Light Vessel 72, once an integral part of maritime navigation, served to guide ships safely through perilous waters with its beacon of light.

After its distinguished service, including a role in Operation Overlord during World War II, it was sold for scrap in 1973 but was preserved due to its historical significance. Despite various restoration proposals, it now rests on a mud bank by the River Neath.


Background of Light Vessels

The advent of light vessels in the 19th century marked a significant innovation in maritime navigation. Before their introduction, ships relied heavily on lighthouses situated on coastlines or islands to navigate dangerous areas.

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However, many perilous sections of maritime routes couldn’t be marked by static lighthouses due to their location in deep waters, on shifting sandbanks, or in areas where construction was either impractical or impossible. The solution was the development of light vessels—ships designed to be anchored in a fixed position, equipped with powerful lights, and, in some cases, additional navigational aids such as fog horns and radio beacons.

Light Vessel 72 in her current state. Image by Ben Salter CC BY 2.0

Light vessels were strategically placed in locations where they could serve as beacons to mariners, guiding them safely around hazards. These floating lighthouses were especially crucial in busy shipping lanes, where the risk of collision or grounding on unseen obstacles was high. By marking sandbanks, shoals, reefs, and other dangers, light vessels like LV 72 played an indispensable role in the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce and travel.

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Once deployed, LV 72 would have become an essential part of the navigational landscape in its assigned area. By providing a constant, reliable light, LV 72 helped to fill the gaps left by traditional lighthouses, ensuring that ships could navigate safely even in the most challenging conditions.

Design and Construction

The construction of LV 72 was governed by the need for endurance and reliability. Built to be moored at sea for extended periods, often in locations exposed to harsh weather conditions, LV 72 was constructed using robust materials capable of withstanding the relentless assault of wind, waves, and saltwater.

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The hull was made from riveted iron plates with a wooden deck, a common choice for such vessels. The vessel had a length of 115.93 feet (35.34 meters), a beam width of 24 feet (7.3 meters), a depth of 10.98 feet (3.35 meters), and weighed around 257 tons.

The tower which once contained the ships paraffin lamp. Image by Ben Salter CC BY 2.0

The primary function of LV 72 was to serve as a navigational aid, which necessitated a powerful light apparatus. This apparatus was designed to project a beam of light powerful enough to be visible from a significant distance of up to 20 miles away. The light needed to be both bright and reliable, with the capability to operate under all weather conditions. To achieve this, LV 72 was equipped with a large paraffin lamp.

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Originally, light vessels like LV 72 were not self-propelled and relied on tugs for positioning and relocation. However, as technology advanced, some light vessels were fitted with engines, allowing for greater independence and flexibility.

Light Vessel 72 in WWII

She was constructed in Sunderland in 1903, where she then went on to serve in the British Isles. This was until the start of the Second World War. On June 18, 1944, as a component of Operation Overlord—the Allied invasion of France—she was moored off the coast of Normandy. Light Vessel 72 played a crucial role in delineating a mine-cleared channel leading to the landing areas used by British and Canadian forces.

Light Vessel 72 now on the River Neath in Wales. Image by Ben Salter CC BY 2.0

For this mission, the vessel’s hull was inscribed with the letters “JUNO,” signifying Juno Beach, a segment of the Normandy landings.

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Light Vessel 72 continued its service until January 27, 1945, when it was moved to Le Havre for repair work due to damage from storms and collisions. However, on March 3, it was taken back to Harwich, England.

After the War

Following the end of the war, Light Vessel 72 was deployed in the Bristol Channel. It remained active until 1973, when it was sold to the Steel Supply Company in Neath, Wales, for dismantling. Ian Jones, the manager of the Steel Supply Company, recognized the vessel’s historical significance and decided against scrapping it.

The ship has since fallen into disrepair. Image by Ben Salter CC BY 2.0

Since then, the vessel has been resting on a mud bank of the River Neath, close to the scrapyard. Over the years, Light Vessel 72 has fallen into disrepair, with some of its hull plates becoming distorted, vegetation sprouting on its deck, and a number of its brass fittings having been removed.

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Numerous proposals for the vessel’s restoration have been suggested over the years. There was a time when transforming it into a nightclub was contemplated, and on another occasion, it nearly got sold to a youth club in Marseille.

In 2016, a campaign named “Save our Ship of Light” was initiated with the goal of acquiring and refurbishing the ship, aiming to bring it back to Sunderland at a projected total expense of £100,000. However, this effort did not succeed. The current owners have set their selling price for the vessel at £40,000.