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Amphibious Warfare History

The first American Amphibious landing took place during the Revolutionary war. On March 3, 1776 the fleet's Marines and a number of seamen under Marine Captain Nicholas splashed ashore about two miles east of Fort Montagu, one of the Bahama Island's two forts, which they captured in a battle as "bemused as it was bloodless." After resting the night in their prize, the invasion force completed the job the next morning by taking Fort Nassau, securing the town, and arresting the British governor. By March 16, the island's military stores, with the exception of the gunpowder, were loaded and secured. The Marines and seamen who took part in the landing were then embarked, as was the governor and two of the island's key officials. The following morning the signal was given to weigh anchor, and the force returned to America.

Aboukir Bay

In 1801 the British mounted a combined operation in the Mediterranean to capture the French army that for three years had been occupying Egypt. The naval force consisted of 180 ships under Admiral Lord Keith. The Army contingent numbered about 15,000 men under Sir Ralph Abercromby, who had performed the landing in Holland two years before. There was no overall commander of the expedition, but fortunately Abercromby and Keith cooperated well.

The French army of about 25,000 men were scattered throughout Egypt. Abercromby decided to land on the beach at Aboukir Bay so that he could capture the nearby port of Alexandria. Although they received some advanced warning, the French posted only about 1,600 infantry and 200 cavalry at the landing site, backed by 15 guns. (Abercromby expected to face up to 10,000 Frenchmen.) Thanks to a storm and the indiscretion of Admiral Keith (who allowed the French full view of his fleet), the French had six days' warning but made no attempt to prepare fixed defenses on or near the beach.

The landing was a resounding success. The landing force lost 652 soldiers and 97 sailors, most during the run to shore. The French lost between 300 and 400. Once ashore, Abercromby had to fight two more battles, at the second of which he was mortally wounded (he died on 28 March). Nonetheless, Alexandria fell after a siege on 3 September, and the remaining French forces surrendered at Cairo the next June. The success of the landing at Aboukir Bay was due to the careful planning, preparation, and rehearsal beforehand. The landing craft were carefully arranged to allow the troops to land in proper tactical order and deploy for combat immediately. The failure to appoint a single commander for the expedition, and the lack of doctrine defining the command relationships, could have posed a problem, but the harmonious cooperation between Abercromby and Lord Keith (who allowed Abercromby to take the lead in the expedition) helped to avert serious conflicts.

American Civil War

European military observers were sizing up the Americans during the Civil War. These observers were particularly interested in American coastal fortifications. British observers concluded that "ships cannot contend with forts when conditions are anything like equal," and therefore to reduce a wellconstructed fort it was necessary to land a force and establish siege batteries. The Prussian observer, Captain Justus Scheibert, reached similar conclusions based upon his observations of the defense of Charleston and his studies of joint operations on the Mississippi River. "A fleet," Scheibert wrote in a study he entitled Zusammenwirken der Armee und Marine (Collaboration of the Army and the Navy), "despite its mobility and clear superiority in both the caliber and quality . . . of its guns, was not equal to land batteries . . . if not supported by land forces." The Swiss military observer, Major Ferdinand Lecompte, offered the view that while the amphibious landing in the Crimean War was regarded as almost "the eighth wonder of the world," the Union Army during the Civil War had conducted about 50 such landings "with superior skill and less fanfare."

Gallipoli 1915

Gallipoli was the battle where Ataturk, the "Father of the Turks," first distinguished himself and learned from the horrors of war the value of lasting peace. Gallipoli might have gone down in history as a brilliantly successful strategic gamble, but the allies underestimated the bravery and the tenacity of Ataturk and his comrades who fought even when their ammunition was exhausted. The "common wisdom" of the 1930's regarding amphibious operations after Gallipoli was that they were too risky. But the visionary US Marine Corps leaders of the 30's, seeing opportunity in the defeat at Gallipoli, developed and refined the concepts for amphibious operations. Soon after World War I erupted in August 1914, Turkey and Germany signed an agreement giving German forces control over the Dardanelles, the narrow strait between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Looking for a quick and decisive operation in an otherwise static war, in 1915 to seize the Dardanelles. The move was designed to assist Russia and help that country maintain an active second front against Germany. Opening the Dardanelles also would free shipping trapped in the Black Sea, restore sea lines of communication to southern Russia, and allow grain shipments to pass from Russia's wheat fields to Great Britain.

Under the recommendation of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, a naval campaign was launched in February 1915 to "bombard and take the Gallipoli Peninsula with Constantinople as the objective." The Allies scraped together a Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, consisting of British, Australian, New Zealand, and French troops. The force would go ashore at the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, on or near Cape Helles. These troops had little or no training in making even simple, "administrative" landings, and the Gallipoli assaults promised to be more dangerous and complex.

More than 300 ships of the Allied amphibious task force arrived off Gallipoli on the morning of 25 April 1915, and the landing began shortly after daybreak. Allied troops disembarked from their transports into ships' cutters and lifeboats, none of which were designed for amphibious assaults. Steam picket boats towed these craft part of the way toward their assigned beaches, then cut them loose. From there, the boat crews would have to row their craft ashore.

Turkish forces under Mustapha Kemal (who as Kemal Ataturk later became the first president of newly created Republic of Turkey) launched a vigorous counterattack. Despite being outnumbered, Kemal's forces pushed the surprised and exhausted Australian-New Zealand (ANZAC) troops back upon their beachhead. Their containment of the Allied landings gave the Turks time to bring reserves forward from farther north on the peninsula and from Turkey's Asian territory. Allied forces felt the presence of these reserves when they tried unsuccessfully to break out of their encircled Cape Helles beachheads on 27 April. After this effort, the next three months witnessed a series of heavy but ultimately inconclusive attacks by both sides.

Initial Allied losses and the failure to break out of the beachheads occurred despite the naval surface fire support. Potentially devastating fires from supporting the Allied battleships the landings were hampered by obsolete fire control systems and shortages of high-explosive ammunition. Forward observers did not have the means to rapidly pass target data to offshore warships, which affected the timeliness and effectiveness of fire support from all the Royal Navy ships. In addition, the relatively flat trajectories of naval ordnance made it difficult to strike Turkish targets on the reverse slope of the high ridgelines and hills that ran the length of the Gallipoli peninsula.

Korean War

General of the Army Douglas MacArthur envisioned that the Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA) would break out of the Pusan Perimeter at the same time as X Corps landed at Inchon, pushing the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) northward, trapping it between the two forces.

The invasion of Inchon, Operation CHROMITE, began on Sept. 15, 1950. Landing 150 miles behind enemy lines, X Corps under Army Major General Edward M. Almond consisted of the US 1st Marine Division and its attached South Korean Marine Regiment and the US Army 7th Infantry Division (which included more than 8,000 South Korean soldiers). X Corps' major objectives were to capture Inchon, about 25 miles west of Seoul, and then to liberate Seoul. Elements of the 1st Marine Division landed and secured Wolmi Island on the morning of Sept. 15, and late in the afternoon assault troops of the 1st and 5th Marines scaled the seawall at Inchon. By the morning of Sept. 16, the two Marine regiments formed a solid line around Inchon, making the escape of any enemy still within the city unlikely. Within 24 hours of landing, the Marines had secured the high ground east of Inchon, occupying an area sufficient to prevent enemy artillery from firing on the town, and obtained a base from which to seize nearby Kimpo Airfield, the largest in Korea. The 5th Marines reached the edge of the airfield on Sept. 17 and secured it the following morning. The capture of Kimpo provided a base for air operations for the ensuing attack on Seoul, and for operations against enemy supply lines throughout South Korea.

As MacArthur anticipated, the NKPA was cut off and now in flight. The United Nations Command (UNC) had captured 23,000 enemy soldiers and the NKPA in South Korea had disintegrated as an effective fighting force. Following the liberation of Seoul by X Corps and the return of the city to the South Korean government on Sept. 29, U.N. and American officials faced a new situation - an opportunity to achieve wider military and political objectives.

The US X Corps' 1st Marine Division went ashore at Wonsan on 26 October 1950. The 1st Marine Division was scheduled to make an assault landing at Wonsan, on the east coast. After establishing a beachhead, the Corps was to advance westward through the Pyongyang-Wonsan corridor and link up with General Walker's army in order to trap North Korean troops falling back from the south. However, when Wonsan fell to the rapidly advancing South Koreans, the regiment made an administrative landing and took up blocking positions in the area. The 7th Division landed unopposed at Iwon, 80 miles north of Wonsan, on Oct. 29. X Corps' mission now was to capture the industrial and communications areas, port installations and the power and irrigation plants in northeastern Korea.

Recent Operations

The largest and most extensive amphibious operation to take place between the Korean and Vietnam war was the landings in Lebanon in 1958, where Soldiers and Marine landed unopposed. Operation Bluebat lasted 102 days from July 15 to Oct. 25, and involved the 6th Fleet with over 70 ships and 40,000 sailors, as well as 14,357 ground troops. The Composite Air Strike Force of Naval carrier aircraft as well as U.S. Air Force planes from the 322nd Air Division provided air support. The operation included some 8,509 Army soldiers from the 201st Logistics Command and the 24th Airborne Brigade, built around the 1st Reinforced Airborne Battle Group from Germany. Some 5,842 Marines that landed unopposed on the beach came from the 2nd Provisional Marine Force, 2nd Marine Division.

Reporters provided live television and radio coverage of the night amphibious landings that marked the beginning of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992 and the end of the UN operation during Operation United Shield in 1995. The last amphibious landing in February 1995 lasted a little over four hours. It started slightly before midnight, Mogadishu time, and by about 4:15 to 4:20, in the morning it was complete. The U.S. put 16 of the LAVs and 28 AAVs ashore. Fewer than 30 reporters had accompanied the entire invasion force to Normandy, France, on 6 June 1944. While the landings in Somlia provided dramatic B-roll, they were administrative landings, not assault landings.

During the early days of DESERT SHIELD, a powerful 18,000-man amphibious task force steamed into the North Arabian Sea to add an important element to the allied arsenal. Within less than a month after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, more than 20 amphibious ships had completed the 10,000-mile trip to the Gulf of Oman, where nearly 8,000 Marines and 10,000 Sailors commenced full-scale preparations to "hit the beach" to eject Iraq's army from Kuwait. Training grew more intense as the amphibious forces performed high-visibility exercises off the coast of Saudi Arabia to heighten the enemy wariness of an invasion from the sea.

As the ground war commenced, nearly 17,000 Marines stood ready aboard the largest combined amphibious assault force since since the Inchon landing in Korea. Only then did the Sailors and Marines of the amphibious force learn that their warfighting skills would not be immediately required. But their preparation had not been in vain. It was at the core of the deceptive tactics which played a major role in the quick allied victory. Because of the threat of an amphibious landing and the uncertainty of where and when it come, Iraq deployed ten divisions, totaling 80,000 men, to the defense of the Kuwait coastline. Schwarzkopf had purposely allowed television crews to videotape the U.S. Marine amphibious training exercises off the Kuwaiti coast. Operation Thunder was a deception disguising his real intent to sweep around the Iraqi western flank. The publicity was a critical part of the allies' program of tactical deception.



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