The last surviving landing craft of its kind, which carried 10 tanks and crew members to Normandy on D-Day, will finally open to the public this weekend at The D-Day Story museum in Portsmouth after a series of COVID-19 set-backs.
Landing Craft Tank LCT 7074 is the last surviving example of more than 800 tank carrying landing craft that served at D-Day on 6 June 1944.
In 2014, after being rescued from Birkenhead Dock by the National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) and The National Heritage Memorial Fund, a programme of works began to restore the ship to her former glory. Much of the transformation took place at Portsmouth Naval Base, managed by NMRN and Portsmouth City Council, and supported through a £4.7 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players who raise £30 million every week for good causes in the UK.
In August 2020, following delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 59-metre, 300-tonne ship took to the sea one last time in a highly ambitious and complex move from the Naval Base to her new home outside The D-Day Story in Southsea, Portsmouth.
Cllr Steve Pitt, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Economic Development at Portsmouth City Council, said: “We are delighted to be officially opening LCT 7074 to the public and to welcome our first visitors on board this spectacular ship. This year has caused several delays to the movement and opening of the ship but to be able to open LCT 7074 before Christmas is a huge testament to the hard work of everyone at The D-Day Story, NMRN and everyone else involved. It is a huge honour to hold another piece of history in Portsmouth, to preserve, inspire and educate visitors about D-Day and the important part our city played in this historic event.”
The programme of restoration works over the last six years included new internal and external paint, a fully restored funnel, important electrical works and the fitting of replica guns and rocket launchers. The project has also recreated the bridge, wheelhouse and the crew’s living spaces so visitors can get an impression of life on board the landing craft.
Nick Hewitt, Head of Collections and Exhibitions at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said: “When she was rescued by the museum, she was rusty, unloved and covered in barnacles; having spent many years submerged at Birkenhead Dock. But now, she is transformed.
“The restoration of LCT 7074 has been a long and arduous project for the team at NMRN, but to see her outside The D-Day Story and to know that so many visitors will be able to experience her first-hand is a fantastic feeling. I would also like to extend my thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for the grant that made this work possible.”
Stuart McLeod, Director London and South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We are delighted that after six years of dedicated work, LCT 7074 is restored and ready to welcome visitors on board. Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, visitors to The D-Day Story will be able to immerse themselves in the important story that this outstanding piece of maritime heritage tells.”
From Saturday 12 December, visitors to The D-Day Story will be able to step on board LCT 7074; learning more about the history of the landing craft, exploring two refurbished tanks on board the ship and visiting the upper deck, bridge and gun deck.
Mick Jennings, now aged 95, was one of the Royal Navy crewmen on a different landing craft, LCT 795, which carried American troops from Dartmouth to Utah Beach on D-Day. He said:
“We couldn’t have landed in France just with troops on foot, and LCTs were very important to carry tanks and other vehicles that could deal with the enemy tanks. It is a very good idea to open LCT 7074 to the public, so people can visit and get an idea what conditions were like.
“I was only 18 years old, and most of the crew were 23 or under. The living quarters were next to the engine room so it was noisy, and sleeping in a hammock was uncomfortable, but when you’re young you can tolerate these things. I was the electrician on board. We all used nicknames, so everyone called me ‘sparks’.”
Several veterans who were involved in D-Day – including two LCT crewmen – are attending a private opening of LCT 7074 on Friday 11 December, before the ship is opened to the public.
From 10am on Saturday 12 December, entry to LCT 7074 is included in admission to The D-Day Story. The museum is open from 10am-5pm, seven days a week. Tickets can be booked at www.theddaystory.com or purchased on the day.