US Beach Landing Operations, 1943-45
It was almost 60 years ago that Allied forces surprised German defenders with an invasion of Europe across the widest part of the English Channel, in rough weather. The Normandy invasion was the greatest amphibious landing in history, but there were many more, from Operation Torch in West Africa and Guadalcanal in the Pacific, through Sicily, Salerno and Anzio in Italy to Tarawa, Marianas, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The Allies could not have won the war, in either theatre, without amphibious capability. Perfecting beach landing operations in terms of organization, technology and tactics must rank among the most significant military developments during World War II, besides carrier aviation and submarine warfare.
Due to the scale of planning and logistics in many of these operations it is easy for the casual reader to be overwhelmed by the maps, plans and statistics. This photo album is but one humble attempt to illustrate the different stages of a beach assault from within. The album shows US forces, but this is by no means intended to diminish the role of at least twelve other nations participating in the Operation Overlord. However, it cannot be denied that it was the United States that have perfected amphibious warfare, reducing it in the space of three years from rare and extremely risky undertakings to routine elements of military planning.
Due to its size, this album has been divided in two parts. This part covers embarkment, movement of the landing force and the assault. Part two will be published in the next issue of this magazine.
Stage 1. Embarkment
Embarking into the
unknown. Carrying heavy packs and M1 rifles, troops march up the
beach at Adak, during pre-invasion loading for the Kiska Operation,
August 13th, 1943.
In preparation for the
landing operation, artillery equipment is loaded aboard LCTS.
The smoke. Before the
landing armada would close to the shore, combat ships would lay a
smoke screen to obscure the view for the shore defenders and provide
additional cover against air attacks.
The enemy could be
expected to bring up all the air power they could muster to destroy the
invasion fleet and stop the landing forces before they could reach
the shoreline. D-Day was unusually lucky in this respect with no
German opposition in the air, but other Allied landings in the
Mediterranean and Pacific areas saw some fierce aerial action.
USS Boise (CL-47) steams parallel to the shore to bring all of its
main guns to action against the enemy forces, passing in front of
the fully-loaded invasion ships. The photograph has been taken from LST-325.
Landing at Gela, Sicily, on 11 July 1943.
Big guns talking. Effectively superseded by aircraft carriers as capital ships of the Navy, battleships found their right element in artillery support of amphibious landings. Offering heavy guns not only able to destroy fortified defence lines close to the shore, but also reach far inland, battleships found their new niche in which they are unequalled until today.
The picture shows USS Tennessee (BB-43) bombarding Okinawa with her 14" main battery guns, as LVTs in the foreground carry troops to the invasion beaches. April 1st, 1945.
The Okinawa landing represented
the pinnacle of the amphibious assault in skill and technology, one
example of it being the tracked LVTs (Landing Vehicle, Tracked)
which, first employed two years earlier at Tarawa, now formed
the bulk of the assault force. Ironically, Okinawa was also the only
battle in US military history in which an amphibious landing
suffered more casualties than the enemy. Total American casualties
in Okinawa reached a stunning number of 28686.
Transport ships are
unloading troops to the LCVPs. The ship is
USS Hunter Liggett (APA-14), place unknown in the Pacific theatre.
LVCPs group towards
the Line of Departure . The LCVP just beyond is from USS President Jackson (APA-18). A
PT boat, two attack transports (APA) and a LST are in the distance.
Photographed from a PT boat, one of whose twin .50 caliber machine
guns are visible in the foreground. Empress Augusta Bay, off
the Bougainville beachhead, November 20th, 1943.
Through the fog.
Landing craft are lead by a larger ship through the fog and smoke
towards the yet invisible shore. Here, USS
Pruitt (DM-22) leads landing craft from USS Heywood (APA-6) toward
their landing beaches in Massacre Bay, Attu, 11 May 1943. Pruitt
used her radar and searchlight to guide the boats nine miles through
the fog. The searchlight beam is faintly visible pointing aft from
atop her pilothouse.
Tension reaches its
peak as the assault craft nears a beachhead, looking for a suitable
beaching spot manoeuvring free of underwater obstacles and other
craft at the shore. The raised front ramp
forms about the only protection from the fire ahead. The shore is
covered in smoke, the result of supporting Naval gunfire. June 6th,
It all happens now! Ramps
open and the Company E,
16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division is one of the first waves to
reach the Omaha Beach, June 6th, 1944. An earlier assault wave lies
broken on the shore.
Nailed down to the
At times, heavy sea
conditions could be just as dangerous to the landing units as the
enemy fire. The D-Day itself was a good example of a notoriously bad
weather. The above photograph captures the moment as soldiers already ashore help survivors from a sunken
landing craft. These survivors lost their craft and reached Utah
Beach by using a life raft. On the photo below, GIs
are pulled ashore from another swamped landing craft. June 6th, 1944.