|Outline of war|
Amphibious warfare is a type of offensive military operation which uses naval ships to project ground and air military power onto a hostile or potentially hostile shore. Through history the operations were conducted using ship's boats as the primary method of delivering troops to shore. Since the Gallipoli Campaign specialised watercraft were increasingly designed for landing troops, materiel and vehicles, including by landing craft and for insertion of commandos, by fast patrol boats, zodiacs (rigid inflatable boats) and from mini-submersibles.
The term amphibious first emerged in the USA during the 1930s after design of the Landing Vehicle Tracked where the first prototypes were named Alligator and Crocodile, though neither species are amphibian. Amphibious warfare includes operations defined by their type, purpose, scale and means of execution. In the British Empire at the time these were called combined operations which were defined as "...operations where naval, military or air forces in any combination are co-operating with each other, working independently under their respective commanders, but with a common strategic object." All armed forces that employ troops with special training and equipment for conducting landings from naval vessels to shore agree to this definition.
Since the 20th century an amphibious landing of troops on a beachhead is acknowledged as the most complex of all military manoeuvres. The undertaking requires an intricate coordination of numerous military specialities, including air power, naval gunfire, naval transport, logistical planning, specialised equipment, land warfare, tactics, and extensive training in the nuances of this manoeuvre for all personnel involved.
- 1 Amphibious operation
- 2 History
- 2.1 16th century
- 2.2 17th century
- 2.3 18th century
- 2.4 19th century
- 2.5 World War I era
- 2.6 Interwar period
- 2.7 World War II
- 2.8 After World War II
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
An amphibious operation is both similar and different in many ways to both land, naval and air operations. At its basic such operations include phases of strategic planning and preparation, operational transit to the intended theatre of operations, pre-landing rehearsal and disembarkation, troop landings, beachhead consolidation and conducting inland ground and air operations. Historically, within these scope of these phases a vital part is of success was often based on the military logistics, naval gunfire and close air support. Another factor is the variety and quantity of specialised vehicles and equipment used by the landing force that are designed for the specific needs of this type of operation.
Amphibious operations can be classified as tactical or operational raids such as the Dieppe Raid, operational landings in support of a larger land strategy such as the Kerch–Eltigen Operation, and a strategic opening of a new Theatre of Operations, for example the Operation Avalanche.
The purpose of amphibious operations is always offensive, but limited by the plan and terrain.
Landings on islands less than 5,000 km2 (1,900 sq mi) in size are tactical, usually with the limited objectives of neutralising enemy defenders and obtaining a new base of operation. Such an operation may be prepared and planned in days or weeks, and would employ a naval Task force to land less than a division of troops.
The intent of operational landings is usually to exploit the shore as a vulnerability in the enemy's overall position, forcing redeployment of forces, premature use of reserves, and aiding a larger allied offensive effort elsewhere. Such an operation requiring weeks to months of preparation and planning, would use multiple task forces, or even a naval fleet to land corps-size forces, including on large islands, for example Operation Chromite.
A strategic landing operation requires a major commitment of forces to invade a national territory in the archipelagic, e.g. the Battle of Leyte, or continental, e.g. Operation Neptune invasion. Such an operation may require multiple naval and air fleets to support the landings, and extensive intelligence gathering and planning of over a year.
Although most amphibious operations are thought of primarily as beach landings, they can take exploit available shore infrastructure to land troops directly into an urban environment if unopposed. In this case non-specialised ships can offload troops, vehicles and cargo using organic or facility wharf-side equipment. Tactical landings in the past have utilised small boats, small craft, small ships and civilian vessels converted for the mission to deliver troops to the water's edge.
Preparation and planning
Preparation and planning the naval landing operation requires the assembly of vessels with sufficient capacity to lift necessary troops employing combat loading. The military intelligence services produce a briefing on the expected opponent which guides the organisation and equipping of the embarked force. First specially designed landing craft were used for the Gallipoli landings, and armoured tracked vehicles were also available for the Guadalcanal Campaign. Helicopters were first used to support beach landings during Operation Musketeer. Hovercraft have been in use for naval landings by military forces since the 1960s.
Recorded amphibious warfare predates the 18th century by a couple of millennia: the Sea Peoples that menaced the Egyptians from the reign of Akhenaten as captured on the reliefs at Medinet Habu and Karnak; the Hellenic city states who routinely resorted to opposed assaults upon each other's shores, which they reflected upon in their plays and other expressions of art; the landing at Marathon by the ancient Persians on 9 September 490 BC, which history records as the largest amphibious operation for 2,400 years until eclipsed by Gallipoli. More current amphibious landings have been conducted by small commando forces of various states and non-state actors. There exists debate over mainland China (PRC)'s potential to conduct amphibious operations against Taiwan (ROC). With the bulk of the world's population concentrated near the sea, chances are high that future conflict may entail the use of amphibious assets.
In 1565, the island of Malta was invaded by the Turks during the Siege of Malta. A strategic choke point in the Mediterranean Sea, the loss was so menacing for the Western Europe kingdoms that forces were urgently raised in order to recover the island. But it took four months to train, arm, and move a 5,500 man amphibious force to retake the island.
Then, Philip II, King of Spain, decided to train and assign amphibious-assault skilled units to the Royal Armada. These units were trained specifically for the fighting on ships and from ships. The Spanish Marines were born. The idea was to set up a permanent assignation of land troops to the Royal Spanish Navy, available for the Crown. Thus, countries adopted the idea and subsequently raised their early marine corps too.
The first "professional" Marine units were already task-trained amphibious troops, but instead of being disbanded, were kept for the Crown's needs. First actions took place all along the Mediterranean Sea where the Turks and pirate settlements were a risk for the commerce and navigation: Algiers, Malta, Gelves.
Landings at the "Terceras Landing" in the Azores Islands 25 May 1583, was a military feat as the planners decided to make a fake landing to distract the defending forces (5,000 Portuguese, English and French soldiers); also special seagoing barges were arranged in order to unload cavalry horses and 700 artillery pieces on the beach; special rowing boats were equipped with small cannons to support the landing boats; special supplies were readied to be unloaded and support the 11,000 men landing force strength. The total strength of the amphibious force, was 15,000 men, including an armada of 90 ships.
After an initial reconnaissance action where the most suitable beaches for the landing assets were chosen, a 4,000–man first assault wave was unloaded while two "Galeras" made a distractive fake landing away from the main beach. The main defensive body ran to defend against the feinted action, but the first wave had set up a firm defensive perimeter, and the second wave was already landing with the heavy artillery.
In this operation we can find documented reports about the detailed planning, the previous reconnaissance of the beaches, the special equipment and training, ship-to-shore movement, naval fire support. This would be one of the first examples of a complex amphibious assault that would characterize modern amphibious warfare.
This was a century of "expansion". European countries were expanding and creating colonies. Amphibious operations were mostly oriented to settle colonies and strong points along the navigational routes. Fights among countries to keep or destroy opposing power's capabilities were continuous.
Amphibious forces were fully organized and devoted to this mission, although the troops not only fought ashore, but on board ships.
By their nature amphibious assaults are highly complex operations involving the coordination of disparate elements and are therefore prone to disastrous results if not properly planned. One of the most spectacular instances of such a failure occurred in 1741 at the Battle of Cartagena de Indias, when a large British empire amphibious assault force with a compromised command was defeated by a much smaller but well organised and led Spanish empire defence.
In 1759, during the siege of Quebec, the British troops attempted on a number of occasions to cross the Saint Lawrence River in force. An attempt to land some 4,000 troops in the face of resistance failed. Ultimately a landing was managed at a relatively undefended site, and British troops gained a foothold allowing 5,000 to take part in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham which led to the surrender of the city.
In 1781, the Spanish field marshal Bernardo de Gálvez, successfully captured British controlled Fort George by amphibious assault in the Battle of Pensacola. In 1782, he captured the British naval base at New Providence in the Bahamas. In 1782, a long Franco-Spanish attempt to seize Gibraltar by water borne forces was abandoned. In 1783, a Franco-Spanish force invaded the island of Minorca.
In 1793, Minorca experienced yet another of its many changes of sovereignty, when captured by a British landing.
During the American Civil War, the United States made several amphibious assaults all along the Confederate states coastline. Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal, South Carolina were the first of many attacks. Along with others on Roanoke Island, NC; Galveston, TX; Fort Sumter, Morris Island and James Island, SC; and several others. The largest was at the Fort Fisher, which was the largest and most powerful fort in the world at the time, protecting the entrance of Wilmington, North Carolina. The assaulting force of over 15,000 men and 70 warships with over 600 guns, was the most powerful amphibious assault in world history (and was not surpassed until the large-scale landings of World War Two).
An early form of amphibious warfare was employed during the War of the Pacific in 1879, and saw coordination of army, navy and specialized units.
The first amphibious assault of this war took place as 2,100 Chilean troops successfully took Pisagua from 1,200 Peruvian and Bolivian defenders on 2 November 1879. Chilean Navy ships bombarded beach defenses for several hours at dawn, followed by open, oared boats landing Army infantry and sapper units into waist-deep water, under enemy fire. An outnumbered first landing wave fought at the beach; the second and third waves in the following hours were able to overcome resistance and move inland. By the end of the day, an expeditionary army of 10,000 had disembarked at the captured port.
In 1881 Chilean ships transported approximately 30,000 men, along with their mounts and equipment, 500 miles (800 km) in order to attack Lima. Chilean commanders were using purpose-built, flat-bottomed landing craft that would deliver troops in shallow water closer to the beach, possibly the first purpose-built amphibious landing craft in history: "These [36 shallow draft, flat-bottomed] boats would be able to land three thousand men and twelve guns in a single wave".
Landing tactics and operations were closely observed by neutral parties during the war: two Royal Navy ships monitored the Battle of Pisagua; United States Navy observer Lt. Theodorus B. M. Mason included an account on his report The War on the Pacific Coast of South America. The USS Wachusett with Alfred Thayer Mahan in command, was stationed at Callao, Peru, protecting American interests during the final stages of the War of the Pacific. He formulated his concept of sea power while reading a history book in an English gentleman’s club in Lima, Peru. This concept became the foundation for his celebrated The Influence of Sea Power upon History.
World War I era
During World War I, amphibious warfare was still in its infancy: tactics and equipment were rudimentary and required much improvisation.
During this period, British Royal Marine Light Infantry (merged with the Royal Marine Artillery in the 1920s to form the Royal Marines) were used primarily as naval parties onboard Royal Navy warships to maintain discipline and man ships' guns. The RMLI joined a new Royal Navy division—the Royal Naval Division—formed in 1914 to fight on land; however, throughout the conflict, army units were depended upon to provide the bulk—if not all—of troops used in amphibious landings.
The first amphibious assault of the war ended in disaster in 1914. A large British Indian Army force was directed to launch an amphibious assault on Tanga, German East Africa. British actions prior to the assault, however, alerted the Germans to prepare to repel an invasion. The Indian forces suffered heavy casualties when they advanced on the city, forcing them to withdraw back to their boats, leaving much of their equipment behind.
Soldiers were landed via open, oared whaleboats and tugs at Anzac Cove and Helles. At V Beach, Helles, the landing troops—inexperienced at amphibious landings—were effectively slaughtered by the Ottoman defenders, most not even making it out of their landing craft. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers, for example, lost almost all their officers, including their commander, and suffered over 500 casualties.
In a second landing at Suvla in August, the forerunner of modern landing craft—the armoured 'Beetle'—was first used by the British.
On the 11th of October 1917 German land and naval forces launched an amphibious assault, code named Operation Albion, on the islands of Saaremaa (Ösel), Hiiumaa (Dagö) and Muhu (Moon), that controlled the entrance to the Gulf of Riga. By the end of the month German forces had successfully overrun the islands forcing the Russians to abandon them with the loss of some 20,000 troops, 100 guns and the Pre-dreadnought battleship Slava. The capture of the islands opened a route for German naval forces into the Gulf of Finland threatening the city of Petrograd, a fact that contributed to the cessation of hostilities on the Eastern front
The Alhucemas Landing on 8 September 1925, performed by a Spanish-French coalition against rebel Kabilas in the north of Morocco, was a landing where tanks were used for the first time; air naval gunfire support were employed by the landing forces, directed by spotting personnel with communication devices.
Floating depots were organized with medical, water, ammunition and food supplies, to be dispatched ashore when needed. The barges used in this landing were the surviving "K" boats from Gallipoli. But in this case, the landings were performed against a prepared, defended in force positions.
In 1938, Japanese forces attacked Chinese defenders over the Yangtze River at the Battle of Wuhan.
U.S. Marines devise an amphibious mission
The U.S. Marine Corps was searching for an expanded mission after World War I. It had been used in France as a junior version of the Army infantry, and Marine leaders realized that was a dead end. It found a new mission: it would be a fast-reacting, light infantry fighting force carried rapidly to far off locations by the Navy. Its special role was amphibious landings on enemy-held islands, but it took years to figure out how to do that. The Mahanian notion of a decisive fleet battle required forward bases for the Navy close to the enemy. After the Spanish-American War the Marines gained the mission of occupying and defending those forward bases, and they began a training program on Culebro Island, Puerto Rico. The emphasis at first was on defending the forward base against enemy attack; they would be like the Turks who in 1915 inflicted 250,000 casualties on the British, Australian and New Zealand invaders of Gallipoli, forcing their withdrawal. As early as 1900 the Navy’s General Board considered building advance bases for naval operations in the Pacific and the Caribbean. The Marine Corps was given this mission in 1920, but the challenge was to avoid another disaster like Gallipoli. The conceptual breakthrough came in 1921 when Major "Pete" Ellis wrote “Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia” a secret 30,000-word manifesto that proved inspirational to Marine strategists and highly prophetic . To win a war in the Pacific, the Navy would have to fight its way through thousands of miles of ocean controlled by the Japanese—including the Marshall, Caroline, Marianas and Ryukus island chains. If the Navy could land Marines to seize selected islands, they could become forward bases. Ellis argued that with an enemy prepared to defend the beaches, success depended on high-speed movement of waves of assault craft, covered by heavy naval gunfire and attack from the air. He predicted the decision would take place on the beach itself, so the assault teams would need not just infantry but also machine gun units, light artillery, light tanks, and combat engineers to defeat beach obstacles and defenses. Assuming the enemy had its own artillery, the landing craft would have to be specially built to protect the landing force. The failure at Gallipoli came because the Turks could easily reinforce the specific landing sites. The Japanese would be unable to land new forces on the islands under attack.
Not knowing which of the many islands would be the American target, the Japanese would have to disperse their strength by garrisoning many islands that would never be attacked. An island like Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, would, Ellis estimated, require two regiments, or 4,000 Marines. (Indeed, in February 1944 the Marines seized Eniwetok with 4,000 men in three battalions.) Guided by Marine observer airplanes, and supplemented by Marine light bombers, warships would provide enough firepower so that Marines would not need any heavy artillery (in contrast to the Army, which relied heavily on its artillery.) Shelling defended islands was a new mission for warships. The Ellis model was officially endorsed in 1927 by the Joint Board of the Army and Navy (a forerunner of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).
Actual implementation of the new mission took another decade because the Corps was preoccupied in Central America, the Navy was slow to start training in how to support the landings, and a new kind of ship had to be invented to hit the beaches without massive casualties. In 1941 British and American ship architects invented a new class of "landing ship" to solve the problem. In World War II, the Navy built 1,150 LSTs. They were large (2400 tons) and slow (10 knots); officially known as "Landing Ship Tank," the passengers called them "Large Stationary Targets." Lightly armored, they could steam cross the ocean with a full load on their own power, carrying infantry, tanks and supplies directly onto the beaches. Together with 2,000 other landing craft, the LSTs gave the Marines (and Army soldiers) a protected, quick way to make combat landings, beginning in summer 1943.
In 1933, a "Fleet Marine Force" was established with the primary mission of amphibious landings. The Force was a brigade with attached Marine aviation units that were trained in observation and ground support. By paying special attention to communications between ground and air, and between shore and sea, they developed an integrated three-dimensional assault force. By 1940, having adding enough men, the appropriate equipment, and a rigorous training program, the Marine Corps had worked out, in theory, its doctrine of amphibious assaults. Under the combat leadership of Holland "Howlin Mad" Smith, the general most responsible for training, the Marines were ready to hit the beaches.
World War II
By the Second World War tactics and equipment had moved on. Purpose built landing craft were among the vessels used at the evacuation from Dunkirk (Operation Dynamo) and an amphibious operation was tried out at Dieppe in 1942. The operation proved a costly failure, but the lessons, hard learned, were used later. Many small-scale operations were conducted by the Allies on the Axis-held coast of Europe, including raids on the Lofoten Islands, St Nazaire and Bruneval.
Arguably the most famous amphibious assault was the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, in which British, Canadian, and US forces were landed at Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. Other large amphibious operations in the European Theatre in WWII include:
|Norway||Operation Weserübung||9 April 1940|
|Great Britain||Operation Sea Lion (German: Unternehmen Seelöwe)||postponed indefinitely on 17 September 1940||Not carried out|
|Crete||Operation Mercury (German: Unternehmen Merkur)||20 May 1941||Primarily an airborne assault|
|North Africa||Operation Torch||8 November 1942||Three task forces covering the coasts of Morocco and Algeria|
|Sicily||Operation Husky||began on the night of 9–10 July 1943|
|Salerno||Operation Avalanche||9 September 1943||Also involved two supporting operations: in Calabria (Operation Baytown, 3rd Sept) and Taranto (Operation Slapstick, 9 September).|
|Anzio||Operation Shingle||22 January 1944|
|Southern France||Operation Dragoon||15 August 1944|
- The Philippines 1941-42 and 1944-45
- Guadalcanal Campaign
- Battle of Tarawa
- Battle of Makin
- Battle of Saipan
- Battle of Peleliu
- Battle of Iwo Jima
- Battle of Okinawa
After World War II
During the Korean War the U.S. X Corps, consisting of the 1st Marine Division and 7th Infantry Division landed at Inchon. Conceived of and commanded by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, this landing is considered by many military historians to have been a tactical jewel, one of the most brilliant amphibious maneuvers in history. The success of this battle eventually resulted in link up with U.S. Army forces that broke out of the Pusan perimeter, and led by the 1st Cavalry Division and its Task Force Lynch,  cleared much of South Korea. A second landing by the Tenth Corps on the east coast approached the Chosin Reservoir and hydroelectric plants that powered much of Communist China's heavy industry, and led to intervention by Chinese forces on behalf of North Korea. Amphibious landings also took place during the First Indochina War, notably during Operation Camargue, one of the largest of the conflict.
The British Royal Marines made their first post-World War II amphibious assault during the Suez Crisis of 1956 when they successfully landed at Suez on 6 November as part of a joint seaborne/airborne operation code-named MUSKETEER. It was the first amphibious operation that employed helicopters in the assault. Nearly 30 years later in the Falklands War, the Argentine 1st Marine Brigade of the Argentine Navy along with Naval Special Forces, landed at Mullet Creek near Stanley on 2 April 1982, while later the Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade, (augmented by the British Army's Parachute Regiment) landed at Port San Carlos on 21 May 1982.
Sri Lankan Civil War
In the Sri Lankan Civil War, the Sri Lanka armed forces carried out several successful amphibious assault against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, that included the landing code named Operation Balavegaya.
Landing at Cyprus
The Turkish Armed Forces launched an amphibious assault in 20 July 1974, on Kyrenia, following the event of 1974 Cypriot coup d'état. The Turkish naval force provided naval gun support during the landing operation and transported the amphibious forces from port of Mersin to the island. The Turkish landing forces consisted of around 3,000 troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery pieces.
Persian Gulf War
During the Persian Gulf War, Assault Craft Unit 5 was able to position U.S. Marine and naval support off the coast of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This force was composed of 40 amphibious assault ships, the largest such force to be assembled since the Battle of Inchon. The objective was to fix the six Iraqi divisions deployed along the Kuwaiti coast. The purpose behind this amphibious maneuver (known as an amphibious demonstration) was to prevent 6 Iraqi divisions poised for the defense of the littorals from being able to actively engage in combat at the real front. The operation was extremely successful in keeping more than 41,000 Iraqi forces from repositioning to the main battlefield. As a result, the Marines maneuvered through the Iraq defense of southern Kuwait and outflanked the Iraqi coastal defense forces.
Invasion of Anjouan
The most recent amphibious assault was launched in the Comoros by government and African Union troops in March 2008.
- Littoral warfare
- 32nd Marines Brigade (Greece)
- Amphibious warfare (United States)
- Battleplan (documentary TV series)
- List of amphibious warfare ships
- Maritime Operational Transport concept (Japan)
- Speller, Ian & Tuck, Christopher, Amphibious warfare, Strategy and tactics series, Spellmount, 2001, p.7
- Harding, Richard, The Royal Navy, 1930-2000: Innovation And Defense, Taylor & Francis, 2005, p.44
- The latter was part of an operation during the War of Polish Succession
- See W.F.Sater, "Andean Tragedy", page 20
- See Bruce W. Farcau, "The Ten Cents War", page 159
- See "The Ambiguous Relationship: Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan" by Richard W. Turk; Greenwood Press, 1987. 183 pgs. page 10
- See Larrie D. Ferreiro 'Mahan and the "English Club” of Lima, Peru: The Genesis of The Influence of Sea Power upon History', The Journal of Military History - Volume 72, Number 3, July 2008, pp. 901-906
- Millett, Semper Fidelis, ch 12
- John J. Reber, "Pete Ellis: Amphibious Warfare Prophet," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (1977) 103#11 pp 53-64.
- Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War Its Theory and Its Practice in the Pacific (1951) ch 1-2
- Millett, Semper Fidelis, ch 12
- Isely and Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War Its Theory and Its Practice in the Pacific (1951) ch 3
- Anne Cipriano Venzon, From Whaleboats to Amphibious Warfare: Lt. Gen. "Howling Mad" Smith and the U.S. Marine Corps (2003)
- Fall, Bernard, Street Without Joy, 1961. p. 144.
- Hayden, Thomas. "Amphibious Operations in the Gulf War: 1990–91", Marine Corps Gazette, 1995. (URL accessed September 2, 2006)
- Alexander, Joseph H., and Merrill L. Bartlett. Sea Soldiers in the Cold War: Amphibious Warfare, 1945-1991 (1994)
- Bartlett, Merrill L. Assault from the Sea: Essays on the History of Amphibious Warfare (1993)
- Dwyer, John B. Commandos From The Sea: The History Of Amphibious Special Warfare In World War II And The Korean War (1998) excerpt and text search
- Ireland, Bernard. The World Encyclopedia of Amphibious Warfare Vessels: An illustrated history of modern amphibious warfare (2011)
- Isely, Jeter A., Philip A. Crowl. The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War Its Theory and Its Practice in the Pacific (1951)
- Millett, Allan R. Semper Fidelis: History of the United States Marine Corps (2nd ed. 1991) ch 12-14
- Moore, Richard S. "Ideas and Direction: Building Amphibious Doctrine," Marine Corps Gazette (1982) 66#11 pp 49–58.
- Reber, John J. "Pete Ellis: Amphibious Warfare Prophet," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (1977) 103#11 pp 53–64.
- Venzon, Anne Cipriano. From Whaleboats to Amphibious Warfare: Lt. Gen. "Howling Mad" Smith and the U.S. Marine Corps (Praeger, 2003)
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