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Photo: V Beach at CapeHelles, Gallipoli, 6May1915.Viewis from the bow of the wilier SS River Clyde. Credit British Official photographer

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 131


their impressive record on the battlefields of the Pacific, the Marines Corps' greatest contribution to victory in World War II was its pioneering efforts in shaping amphibious doctrine.3

The Second World War was the heyday of the amphibious assault. Not only had doctrine come into existence and been given a wide range of applications, but so too had new technologies to support that doctrine. In order to fight this special brand of warfare, requirements emerged for special vehicles to convey troops to assault staging areas and then on to shore. In many instances there were physical obstacles to overcome, such as coral reefs, and hence the need to create machines that could surmount these obstructions. The development of means of conveyance such as landing ships, assault landing craft, and amphibian tracked vehicles provided the physical means by which doctrine could be implemented. The successful marriage of doctrine to technology gave the Americans and their allies the tools they needed to achieve victory more than a half-century ago. The ingenuity of Marine planners and contractors, coupled with the determination of the Marines at the war's sharp end, produced a record that became legendary. Unfortunately for future generations the glory achieved in the Second World War overshadowed considerations for technological advances that took place in the decades following its conclusion.

For 45 years following the Second World War, the primary concern for American defense planners was the prospect of military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Until the Cold War came to its unexpected end, the United States developed its force structures and capabilities, including those of the Marine Corps to counter the threat of Soviet expansion. Having risen to

a position of full partnership with the other armed services of the United States in the aftermath of World War II, it was little wonder that the Marines sought a major stake in the planning for a U.S. Soviet showdown.

The Maritime Strategy of 1986 contained clear expression of the Marine Corps' desire to play a major role in any combat with the Soviets and to replay the role that had made them most famous. The "Amphibious Warfare" portion of the strategy advanced a three-phase program by which the Marines would deal with the anticipated threat. In the first phase the Marines would respond to Soviet aggression by transporting amphibious forces to the periphery of the crisis area, which was, according The Maritime Strategy, regarded to lie in Europe.

The deployment of amphibious task forces from the United States, movements of MPSs (Maritime Prepositioned Shipping squadrons), to crisis areas, and the commitment of a MAB (Marine Amphibious Brigade) to the defense of Norway will materially assist other Western efforts to dissuade the Soviets from launching a general war. If the Soviets attack despite these efforts, however, we will be deployed to engage the aggressor far forward and to blunt his assault.4

If war had erupted the ffamers of the "Amphibious Warfare Strategy" envisioned the Marines to be used more actively in the succeeding two phases. Phase II represented the time when NATO forces were to have seized the initiative. It was in this phase that the proponents of the amphibious assault would have sought their first large-scale employment.

Amphibious forces could play many parts in this phase. One likely mission could be the seizure of advanced naval bases. Amphibious raids of MAB size or full-scale MAF (Marine Amphibious

Force) amphibious assaults could be conducted for the follow-on introductions of US. and allied forces.5

In the third and final phase, that which was intended to carry the fight to the enemy, the proponents of amphibious forcible entry would have sought a prominent place in winning the war. Their ambitions, coupled with their firm grounding in the history of amphibious operations in World War II, prompted them to envision a grand scale revisiting of the battle for the Pacific:

Exhausted and contained by a stout NATO defense in the central region, stripped of his naval forces through a bold and decisive allied maritime campaign, and barred by NATO pressure on his flanks, the Soviet invader will now be pounded by a succession of NATO sea, air, and

land counteroffensives Amphibious

forces will once again play a prominent part in the final phase. Massed amphibious task forces, together with supporting battleship surface action groups, will now undertake landings to retake conquered territory and to

Caption: Marines show their appreciation to the Coast Guard during theinvasionofGuam during World War II Source: US Coast Guard

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


The Influence of History Upon Sea Power

seize key objectives in the Soviet rear. Operating as a component of the naval campaign, MAGTF's (Marine Air Ground Task Forces) could land on the North Cape, the Eastern Baltic or the Black Sea coasts in the Kuriles, or on Sakhalin Island thereby adding crucial leverage to the successful conduct of the maritime campaign.6

This bold vision of how World War III might have been fought was one that did not withstand close scrutiny. Beyond Soviet plans to initiate a campaign of conquest with a first resort to nuclear weapons, something not considered in The Maritime Strategy, a major problem was that developments in the field of amphibious forcible entry had not kept pace with the ambitions of those who would have employed them.7 As demonstrated in the reference to amphibious task forces, coupled with battleship action groups, the framers of the "Amphibious Warfare Strategy" were making an appeal to an outdated approach to battle. Just as the battleship exemplified a bygone era in naval warfare, so too did the large-scale amphibious assault.

The proliferation of advanced weapons systems by the Soviets, their clients, and other nations created an environment in which the viability of large-scale amphibious assaults was placed in great doubt. Ten years prior to the formulation of The Maritime Strategy the Brookings Institute crafted a report declaring the advent of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) a grave threat to the conduct of amphibious operations. The report made note of the obvious vulnerability of landing craft and helicopters as they made their way to landing zones. Furthermore, the naval assets necessary to support the assault were exceptionally good targets for weapons "whose probability of making a direct hit at full range upon a tank, ship,

radar, bridge, or airplane (according to its type) is greater than half!'8 The threat posed by PGMs did not diminish in the later years of the Cold War-rather, it grew stronger. According to one defense commentator writing the year before The Maritime Strategy was published, the Marines were facing an increasingly "hostile" environment in which there was "wide spread diffusion of advanced weapons which have a high single-shot probability-of-kill (SSPK)."9

By the mid 1980s the Soviets had developed and deployed a wide range of coastal and ship borne anti-ship missile systems that could strike an invasion force well before it was within sight of shore. The Styx family of conventional missiles had been proven at ranges not exceeding 40 nautical miles in battle by the Egyptian Navy in 1967 and again by India in 1971. Styx missiles included variants that could be launched from ship or shore to threaten the most prominent vessels in any invasion force.10 Furthermore, with the ability to deliver conventional and/ or nuclear warheads, Soviet missiles threatened not only individual ships, but also entire invasion fleets. For longer ranges the Soviets could rely on

weapons such as the Shipwreck missile that was capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads 300 nautical miles.11

This increasingly dangerous environment provoked a drive within the U.S. amphibious community to seek ways to mitigate the effectiveness of Soviet weaponry. The need to operate from over the horizon (OTH) became a necessity as modern shipping assets were seen as both more precious than during the Second World War and more vulnerable. As a result of having to husband irreplaceable resources, it became imperative to keep ships out of range of the enemy.

In the 1982 Falkland's War, the British were introduced to the dangers posed by PGMs when they were attacked by Argentine aircraft firing French Exocet missiles. Although the British emerged victorious, their troubles indicated the vulnerability of amphibious forces to a new generation of weapons. With a combination of Exocets and conventional bombs, the Argentines sank five British ships and damaged an additional twelve. Indeed, the British had been limited in their amphibious operations by the capabilities of their opponents.

Komarmissile boatofthe 1960s (Courtesy Tom Lewis)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 131


Fortunately for the British, they had dodged the bullet of conducting an amphibious assault and were able to come ashore without meeting prepared defenses. According to one Soviet Admiral, the British were successful in their landings because speed and the effective use of darkness disallowed the Argentines the chance to mass their forces or bring in air support.12

The British fought smart in the Falklands, but how well would the operation have fared if they had attempted a World War II style assault? What would have been their prospects for succeeding if they had faced a foe as sophisticated as the Soviet Union? In consideration of these daunting prospects, there was little reason to think that if American forces had been compelled to act in accordance with the vision of The Maritime Strategy they would have been as fortunate as their British allies had been in 1982.

The problem for the US. was that

amphibious warfare doctrine and technology in the 1980s were too closely akin to their Second World War predecessors. A Marine officer writing in 1985 reflected on how then current doctrine supposedly represented the developments of 50 years, yet differed little from the original doctrine of the 1930s.13 One former Marine noted the incongruities between capabilities and doctrine in 1989 writing that to attempt landings reminiscent of those conducted in World War II against a "first-rate enemy? would meet with "almost certain defeat."14 However, the Marines continued to conceptualize a return to the mode of warfare that won them everlasting renown. While the Navy scrambled to win approval for the construction of the greatest fleet in peace-time history, the Marines sought their share of appropriations to make possible a grand scale revisiting of the brand of fighting they made famous. Regardless of the intentions of

Reagan era appropriators, the Navy and Marine Corps would have been hard pressed to have enacted the program envisioned in The Maritime Strategy. As a result of neglecting such vital components of assault capabilities as mine sweeping, a shortcoming that would be impressed upon the Navy during the 1991 Gulf War when both the USS Tripoli and USS Princeton struck mines on the morning of 18 February, the Navy and Marines were not materially prepared to conduct assault landings in a modern setting. Assuming that U.S. amphibious forces had been pressed into service against the Soviets and managed to find a clear path to the shore, their means of transit from ship-to-shore would have exposed a wide gap between objectives and capabilities.

As a result of the proliferation of PGMs and the increased hazards of the modern battlefield, American planners set about developing a better

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Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


The Influence of History Upon Sea Power

means to reach the beach. Specifically, the United States created the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) that was capable of carrying from 60 to 75 tons at speeds up to 50 knots while providing access to a purported seventy percent of the world's shoreline.15 Not only did the LCAC become the first US. landing craft to appear physically different from the original bow ramp boats of Andrew Higgins, but it was also the first craft to perform in a greatly improved manner.

Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, disembark from a US Navy landing craft air cushion (US Navy photo)

While the LCAC represented a significant qualitative improvement over the older and more numerous forms of landing craft, as late as 1989 there were only fifteen that were operational.16 Furthermore, during the 1991 Gulf War the Navy found that even the LCAC was saddled with its own set of operating limitations when two landing exercises had to be canceled due to difficulties associated with inclement weather.17

Even if there had been sufficient numbers of LCACs to expend in the conduct of an amphibious assault there remained two other problems that would have proven insurmountable. First, the LCAC is a fairly large vehicle that throughout the 1980s had little means of transport in the fleet. If it had been employed as the primary means of conveyance for an OTH assault of major proportions it would have been

incumbent upon the Navy to provide a veritable armada of transports solely for the purpose of moving assault craft to the objective area.18 Secondly the LCAC lacks defensive armament and, when stopped, presents an inviting target. By coupling limited numbers of LCACs with the high risk of having those craft destroyed, either en route to the beachhead or upon unloading, the ability to sustain a major frontal assault, for example in the retaking of conquered territory as envisioned in The Maritime Strategy, would have been tenuous at best. Thus, without the LCAC, the implementers of The Maritime Strategy would have been forced to rely on a variety of landing craft that generally traveled no faster than 8 knots and could reach no more than seventeen percent of the world's shoreline.19

When consideration is given to the other means available for conducting an amphibious assault, the prospects for success were not greatly enhanced. If tracked amphibious vehicles, such as the LVTP-7, were the planned means of conveyance the assault would have

been subject to even greater risks. While the LVT is truly amphibious, being capable of fighting its way ashore and providing mobility and protection for assaulting troops, its use entailed numerous drawbacks. Moving at speeds under 10 knots, the LVT could not be used in an OTH assault. Its slow speed coupled with the limitations of human endurance required that transit should not greatly exceed a half-hour and that launch distances remained about 4,000 yards from shore.20 Thus, in conducting an assault using LVTs the amphibious task force would have been denied the safety of operating from over the horizon and in such circumstances would have run the greatest risk of meeting harm from enemy PGMs and mines.

The LVT and other landing craft that filled America's amphibious arsenal during the Cold War differed little in appearance or performance from their World War II forbearers. Even though LVTs carried their Marines completely enclosed, they were thin-skinned and made slow, methodical approaches to shore.

Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines assigned to the 7th Marine Regiment, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, disembark from a US Navy landing craft air cushion (US Navy photo)

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Issue 131


The similarities between Donald Roebling's first LVTs and the tracked landing vehicles of the Cold War were substantial indicators of how little progress had been made in the preparation for amphibious assault missions from the time of the Second World War to that of The Maritime

The "Amphibious Warfare Strategy" concluded in a manner that was hauntingly reminiscent of a state of mind that existed on the eve of the First World War. The authors of the "Amphibious Warfare Strategy" concluded their portion of The Maritime Strategy by making the following assertion:

Though some military commentators regard World War II to be the high point in the development and conduct of amphibious warfare, we take a different view. We believe that there is ample evidence to suggest that we have entered a renaissance period in the evolution of amphibious

operations Indeed the incremental

advances we have experienced in the art of amphibious warfare will soon be giving way to an exciting era - in which the rapid pace of strategic, operational, and tactical improvements will transform the current renaissance into nothing less than an amphibious revolution.21

The Marines defense of amphibious assault was remarkably similar to the defenses offered by cavalry officers at the turn of the last century. After the military critic Ivan Bloch had described how advances in small arms technology and the use of trenches would hasten the cavalry's departure from the battlefield, one British colonel responded by stating that"... the sunset of the cavalry has not come yet, but that it is its full noonday!'22 While the Cold War never turned hot enough to put the "Amphibious Warfare Strategy" to the test, this comparison

remains relevant. Just as certain technological breakthroughs made it impractical or moreover too dangerous for men to press home an attack while mounted upon horses, so too had it become unacceptably hazardous to launch massive frontal assaults from the sea.

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