The campaign to bring home a DeLand-built U.S. Army tugboat used in World War II and likely a participant in the Normandy invasion, is in respite, but not retreat.
“We’re coming home with it,” Dan Friend told the local chapter of the Military Officers Association of America in DeBary Sept. 7.
Friend is president of the DeLand Historic Trust Inc. and the driving force to save the piece of history.
“Nobody thought we had a chance,” he said.
Thus far, the effort to save the boat has cost approximately $200,000, and Friend said more cash is needed to complete the work.
The next phase of the story of the tugboat can be accomplished, he added, “If you happen to know somebody who can give us $150,000 to $200,000 in the next 30 days.”
“Your challenge is, talk to everybody you can,” Friend urged the luncheon group.
“None of the corporations have stepped up,” he said.
The ST 479, also christened Tiger, is one of the few surviving vessels of its kind. The military tugboat was among several such vessels built on Lake Beresford by the American Machinery Corp. during the war.
“Over 500 people worked there at the work site on Lake Beresford,” Friend said.
Friend located the tugboat in Stockholm, Sweden, and began an earnest effort to repatriate it to its birthplace in West Volusia.
Based on his careful research of historical records, Friend has concluded the Tiger was probably involved in D-Day, including the towing of concrete jetties from England to the French coast to create an artificial harbor, code-named Mulberry.
Mulberry was critical to consolidating the Normandy beachhead and moving materiel and troops for the Allied movement inland to liberate Western Europe from the Nazi occupation. The survival of the Tiger is quite remarkable, Friend noted.
“These boats were deathtraps,” he said, noting they were not designed for seagoing tasks.
The tugboats had a high center of gravity and could be prone to capsizing, trapping the crews inside. At least one tug struck a German sea mine and sank.
Friend said the ST 479 had been in Stockholm for 22 years when he began trying to recover it. While tied up in Sweden, the tugboat had become a home for transients, and some of its artifacts had been taken.
Moving the Tiger for the long journey home involved coordinating with the Military Attaché’s Office of the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm. The tugboat was towed 40 miles from the Swedish capital, loaded onto a Dutch cargo ship and transported across the Atlantic Ocean earlier this summer.
After clearing U.S. Customs in the port of Jacksonville in July, the Tiger was towed westward on the St. Johns River to Green Cove Springs, where the vessel sits moored and awaiting the last leg of its voyage to DeLand.
“We’re talking about bringing her home, possibly as early as October,” Friend told the monthly gathering of the Military Officers Association of America in DeBary Sept. 7.
While the Tiger is at rest at Green Cove Springs, Friend and other volunteers are painting the boat and reworking the parts of its electrical and other systems essential to making the remainder of its return odyssey.
“Bob Costa and Jeremy Blakely are really making progress. We now have lights in the lower engine area and a new control panel has been installed to service all of the various power sources,” Friend said via email to supporters Sept. 12, adding, “The front anchor has been checked out, but more than likely we need to purchase an additional really heavy anchor for the rear of the boat. Jeremy also got the locked control room door open and that’s one more safety issue taken care of! A solar power system was being installed as we left yesterday, to keep a trickle charge to the batteries. Tons of things are being repaired, repurposed, or installed. Bob started her up again and she sounds great!”
The ST 479 may remain at Green Cove Springs rent-free until October.
“We can stay there indefinitely for $600 a month,” Friend said.
Friend said he wants to be certain the noted tugboat can be towed across Lake George without running aground.
“Lake George is risky, but we feel we can get across,” he said.
Despite its size, the big lake has an average depth of less than 8 feet, and the vessel’s draft, or space below the waterline, is approximately 7 1/2 feet.
Once the ST 479 gets back to DeLand, what becomes of it then?
“We may bring it home to West Volusia and have it sit for a year,” Friend said.
He said he would like to place the boat on a cradle, preferably at Ed Stone Park on the St. Johns River west of DeLand. Other possible locations for the tugboat are Lake Monroe Park below DeBary or at a new riverside park to be developed in DeBary west of the Interstate 4 bridge.
When the boat is safely back in Volusia County, Friend said, he and his group can apply for a grant under the ECHO program. ECHO is an acronym for the county’s program to preserve, acquire or develop public assets designated as “environmental, cultural, historic or outdoor-recreational.”
The ECHO program was established in 2001, following a countywide referendum providing for the levy of a one-fifth of a mill ad valorem property tax. ECHO had a 20-year life span, but a majority of the county’s voters approved a 20-year renewal in 2020.
Meanwhile, Friend is seeking financial help to finish the work he started. Donations, he said, are tax-deductible. Anyone wishing to contribute for the return and preservation of the Army tugboat may contact Friend at 386-943-9537 or 386-736-5011.
“I’m optimistic,” Friend said.
He also would like to see or produce a documentary on the efforts to save this special piece of American history.
“The story is not over,” DeLand Mayor Robert Apgar said.
“As a son of a World War II veteran and a career military officer, I’m proud of DeLand’s military history,” the mayor added.
As of right now the tiger is not marooned in Greencove springs it is now sitting anchored in Astor Florida awaiting its final last bit of its journey to Deland Which it was so awesome to get to see it and take pictures of it it is truly a awesome piece of history