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Amphibious landing craft of World War Two

By Sakhal


At the beginning of World War Two, the belligerent powers, despite having developed in many cases a technology and a military technique of high level, had not still taken into consideration, in a proper perspective, the problem of eventual landings in enemy territory. So, when the victorious German forces, after having expelled from Dunkirk the Anglo-French forces, seemed in need of launching at any time the feared Operation Seelowe, the war industries had to promptly dedicate themselves to fill the serious gap of amphibious landing elements. Already in 1915, in Gallipoli (Turkey), had been developed military operations where, for the first time, it has been attempted to solve the problem of disembarking troops in such a way that, conceptually, would be adopted by all the prime armies of the world 25 years later. In Gallipoli, in fact, besides approximating the troops to land on normal transport or rescue embarkations, it had been modified as well an old collier, the "River Clyde", in order to, after having approached as much as possible the beach, open a gate through which, passing above a ponton, two thousands riflemen could disembark creating successively a bridgehead. The operation went badly and about 1600 soldiers died, but the technical lesson was not forgotten. The American would take good benefit from this experiment.

When in 1940 the Wehrmacht had necessity of elements that allowed to disembark its soldiers in beaches that were very close to the own territory, for they just had to cross the English Channel, it estimated that emergency means could do the job. But the US Army, which had to provide transport for its troops to distances of thousands of kilometers, was forced to project elements adapted to its own necessities starting from requirements that had no antecedent in the former military history. From there it was born the idea of building two types of units: Landing Ships (LS) and Landing Craft (LC). The first ones should transport, escorted by a naval squadron, the bulk of the landing force, including the diverse LC, to the vicinity of the target. In that point, the LC would be put in the sea to start transporting soldiers from the anchored LS to the landing beaches in multiple travels.

In time rather large LC were built to effectuate relatively limited passages and landings in an autonomous way, without having to resort to the support from the LS. Soon emerged the distinctions according to the specific purpose of the units: Landing Ship Personnel and Vehicles, Landing Ship Tank, Landing Craft Infantry, Landing Craft Mechanized, Landing Craft Assault, etc... These embarkations would be built in large number to serve in every front, from the Pacific, where from 1943 their usage would be omnipresent, to Europe, where they would allow the Allies to carry large amphibious operations in the Italian and French sectors that would be decisive for the victory. One of the most widespread means was the small LCM III, used by both Americans and British, and built in many hundreds of exemplars. Operative from the late 1942, it was devised to carry motorized elements, so important for the infantry, in the first landing waves. In each travel it could transport some light vehicles of the type Bren Carrier or one Sherman tank, plus a certain number of infantrymen apart from the crews of the vehicles.

Amphibious landing craft of World War Two

Specifications for LCM III

Length: 15.24 meters

Width: 5.47 meters

Draught (maximum): 1 meter

Displacement: 52 tonnes

Engines: Two Diesel of 450 horsepower actuating in two propellers

Speed (maximum): 12 knots

Crew: 3


As aforementioned, a series of fortuitous causes led the Allied navies to the necessity of solve the problem of amphibious landings, either from a military standpoint, because nobody had experience in this new kind of operations, or from a practical standpoint, since the equipment required to carry out them did not materially exist. On the side of the Axis there were similar problems but, at least initially, there was a lack of will to truly solve them. There was a big difference in the German and British modus operandi. In 1940, when Great Britain was not in the best conditions, the British ordered to Lord Mountbatten a plan to invade the continent. The Germans, victors in every front, did not take any decision in favor or against their own landing, and in the end, after having passed a certain time and being lost the Battle of Britain, the Operation Seelowe was left as dead letters. On the Italian side sufficient preparations for the landing in Malta had been carried, but Mussolini was stopped by Hitler, and the invading force was sent to attrition on the sands of The Alamein. But technically, from the perspective of the Navy, what had been done?

On the Italian part, little, but with a reason. The coasts of Malta, the only point that could be interesting for a landing, were not suitable for the use of LCT elements, and the technicians had been resorted to other more or less artesanal solutions. But the Germans had more favorable beaches in the British coasts so they tried other solutions. The first one, which was as well the hastiest and most compromised one, consisted of reuniting a large number of barges and pontons, sufficiently light and low in draft, to install on them an aircraft engine with propeller in a frame astern. This would have given as result a sort of flying hydroskis which should allow the troops of the Wehrmacht to cross the Channel rather fast and disembark directly on the beaches. Clearly this was a momentary solution, and as soon as they had chance, the projectists of the Kriegsmarine returned to the matter, because apart from the Operation Seelowe they needed elements which allowed amphibious movements of troops.

Between 1942 and 1944 were built 2000 MFP (Marine Fahr Prahm or Marine Motor Barge), in two different series that differed only in some constructive dimensions. They had an iron hull and were structurally simple but very robust, adequate for transporting troops and vehicles, including the armored ones. Load capacity was about 150-170 tonnes depending on the series. The vehicles entered through the fore gate which allowed then the exit directly to the beach. Impulsed by three Diesel engines, the MFP had an operational range of 1500-1600 kilometers. They were used almost entirely as light and medium cabotage barges, but also as minesweepers, minelayers and workshop ships. It was developed as well a more heavily armed version to be used as anti-aircraft battery or auxiliary gunship, fitted with two 100-millimeter cannons, two 37-millimeter cannons and eight 20-millimeter cannons. Overall they were constructions of rather satisfying prestations that accomplished perfectly their tasks.

Amphibious landing craft of World War Two

Specifications for MFP 1-626 (first series)

Length: 50 meters

Width: 6.5 meters

Draught: 1.8 meters

Displacement: 200 tonnes

Engines: Three Diesel Deutz of 505 horsepower actuating in three propellers

Speed (maximum): 10.25 knots

Operational range: 1600 kilometers

Armament: One 88-millimeter cannon, one 37-millimeter cannon and two 20-millimeter cannons

Crew: 21

Specifications for MFP 627-2000 (second series)

Length: 50 meters

Width: 6.5 meters

Draught: 2.5 meters

Displacement: 280 tonnes

Engines: Three Diesel Deutz of 505 horsepower actuating in three propellers

Speed (maximum): 8 knots

Operational range: 1500 kilometers

Armament: One 88-millimeter cannon, one 37-millimeter cannon and two 20-millimeter cannons

Crew: 21

Categories: Naval Warfare - Engineering - World War Two - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-10-14

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