Return to Amphibious Ops


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When the US began planning for WWII, two geographic factor was overwhelmingly obvious, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Planners figured out early that they needed amphibious tactics and vessels to allow the delivery of the soldiers and Marines to the battles.

The Pacific Theater of Operations would be a long series of contested amphibious assault landings against the defended island strongholds of the Japanese and eventually on Japan herself. Once an island was captured, subsequent operations would be logistics in nature to build the island into a staging point for the assault of the next island. The Marines had actually been training for this for several years, but the Navy was a little behind them.

The European Theater of Operations would differ from the Pacific. Europe would not be a series of contested amphibious assaults on isolated islands. There would only be a six contested landings at different points on two continents. Still, once a foothold was attained on the continent, subsequent landings would be logistics in nature to build up a supply line to the front line troops pushing across the continent.

In both theaters four different types of ships were needed. First were large transport and cargo ships that could bring the Marines and soldiers from staging areas to the point of landing. These would have to be capable of standing off the beach and launching the assault waves onto the beach. They were attack transports (APA) and attack cargo ships (AKA). In 1941, very few of these ships existed. The Navy commandeered several civilian ships to fill the immediate need and began a building program to bring dedicated transport ships into the Fleet. Manpower for these new ships was an issue. No particular skills beyond good seamanship was needed, but the Navy just did not have the personnel to go around. As a result, several of the ships were Coast Guard-manned.

The second type vessel were small landing craft to bring the troops from the transports to the beach. These craft were also being built by the thousands. They were carried on the decks of the APAs and AKAs. The crews for these required special training because the craft would be going through the surf line to get to the beach. Very few Navy coxswains had any surf experience. On the other hand, Coast Guard coxswains routinely worked the surf. But the Coast Guard did not have the personnel to man all of the thousands of landing craft being built. So Navy coxswains began to attend Coast Guard training to acquire skills in handling small boats in the surf.

Also needed were specially designed amphibious ships that could land troops and equipment directly onto the beach without the need for landing craft. These were LSTs, LSMs and LCI(L)s. They started coming into the Fleet in November 1941.

Finally, after the islands were secured, naval facilities established on them, and they became forward staging areas for other assaults, transports and cargo ships would be needed to bring troops and equipment to them in routine logistics operations. These were transports (AP) and cargo ships (AK). Many of these ships were manned by Coastguardsmen.

Ship to Shore

The general theory behind amphibious assaults may seem straightforward, but it is really a rather complicated ballet. The assault fleet sails up to the island and drops anchor. The big guns open up to soften up the beach and destroy all heavy resistance (you know, the guns that are buried under so much sand that the shells never really touch them). The APAs use their cargo booms to lower the landing craft into the water. The coxswains hold the boats in position beside the ship while the Marines climb down rope nets into them. The landing craft form into groups and circle the APAs until they are all loaded and ready to approach the beach. Then they form into a line abreast and head off behind a guide boat, drive to the beach (up to 11 miles away), land at the planned location on the beach, the Marines charge ashore, a Marine marks the beach with a flag to guide follow-on waves, and the landing craft pull away from the beach so the second wave can come in. The second wave lands its troops and evacuates casualties from the first wave. This continues for as many waves are needed to secure the beach. Once the beach is secured, the LSTs can pull up and start offloading supplies and reinforcements. And this all works to perfection. Men never fall off the nets into the water, guide boats never hit mines or obstacles, the water is always deep enough for the landing craft to pull right onto the beach, nobody’s feet ever get wet, the shells from the enemy guns that were destroyed always miss, landing craft never broach in the surf, Marines never get so seasick on the boats that they can barely stagger ashore, the Marine with the flag is never killed before he plants it, and the beach never gets fouled with destroyed landing craft.

Anyway, it was all the individual could do to make sure that his little piece of the puzzle went as well as he can make it go. The job of the landing craft operators was to get the troops as close to the beach in as good a condition as he can. All Coast Guard coxswains were trained in handling small boats in surf conditions. The Navy started sending their coxswains to the training in early 1942. There was a definite technique to bringing a landing boat in. Too many times, rookies would hot rod to the beach and run the boat so far up that it has to be towed off. This fouled the beach until the tow arrives. A veteran soon learned to maneuver through the currents, reefs, and sandbars and surf the waves to a gentle landing and back his boat out quickly so the follow-on waves can come in.

ckly so the follow-on waves can come in.