Dear Andrew Ross:
Thank you for posting on History Hub!
I searched the National Archives Catalog and found a lot of information that may be helpful to your research. If you see anything of interest from the hyperlink above, the records are held at the National Archives at College Park (email@example.com).
You may also want to contact the Naval History and Heritage Command to see if they have information on how they were used in combat.
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You pose a complex question that I’ll try to answer adequately. I am a modeler as well, and I also like to understand the context in which my modeling subjects operated.
Each landing craft/ship was designed with specific roles in mind. Please understand that prior to Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy did not have an amphibious force. The Navy had only a couple of personnel transports that traveled point-to-point. If the Marines needed to land over a beach, the Fleet would gather all available ships’ boats, load the Marines, then send the boats to the beach, where most would be lost in the surf as ship’s boats were not intended to land on a beach. The outbreak of war soon showed the Navy and the Marines that they would need to develop and learn the art of amphibious assault as well as design and build the necessary equipment and boats.
At first, the Navy started small—how do you get a platoon of 36 men from the transport to the beach. The Navy tried to develop the new boats in-house, but the Bureau of Ships, the appropriate design authority, did not have the right people with the right skills to pull it off. That’s when an incorrigible lumberman by the name of Andrew Jackson Higgins down in New Orleans offered the Navy a boat he designed for use in Louisiana’s wetlands. Designed to take repeated groundings and able to retract (pull back) from a beach, the Higgins Eureka boat appeared early in the war on board Navy transports under the designation LCPL (Landing Craft, Personnel, Large). These boats were used during the Guadalcanal campaign, where it was discovered that it was a bad idea to debarked the troops over the side of the boat. So from the LCPL, Higgins made a minimum design change that installed a narrow ramp that fit between the two bow gun positions to create the LCPR (Landing Craft, Personnel, Ramp). That still was unsatisfactory because the troops got in each other’s way trying to use the narrow ramp. So in another design change, Higgins adapted the full width ramp from the abortive LCV (Landing Craft, Vehicle) to the hull of the LCPR to create the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel).
The Navy also realized early on that vehicles, tanks, and artillery needed to accompany the Marines ashore. Efforts to design such a landing craft predated the efforts to design the personnel landing craft, beginning in the mid-1930’s. These efforts had not developed a viable craft in the months leading up to the war, so the Navy turned once again to Higgins, who improvised once more to produce the LCM (3) (Landing Craft, Mechanized, Mark 3). The increasing weight of tanks and vehicles during the war forced a change to the LCM (3). Designers added a 6-foot section to the LCM(3) to produce the LCM(6), capable of carrying heavier tanks.
Now the aforementioned boats were the last link in the amphibious assault chain, moving troops from the amphibious attack transports (APA) and the vehicles, tanks, and supplies from the attack cargo ships (AKA). Other parts of the amphibious assault “menu” are distinctly British in origin. The LCI(L) (Landing Craft, Infantry, Large) was originally conceived by the British as a vessel taking commandos across the English Channel for raids. However, the British ideas on raiding evolved, and the U.S. was stuck building numbers of LCIs. They were useful in moving large numbers of infantrymen over relatively short distances or in calmer waters. LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank) were the British solution of getting tanks ashore with the landing force, as the infantry could not sustain an amphibious assault by themselves. While the concept is British, the definitive LST design is American. LST’s always carried the armor and vehicles of the assault force and could readily sail the long distances found in the Pacific theater.
Other British concept built in large numbers by the Americans included the LCT (Landing Craft, Tank). The British build many of these craft that were designed to carry a platoon of tanks, but the U. S. built many more of improved design. The LSD (Landing Ship, Dock) was another British concept that was only built by the U.S. conceived as yet another means to move tanks over wide expanses of ocean. LSDs could carry LCMs and LCTs pre-loaded with their tanks, sail to the invasion beaches, then flood their well decks to let their landing craft swim for the beach.
My rather extended explanation of amphibious warfare theory only scratches the surface of this fascinating topic. If you would like to read more, I highly recommend Norman Friedman’s U. S. Amphibious Ships and Craft: An Illustrated Design History (Naval Institute Press, 2002).
I hope you find this information useful.
That post really helps, especially with understanding when and how many of the craft were used. Thanks
Also, would you happen to know where to find blueprints or similar documents on the design and construction of the earlier boats? I've seen ones for the LCT Mk 6, and The LCVP, but nothing else.
Again, thanks for such an awesome post.
As a modeler, I am more accustomed to building kits rather than scratchbuild, so I haven’t dealt with ship plans too often. Commercially, The Floating Drydock and Taubman Plans Service have a limited selection of the better known landing craft, but your best bet is in the Cartographic Research Room at College Park’s Archives II. The room contains pretty well organized Record Group 19 finding aids that can lead you to the plans. You can also try your hand with the National Archives Catalog, but your queries have to be very precise to come up with a narrow field of results. The Catalog limits you to the display of only 1,000 hits; however you do have a chance of finding digitized plans online, so the search is worth it—you just have to be patient.
I hope you find this information helpful.
Good luck with your project!