USS Lafayette County (LST-859)
The USS Lafayette County (LST-859) was a tank landing ship that saw service in World War II and the Korean War. It was designated the USS Lafayette County on July 1, 1955, in honor of a Louisiana parish and counties in five U.S. states, including Arkansas.
LST-859 was one of a class of vessels—called Landing Ship, Tank—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 carrying a 500-ton load, LST-859 drew only three feet eleven inches forward and nine feet ten inches aft. 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 vessel’s keel was laid down on September 26, 1944, by the Chicago Bridge and Ironworks of Seneca, Illinois, and the ship was christened by Elsie M. Marcum and launched on December 15, 1944. LST-859 weighed 1,625 tons, was 328 feet long and fifty feet wide, and could reach speeds of 11.6 knots. It carried a crew of thirteen officers and 104 men, and it could transport sixteen officers and 147 soldiers. LST-859 was armed with two twin 40mm guns, four single 40mm guns, and twelve single 20mm guns to fend off attacking aircraft. It was commissioned at Algiers, Louisiana, on January 6, 1945, under the command of Lieutenant Daniel Kipnis.
The vessel had a shakedown cruise (a test of the ship’s performance) in the Gulf of Mexico before leaving New Orleans, Louisiana, for the Pacific on February 17. After reaching Pearl Harbor on March 31, LST-859 underwent six weeks of amphibious operations training before leaving for Seattle, Washington, to pick up troops on May 12, returning to Pearl Harbor on June 20. It transported soldiers to Okinawa on July 28 and then operated in the Marianas until the war ended. After carrying occupation troops to Tokyo on September 29, the vessel transported supplies for the U.S. command in Japan until November 1945.
LST-859 returned to Seattle on January 12, 1946, for a major overhaul and then performed cargo and passenger runs to U.S. bases in the Pacific until the Korean War began in June 1950. It sailed to Pearl Harbor and then picked up U.S. Marines at Kobe, Japan, on September 5 prior to the U.S. landing at Inchon. It was part of Task Element 90.32, the lead LST group at Inchon, and reached the beach in the afternoon of September 15, 1950. Delivering a cargo of marines and supplies under heavy machinegun and mortar fire, LST-859 destroyed enemy batteries on the right flank of Red Beach before clearing the beach at high tide on September 16. The LSTs in Task Element 90.32 received a Navy Unit Commendation for their aggressive actions at Inchon.
After Inchon, LST-859 primarily performed cargo runs from Sasebo, Japan, to American Pacific bases and South Korea until May 1954. It returned to Pearl Harbor on June 3, 1954, making supply deliveries to Midway before heading back to the Far East on March 24, 1955, to supply bases in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.
LST-859 was designated the USS Lafayette County on July 1, 1955. The Lafayette County served in the Hawaiian and Marshall Islands from August 31, 1955, until August 1958. It was decommissioned at Pearl Harbor on August 15, 1958, and transferred to the Republic of China’s Navy under the Military Assistance Program, serving there as the Chung Chen (LST-224). The USS Lafayette County earned one World War II battle star and six battle stars for Korean War operations.
For additional information:
“LST 859 Lafayette County.” https://www.hazegray.org/danfs/amphib/lst859.htm (accessed June 13, 2018).
Rottman, Gordon L. Landing Ship, Tank (LST) 1942–2002. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Co., 2005.
“USS Lafayette County (LST 859).” NavSource Online. http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/16/160859.htm (accessed June 13, 2018).
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
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