By Dan Friend
For Hometown News
Only two of the U.S. Army tugboats built at the Lake Beresford Boat Works during World War II were known to exist until recently.
Now four more have been found.
I spoke with John Higgins, a transplanted Englishman and engineer now living in Stockholm, Sweden. He's consulting with owner Margareta Omberg on the restoration of DeLand Warboat ST 479, the only known "ST" that was at D-Day at Normandy on June 6, 1944. It's in amazingly original condition with its 650hp Clark engine, the original chain steering gear and a wheelhouse built largely with 30mm German tank armor.
The website records indicate it was "damaged by a German grenade" at some point and the upper structure needed repair. While this might have solved the grenade attack problem, it did little to help the top-heavy nature of the all-steel tugs, which clearly should not be out in the sea during rough weather.
This boat has the distinction of being the only one mentioned directly in action with the enemy and as such deserves a unique status: a true WW II D-Day veteran built in DeLand.
That amazing news was soon joined by additional Internet research that turned up three more DeLand Warboats: two more in Finland and one in Venezuela.
All three of the other newly discovered boats, and one of the earlier known boats, have modifications. The ST 341, now "Danta" in Venezuela, looks to have had the upper deck completely removed. It's been replaced with a much lower and smaller cabin setup. She looks a bit rough.
As far as the three boats in Finland go, ST 342, the "Normandia," looks almost modern with a well-designed upper wheelhouse area. Judging from the photos, it probably is the most valuable today of the boats. "Famnen," ST 343, has had an extended upper deck, nicely built, that looks like it might be a fishing or passenger vessel. The third boat is ST 476, "Purha," which has had the upper areas reworked but is in good working shape.
My guess is most of these boats have replacement engines as well.
The search continues: four more boats are still unaccounted for. But it's been amazing to find six out of the 22 AMC U.S. Army ST tugboats built in time to serve in WW II are still in service. ST 478, the sixth boat, was in Paris, France, as of 2007.
Dan Friend is a West Volusia County historian. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.