Dragoon and Anvil I

At the end of 1943 an Anvil planning group known as Force 163, headed by Brigadier-General Garrison H. Davidson, the US 7th Army Engineer, was established at the école Normal at Bouzareah just outside Algiers. Force 163 included a French component under Colonel Jean L. Petit. Toulon became their focus, along with the coast to the east of the port. The Alps Maritimes presented a challenge, though the valley of the Argens river formed a path through the mountains between the Massif de Maures and the Provence Alps. Allied headquarters sent a message to the US 7th Army’s headquarters at Palermo, which showed that Eisenhower was determined to go through with Anvil. The telegram stated: ‘An estimate is required as a matter of some urgency as to the accommodations which you would require for your planning staffs should you be asked to undertake the planning of an operation of similar size to Husky …’.

Following the Sicilian campaign, the US 7th Army had shrunk from six divisions to little more than the headquarters staff. They were now instructed that landings were to take place in the south of France in conjunction with Overlord, with early objectives of Lyons and Vichy, the location of the French government, and that the assault would be conducted by American and Free French Forces.

Patch takes over

The planning gathered pace in early January 1944 when Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark replaced General Patton as the 7th Army’s commander. While Overlord continued to slip behind schedule, owing to the enormous shipping requirements, and the fighting dragged on in Italy following Anzio, it became apparent that Clark could not cope with controlling the US 5th Army as well as directing Anvil. On 2 March Lieutenant-General Alexander M. Patch, a veteran of the Pacific campaign and Guadalcanal, took over the 7th Army.

The planning staff moved to Naples to work with the 7th Army and General Lucian Truscott’s US VI Corps. Truscott understandably wanted reassurances that there would be no repeat of Anzio. A daylight attack was agreed upon, as the value of an accurate preliminary bombardment far outweighed the need for surprise. However, Patch could immediately see that conducting Anvil in early June alongside Overlord was a tall order. With Overlord soaking up all the landing craft and the fighting on the Italian front tying down Patch’s assault forces, the proposed date for Anvil began to slip towards late July.

General Wilson, the Allied Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean Theatre, was presented with the outline plans on 29 April. These envisaged a three-battalion parachute drop to support an opening two-division assault, with Commandos and Rangers securing offshore islands and the flanks. Given that Toulon was the immediate goal, a landing area to the east of the port between Cape Cavalaire and the Bay of Agay was selected. To confuse the Germans about the exact location of the landings a preliminary bombing campaign would be conducted along the entire French coast from Spain to Italy.

General de Lattre had initially proposed landing on either side of Toulon, but he did not get his way. Not unreasonably, he also wanted French troops to be the first ashore, but their lack of experience counted against them and de Gaulle refused to commit the French parachute unit. De Lattre later fell out with his deputy, General de Larminat, when the latter refused to relinquish tactical control of his forward units. De Lattre also wanted his II Corps to move swiftly to trap the Germans, whereas Patch saw this as an excuse for French troops not to have to reduce the German garrisons in Toulon and Marseilles.

Two weeks later three other options were drawn up depending on the German response to the invasion; the first foresaw a partial German withdrawal, the second a complete German withdrawal and the third a complete German surrender, bringing a halt to all organised resistance. It was obvious that the most likely was the first option. The planners assessed that it was unlikely that the Germans would be able to hold the invaders on the beaches, so would offer a token resistance before abandoning the coastal zone and conducting a fighting withdrawal in the lower Rhône region.

Plans went ahead for a two-division landing east of Toulon, with a target date of early August. The key objectives remained Toulon and Marseilles, followed by Lyons and Vichy. In light of the fact that there would be no Sledgehammer, on 1 August Anvil officially became Operation Dragoon. It has been said that this change was due to a breach in security about the Anvil codename, but others claimed the new name was chosen because Churchill had been ‘dragooned’ into the operation. After all the frustrations over Anvil and the many false starts, Eisenhower recommended it should be conducted no later than 30 August, with a target date of the 15th.

Invasion beaches

There were to be six invasion beaches. From north to south they were: Rosie (north of San Raphael), Camel (around San Raphael and Fréjus), Delta (around Ste-Maxime and St-Tropez), Alpha (at Cavalaire-sur-Mer), Garbo and Romeo (between Cavalaire-sur-Mer and Le Lavandou). Islands south-east of Le Lavandou were codenamed Sitka, while the invasion fleet assembly area was dubbed Kodak. The airborne drop zone south-east of Draguignan was codenamed Rugby.

Enemy defences on the islands of Port Cros and Levant were to be neutralised under the cover of darkness by Sitka Force, consisting of the 1st Special Service Force. Once this task had been achieved, it would secure the island of Porquerolles under the codename of Satan Force. Similarly, French special forces, notably the French Groupe de Commandos, dubbed Romeo Force, would neutralise German forces on the Cap Nègre, and were also to block the coastal highway and take the high ground 3 km to the north. Once this had been completed, they would be in a position to protect the left flank of the landings, and once a beachhead was established, the special forces would fall under US VI Corps control. Another French unit, the French Naval Assault Group known as Rosie Force, was to land the night before near Pointe de Trayas with the aim of disrupting the Cannes–San Raphael and Cannes–Fréjus highways before joining the right flank.

Kodak Force consisted of Truscott’s US VI Corps’ headquarters plus the US 3rd, 36th and 45th Infantry Divisions, supported by General du Vigier’s 1st Combat Command from the French 1st Armoured Division. Sudre’s Combat Command was to get ashore between Cape Cavalaire and Agay and link up with the airborne task force. Once de Lattre’s French II Corps had come ashore, all French forces would be placed under his command. The first echelon, consisting of General Brosset’s 1st Motorised Infantry Division and de Monsabert’s 3rd Algerian Division, were to land within the first 24 hours, followed four to eight days later by General de Vernejoul’s 9th Colonial Infantry Division.

The planners decided to commit an airborne force of divisional size, but no such force was available in the Mediterranean so a unit of comparable size was improvised from the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team (RCT), the 509th and 551st Parachute Battalions and the 550th Airborne Battalion. Other units in Italy were designated glider-borne and received instruction from the 550th and the Airborne Training Centre. By early July the concentration of airborne forces in the Rome area was almost complete and aircraft providing two troop carrier wings were en route from England. The 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team came into being as part of the 17th Airborne Division on 15 March 1943, with the division’s parachute units comprising the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and Company C, 139th Airborne Engineer Battalion, which was later redesignated the 596th Airborne (Parachute) Engineer Company.

During the fighting in Italy the 517th had been assigned to Major-General Fred L. Walker’s 36th Infantry Division, which under the US IV Corps was operating on the left flank of the US 5th Army. On 17 June 1944 they had deployed south of Grosseto. After the Combined Chiefs of Staff issued a directive on 2 July to General Wilson to proceed with Anvil on 15 August, the 517th RCT was released from IV Corps and moved to join the gathering First Airborne Task Force in the Rome area.

The provisional troop carrier division was to lift the air assault with a total of 415 transport aircraft protected by Spitfires and Beaufighters all operating from bases in Italy. The first drops would take place just before dawn with the first resupply mission scheduled for the late afternoon.

On 19 and 20 July, in preparation for the invasion, forty-nine aircraft and crews comprising detachments from each of the 79th, 80th, 81st and 82nd Troop Carrier Squadrons, part of the 436th Troop Carrier Group based at RAF Membury, were dispatched to Votone Air Base in Italy. They returned to Membury on 23 and 24 August, by which time the 6th Tactical Air Depot units had moved to France.

By the end of July Patch’s invasion force numbered 155,419 men with 20,031 vehicles. It was intended by D-Day plus 30 to have 366,833 men and 56,051 vehicles ashore, and by D-Day plus 65 some 576,833 men and 91,341 vehicles.

Truscott’s US VI Corps

After the liberation of Rome the US VI Corps was pulled out of the line to prepare for its third and last amphibious assault of the war. Its three divisions had ample experience of such operations, having been blooded during the Italian campaign. However, the 36th and 45th Divisions received amphibious assault refresher courses at the Invasion Training Centre at Salerno, and the 3rd Division at Pozzuoli; once this was complete they were to move to Naples. It was not until 24 June that the 36th Infantry Division was finally allocated a role within Operation Dragoon. In the meantime the French forces were to embark at Taranto, Corsica and Oran, in a slightly unwieldy arrangement.

The US 3rd Infantry Division had had a distinguished career, having come into being during the First World War at Camp Green in North Carolina in November 1917. Eight months later it was committed to the war in France with the American Expeditionary Force to Europe. After seeing action during the Aisne-Marne offensive, the division was assigned to defend Paris and then deployed to the Marne. While other units fell back, the men of the 3rd Infantry Division held their ground, gaining the nickname the ‘Rock of the Marne’ for their unit. More recently it had seen combat in the Second World War, having landed at Felada under General Jonathan Anderson on 8 November 1942 to help secure French Morocco. Brigadier-General Truscott took command of the 3rd Infantry Division in April 1943 and it was subsequently involved in the assault on Sicily on 10 July 1943, dramatically beating the armour to Palermo and racing on to Messina. Just nine days after the invasion of the Italian mainland, on the 18th the 3rd Division took part in the Salerno landings, driving on to the Volturno and to Cassino. Following the initial assault at Salerno, the commander of the US VI Corps, Major-General Ernest J. Dawley, was replaced by General John P. Lucas. Unfortunately, Lucas’s determination to consolidate his beachhead before breaking out gave the Germans enough time to reinforce, resulting in a bloody stalemate. After a brief recuperation the division next landed on the Anzio beaches on 22 January 1944 as part of the US VI Corps. Allied forces were hemmed in for four months by German counter-attacks, and at this time Truscott replaced Lucas as commander.

That summer the 36th ‘Texas’ Infantry Division likewise was struggling up the Italian coast towards the Germans’ Pisa-Rimini defensive line. This division was originally established as a National Guard unit from Texas and Oklahoma in July 1917. It was sent to Europe in July 1918 and was involved in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Although disbanded at the end of the war, it was reactivated on 25 November 1940. Commanded by Major-General Fred Walker, the division had deployed overseas on 2 April 1943 and first saw combat on 9 September 1943 during the landing on the Gulf of Salerno at Paestum. Following its efforts against Cassino with the US 34th Infantry Division, the 36th Division held the Rapido river and was finally withdrawn on 12 March 1944 for rest and recuperation. It also took part in the Anzio landings, subsequently pushing north to take Velletri on 1 June; four days later its troops entered Rome.

The 45th Infantry Division, nicknamed the ‘Thunderbird Division’ after its insignia, was activated on 16 September 1940. It also saw action on Sicily, at Naples-Foggia, and during the Anzio and Rome-Arno operations. During the invasion of Sicily it became embroiled in the controversy surrounding the Biscari Massacre, during which seventy-six German and Italian prisoners of war were executed; as a result an officer and an NCO were court-martialled. Major-General William W. Eagles commanded the 45th Division from December 1943 until December the following year. Interestingly, its original divisional insignia had been a yellow swastika on a red diamond, but this had been changed to the Indian thunderbird on a red triangle, for obvious reasons.

While preparing for Dragoon, Truscott soon became a victim of French military pride when he fell foul of de Lattre. An agreement had been reached that Combat Command Sudre would be assigned to his corps after Brigadier Aime Sudre, of the French 1st Armoured Division, had visited him in July. With the approval of his superior, Sudre then suggested that Truscott visit them in Oran. When de Lattre heard of this meeting he was furious; he summoned Truscott to lunch and then proceeded to launch a tirade against him. The French general was clearly still smarting at the fact that his troops would not be the first ashore. Protocol had been violated and honour besmirched, and de Lattre now demanded prior sight of all orders to Sudre. Truscott, of course, could not agree to this.

Task Force Butler was created shortly before Dragoon on Truscott’s orders, as he suspected that the on-going political squabbling with de Lattre would cost him control of Combat Command Sudre, the US 7th Army’s only armoured force. Major-General Fred Butler was placed in charge of a hastily gathered ad hoc force consisting of a tank battalion, a tank destroyer company, a cavalry and reconnaissance squadron and an armoured field artillery battalion. Patch tried to reassure Truscott that he would have a free hand with Sudre’s forces, but Truscott suspected they would revert to French command once ashore in the Riviera and he would lose them.

French Resistance

Patch, Truscott and de Lattre were also expecting support from the French Resistance. Before the German occupation of the southern Free Zone, Lyons in particular was a key centre for the Resistance organisations, hosting the Brutus network set up by de Gaulle. Marseilles similarly played host to two major resistance movements, the noncommunist coalition known as Mouvements Unis de Résistance (MUR) and the French Communist Party’s irregular partisan riflemen known as the Franc-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). Of the two, the FTP was the stronger with up to 2,000 men, while the MUR had fewer than 800. Socialist Party members in the city made up an important component of the MUR, and lawyer Gaston Defferre was in command of the Socialist militia as well as head of the local Allied intelligence network. He was also a member of the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO – the French Section of the Workers’ International) Socialist Party and a leading figure in the Brutus network.

A number of the city’s Corsican crime syndicates also became central to the non-communist underground, which lacked the experience to carry out effective resistance work. Due to their anticommunist activities in Marseilles before the war, few of the resistance-minded Corsicans were accepted into the maligned communist underground.

Unfortunately, since the MUR supported the Allies’ policy of denying the Communists arms, this stopped any meaningful cooperation between the various groups in Marseilles. While the communist and non-communist forces were superficially merged with the creation of the FFI in February 1944, the reality was that they remained at loggerheads until the FFI was absorbed into the regular French Army. An agreement was reached in the western Alps between the Head of Region 2 (Marseilles) of the MUR and the Italian Resistenza in Piedmont in May 1944, and a declaration of military and political solidarity made.

Corsica – an unnecessary diversion

After liberating Corsica, the French proposed an invasion of the island of Elba (Operation Brassard), using the 9th Colonial Infantry Division (9e DIC), two battalions of French commandos (Commandos d’Afrique and Commandos de Choc), a battalion and supplementary battery of the Colonial Artillery Regiment of Morocco (RACM) and the 2nd Group of Moroccan Tabors (2e GTM). Taking Elba would permit the Allies to dominate not only the Piombino Channel but also the coastal road used by German transport on the Italian peninsula, both of which were vital transportation arteries for the supply of German forces in western Italy. The garrison on Elba was made up of just two infantry battalions manning the fortified coastal areas, as well as several coastal artillery batteries totalling some sixty guns of medium and heavy calibre.

Initially Eisenhower was not keen on the idea, viewing it as an unnecessary diversion of resources while preparations for Anzio were under way. But once the British general Sir Henry Maitland Wilson took over in the Mediterranean Theatre, attitudes at Allied headquarters changed and the operation was approved. By this time, though, the Germans had strongly fortified Elba, an island dominated by rugged terrain, making the assault considerably more difficult.

Nevertheless, at 0400 hours on 17 June 1944 the French I Corps commenced its assault with support from forty-eight Royal Navy commandos. The lightly equipped French Choc landed at multiple points before the main landing force and neutralised the coastal artillery batteries. The French initially encountered problems in the Gulf of Campo on the south coast because of the German fortifications and the extremely rugged terrain. Opting for an alternative plan, the landing beach was shifted to the east, near Nercio, and the 9th Colonial Infantry gained a beachhead there. The crest of the 400-metre Monte Tambone Ridge overlooking the landing areas was secured by French commandos within two hours.

The Royal Navy commandos boarded and seized the German Flak ship Köln and also landed to guide in other troops heading for the beaches. Tragically a German demolition charge killed thirty-eight of them. Portoferraio was taken by the 9th Division on the 18th and the island was largely secured by the following day. Vicious fighting in the hills continued between the Germans and the Senegalese colonial infantry, with the latter employing flamethrowers. Of the garrison, 1,995 were captured and 500 killed. French losses were 252 killed and missing, and 635 men wounded. British fatalities were 38 of the 48 commandos committed, with 9 others wounded.

Dragoon and Anvil II

Dragoon’s naval support

The 8th Fleet was responsible for putting the Riviera assault force ashore and maintaining it there until such time as the French ports were secured. The Control Force was to look after supporting maritime operations while the Alpha, Delta and Camel attack forces were responsible for landing the 3rd, 45th and 36th US Infantry Divisions respectively. Vice-Admiral H. Kent Hewitt was to command the Western Task Force, consisting of some 505 US ships, 252 British, 19 French, 6 Greek and 263 merchantmen. The warships (5 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 18 light cruisers, 9 aircraft carriers and 85 destroyers) were to protect the 370 large landing ships and 1,267 small landing craft. They were allocated across the four attack forces, Task Force 84 Alpha, 85 Delta, 86 Sitka and 87 Camel.

The USS Biscayne was the flagship of Rear Admiral Bertram J. Rodgers USN, Delta Task Force Commander, while on Bayleaf was Rear Admiral Spencer S. Lewis in charge of Camel Force, supported by Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo with responsibility for the bombardment warships. Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson on the USS Augusta was in overall command of Task Force Sitka.

The USS Duane served as the flagship for the commander of the 8th Amphibious Force. This had six flotillas of landing craft, each consisting of twelve craft divided into two squadrons, B and C, making a total of seventy-two tank landing craft. Each flotilla had a sick berth attendant (medic) attached and each squadron had a medical officer. In addition, the Americans proposed to employ the Sherman Duplex Drive (DD) amphibious tank that had been developed for Overlord. The 191st, 753rd and 756th Tank Battalions were trained in the Bay of Naples for their assault role.

Task Force 84 was overseen by a Coastguard cutter and a fighter control ship, while its assault group included two attack transports each capable of carrying almost 1,600 troops and a variety of landing craft, and three attack cargo ships. The landing ships, which had been wrangled over for so long, numbered 25 LSTs supported by almost 150 various types of smaller landing craft. Task Force 85 was directed by a destroyer and a fighter direction tender; its assault group included 6 troop transports, 24 LCT/LSIs and about 110 other landing craft. Task Force 87 had 6 transport/cargo ships plus 24 LSI/LSTs supported by about 90 landing craft. Lastly Task Force 86, which was to deliver the French special forces, was the smallest, with 5 destroyer/transports, 5 LSIs and 17 other vessels.

Hewitt was reliant on the aircraft carriers for his tactical air support. These were under the overall control of Rear Admiral Thomas Troubridge RN, with the American carriers commanded by Rear Admiral Calvin T. Durgin USN, who had commanded the USS Ranger in action during the North African landings. Troubridge’s escort carrier Task Force 88 (TF88) comprised two groups. The first, Task Group 88.1, was made up entirely of British carriers and consisted of HMS Attacker (879 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) equipped with Seafires), HMS Emperor (800 NAS equipped with F6F Hellcats), HMS Khedive (899 NAS equipped with Seafires), HMS Pursuer (881 NAS equipped with F4F Wildcats), and HMS Searcher (882 NAS equipped with F4F Wildcats). This task group was protected by the cruisers HMS Delhi and HMS Royalist (flagship), plus five British destroyers and a Greek destroyer.

Task Group 88.2 comprised HMS Hunter (807 NAS equipped with Seafires), HMS Stalker (809 NAS equipped with Seafires), and two American carriers, USS Tulagi (VOF-01 equipped with F6F Hellcats) and USS Kasaan Bay (VF-74 equipped with F6F Hellcats). They were defended by the light cruisers HMS Colombo and HMS Caledon and six US destroyers. All the British carriers were by courtesy of Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease and American shipyards, having mostly been handed over in 1943.

Brigadier-General Gordon P. Saville of the USAAF’s 12th Air Force was appointed Air Task Commander, with the XII Tactical Air Command. The medium bomber and fighter elements of Saville’s force were provided by Seafires from the seven British carriers and Grumman Hellcats from the USS Kasaan Bay and USS Tulagi. Hewitt, Saville, Patch and Truscott travelled together from Naples on the amphibious assault ship USS Catoctin. They were joined by Admiral André Lemonnier, Chief of Staff of the French Navy.

Employing over 880 ships, Dragoon was the largest amphibious operation ever conducted in the Mediterranean; in the Pacific only three operations were bigger, out of the forty amphibious assaults conducted there. During the Allied naval build-up the Luftwaffe kept General Wiese appraised of developments, though neither he nor Blaskowitz knew exactly where the blow would fall; in any case, they had insufficient forces to defend the entire coastline.

Allied operations in the Mediterranean did not go unhindered by the Luftwaffe. On 20 April 1944 bombers attacked the ships of Task Force 66, escorting the convoy UGS-38 bound for the Mediterranean, soon after the vessels cleared Gibraltar. The convoy’s flagship was the US Coastguard cutter USS Duane, which was shortly to play a role in Dragoon on her first assignment since being converted to a command and control vessel. Three ships from the convoy were lost, including the SS Paul Hamilton, which sank with 580 people aboard, and the destroyer USS Landsdale.

As the numbers of Allied escort vessels increased, and the threat from German U-boats decreased, the US Navy had decided that cutters like the Duane would better serve national security needs as command and control vessels for amphibious landings. The USS Duane had been assigned to the 8th Fleet in mid-1943 and had escorted convoys to the Mediterranean and back and also through the Caribbean before being converted to an amphibious force flagship by the Norfolk Navy Yard in early 1944. The conversion included the removal of most of the heavy armament, the addition of more anti-aircraft weaponry, and the construction of enclosed rooms for thirty-five radio receivers and twenty-five radio transmitters.

The air war hots up

Supporting the preparations for Dragoon were the 42nd Bomb Wing (Medium) and the 17th Bomb Group. The former first saw action during the invasion of Italy, where its units flew close support missions to stop the German counter-attack on the beachhead at Salerno. As the Allied forces progressed, the 42nd took a leading part in interdicting Axis road and rail transport, and later in the attacks against the monastery at Cassino.

The 17th Bomb Group, comprising the 34th, 37th, 432nd and 9th Squadrons, was involved in the reduction of Pantelleria and Lampedusa in June 1943, participated in the invasions of Sicily in July and of Italy in September, and took part in the drive towards Rome. Because of its renowned bombing accuracy, the group was selected to bomb targets in Florence, but with strict orders to avoid the art treasures there. The 17th also took part in the assault on Monte Cassino.

In 1943 a heavy bomb group had a total complement of 294 officers and 1,487 enlisted men to fly and support 48 heavy bombers, while a medium bomb group had 294 officers and 1,297 enlisted men for 63 medium bombers.

Air operations for Dragoon were to consist of four phases:

I – operations taking place before D-Day minus 5;

II – operations taking place between D-Day minus 5 and 0350 hours on D-Day (Operation Nutmeg);

III – operations between 0350 on D-Day and H-Hour at 0800 (Operation Yokum); and

IV – all subsequent operations (Operation Ducrot).

In Phase I, from 28 April to 10 August 1944, the Allied air forces unloaded 12,500 tons of bombs on the region. Nutmeg began on the 10th, and while concentrating on coastal defences and radar stations, encompassed the whole of the French coast in order to throw the Germans off the scent. On 7 August Army Group G reported that the ‘systematic, especially heavy air attacks on the transportation links over the Rhône and Var rivers … point to a landing between these two rivers’, and ‘statements from agents confirm this suspicion’.

The following day Wiese conducted a map exercise at the garrison headquarters at Draguignan for all his generals. It soon became clear that the army was on its own and could expect no help from the Luftwaffe or navy. Wiese’s reserves consisted of a single regiment from the 148th Division, and all he could do to strengthen his defences was to move an anti-tank gun battalion to San Raphael.

On the 11th, as the Dragoon assault force began to move from the Naples area towards the south of France, the USAAF 12th Air Force sent B-25 Mitchell and B-26 Marauder twin-engined bombers and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters to strike at German gun positions along the French and Italian coasts west of Genoa. The following day almost 550 fighter-escorted B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberator fourengined bombers attacked targets in France and Italy, the B-24s striking gun positions in the Genoa, Marseilles, Toulon and Sete areas, while the B-17s bombed gun positions in the Savona area in Italy. At the same time more than a hundred P-51s strafed radar installations and other coast-watching facilities along the southern French coast.

During the night of 12/13 August twin-engined A-20 Douglas Bostons attacked targets along the Monaco-Toulon road, and fighter-bombers hit guns and barracks in the area; fighters strafed airfields at Les Chanoines, Montreal, Avignon, La Jasse, Istres-Le-Tube, Valence and Bergamo. On 13 August the 17th Bomb Group attacked the Toulon harbour gun complex twice, both times encountering intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, which damaged a number of the attacking B-26 Marauders. The heavy Allied bombing of Toulon and other targets in the days before the landing alerted Blaskowitz to the fact that something was likely to happen in this area. Indeed, suspecting an imminent attack in the Marseilles-Toulon region, by the 14th Blaskowitz had moved the 11th Panzer Division and two infantry divisions to new positions east of the Rhône, just in case.

On the 14th nearly 500 B-17s and B-24s of the 15th Air Force bombed gun positions around Genoa, Toulon and Sete, and struck the bridges at Pont-St-Esprit, Avignon, Orange and Crest in France. In addition, thirty-one P-38 Lightnings dive-bombed Montélimar airfield, while other fighters flew over 180 sorties in support of the bombers. Also on the same day medium bombers blasted coastal defence guns in the Marseilles area. The Toulon-Nice area also came under attack, with American medium bombers hitting coastal defences and fighter-bombers pounding various gun positions, tracks, enemy headquarters and targets of opportunity; fighters also strafed radar installations and targets of opportunity along the southern coast as the Dragoon assault forces approached.

The final build-up

On the night of 10 August Churchill flew via Algiers to Italy to see General Alexander to discuss the on-going operations and his loss of resources. In Algiers Churchill saw his son Randolph, who was recovering from injuries received in a plane crash that happened while he was visiting partisan-held Yugoslavia. Almost inevitably, de Gaulle came up in their conversation and Randolph pressed his father to change his mind about his recent decision not to see the French leader. ‘After all,’ said Randolph, ‘he is a frustrated man representing a defeated country.

You, as the unchallenged leader of England and the main architect of victory, can afford to be magnanimous without fear of being misunderstood.’

Churchill arrived in Naples on the 12th and stayed with General Wilson at the Villa Rivalta. While there he received a plea from the Polish Home Army, which was struggling desperately for survival in Warsaw; it urgently needed weapons to fight the Germans. Stalin, however, considered the rising in the Polish capital an irrelevance and refused to lend it his support, apparently believing that the Red Army and its Polish allies had done all they could to reach the city. So the RAF had to make a 2,250 km round trip from southern Italy to Warsaw to drop supplies and weapons although the Red Air Force was less than 80 km away.

After a visit from the partisan leader Tito, Churchill went by barge to bathe in the hot springs at a nearby beach. On the way he passed two convoys massing for Dragoon, and the troops recognised him and cheered. In return, he sent them a note wishing them good luck. Later he wrote, ‘They did not know that if I had had my way they would have been sailing in a different direction.’

That night Roosevelt, perhaps trying to placate the British Prime Minister and with an eye to the future, sent him an invitation for a meeting in September in Quebec without Stalin. Churchill agreed. The following day he went to Capri and swam in the sea, guarded by American military police. On the 14th he went for a swim beyond Cumae, and after lunch in Naples flew to Corsica. In Ajaccio harbour he went aboard the Royal Scotsman, an old merchantman bearing six assault craft ready for Dragoon.

On 12 August, due south of Ajaccio, the Luftwaffe picked up two large convoys, each of about 75 to 100 merchant vessels and warships, including two aircraft carriers, heading north-east towards the harbour; already present in the harbour were another 20 vessels. As if to confirm that an invasion build-up was taking place, on the airfield were sighted 8 gliders and 5 multi-engine aircraft. Luftflotte 3 immediately ordered that reconnaissance efforts over these convoys be stepped up day and night.

Two days later an Fw 190 fighter of 2/NAG 13 and four Bf 109s were on convoy patrol in the area to the south of Marseilles-Toulon-Golfe du Lion, but no sightings were made. Subsequently, at 1915 hours, pilots of 2/NAG 13 reported numbers of landing craft stretching some 80 km west from Ajaccio Roads and at 2035 two convoys were sighted 160 km south of Menton, numbering over 100 landing craft as well as surface and air escorts.

In the meantime twelve P-38s of the 94th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Group dive-bombed the headquarters of Jagdfliegerführer Süd at La Nerthe. At 1900 hours the base reported that its command post had been destroyed and that three personnel had been killed, three badly wounded and three slightly injured. The phone lines were down, rendering the base inoperable as a headquarters, and the base commander decided to set up an aircraft reporting centre in Courthezon (10 km south-east of Orange) the following day.

At noon on 13 August the main invasion convoy sailed from Naples through the Sardinia-Corsica Straits and deployed off the Riviera beaches at dawn on the 15th. The destroyer USS Rodman, assigned to protect part of the invasion convoy, sailed from Taranto on 11 August. Two days later French warships joined them, and the force arrived off the Delta assault area in the Baie de Bougnon also on the 15th. The naval guns and bombers bombarded the coastline as the landing craft were lowered and the first waves of troops were ferried towards the assault beaches. In Italy on the 13th Alexander’s troops entered Florence, though their offensive strength was now exhausted and the Germans had been given time to entrench themselves more firmly in the Gothic Line. Indeed, the Allies were still stuck south of the Gothic Line ten days after the launch of Dragoon.

Saipan Landing I

During the night, on final approach, all hands in Kelly Turner’s four transport divisions had been impressed by the flashes of bombardment silently lighting the horizon ahead. Drawing closer to Saipan, they whiffed its acrid waste, sharp on nostrils and tongues. On June 15, the eastern sky was brightening over the light southeasterly swells. Each transport division embarked a Marine regiment, approached Saipan’s hundred-fathom line, and entered the outer transport area off the western shore.

An officer in one of the transports, a veteran of Sicily and Salerno, looked at the black form of Mount Tapotchau, backlit by twilight, and said, “That silhouette is made to order for a night landing under a good moon. Every natural landmark stands out. Perfect, I say, except she’s coral-bound. That’s the gimmick.”

The Fifth Amphibious Force, having finished its oceanic transit, prepared to make its power felt on land. On board the LCI gunboats, the smallest commissioned ships in Turner’s task force, all hands turned to, unpacking and loading their abundance of rockets. Marines in the transports and amtracs and LSTs checked their weapons, breathed deeply to calm their nerves. Draper Kauffman and his UDT reviewed the results of their lagoon reconnaissance. Kelly Turner signaled to Harry Hill, “TAKE CHARGE. GOOD LUCK.” In the dawning daylight of “the other D Day,” transports began lowering boats.

The drone of radial engines manifested over Saipan before six A.M., when the commander of the Enterprise air group, Bill “Killer” Kane, arrived on station to serve as air coordinator of the day’s flying circus covering the assault. His first order of business was to direct an air strike set for H Hour, 0830. With him: a dozen Hellcats to provide combat air patrol over the landing force and eight Avengers to encourage Tojo’s submarines to keep a respectful distance.

Surveying the armada below—the transports bearing three divisions, battleships worthy of Jutland, the sheer numerosity of Turner’s tractor fleet, dropping from davits and gathering in the assembly areas—Kane had little sense that his day would come to an early end. As he flew over the transport area, the air bursts began. Anxious gunners in Turner’s invasion fleet had his range. One of the shells was close enough to fill Kane’s cowling with steel. Riddled by friendly fire, his engine began to smoke and he began spiraling down to the sea. He had enough horses to keep his nose up and manage a water landing. He would be rescued later and returned to his carrier. But his forced relief from duty by that spooked antiaircraft crew served to promote James D. “Jig Dog” Ramage, skipper of Bombing Ten, to Kane’s post as air coordinator. He would look after the H Hour air strike and the subsequent close support of the troops. Circling at two thousand feet, in awe of the spectacle below, he, too, kept a respectful distance.

Though Harry Hill had immediate command of landing operations, Kelly Turner made sure to retain certain privileges of overall command. He had thought through the location of every ship in the plan. His talent, his admirers said, was a meticulous, hands-on approach to crafting a war plan; in Washington, at Main Navy, he had practiced the state of the art at the level of high strategy. The invasion of Saipan marked his return to the tactical; his talent poured forth into crafting the plan. “He carried it in his own mind,” Hogaboom said. “He rarely had to refer to the plans, although the plans were voluminous. He supervised, himself, the actual maneuver and the actual position of the ships as they approached a position at D Day. He was determined to meet his D Days. He was determined to meet his H Hours.” What followed from there would be up to the Marines.

It wasn’t yet six when Turner issued the order he always deemed his due: “Land the landing force.” The dispatch set his numerous assembly into motion. The bow ramps of LSTs swung open, releasing amtracs to roll forward. LSDs opened their stern gates and began disgorging LCMs bearing waterproofed tanks, which, tightly packed in the well deck, slid down the ramp and entered the sea, bouncing once or twice, then motoring smoothly atop the swells. After reporting to the control officer at the line of departure of their assigned beach, they would stand by until they were needed, on call, not belonging to any particular wave. The amtracs approached the transports, cargo nets draped over the side, and Marines began mounting up.

North of the main assembly area, another group of transports milled at sea. Carrying a regiment from each of the two Marine divisions, they were assigned to make a feint, a diversionary landing that Turner hoped would freeze Japanese troops in place and prevent them from moving south from Tanapag into the Charan Kanoa landing area.


At 6:30, two hours before H Hour, the transports of the diversionary force began hoisting out their boats off Tanapag. More than a hundred LCVPs formed in the assembly area and then came alongside the transports to simulate the embarkation of troops of the Second Regiment of the Second Marine Division, and the 24th Regiment of the Fourth, as well as a battalion of the 29th Marines. For several minutes the boats remained alongside the transports, rising and falling beside the nets, then shoved off for the rendezvous area while smoke boats and control vessels took positions near a plausible line of departure. The setup consumed more than an hour, in the hope that the Japanese were watching from shore. On a signal from the commander of the control group, the charade ended. The landing boats reversed course and returned to the transports to be hauled back aboard. Generals Watson and Schmidt would use them as their floating reserve.

It was seven A.M. when the LST group carrying the two assault regiments of the Fourth Marine Division stopped outside the rendezous area and began launching amtracs. Crabbing down the nets from the transports, armed men filled the tractors. The sense of it was vivid, the feeling of starting in. Robert Graf checked his cartridge belt, heavily loaded with ammo; shifted the straps of the weighty bandoliers that pinched his shoulders; vetted his first aid kit and two canteens of water; tested his pack, loaded with items he might never use or that might save a life, one could never tell which. With all its useful things, the pack was heavy enough that, under fire, it might plausibly claim his own. On his right leg were a Ka-Bar in its sheath and a throwing knife holstered like a gun. His gas mask went over the shoulder, its bulk hanging in the way as he reached for his rifle, checking its action, and grabbed a life belt. He looked up from his kit. “Now our group was standing, waiting to start.”

Lieutenant Carl Roth came over and looked him over as his quadriceps burned, spun him around to survey his gear. Like all platoon commanders, Roth wore no insignia—it only encouraged snipers—and was underarmed, carrying a carbine instead of an M-1 Garand. Roth led his men into the hold of the LST-84, where they found their amtracs. They were Army vehicles belonging to the 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion. The tractors were ready for them, engines running, fumes fouling the air. The Marines piled in and took their places. Waiting and listening, then waiting some more, they finally heard the grinding of gears, telling them at last that they would soon be on their way. They heard the crash of the bow doors opening and the propulsive sensation of rolling forward. Down they went, out the ramp. Nosing down, the LVTs dropped into the Pacific. The coxswains raced their engines, whose whining revolutions belied their pedestrian’s speed toward the line of departure.

The Army crews were largely veteran tankers, hastily retrained as demand for amtrac personnel surged. The one hundred LVTs of their battalion had been hastily refitted, up-armored with extra steel plate at the destroyer base in San Diego—half an inch on the bow and cab, a quarter inch on the sides and the ramp. It was seven o’clock when the amtracs carrying the 25th Marines were underway to the assembly area. Ten minutes later, the LSTs embarking two regiments from the Second Marine Division dropped ramps and released their alligators.


Looking toward shore from the line of departure, three thousand yards out from the reef, each coxswain drew a bead on the major landmarks that showed him the way. Three in particular stood out. There was Mount Tapotchau, straight ahead to the east. The pier at Garapan was up the coast to the left; the dock at Charan Kanoa jutted out between Green and Blue beaches, fronting the town and its gable-roofed buildings. As they drew closer, details came into focus. The beach, a ribbon of crushed coral just ten to fifteen yards deep. Shrubs atop the beachfront bluff. Groves of trees on higher slopes farther inland. A coastal road and a narrow-gauge rail line that connected Saipan’s west-coast towns, Charan Kanoa, Garapan, and Tanapag. The clearing behind the Green beaches held an airstrip, and three high towers of a radio station sat to its north.

The Sixth and Eighth regiments of General Watson’s Second Marine Division would go ashore on the left, north of Charan Kanoa, at Red and Green beaches. The 23rd and 25th regiments of the Fourth Division, under Schmidt, would land on the right, south of the town, on Blue and Yellow beaches. Each of the regiments’ battalion landing teams was responsible for a six-hundred-yard section of beach, this being the width deemed optimal for the delivery of a Marine battalion’s concentrated force as well as its lifeline of waterborne supply.


The largest units of troops—divisions and regiments—were governed abstractly, maneuvered by generals on rubber topographic models and seldom seen in person unless embarked on board ship or arrayed for review. An infantry regiment had about thirty-three hundred men. Its basic unit of maneuver was the battalion. Fortified with heavy weapons companies and engineers, a battalion landing team, under the command of a lieutenant colonel, had thirty-three officers, two or three Navy surgeons, and forty corpsmen. The key line officers were the captains of the two-hundred-fifty-man companies, and their principals in turn were the lieutenants leading the forty-six-man platoons. Below them—arguably of even greater importance—were the sergeants of the thirteen-man squads and the corporals of the fire teams of four. Companies, platoons, and squads, large to small, were the units that most powerfully shaped and held the fortunes and memories of individual men.

Robert Graf ducked low while waves crested the bow of his amtrac, torrents of salty spray washing over the Marines inside. The gunner up front got the worst of the sea shower. “Being low in the water, we were unable to see much of what was going on,” Graf said. “Slowly we went forward until we were in our assigned departure area. We started our circling, waiting.” He had time to think of his parents and two sisters, and of the inferno that had nearly engulfed him at West Loch. His unit, Easy Company, Second Battalion, 23rd Marines, was going ashore on Blue Beach Two. He wasn’t sure it would go well.

Overhead, carrier planes were reporting on station. Turner’s plan called for a sweep against enemy positions to take place at H Hour minus 90, and now it began, a droning horde mustered not by Mitscher but by the escort carriers of the support groups. Each of the eight small flattops in the two CVE task units put up eight FM-2 Wildcats and a quartet of Avengers, wings sagging with a load of eight five-inch high-explosive rockets and a dozen hundred-pound bombs tucked in their bellies. Specialists in troop support, they bore down fast, roaring over the amtracs, the reef, and the gentle lagoon. The Wildcats strafed the beach head-on, followed at thirty-second intervals by the Avengers, which attacked in pairs, two planes to a beach. They let fly their rockets, dropped their frags, and retired across the island.

Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito, was the commander of the army’s 43rd Division and the senior Japanese Army officer on Saipan. But Saito’s guns were still silent. There was nothing for his inland artillery and mortars to shoot at yet. Captain Whitehead, Turner’s commander of support aircraft, was eager to keep things that way. To stop a Japanese counterattack on the landing area, he passed what was known about the locations of Japanese gun and troop positions to Commander Ramage, the air coordinator from the Enterprise. But the carrier pilots struggled all day long to find targets through the cloak of smoke that rose after the naval bombardment. The Japanese had gone to ground under ingenious schemes of camouflage. The air strikes lacked the volume and sustenance required of an effective area bombing attack. Turner meant it more to demoralize and suppress the defenders than to wipe them out. His belief that planes could do what ships couldn’t might have been the optimism of a man who had never flown a strike aircraft under fire. If the enemy could not move beneath this storm of lead and shrapnel, they usually found the wherewithal to hunker down and endure, looking to survive until a more opportune hour.

After thirty minutes, the air strike ended and the planes returned to their carriers. Admiral Hill took over as preparatory naval gunfire resumed. The California drenched Red Beach with everything she had, but after pouring white phosphorus rounds inshore of Red Beach One, she ceased fire when some of her shells burst prematurely, casting smoky streaks of the incendiary chemical over the assembly area. There, a control boat dropped a flag, and a column of LCI gunboats motoring along the line of departure executed simultaneous ninety-degree turns and set out toward shore. With a dozen of them allocated to each beach, surging along in a single rank, they would offer the final salvo of preparatory fire before the amtracs went in. Diversely configured with 20 and 40 mm guns, rails bristling with 4.5-inch rockets, the gunboats were a mile and a half out when mortars and artillery began falling around them. The incoming fire surprised Captain Inglis in the Birmingham, on station with the Indianapolis on the division boundary line, firing at targets on Green Beach. Inglis had not expected so many Japanese guns to remain in action. The gunboat crews pulled the pins on their rockets, five hundred at a time, and threw the switches that armed the launchers.

On another signal from the control boat, the first wave of amtracs came to the line of departure. The first wave was anchored in the center by a seven-vehicle wedge of LVT(A)s. The amtanks were arrayed like an arrowhead pointed toward the enemy. Flanking the wedge to each side was a rank of six troop-carrying LVTs. Without fanfare, the coxswain in Robert Graf’s amtrac opened the throttle and his engine’s song went from gurgle to growl to roaring whine. Led by an LVT(A) serving as the wave guide, flying a numbered flag at the point of the wedge, the first assault wave, nineteen vehicles strong, followed the LCI gunboats in the Second Division landing area. From Red Beach One in the north to Green Beach Two in the south, the full two-regiment line consisted of seventy amtanks and forty-eight LVTs carrying eight Marine infantry battalions to shore. The second wave departed the line four minutes later, followed by the third wave six minutes after it. As Graf’s amtrac passed the Norman Scott, a voice on the destroyer’s PA system called out, “God bless you all!”

Inglis had not seen its like, this parade of ferocious small ships motoring toward the reef in formation, followed at close intervals by rank after rank of amtanks and amtracs. As he looked out to sea, the spectacle of the LCI gunboats in their rush, leading the first wave of troop-laden alligators, took his breath away. He had what he called a “$6.60 orchestra seat, close enough to see the anxious but determined expressions of the faces of the Marines in the landing craft.”

When the LCI gunboats were just fifty yards from the reef, the signal to fire came. Within three seconds five hundred rockets were airborne. The parade spectacle vanished in the backwash of smoke. A gray carpet covered the waters beyond the reef, and though the winds pushed it seaward, it was heavy enough to obscure the landing area from view. No targets of opportunity were apparent. All the gunboat rocketeers could do was smother their assigned sectors in high explosives. After two salvos were off the rails, five shifted from beach to bluff.

Carrier planes struck inland targets. Flying low over the first wave, fighters showered the alligator fleet with brass cartridges. When the LCIs were finished, their long single rank opened like a double pocket door, half splitting away to the left, half to the right. Through the opening came the first wave of amtracs, churning through smoke toward the reef. “As the troops came abreast and passed us,” one gunboat crewman wrote, “an eerie silence fell. All that could be heard was the whine of the amtracs.”

Lieutenant Roth told his platoon, “Lock and load your pieces. Fix bayonets.” There were crisp metallic sounds as eight-round clips went into their rifles and bolts were snapped forward, pushing the first shell into the chamber. Robert Graf turned on his safety, reached over his shoulder, took his bayonet from his pack, and fitted it on the end of his rifle, keeping the butt on the deck and muzzle skyward. As the beach drew closer, perceptions grew sharper.

In the Fourth Marine Division’s landing area, amtracs carrying the 23rd and 25th Marines moved past the Tennessee to either side. The battleship hit the sugar mill with her main battery, then enfiladed the southernmost beach, Yellow Three, concentrating on gun positions near Agingan Point. “The beaches were a mass of smoke,” Captain A. D. Mayer would write, “but the Mark Eight radar operator could effectively observe the salvo landing on the beach on his radar screen, and control same.” But pinpoint accuracy was an illusion on an A scope. Two days earlier the Indiana had put sixty-three high-capacity sixteen-inch shells into that strongpoint, but still the Japanese were in business. Tests had revealed that the burst of a sixteen-inch high-explosive projectile would shock but not destroy emplacements built from sand and coconut logs. “These bursting projectiles would have great disruptive effect but doubtful penetrating power,” Admiral Hill said. The Marines would pay the price.

To hold formation, the amtrac drivers kept an eye to their periscopes, watching ahead while also checking the line to each side. Holding steady amid the waves and slow-moving tide, worrying (but not too much) about the high-angle barrage the Japanese were sending them, the drivers consulted one another on the radio, keeping their line tight. Crawling toward Green Beach One, Marshall E. Harris was talking to his best friend from radio school, Robert B. Lewis, in an amtank nearby. He was asking him if they’d drifted too far left when Lewis’s voice vanished beneath an explosion. Harris felt a concussion, then heard another explosion. Turning his periscope to the side, he saw black smoke and fire on the water. “Flames boiled out of blackened, bent metal hatches—Bob’s tank.” His platoon commander, Lieutenant Michael, motioned to him to keep going. He never saw Lewis again.

As the cleated tracks of the amtracs mounted the reef, their hydrostatic transmissions dropped automatically into low gear, enabling the heavy vehicles to haul themselves up and over. The surf could make things dicey. Off Red Beach, large swells were crashing hard over the reef. A coxswain had to time his approach such that the wave cupped his transom and carried them onto the reef. He would have to keep moving, for the next swell would bid to roll him over or swamp his engine while he was still on the coral. As the amtracs clawed over the reef, the California, off Red Beach, and the Tennessee, off Yellow, shifted to targets farther inland, beyond the map line that Holland Smith had set as the first day’s objective for his Marines. Known as the O-1 line (for “Objective One”), it roughly paralled the beach about fifteen hundred yards inland. The Birmingham kept watch off Afetna Point while the Norman Scott, Monssen, and other destroyers moved close, released by Admiral Hill to the freelancing counterbattery missions that destroyermen relished. Two thousand yards offshore, between the boat lanes leading to Blue and Yellow beaches, the Norman Scott fired on gun positions near Blue Beach One. As her captain, Seymour D. Owens, watched the first wave of amtracs go in, an artillery shell landed close off the forecastle, wounding three men. Hammering the bluffs to keep the enemy’s heads down, the destroyers kept at it until the first amtrac wave was about three hundred yards from shore, then trained out to the flanks. Dropping into the calm lagoon waters, the amtracs began the last leg to shore.

Saipan Landing II

The volume of incoming fire grew; neither the aircraft nor the naval fire support had an answer for what the Japanese had installed on Saipan’s reverse slopes. “There was a loud explosion to our right,” Robert Graf wrote, “and we saw one of our craft exploding, bodies flying through the air.”

Carl Roth said, “Unlock your pieces. Good luck. Keep low, and get inland as fast as you can and get off the beach. They’re zeroing in on it.” Turner had overestimated the threat of beach defenses—pillboxes with machine guns, fire trenches, antitank trenches, and the like. Artillery and mortars located inland were the problem. He had underrated them. The clouds obscuring the early reconnaissance photos hid the guns from Nimitz’s analysts. They revealed themselves against the first waves.

Control officers off Blue and Yellow beaches reported the first waves of the Fourth Marine Division ashore at 8:43. Five minutes later an air observer reported the Second Marine Division’s amtracs piling onto Red and Green beaches, though not always in the right place. Heavy fire poured into the first wave from the shrub-topped bluff behind Red Three. Heavier fire enfiladed them from Afetna Point, far to the right. The volume of it startled the drivers, and even the slightest flinch at the wheel caused them to veer left, carrying in the Sixth Marines farther north than they were supposed to be. The same problem beset the Eighth Regiment, only worse, owing to a northward-carrying tide. Both of its battalions landed on Green One, causing congestion and a dangerous massing of forces there, as well as a void on Green Two, just to the south. The architect of the Second Marine Division’s confusion was a battery of heavy machine guns and antiboat guns on Afetna Point. Having somehow survived the morning bombardment by the Birmingham and Indianapolis, it enjoyed a run of terrible glory. Head still down, filled with silent prayer, Robert Graf heard the smooth tenor of the engine change as his tracks bit into the ground. His platoon was on the beach.

As the critical hour began ashore, the naval fire support shifted inland, leaving the amtracs to their own devices. The bow gunners trained their fifties on the thin ribbon of sand and scrub ahead as the mortars and artillery continued their incessant high-angle fall. General Saito’s artillerymen and mortar teams were in impressive form given the plastering that had been leveled upon them from air and sea. Lofting shells on tall parabolas from crevices, ravines, and the back sides of hills, they began taking a toll on Turner’s force. The beach where Easy Company of the 2/23 went ashore, Blue Beach Two, took a particularly brutal deluge. “More and more shells came pounding at us and more tractors were hit,” wrote Graf. “Bodies, both whole and in pieces, were scattered about.” He saw men mortally wounded but still alive, floating with the aid of life jackets. The Marines left no man behind, except by necessity at H Hour, when the imperative to get off the beach was existential. The whole operation depended on it. Already, with the arrival of the second wave, the boat lane was a bottleneck, with a huge inflow of machines grinding through it.

Amtracs had their appeal, foremost their armor plate, which was proof against all but the closest artillery rounds. But many veteran Marines preferred the old LCVPs with their bow ramps, which when dropped allowed them to make a quick low rush forward out of the hold. Amtracs, in contrast, required them to stand up and dismount over the side, and that meant exposing themselves to enemy fire. When Donald Boots hit the beach, enemy gunners were waiting. The platoon sergeant and gunnery sergeant of his pioneer company were shot dead along with a few other men. As bullets zipped overhead, his platoon, deprived of their leadership, dropped to the beach and pressed themselves into the crushed coral for cover. Boots moved left, bounding into a large shell crater with several other men as machine gun fire whipped overhead. When the mortars came, Boots didn’t think he would survive.

“It was really tragic to watch the effect of this mortar fire on our own troops,” said Captain Inglis.

The Japanese were extremely accurate, and as they walked this shellfire up the beach, this shellfire falling at about ten yard intervals, our Marines at first stood up under the fire without flinching, continued their operations of sorting out and transporting to front lines the equipment which had been landed and which was lying on the beach. After the first two or three shells had fallen it was quite apparent to us that the Marines were beginning to flinch under the fire and at first they threw themselves on the ground and then eventually, after this fire was continued, broke and ran. Through high powered optical instruments we could almost see the whiskers on men’s faces, and the whole impression that I received was something unreal, something that you might see in the London Graphic, for instance, as sketched in the imagination of an artist. It seemed almost too dramatic and too close to be realistic.

Though the largest Japanese coastal guns had been easy for the Navy to destroy, as they were sited conspicuously in fixed emplacements vulnerable to direct fire, and beach positions evaporated quickly in the initial barrage, the inland positions were trickier even when ship commanders could see where the fire was coming from. “The mobilization of that mass of field artillery and mortars on the reverse slope of the hills back of the beaches was a complete unknown to us when we landed,” Hill said.

Captain Inglis felt a mounting frustration. “We tried our best to determine the source of this fire, but the Japanese, being past masters in the twin arts of playing possum and camouflage, had very successfully concealed their batteries from observation and the source of the fire could not be determined from observation from the ship, or from the spotters ashore, nor from observation from aircraft, nor from photographs taken by aircraft.” There were many eyes on D Day, but none were all-seeing. It remained to the assaulters to push forward and deliver themselves from death.

The Second Armored Amphibian Battalion, a Marine outfit, hit Red Beach One promptly at H Hour. General Watson, who hadn’t wanted to use his regular amtracs as fighting vehicles on land, had his men debark from the troop-carrying LVTs immediately, to begin the fight in the footprint of the tides. As LVTs unloaded elements of the Second Battalion, Sixth Marines, high on the beach, the unit’s seventeen LVT(A)-4 amtanks sought routes inland, to serve as a sort of mobile amphibious armored striking force. Their crews were freelancers as soon as they went ashore, and thus they acquired a fearsome responsibility: to use their thin-skinned “armored pigs” to hold the exposed far left flank of the entire two-division landing beach. This meant facing off against anything the Japanese might send them from the north. Turner had anticipated this; the whole purpose of the feint he had carried out off Garapan was to let the first two battalions of the Sixth Marine Regiment get ashore and dig in before a counterattack came.

“I never will forget the concussion of the battleships’ guns and the power and compression that blew over us,” remembered R. J. Lee. The driver of his amtank was looking to push inland off the beach, but with a deep trench just behind the shrub line there was no way forward. He threw the pig into reverse and backed out to the water’s edge, where he unlimbered the 75 mm cannon and began blasting to cut a navigable lane. The Japanese had built only the simplest of defensive works, thanks to the efforts of U.S. submarines to strangle their source of supply. But their trenches, foxholes, and log obstacles near the beach were made reasonably effective by the pressure of artillery and mortar fire coming from the highlands far away. Marine amtanks on Red Beach struggled to get over the bluffs behind the beaches. Lee had gotten off perhaps four shots when Japanese artillery found his range. The open turret took a direct hit. Before the smoke washed everything black, Lee saw his platoon leader and two of his sergeants dead.

“Let’s get the hell out of here before she blows up,” another sergeant said to the five survivors. The amtank’s seven-cylinder radial aircraft engine, owing to the aviation gasoline that fed it, was always a fire hazard. They shimmied through the escape hatch into the water and turned and charged the beach, weapons held high. Lee looked to his right and saw one of his crew, Gus Evans, rifle raised over his head, take a bullet to the face and go down. He was reaching for him when he, too, was hit. Two head shots—one a ricochet, the other penetrating the helmet but somehow retaining only enough force to knock him cold. “Lights out for me,” Lee said. “I heard my four-year-old son calling, ‘Get up, Daddy, get up, Daddy,’ and by the grace of God and my son I made it back to the beach.”

On Red Three, a trio of amtanks under the command of Lieutenant Philo Pease found a path through a grove of trees and made it up onto the bluff. Crossing a narrow road, they approached a trenchworks. The lead vehicle tried to cross it but came to grief, stuck fast, treads clawing the air. According to the driver, S. A. Balsano, Japanese soldiers were “on us like flies.” There was no way forward, or back, either, for the rear amtank was stuck, too. Lieutenant Pease realized their only hope was to get moving again, or artillery would surely find them. He saw that the second amtank in his column, the one right behind him, might be able to pull the third one free of its snag. He ordered his crew to stay with their stranded lead vehicle and try to break it free while he ran outside, exposing himself in order to help the commander behind him to rig a tow cable. As a cluster of enemy troops approached, one of Pease’s crew, Leroy Clobes, stuck a light machine gun through the side hatch and leaned into the trigger, scattering them. Balsano, the driver, jammed his Thompson through the front hatch and jackhammered away. Then they realized that the foreign voices they had heard were coming from the trench beneath them.

Pease reached the amtank behind him only to find himself going to the assistance of a dead man. A Japanese soldier had drawn a bead on the other commander and shot him dead where he stood. Ducking low under fire, Pease inherited the job of attaching the cable. The enemy rifleman chambered another round and took him down next. A corporal in Pease’s amtank, Paul Durand, took command, shouting, “Shoot all the sons of bitches you can!” Nearby he spotted a straw house that seemed to harbor an enemy squad. Traversing the 75 mm gun onto it, he blew it right down. At that point a Japanese light tank appeared and put a 37 mm round through the hull of the third amtank in line, killing the driver. Marine bazookamen put the enemy armored vehicle out of business in turn, but here, exposed under merciless direct fire, was the root of General Watson’s worry all along: Amtracs were sitting ducks. Lieutenant Pease’s surviving crew were lucky. Inspecting their stranded amphibian later, one of them found a magnetic mine fastened to the undercarriage. Somehow it had failed to explode.

South of them, Green Beach One was chaos, its six-hundred-yard frontage hopelessly congested after the arrival of two full battalions. The commanders of the first wave’s amtanks tried to deepen the beachhead by driving inland. Their advance was conspicuous to the well-spotted mortarmen and artillery gunners in the hills. Coming under heavy plunging fire, several of the amtanks became bogged down in a rice paddy. Two others, driven by Sergeant Benjamin R. Livesey and Sergeant Onel W. Dickens, pushed on. Crossing the end of the single runway paralleling Green Beach, they turned up a dirt road leading north past the Japanese radio station. The road was little more than a cart path, barely wide enough for two-way traffic. Along it they clattered, fortunate to evade the incoming fire. A Japanese machine gun nest, then another, revealed themselves with spitting tracers. The armored amphibians turned the fury of their 75 mm howitzers and .50- and .30-caliber machine guns onto them, to overwhelming effect. Passing through a banana grove, Livesey realized its value as cover and stopped there as the mortars continued to fall. As the crew crouched low, they heard the chatter of small arms fire as Japanese soldiers opened up on them from down the road. “We scrambled back into our tank,” Livesey said, “and scanned ahead into the grove of trees, using our gun sight and binoculars to spot a building with some Japs moving around inside it. We opened fire with everything we had.”

Their 75 mm main gun was loaded with high-explosive and incendiary rounds. Several hits produced larger explosions followed climactic ally by a mushrooming fireball that marked the demise of a Japanese fuel dump. Livesey ordered his driver forward and shot up the area for effect. About a hundred yards on, he came upon a clearing and stopped again, breaking out water for his crew. As Dickens’s amtank rolled up alongside, Livesey and his men dismounted to talk with them. No other Marines had yet made it that far inland. “We were alone and isolated,” Livesey said, “but enjoying our success.” They were picking through the wooden crates that constituted their magazines, counting their remaining shells, when, down the road, four behemoths of foreign origin loomed into view.

The Japanese medium tanks were in a single column, moving toward the landing beach. They did not seem to see the Americans hustling to remount. Once buttoned in, Livesey and Dickens turned out after them, unlimbering their 75 mm guns and opening fire. His ammunition passers were scrambling to find armor-piercing shells when the enemy column turned and came directly at the Marines. “It was us or them,” Livesey said.

Neither side’s vehicle was a match for the other’s main gun. Livesey’s vehicle shook from a hit to its engine compartment, but June 15 was his day; the shell was a dud. Gales of machine gun fire washed over them. Though the 75s liked to jam and did, the gunners and loaders kept their breech blocks smoking, and Marine Corps marksmanship was equal to the moment. Destroying three of the enemy tanks in succession, they stopped the Japanese armor just fifty to seventy yards away. Livesey watched one of the enemy tankers pile out of his hatch and start running for the hills, a good thing given that Livesey’s ammunition passers were nearly down to smoke shells. He threw a few rounds after the enemy squirter, but as artillery and mortars in the hills began bracketing them again, he and Dickens and their crews opted to bail out. As they set out on foot to the beach, mortar shrapnel killed one of Dickens’s men, Private Leo Pletcher. The freelancing foray by Livesey and Dickens would earn each of them a Navy Cross. More important, it relieved pressure on the vulnerable Second Marine Division foothold by blunting an armored assault that might have fallen upon the beach.

The fighting on the left flank continued stiff and sharp. The Sixth Marines were able to force a shallow beachhead no more than a hundred yards deep, as far as the coastal road behind Red Beach. But pillboxes and machine gun positions checked their progress. An enemy tank on the beach that everyone had thought was disabled opened fire with its 37 mm gun on the LVTs that were bringing in the Sixth Marines’ reserve unit, the First Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel William K. Jones. One of the vehicles that got hit was carrying the staff of Jones’s boss, the regimental commander, Colonel James P. Riseley. Many of them were badly wounded. Soon after landing, Riseley learned that the commander of his Third Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Easley, had been hit, too.

As Riseley was setting up his regimental command post near the center of Red Beach Two, as many as two dozen Japanese troops charged down the beach from the north. They reached the rear area of the regiment’s Second Battalion, where wounded Americans were laid out in stretchers under tents near the beach. The Marines rallied, established a firing line, and annihilated the Japanese force. But the close-run assault proved that no one was safe in a battle of infiltration. On the day, the commanders of all four of the Second Marine Division’s assault battalions were wounded in action: Raymond L. Murray of the 2/6 (hit along with his executive officer), Henry P. Crowe of the 2/8, John C. Miller of the 3/8, and Easley of the 3/6. After nightfall, the task of closing the gaps in their lines would be a matter of life and death.

To break the pressure of the counterattack, Riseley ordered the First Battalion to pass through the Third Battalion area and renew the push toward the O-1 line. Riseley would have given the job to no one other than the 1/6’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jones. He would call him “the best damn battalion commander in this division, or any other division.” At the moment, Jones was the only officer of his rank physically able to lead an assault on that high ground. The 1/6 had taken a hundred casualties on the way to the beach. Coming ashore, the survivors had replaced their soaked equipment and gear by harvesting from those who had fallen ahead of them. Jones rallied them forward.

With units scattered and intermingled thanks to the whirligig movements of amtracs in surf and tide, and with the heavy fire urging survival ahead of record keeping, it was difficult to count the wounded. The first casualties were brought to the beach for loading onto LVTs at about 10:40. The total number of killed and wounded that day would total more than two thousand, most of the casualties inflicted by artillery and mortar fire. But an untold multitude emblematized by Lieutenant Colonel Easley refused to report to triage for fear of being removed from the company of their men at the front.

“River Raid on Korea”

Map of the American Naval Operations in Korea, 1871.

The largest-scale combat in which Leathernecks participated in the three decades following the Civil War was the Korean Expedition of 1871. On 23 May of that year, five vessels of Rear Admiral John Rodgers’s Asiatic Fleet—the frigate Colorado, sloops Alaska and Benicia, and gunboats Monocacy and Palos—entered Roze Roads on the west coast of Korea not far from Chemulpo (modern-day Inchon). Aboard Admiral Rodgers’s flagship, the Colorado, was Frederick F. Low, the U.S. minister to China, who had been sent to open diplomatic relations with the hermit kingdom of Korea. Contact was made with the local inhabitants, and on the 31st a small delegation of third- and fifth-rank Korean officials appeared. Low refused to receive them, directing his secretary to explain that the presence of first-rank officials qualified to conduct negotiations was required. In the meantime, the Koreans were informed, the Americans desired to chart the Salee River, as the channel of the Han River between Kanghwa-do (island) and the Kumpo Peninsula was then called. As the Han leads to the capital city of Seoul, the Koreans might have been expected to consider such an act provocative, American assurances of goodwill notwithstanding, but they raised no objections. Twenty-four hours were allotted for them to notify the appropriate authorities.

Accordingly, at noon on 1 June, four steam launches followed by the Monocacy and Palos set out to begin the survey. As they came abreast of the fortifications on the heights of Kanghwa-do, the Koreans opened fire. The surveying party replied with gusto, shelling the forts into silence, and returned to the fleet’s anchorage. American casualties were two men wounded.

Admiral Rodgers waited nine days for an apology or better tides. The former was not forthcoming, and on 10 June a punitive expedition entered the river with the mission of capturing and destroying the errant forts. The landing force numbered 686 officers and men, including 109 Marines organized into two little companies and a naval battery of seven 12-pounder howitzers. Fire support would be provided by the gunboats and four steam launches mounting 12-pounders in their bows. Commander L. A. Kimberly was placed in command of the landing force; Captain McLane Tilton led its Leathernecks. Tilton was one of those unconventional characters for whom the Corps has always seemed to exercise an attraction. (Writing his wife from a Mediterranean deployment, he reported that when he first went on deck each day, “If anyone asks me how are you old fellow, I reply, ‘I don’t feel very well; no gentleman is ever well in the morning.’”)

Three forts, each with a walled water-battery, overlooked the shore of Kanghwa-do. In the course of the operation, the Americans christened them the Marine Redoubt, Fort Monocacy, and The Citadel. The Monocacy took the first two under fire shortly after noon. Both had been silenced by the time the Palos appeared with the landing party’s boats in tow about an hour later. The boats cast off half a mile below the nearest fort, and at 1345 that afternoon the Bluejackets and Marines began struggling ashore across a broad, knee-deep mudflat “crossed by deep sluices,” a disgusted Tilton noted, “filled with softer and still deeper mud.” Some men left their shoes, socks, leggings, and even trouser legs behind, and the howitzers bogged down to their barrels. Fortunately, the Koreans did not attempt to oppose the landing.

The Leathernecks had been selected to serve as the expedition’s advance guard. Tilton deployed them into a skirmish line as soon as they left the boats. Once both companies reached firm ground, Commander Kimberly ordered Tilton to lead his Marines toward the fort, an elliptical stone redoubt with 12-foot walls. Most of the sailors remained behind to manhandle the guns out of the muck. On the Marines’ approach, the fort’s white-robed defenders fled, firing a few parting shots. The work mounted 54 guns, but all except two were insignificant brass breechloaders. Tilton halted his men until the main body came up, “when we were again ordered to push forward,” he wrote, “which we did, scouring the fields as far as practicable from the left of the line of march, the river being on our right, and took a position on a wooded knoll . . . commanding a fine view of the beautiful hills and inundated rice fields immediately around us.” At this point he received orders to hold for the night. It was 1630 before the guns had been dragged ashore, and too few hours of daylight remained to demolish the captured fort and tackle the next. The seamen bivouacked half a mile to the rear.

The landing force moved out at 0530 the next morning. Its fire support had been reduced by the withdrawal of the Palos, which had hurt herself on an uncharted rock while the landing was in progress, but that available from the Monocacy and the launches would prove more than sufficient. The second fort, a chipped granite structure about 90 feet square, stood on a bluff a mile upstream. Tilton’s men found it deserted. While a Marine bugler amused himself by rolling 33 little brass cannon over the bluff into the river, other members of the expedition spiked the fort’s four big guns and tore down two of its walls. The march was then resumed.

The track between the first two forts had been relatively easy going, but beyond the second it became extremely difficult, “the topography of the country being indescribable,” Tilton reported, “resembling a sort of ‘chopped sea’ of immense hills and deep ravines lying in every conceivable position.” Presently the column came under long-range musket fire from a Korean force estimated to number from 2,000 to 5,000 among some hills beyond the Americans’ left flank. Five guns supported by three companies of seamen were deployed to hold this body in check, and the remainder of the party continued its advance. On two occasions the Koreans made a rush toward the detachment, but a few artillery shells turned them back each time.

The last and strongest of the Korean fortifications, The Citadel, was a stone redoubt crowning a steep, conical hill on a peninsula some two miles upstream from its neighbor. The Monocacy and the steam launches opened fire on the Citadel at about 1100. At noon, Commander Kimberly halted his command 600 yards from the fort to give the men a breather. By that time, the parties of Koreans seen falling back on The Citadel and the forest of flags in and around it left no doubt that the position would be defended.

After signaling the Monocacy to cease fire, the storming party, 350 seamen and Marines with fixed bayonets, dashed forward to occupy a ridgeline only 120 yards from the fort. Although Tilton’s men were still armed with the model 1861 muzzle-loading Springfield rifle musket (in his words “a blasted old ‘Muzzle-Fuzzel’”), they quickly established fire superiority over the fort’s defenders, who were armed with matchlocks, a firearm that had disappeared from Western arsenals 200 years before. “The firing continued for only a few minutes, say four,” Tilton wrote, “amidst the melancholy songs of the enemy, their bearing being courageous in the extreme.”

At 1230 Lieutenant Commander Silas Casey, commanding the Bluejacket battalion, gave the order to charge. “[A]nd as little parties of our forces advanced closer and closer down the deep ravine between us,” Tilton continued, “some of [the Koreans] mounted the parapet and threw stones etc., at us, uttering the while exclamations seemingly of defiance.” The first American into The Citadel, Navy Lieutenant Hugh W. McKee, fell mortally wounded by a musket ball in the groin and a spear thrust in the side. The spearman also stabbed at Lieutenant Commander Winfield Scott Schley, who had followed close behind McKee. The point passed between Schley’s left arm and his chest, pinning his sleeve to his coat, and he shot the man dead.

Tilton was among half a dozen officers who led their men into the fort moments later. The Koreans stood their ground, and the fighting became hand to hand. Clambering over the parapet, Private Michael McNamara encountered an enemy soldier pointing a matchlock at him. He wrenched the gun from the Korean’s hands and clubbed him to death with it. Private James Dougherty closed with and killed the man the Americans identified as the commander of the Korean forces. Tilton, Private Hugh Purvis, and Corporal Charles Brown converged on The Citadel’s principal standard, a 12-foot-square yellow cotton banner emblazoned with black characters signifying “commanding general.” For five minutes the fort’s interior was a scene of desperate combat. Then the remaining defenders fled downhill toward the river, under fire from the Marines, a company of seamen, and the two howitzers that had accompanied the attackers.

A total of 143 Korean dead and wounded were counted in and around the Citadel, and Lieutenant Commander Schley, the landing force’s adjutant, estimated that another 100 had been killed in flight. Forty-seven flags and 481 pieces of ordnance, most quite small but including 27 sizable pieces—20-pounders and upward—were captured. The storming party lost three men killed and ten wounded, with a Marine private in each category. Captain Tilton was pleasantly surprised by his survival. In a letter home a few days later, he wrote, “I never expected to see my wife and baby any more, and if it hadn’t been that the Coreans [sic] can’t shoot true, I never should.” He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1897. Nine sailors and six Marines were awarded the Medal of Honor. Among the latter were Corporal Brown and Private Purvis, who had rendezvoused with Tilton at the Citadel’s flagstaff.

The landing force reembarked early the next morning, leaving The Citadel in ruins. “Thus,” wrote Admiral Rodgers, “was a treacherous attack upon our people and an insult to our flag redressed.” Successful as it had been from a military standpoint, however, the operation was not a masterstroke of diplomacy. Subsequent communications with Korean authorities, conducted by messages tied to a pole on an island near the anchorage, were entirely unproductive, and on 3 July the fleet withdrew. A treaty with Korea was not negotiated until 1882.

Marine Amphibious Landing in Korea, 1871


American LVTs

The LVT (Landing Vehicle Tracked), better known as the Alligator. It was a modification of the original Alligator, a swamp rescue vehicle developed in 1935. The Alligator was an amphibious tank and the star of many U. S. Marine Corps landings in the Pacific. It was propelled by scores of small paddles on it tractor treads. Alligators performed a variety of chores. Some carried infantry, some carried supplies, some acted as light tanks, and others as self-propelled guns. Some were armored, some were equipped with turrets and the 37 mm gun of the M 3 light tank (Stuart tank to the British) , and others carried a 75 mm howitzer. All of them, in spite of the guns and armor, were light enough to float and seaworthy enough to make a sometimes lengthy trip from an anchored troop ship to the beach of a Pacific atoll.


There were two types of amphibious vehicles developed by the Americans in WWII to cross the shoals and beaches in the Pacific theater. One was the personnel carrier, or LVT (landing vehicle, tracked), generally equipped with a ramp in the rear which allowed troops to debark quickly under some cover; and the LVT(A), or armored amphibian, which was actually an amphibious tank. Although their names are similar, the LVT(A)4 was an entirely different machine from the LVT-4 vehicle. The LVT(A)4 was derived from the earlier LVT-2 Amtracs. Production for the new “Amtank” vehicles began in 1944, the LVT(A)4 being born from the US Marines’ urgent request for increased turret firepower from the earlier (A)1’s high velocity 37mm weapon (mounted in a M3 type turret). The result was the substitution of a 75mm howitzer (mounted in a M8 type turret) which considerably improved the potential for enemy bunker busting. But, in order to mount the M8 style turret on the roof of the (A)1, it was necessary to make some modification to the upper hull. These included increasing the size of the turret ring and lengthening the hull rear to provide space for the cramped engine compartment.

The LVT-4 was a natural continuation of the unique US Amtrac series of vehicles that were initially developed down in the Okeechobee marsh area of Florida back in the 1930s by a gentleman by the name of Donald Roebling. Originally built from light-weight aluminum, Mr. Roebling’s Alligator/ Crocodile tracked vehicles could travel equally well on land and water, and therefore caught the attention of the US Navy/Marine Corps as a potential rescue vehicle for downed pilots. After the start of WWII, a contract was awarded to Roebling to build 200 of his vehicles, but this time they were made from steel instead of aluminum. Originally designed to carry cargo, the Army vehicles gradually evolved into an armored fighting vehicle with some of the various types covered over and fitted with gun turrets. Generally called “Amtrac” (armored tractor)- or on occasion “Water Buffalo”- the LVT series of vehicles became very important assault and transport carriers during the island hopping campaigns of the Pacific theater in WWII, and to a lesser extent in Europe. Identifying the vehicles in the LVT series is sometimes difficult, as there were a couple of manufacturers and models of each type. It was the LVT-4 that was the first of the series to have an open cargo bay and a rear ramp for loading/unloading.


The LVT-4 differed from the LVT-2 in having a loading ramp at the rear, which enabled it to carry large loads such as Jeeps and some light weapons. It carried machine-guns on pintles at the front and sides.

These vehicles were very much a compromise design to obtain the best possible performances overland and on water. The two are disparate requirements, but the LVTs achieved a good working compromise and were thus able to carry amphibious warfare from the Rhine to the islands of the Pacific.

LVT-2 and LVT-4

Developed from a civil design intended for use in the Florida swamps, the LVT-1 was not really suited for combat, being intended solely as a supply vehicle. The Pacific war was to prove the need for a more capable amphibious assault vehicle. This emerged as the LVT-2, which used a better all-round shape to improve water performance, though it was still a high and bulky vehicle. Another improvement was a new suspension and the track grousers were made better by the use of aluminium W-shaped shoes that were bolted onto the track and could thus be easily changed when worn or damaged. A definite logistic improvement was introduced by use of the engine, final drive and transmission from the M3 light tank. At the time the LVT-2 was being developed these components were readily available and made spare-part supply that much easier.

The steering system of the LVT-2 gave considerable trouble at first, for the brake drums operated in oil and prolonged use of the steering bars could result in the brakes seizing up on one side. Training and experience solved that problem.

On the LVT-2 the engine was mounted at the rear, which restricted the size of the cargo compartment. This was relatively easily designed out of the overall layout by moving the engine forward and mounting a ramp at the rear to ease loading and unloading. Thus the LVT-2 became the LVT-4, which was otherwise generally similar. Of all the LVT series the LVT-4 was produced in the largest numbers: 8,348 produced on five production lines; in contrast 2,963 LVT-2s were produced on six lines. There were some design differences between the LVT-2 and LVT-4: for instance, the driver’s controls were rearranged on the LVT-4, but the main improvement was that all manner of loads could be carried on the LVT-4, ranging from a Jeep to a 105-mm (4.13-in) field howitzer.

Most LVT-2s and LVT-4s were armed with 12.7- or 7.62-mm (0.5- or 0.3-in) machine-guns on rails or pintles, but there were two versions of the LVT-2 that had heavier weapons. The LVT(A) 1 was an LVT with an M3 light tank turret mounting a 37-mm gun; this was intended to supply fire support during the early phases of an amphibious landing during the interval immediately after reaching the beaches. The gun proved to be too light for this role, so it was later supplanted by the short 75-mm (2.95-in) howitzer mounted in the turret of the M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage to produce the LVT(A) 4. On both of these gun vehicles the turrets were mounted towards the rear of the cargo area, which was covered in by armoured plate.

The ordinary LVT-2s and LVT-4s became the main load carriers of the early Pacific operations. The first LVTs were used in action at Guadalcanal, and thereafter every island-hopping operation involved them. Some were used in Europe during the Scheldt and Rhine operations of 1944-5 and there were numerous odd ‘one-off attempts to mount various types of weapon in them, ranging from rocket batteries to light cannon. Flamethrowers were fitted in some numbers, but all these types of armament should not disguise the fact that the LVT-2 and LVT-4 were most often used to carry ashore the first waves of US Marines.

The Tarawa landings on November 20, 1943, used landing vehicles, tracked (LVTs) for the first time in amphibious warfare. These were true armored amphibians, which could be deployed from landing ships into the water, then driven directly up to the beach and driven well inland, so that troops did not have to wade or walk ashore. Unfortunately, a shortage of LVTs meant that second- wave assault troops had to be carried in conventionally on landing craft. Worse because of faulty calculation of tides, many of the landing craft ran up on coral reefs, obliging the marines to wade long distances ashore. This exposed them to enemy fire and created heavy casualties that greatly imperiled the landings on the first day. Nevertheless, under Maj. Gen. Julian Smith, the 2nd Marine Division managed to occupy positions on the southern shore of the island as well as on the western end, thereby forcing the Japanese garrison to divide. This ultimately proved fatal to the defenders, and although the enemy counterattacked with suicidal banzai charges, the marines held their positions and, by November 23, had overrun the small island.

Specification LVT-2

Crew: 2+7

Powerplant: one Continental W970-9A petrol engine developing186.4KW (250hp)

Weights: unloaded 11000 kg (24,250 lb); loaded 13721 kg (30,250 lb)

Dimensions: length 7.975m(21 ft 6 in); width 3.25m(10ft8in); height 2.5m(8 ft 2.5 in)

Performance: maximum land speed 32km/h(20mph); maximum water speed 12 km/h (7.5 mph); road radius 241 km (150miles); maximum water radius 161km(100miles)

Armament: one 12.7-mm (0.5-in) and one 7.62-mm (0.3-in) machine-guns


Bangor-Class Minesweeper (reciprocating engine): A wide minesweeper class-it formed a large part of the Neptune minesweeper strength of 287. Bangor-class ‘sweepers were built in three versions-diesel, turbine, and reciprocating engines. Displacement: 672 tons. Crew: 60. Speed: 16 knots. Armament: 1 x 3-in, 1 x 40-mm, 4 x .303-in mg

RAF Air/Sea Rescue Launch: These boats saved about 13,000 airmen during the war, and were the natural seaborne counterpart to the huge Allied air umbrella which would cover the Neptune operations. Length: 68 feet. Speed: 38 knots. Armament: 3 x .303 Lewis mg

Armed Salvage Tug: Quite apart from the job of moving the huge Mulberry units to the Normandy coast, the fleets of tug-boats had to cope with about half the landing-craft -those unable to cross the Channel under their own power, and which could not be carried on the decks of transports. Displacement: 700 tons. Speed: 13 knots. Crew: 30. Armament: 1 x 3-in, 2 x 20-mm, 2 x .303-in mg

Armed Trawler: Trawlers-with the minesweepers and other light flotilla craft-were to perform invaluable services as convoy escorts shepherding and marshalling the transports. Hundreds of them were pressed into service for this role. Typical specifications were: Displacement: 378 tons. Speed: 11 1/2 knots. Crew: 30. Armament: 1 x 4-in, 3 x 20-mm, 2 x .303 mg; about 20 depth-charges


The ‘Mulberry Harbours’ was a WW2 civil engineering project of immense size and complexity. The floating harbours provided port facilities during the invasion of Normandy from June 1944 until French ports like Cherbourg were captured.

To carry the overall total of 40-50,000 men with their vehicles and equipment, an armada of over 4,000 landing ships, landing-craft, and barges of varying types was required; only about half of these were capable of crossing the Channel under their own power, the remainder having either to be towed or carried aboard the larger ships. When it is remembered that every man and every vehicle had -to be allotted to a specific ship or landing-craft, that every vehicle before embarkation had to be waterproofed, that men and vehicles had to arrive at the right time at the ‘hards’ (improvised landing places) at which their particular landing-craft was beached – the complications of planning and organisation can easily be imagined. Only when all this had been done, did the huge task of the Royal Navy in assembling, marshalling, and shepherding this heterogeneous collection of vessels across the Channel into paths swept through the enemy minefields, in landing them on the correct beaches, and providing the necessary fire support begin.

Apart from the non-combatant ships and landing-craft carrying men, vehicles, and stores, the US Navy and Royal Navy assembled for the escort and support of the operation a fleet of over 1,500 vessels, ranging from battleships to armed landing-craft. They were divided into two ‘task forces’, the Western Task Force from the US Navy supporting the US landing, and the Eastern Task Force, provided primarily by the Royal Navy, supporting the British/ Canadian landing. Each task force was further sub-divided into ‘forces’, one to each beach, responsible for escorting the assaulting force concerned, positioning it correctly, and providing fire support for the landing. The assault looked primarily to naval gunfire to silence the German coastal batteries and strongpoints.

The magnitude of the naval effort can be judged by the fact that the forces included seven battleships, 23 cruisers, 148 destroyers, as well as a swarm of smaller vessels -sloops, frigates, trawlers, corvettes, patrol craft and minesweepers. In addition, a fleet of 350 specially designed landing-craft carrying guns, rockets, anti-aircraft guns, and machine-guns was assembled for the close support of the actual assault.

The air effort in direct support of the assault was on a similar immense scale. It comprised the most modern types of aircraft available at the period, primarily the Spitfire, Mustang, Typhoon, Lightning, and Thunderbolt.

The exact timing of the assault proved a most complex problem which had its repercussions upon the dates on which the operation could be launched.

Although from the point of view of the assaulting troops there was much to be said for an assault in darkness, both the navies and air forces had to have daylight to carry out their bombardment tasks, and darkness would dangerously increase the likelihood of troops being landed in the wrong place. To assist navigation and for the airborne landings, moonlight was essential. Finally, the German underwater beach obstacles meant that landing must begin three to four hours before high tide. The only suitable periods for the operation therefore were those when there was four to five hours’ daylight between dawn and high tide and at the same time good moonlight was available. All these conditions could only be satisfied on approximately three days in each lunar month.

However powerful and successful the assault, it would clearly be valueless unless the forces ashore could be built up more rapidly than those of the enemy and properly maintained when there. This involved three problems: the planning, escorting, and routing of the follow-up convoys; ensuring that those convoys contained the right personnel, vehicles, and equipment arriving in the right order; and finally ensuring that they could be rapidly unloaded on arrival.

Fifteen personnel ships, 74 ocean-going merchant ships, and more than 200 coasters were loaded before D-Day and these were to form the first wave of the build-up; the requirement thereafter was for eight convoys a day. Once having got the assault force across, however, movement of these convoys was not likely to present any particular problem for the Allied navies.

The question of what they should contain after the initial preplanned flight was more difficult, and a special organisation known as ‘Build-Up Control'(BUCO) was set up in Southampton to ensure that what was shipped across the Channel was geared to the requirements of the battle.

The question of rapid unloading initially appeared the most difficult of all; it could clearly not be done across the beaches as a long-term measure and the likelihood of capturing port facilities intact appeared small, at any rate in the early stages. The problem was solved by perhaps the most famous devices of the entire operation-the artificial harbours known as ‘Mulberries’. They owed their existence primarily to the foresight of Churchill himself, who had directed their development as early as 1942, with his oft-quoted minute: ‘They must float up and down with the tide. . . . Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves.’ They consisted of an outer breakwater formed partly of sunken blockships and partly of concrete ‘caissons’, 200 feet long, which had to be towed across the Channel; in the area of sheltered water so created were floating piers adapted to take coasters, landing ships or barges; unloading was further assisted by a fleet of amphibious lorries known as DUKWs. The success of the system may be judged by the fact that shortly after the assault, an average of 6,500 vehicles and nearly 40,000 tons of stores was being landed weekly.

The supply of motor and aircraft fuel presented a particular problem. Initially tankers were moored offshore and the fuel fed by buoyed pipeline into depots on land. Preparations were made, however, for an underwater pipeline direct from England to the French coast-PLUTO, or ‘Pipe-Line-Under-the-Ocean’-and eventually, though not in the early stages, fuel supply was in effect drawn direct from England.

The impression so far given may well be that this was an exclusively British/American/Canadian operation, but the contributions of the other Allies must not be forgotten. The French, for instance, provided two cruisers, one destroyer, one armoured division, and four squadrons of aircraft; the Belgians one brigade and two squadrons; the Dutch two gunboats, one brigade, and two squadrons; the Poles one cruiser, two destroyers, one armoured division, and nine squadrons; the Norwegians three destroyers and four squadrons; the Czechs three squadrons; the Australians five squadrons; and the New Zealanders five squadrons. Practically every occupied country of Europe was represented in one way or another.

Finally, it must not be forgotten that the invading forces could expect assistance from an ally inside France. In this context the French resisters deserve to be included in the catalogue of forces available to the Allies. SOE had been its best to organise and arm them and from early 1943 German demands for labour had assisted recruiting; by 1944 some 100,000 young men had taken to the ‘Maquis’. The vast majority of the resisters’ plans were, of course, geared to the great day when the Allies would land in France once more; in 1943 they had put forward a series of seven ambitious plans to deal with railways, road movement, telecommunications, ammunition dumps, oil fuel installations, headquarters, and railway turntables. By the beginning of 1944, however, many resistance networks had been broken up by the Gestapo and only the railway demolition plan appeared to be capable of any certain implementation. Nevertheless both numbers available and arms supplied were considerable: by May 1944 80,000 Sten-guns, 30,000 pistols, 17,000 rifles, and nearly 3,500 Bren-guns had been parachuted into France; overall there were probably some 100,000 men plus another 35- 40,000 in the Maquis who had a weapon of some sort.

To assist the Resistance and ensure that as far as possible its operations were co-ordinated with those of the Allies, SOE prepared a number of three-man teams (American/British/French) to be parachuted-in uniform -into areas where resistance was expected to flourish, so as to act as liaison between the resisters and the regular forces. In addition the British Special Air Service and the American Operational Groups were entrusted with various raiding and harassing operations for which it was hoped that they could obtain the assistance and support of the Resistance.

Finally, preparations had to be made to take over and run civil affairs in the liberated areas of France pending recognition of a French government. Here also assistance from the Resistance organisation was hoped for.

So the balance sheet of this immense operation shows the following staggering figures:

  • 50,000 men in the assault drawn from five divisions;
  • Over 2,000,000 men to be shipped to France overall, comprising’ a total of 39 divisions;
  • 138 major warships used in the assault, together with 221 smaller combat vessels (destroyer category and below);
  • Over 1,000 minesweepers and auxiliary vessels;
  • 4,000 landing ships or craft;
  • 805 merchant ships;
  • 59 blockships;
  • 300 miscellaneous small craft;
  • 11,000 aircraft, including fighters, bombers, transports, and gliders;
  • Over 100,000 partially armed men of the Resistance ready to lend such support as they could.

With such a weight of numbers and material it might well be thought that the assault would be practically irresistible, but two factors must be remembered: first, the hazards and extreme complexity of an amphibious operation of this magnitude, for which there was no precedent; all the most meticulous arrangements could be upset and the utmost confusion caused by some chance occurrence or unpredicted change in the weather: second, the great inherent superiority of the defence over the attack in an amphibious operation, especially against prepared coastal defences; however great the Allied superiority, there could be no certainty that the force would succeed even in securing a foothold. Surprise and deception were the essence of the operation-and complete surprise there could not be, for the Germans knew that the invasion was coming; all they did not know was when and where.

Finally, it was clear to both sides that this was the decisive operation of the war. If the landing succeeded, Germany must eventually be crushed sooner or later between the advancing forces of the Russians and the Allies. Should the landing fail, the Allies might well take years to recover from their losses in men, material, and morale; the peoples of Occupied Europe would give up hope and Germany would be left free to turn and square the account with the Russians.

The broad shoulders of General Eisenhower carried an immense burden.

‘X Lighters’

A number [100] of large purpose-built `X Lighters’ had been developed by the Navy in the First World War and these contributed to the landings at Suvla Bay in 1915.

Although something of a military sideshow, the campaign at Gallipoli also made a contribution to the acceptance of the internal combustion engine for marine use. Anticipating the need to land troops and equipment on beaches here and elsewhere, the British Admiralty ordered large numbers of small landing craft. To ensure a shallow draught, these X-lighters were fitted with lightweight motors, many being hot-bulb engines. After the war, these X-lighters were sold off and many were converted for commercial use, giving some British coastal shipowners their first experience of the motor vessel.

The search for a more suitable landing craft continued after the war and this requirement was consistently emphasised in exercise reports. In the 1920s an inter-service Landing Craft Committee was established to study the design and number of craft required to conduct a landing on a hostile shore. Their first attempt at a landing craft was the Motor Landing Craft (MLC(1)) completed in 1926. This craft was not a success and was followed in 1928 by the MLC(10). The MLC(10) was a flat-bottomed craft powered by a water jet. It could embark 100 troops or a 12-ton tank, discharging them directly onto the beach via a steep bow ramp. The water jet gave it a relatively slow speed of only 5 knots and the boat’s flat bottom and bow ramp made it rather unseaworthy, handicaps that are common in modern amphibious craft. By 1934 the MLC had been thoroughly tested in a series of exercises and the design proved satisfactory. Two more vessels were procured and these were joined by six more, ordered as a result of the 1936 Abyssinian crisis.

X-Lighters in WWI and at Gallipoli

X Lighters

Displacement 200 tons
 Dimensions  105ft 6″ x 21 x 7ft 6″
 Guns Unarmed (The crew may have had side arms for self-defence or covering fire on the beaches)
 Machinery  steam or diesel engines, speed 8 kts
 Crew  4
 Builders  various
 Laid Down  1915
 Completed  1915- 18