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Honoring the 80th Anniversary of D-Day

Honoring the 80th Anniversary of D-Day

Today, moored along the West First Street Pier in Oswego Harbor, LT-5 Major Elisha K. Henson serves as a dock-side attraction, a remnant of the greatest generation, and a site worthy of preservation.  Eighty years ago, the 114’ ocean going tugboat played a crucial role in what General Dwight Eisenhower termed the “Great Crusade” – the allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, colloquially known as D-Day.


On November 22, 1943, hull no. 298, christened Major Elisha K. Henson, was launched at the Jacobson Shipyard at Oyster Bay on Long Island.  Built as a Cox & Stevens design no. 271, LT-5 was capable of both ocean and harbor tug operations under the command of the Army Transportation Corps’ Water Division.  LT-5 sailed for Great Britain on February 3, 1944, as part of the allied buildup in preparation for Operation Overload – the event that awarded her National Historic Landmark status.  By 1945 there were over 200 “LT” class tugs in service to the U.S. Army begging the question: Why is this one special?


According to Charles D. Gibson’s September 1994 article in Sea Classics “she is the last of but six LT tugs which provided a service which by its exact nature allowed victory in Normandy – a service which may well have saved the American Army once ashore from virtual defeat.”


During the pre-invasion planning process in 1943-44, General Omar Bradley requested that one dozen barges, loaded with ammunition, be beached near the invasion site as part of the initial invasion.  And so, in the early hours of June 7, 1944, LT’s 2, 4, 5, 22, 23 and 130, each transporting two barges, completed their initial mission prior to the establishment of the artificial Mulberry Harbors. 


Two weeks after the initial assault a ferocious storm destroyed the American’s Mulberry A – off Omaha Beach – and, given the lack of a navigable harbor (Cherbourg had yet to be captured), troops on the front lines began to feel the impacts of a ruptured supply line.  General Bradley, the senior general on the ground in Normandy, began to fear the worst.  The ammunition beached by the six LTs on D-Day + 1 became a lifeline at a time most-crucial to maintaining a foothold in the European theater.  When discussing General Bradley’s request to beach that ammunition, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Alan Kirk remarked in Admiral Ramsay and I “…by God, when the great storm came in mid-June, it saved our bacon.”


Of course, LT-5 is significant in other ways, as well.  Despite her role in the Army’s Transportation Corps, she was not spared danger.  On June 9, 1944, LT-5 shot down a German Focke Wulf - her logbook for the day reads “Planes Overhead.  Everyone shooting at them.  Starboard gunner got an F.W.”


She was also an essential part of Operation Mulberry which established the artificial harbors off Normandy by June 14th (D-Day +8) and within four days had landed 11,000 troops, 2,000 vehicles, and 9,000 tons of equipment and supplies.


After remaining in service throughout the war in Europe, LT-5 returned to the United States and was decommissioned by the U.S. Army.  Shortly thereafter, LT-5 was assigned to the Buffalo, NY District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 1946 and recommissioned as John F. Nash.  LT-5 served from 1946-89 in the lower Great Lakes region assisting in the maintenance of harbors and worked on significant construction projects including the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s and several harbor improvement projects in Oswego.  When deemed excess by the USACE in 1989, the Port of Oswego Authority eagerly acquired the National Historic Landmark that is now maintained by the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.


Today, a dedicated group of Maritime Museum volunteers invest countless hours annually to preserve and interpret the iconic tugboat.
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