can slosh around. If the ship is rolling in a heavy swell, free surface water will slosh steeper than the roll and tend to keep the roll going. If the roll is big enough it could cause a lot of damage.

Here is a “blow-by-blow” account of a typical LSD minefield operation:

When approaching the mine field the engineering officer orders the stern gate to open slightly. Slowly the ship starts to settle in the sea and the docking-well fills like a big washbowl.

By the time the destination is reached, 7000 tons of salt water have flooded the docking-well to a depth of six feet or more.

Arriving at the mine field, the engines stop and the LSD turns into the wind. Gears groan, and now the stern gate goes down, folding neatly in half and doubling back under the stern. Inside, the noise of the boat engines fills the well. Three at a time, the little sweepers emerge from the cloud of fumes to circle the mother ship like a young brood enjoying their freedom for the first time and excited by the unfamiliar surroundings.

Now they form groups and proceed to carve a path for the bigger sweeps that will follow later. Because of their small draft, mine-sweeping small craft can penetrate shallow area without danger of running aground and can clear places that the standard sized minesweeper can not reach.

With their part in the sweeping operation completed, the minecraft head back to the LSD, which is standing by. The boats form two circles off each quarter of the ship’s stern while they wait to be “called in.”

Up on the after-end of the port wing-wall stands the docking officer witha power megaphone giving the signals. Like the Landing Signal Officer on an aircraft carrier directing flight landings, he is responsible in bring each of the boats back aboard safe.

A typical command goes like this:

“No. 6 aboard center - 7 and 8 follow port and starboard.”

Immediately No. 6 roars through the stern gate right down the center to the forward end of the docking-well. No. 7 and 8 follow, flanking No. 6 until they are finally made fast with chain lashings. The loading proceeds three at a time until the last of the little craft are safely back to roost. then the stern gate closes part way to allow the ocean inside to spill back out. Deballasting begins and the ship gets underway in short order.

All this is a pretty smooth operation in a calm sea. But when “Mama” LSD is heaving and rolling in rough weather it’s another story. Only a highly skilled crew can handle the bounding small craft as they enter the heaving docking-well. The little boats whirl and spin, knock against the bulkheads and crash against each other like carnival cars.

On icy mornings in cold weather, steam lines have to be rigged to unfreeze the ballast valves so that the docking-well can be flooded and the stern gate lowered. Steam is also often applied to boat engines to warm them after a frozen night. The LCVP crews have the most rugged job of all. The constant spray forms an icy film on their boats and althought the men wear foul-weather clothing suitable for the arctic, long hours of rough-water, open-boat sweeping mean tough work in winter weather.

To make matters tougher, in combat areas boats must be backed into the well so they can be launched faster. Everything is timed to the last instant. As the boats start coming aboard after a sweeping operation, the mother ship begins deballasting at once, forward tanks first. If the engineers are on the ball, the forward end of the docking-well will be tipped up and dry and the first boats will be grounded seconds after they’re lashed into place. Deballasting proceeds sternward so that as each threesome of boats is tied up they will be high and dry almost immediately.

Partial ballasting, so that only the after end of the docking-well is flooded, has other advantages. It enables the LSD to become a launching beach for amphibious craft.

LVTs (amphibious tanks), for instance, can be lowered from the superdeck to the bow end of the docking-well by crane. When ready to launch, the stern ballast tanks are filled and the after end of the well sinks into the ocean. The amphibs sitting high and dry in the bow end simply rumble down the sloping deck as though they were taking off from a beach. Going into the water halfway down they are afloat by the time they pass the stern gate. As each group of amphibs takes off others are lowered to the “beach” by the crane.

LSDs are versatile ships. For example, when a U.S. AirForce amphibious plane on a rescue mission landed at sea and was unable to take off again when it developed engine trouble, a request was radioed to Commander Sixth Fleet for help. Immediately USS San Marcos (LSD-25) was dispatched to render aid to the stricken plane.

Following its arrival at the scene of the downed plane, San Marcos hoisted the huge aircraft aboard with its powerful cranes. The plane, weighing 14 tons, and with a wing span of 80 feet and an over-all length of 61 feet, would have posed a spectacular problem for other types of ships. Hoisting it aboard was a praiseworth feat for the LSD which accomplished the job without difficulty.

So that they will be able to do even more “odd jobs,” two LSDs, USS Lindenwald (LSD-6) and USS Gunston Hall (LSD-5) have now been “winterized” for Artic work. Their hulls have been strenghened and insulated to resist the pressing ice pack. Crane controls and deck equipment have been placed under shelter. the bridge is housed and there are steel shacks for bow and gun lookouts. New reciprocating engines will give the ships fast, sudden back-down power in ice floe regions.

Their availability for all types of tasks has earned the LSDs the respect of all Navymen and a prominent place in the fleet of tomorrow. Why not” What other ship can do a day’s work and end up with a deck full of fresh fish?

That’s no fish story - it is not at all unusual for an LSD to find after deballasting that her docking-well is covered with a good sized “catch” of flopping fish!

Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
28 April 1952

From: Commanding Officer
To: The Chief of Naval Operations
Via: (1) Commander Task Group 95.6 (Commander Mine Squadron THREE)
(2) Commander Task Force 95 (Commander United Nations Blockading
      and Escort Force)
(3) Commander Seventh Fleet
(4) Commander Naval Forces Far East
(5) Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet
Subj: Action Report of U.S.S. CABILDO (LSD-16) on 26 April 1952, Wonsan, Korea
Ref: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations, 1948
(b) OPNAV INST. 3480.4
(c) CTF 90 INST. 03040.1A
Encl: (1) Reproduction of CIC Track Chart

1.      This report is submitted in compliance with Article 0705 of reference (a) and paragraph 8 of reference (b), and in lieu of the report required by paragraph 4b of reference (c).

Part I

      The U.S.S. CABILDO is flagship for Commander Mine Squadron THREE (CTG 95.6) and tender for ships and boats under his operational control in the Wonsan, Korea area. MSB Division ONE is also embarked. The normal operational procedure during assignment has been for the CABILDO to anchor in Chosen Kaiwan in the vicinity of buoy 4 (5000 yards east of buoy 5 - see enclosure (1) and, when ordered, move into Wonsan Harbor to disembark Mine Sweep Boats either between Ung Do and Yo Do or in the vicinity of buoy Easy depending upon the weather. When all boats have been launched, the ship proceeds out of the harbor to await completion of the MSB mission and to later return to reembark the boats. GFS, if required, is supplied by CTE 95.21.

      One or more shore batteries opened fire on the CABILDO at 1731 Item, 26 April 1952. The ship observed seven (7) rounds fired. The first observed round exploded on the shoreline of Yo Do; the next three (3) observed rounds were over by about 200 yards. The fifth observed round fell short about 50 yards; the sixth round hit; and the seventh observed round was over about 100 yards. The CABILDO estimates the gun positions to be at CU 763507, the size of the gun as 122 MM and the shell H.E. common with point detonating fuze. The Marine observation post on Yo Do reports the battery as four 76.2MM in position 759503 and that ten (10) rounds were fire during the subject action. The enemy batteries opened fire at 8,450 yards and the hit occurred at 8,650 yards.

Part II

1612 CABILDO, in ballasted condition, proceeding into Wonsan Harbor in order to
           reimbark magnetic MSBs. Passed buoy 5 abeam to port, distance 1500 yards.
1653 Passed buoy How abeam to starboard, distance 25 yards.
1655 Set condition One Able.
1704 Passed buoy Mike abeam to starboard, distance 400 yards.
1715 Lying to making steerageway, headed out, to embark MSBs, with stern gate open.
1716 Commenced embarking MSBs.
1724 Completed embarking five (5) MSBs. Increased speed to 8 knots.
1725 Commenced deballasting and closed stern gate.
1731 Enemy battery on Hodo Pando opened fire. Increased speed to 16 knots.
           Warned all exposed personnel to take cover.
1734 Two voice messages to CTG 95.2 and CTE 95.21 “am receiving shell fire three
           rounds 200 yards to starboard” and “believe that fire is coming from Hodo Pando”.
1735 Passed buoy Mike abeam to port, distance 1000 yards.
1736 Two voice messages from CTR 95.21 - “where on Hodo Pando is gunfire coming
           from” and from CABILDO - “on the beach”.
1738 Hit with one (1) round at frame 51, bridge (02) deck, 9 feet to port of the center line.
1742 Commenced making black smoke on number two boiler.
1748 Ceased making smoke.
1749 One message to CTG 95.2 and CTE 95.21 - “believe gunfire came from CU 763507”.
1809 Set Condition III.

Part III

The CABILDO did not return fire since gun positions were not spotted until just prior to their being blanked off by Ung Do.

Part IV

The CABILDO was hit by one (1) round of enemy gunfire at frame 51, on the bridge (02) deck, 9 feet to port of the center line causing the following damage:

1. A 24" hole in the deck at the point of explosion.
2. 13 holes from 1" to 6" in bulkhead 48 over an area of 36 square feet.
3. 2 holes 6" x 5" in after bulkhead of movie projection booth at frame 49 on the 03 deck.
4. 2 holes 2" in deck of movie projection booth.
5. 26 holes 1" to 2" in athletic gear locker frame 50.
6. 11 holes 3" to 6" on inboard side of starboard funnel. 1 - 6" hole penetrating both sides.
7. 3 life line rails and 1 stanchion damaged.
8. The after port stay to mast was sheered off.
9. 1 hole 4" in door to stateroom 0204 frame 44.
10. 1 hole 2" in door to disbursing office frame 43.
11. 1 hole 2" in port side LCVP #2.
12. 2 holes 2" in bottom of LCVP #1.
13. 2 holes 1: in windows of gig.
14. 2-50’ lengths of l 1/2 fire hose at fire plug 01-53-1.
15. Canvas awning on 02 deck full of fragment holes.
16. Steam radiator in stateroom 0204 blown loose from brackets and demolished.
17. 12 square inches of steel deck was slightly buckled and the wooden planking of the
       well deck was torn out at frame 52 1/2, over switch board in port pump room.

1. Cut 8 wires in co-axial cable to SA radar.
2. Cut cables to anchor, running and signal lights.
3. Shattered TBL antenna insulator.
4. PAM riddled.
5. Cut cables in 24" search light.
6. Fan in stateroom 0204 demolished.
7. Cut S/P JX circuit to flag bags.
8. Cut BK co-axial cable to antenna.
9. Cut armor of M coil on degaussing cable starboard wall of well deck.

All vital damage was either permanently or temporarily repaired within twenty-four hours.

Part V

There were two personnel casualties.

1. SELIG, Allen Robert, EMFN, 230 61 48, USN, attached to MSB Division ONE. Man,
       while securing a mine sweeping boat in the well deck at frame 95, was struck by
       enemy shell fragment causing a compound fracture of the right femur and
       comminuted fracture of the right ilium with extensive muscle destruction.

2. ROUSE, Sidney Robert, FN, 388 17 14, USN, a member of ship’s company. A small
       fragment from the enemy shell caught man on the right cheek causing a minor

Part VI

No comment.


C O N F I D E N T I A L 6 May 1952

FIRST ENDORSEMENT on CO, USS CABILDO (LSD-16) ltr LSD16/CMB:jfm A16-13 ser 019 of 28 April 1952

From: Commander Task Group 95.6 (Commander Mine Squadron THREE)
To: The Chief of Naval Operations
Via: (1) Commander Task Force 95 (Commander United Nations Blockading and Escort Force
(2) Commander SEVENTH Fleet
(3) Commander Naval Forces Far East
(4) Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet
Subj: Action Report of U.S.S. CABILDO (LSD-16) on 26 April 1952, Wonsan, Korea

1.     Despite frequent exposure to enemy shore batteries, the USS CABILDO (LSD-16) has maintained a record of excellent support of Mine Squadron THREE.

2.     During the action reported in the basic letter, the prompt and effective behavior of all hands indicated their high degree of training and excellent morale.

/s/ H. F. STOUT

Copy to:
CNO (advanced by air mail)
CTF 90
CTG 90.7

Skipper Praises Crew of Cabildo For Battle Calm
Reprint of newspaper article appearing in local San Diego paper

High praise was handed the USS Cabildo’s crew today for coolness under damaging fire in Korea as the landing ship dock came home from her first combat duty tour.

The big vessel, her battle scars healed, slipped into Berth L at the Naval Air Station after nine months in the Far East. About 500 relatives and friends waved and shouted as the ship docked.

For a landing ship dock, the Cabildo probably saw more than her share of action, Comdr. Charles M. Bertholf told of the direct hit suffered by the vessel.

Had Been Quiet
"We had been in and out of Wonson Harbor four weeks, picking up and discharging small mine sweeping boats from the ship’s well. All had been peaceful.

"Suddenly, in the late afternoon of April 26 the Commie shore batteries just a few miles away opened up on us. Their gunfire straddled us.

"We were caught with our stern open as we were taking on the small boats after a day’s operations. A shell landed squarely topside center in the first 10 minutes.

Stuck To Jobs
"Two men were wounded, one seriously, the other slightly in the face. But officers and crew stuck to their posts, finishing their small boat job. They were wonderful."

Under Fire Twice
The Cabildo was under fire again May 28 - a sort of "enemy farewell salute" as the ship was leaving Korea for Sasebo.

The floating drydock, taken from mothballs here two years ago, also helped lift California’s 40th National Division men from Japan to Korea.

Cabildo after being hit by offshore battery
while operating off North Korea

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