USS Benton County (LST-263)

The USS Benton County, originally USS LST-263, was a tank landing ship that served the U.S. Navy in the European Theater during World War II. It was renamed the USS Benton County on July 1, 1955, in honor of counties of that name in nine states, including Arkansas.

LST-263 was one of a class of vessels created to carry tanks, wheeled and tracked vehicles, artillery, construction equipment, and supplies during military operations along coastal areas. Called “Large Slow Targets” by their crews, they were designed as shallow-draft vessels; when loaded with a 500-ton cargo, LST-263 drew just under four feet at the bow and just under ten feet at the stern. They carried pontoons amidships that could be used to create causeways when they had to debark their cargos from deeper water, but they were capable of dropping their forward ramps directly onto a beach.

The keel of LST-263 was laid down at Ambridge, Pennsylvania, by the American Bridge Company on September 7, 1942. It was launched on February 27, 1943, after being christened by Mrs. Charles G. Baumgartner and was commissioned on June 30 under the command of Lieutenant Lawrence B. Russell.

The vessel weighed 1,625 tons, was 328 feet long and fifty feet wide, and could achieve speeds of up to 11.6 knots. It was armed with two twin 40-mm gun mounts, four single 40-mm gun mounts, and twelve single 20-mm gun mounts, which were used primarily to protect against air attack. LST-263 could carry a crew of thirteen officers and 104 enlisted men in addition to up to sixteen officers and 147 enlisted men as passengers.

Assigned to the European Theater, LST-263participated in Convoy UGS-27 in April 1944, carrying a cargo to Italy, and then operated in the invasion of southern France in August and September, including transporting the 214th Anti-Aircraft Battalion from Corsica to Saint-Tropez, France, on September 2–4. In addition to Lieutenant Russell, LST-263 was commanded by Lt. Alfred J. Austin, from June 18, 1944, to September 14, 1945, and then by Lt. (junior grade) Harold Joseph Fidler until May 29, 1946. It earned two battle stars during World War II.

LST-263 was decommissioned on May 19, 1946, and assigned to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. It was designated the USS Benton County on July 1, 1955, and struck from the navy list on November 1, 1958. It was registered by the TMT Trailer Ferry, Inc., of Jacksonville, Florida, in 1972, as the TMT Puerto Rico, a 3,228-ton freight barge.

For additional information:
“LST-263.” Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Naval History and Heritage Command. (accessed December 4, 2018).

Rottman, Gordon L. Landing Ship, Tank (LST) 1942–2002. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Co., 2005.

“USS Benton County (LST-263).” NavSource Online. (accessed December 4, 2018).

Williams, Greg S. World War II U.S. Navy Vessels in Private Hands. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2013.

Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas


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