The D-Day landings ship thousands of M4 drivers pass by every day that’s slowly rusting to nothing

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As you drive along the M4 looking across to Neath you might spot a small ship rusting away on a mud bank.

After a brief glance at Lightvessel 72 (LV72), its hull being eaten by rust and covered in algae, you might think there is nothing more to the stranded boat than a spent vessel waiting silently for the end of its life.

The truth, however, is very different and the heroic past of this unassuming boat belies its current sad situation.

LV72 was built in Sunderland in 1903 by John Crown & Sons for Trinity House Lighthouse and Lightvessel Authority. The same hull plate and rivet construction made famous by the ill-fated Titanic passenger ship that sank in 1912 was used in its construction.

The rivets on LV72 have held strong for over a century but with each passing year the chance of this slice of military history being lost forever becomes more of a possibility.



The light tower shows the bright red LV72 was once painted in



The hull is warped and there are plants growing on the deck



The public are asked to stay away by the owners as it is unsafe and on private land

The vessel’s distinguishing feature is the cross-hatched light tower at its centre which gives away its intended purpose of guiding other boats safely through dangerous waters using its bright paraffin lamp.

It was a job that would see LV72 take part one of the most pivotal campaigns of World War Two in June, 1944, the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Historic pictures of the ship in active service show the word “Juno” emblazoned on its side. During D-Day the landing beaches in Northern France were divided into five distinct areas – Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Sword Beach and Juno Beach.



Photo of LV72 taken from HMCS Trentonian, possibly during D-Day service

LV72, as a lightvessel, marked the course to Juno Beach for ships carrying soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and British Commandos of the Royal Marines during “Operation Overland”, the invasion of Normandy by allied forces.

When its job in the D-Day landings was done LV72 remained in Normandy until the end of the war a year later in 1945.

To repair damage taken during collisions and sailing stormy seas, the vessel was towed to the port of La Havre in France.



A painting of LV72 in active service in 1944

After the war, LV72 was in service in various locations across England and Wales, continuing in its lifesaving work until 1972, when it was sold as scrap to the Steel Supply Company in Neath.

Its destiny as scrap metal would have been fulfilled had not Simon Jones’ father, who owned the scrap company, decided he couldn’t bear to part with the historic ship.

“My father bought it for scrap years ago but he loved it so much he didn’t scrap it,” said Simon.

“It’s a unique ship, perhaps one of the last cast iron ships left in the UK, but it’s the cost of renovation that’s the sticking point.

“It almost sold to a youth club in Marseilles and we’ve had loads of interest from historical societies over the years and an Australian guy came down and wanted to live on it while restoring it but he decided against it in the end. We don’t know what to do with it but we’re still looking for ideas.

“One group wanted to take it back up to Sunderland where it was made but you couldn’t do that without substantial resources.”



The vessel is moored at Neath Abbey Wharf



The owners are open to ideas about its future and want to save it if they can



The mud of the riverbank has helped to preserve the lower section of the hull

He added that LV72 had been assessed by experts and he was told that the hull being sunk in mud had preserved it and the vessel would float without too much work needing to be done.

There have been problems with people, some with small children, going to see the ship, which is on private land where heavy machinery operates, and Simon wanted to appeal for people to stay away for their own safety.

“We do want people to keep away from the ship. It’s on a dangerous site with heavy machinery and it’s moored on a sloping riverbank, you can’t just stroll down there it’s too dangerous,” he added.

In 2016, a fundraising campaign, Save our Ship of Light, was set up to bring LV72 back to where it was built in Sunderland and restore it. Sadly, only a fraction of the £100,000 needed was raised.

It now sits not far from the swing bridge in Neath, taking on water with each rising tide as rust eats away at its steel hull and thieves take the last of its brass fittings.

Hopes to save LV72 from the inevitable are still alive, with a Facebook group dedicated the “Friends of LV72”.

The ship comes with a £40,000 price tag plus restoration costs.

Whether anyone will step up and save the last remaining lightvessel of its kind from its fate, as it saved so many lives in active service, is yet to be seen. 



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