Military


LPH-1 Block Island

Other than the LST, the most prominent all-purpose workhorse of the Korean War had been the helicopter. So necessary had these contraptions suddenly become that landing platforms sprouted throughout the fleet and were designed into all possible new construction, while their further implications for amphibious warfare attracted the interest of the Marines. As the tactical possibilities of vertical envelopment were clarified, there came proposals for the conversion of escort carriers to helicopter work and the projection of the helicopter amphibious assault ship (LPH), which would carry a Marine battalion, its supplies, and the helicopters necessary to land it.

In 1957 there were plans to convert CVE-106 Block Island to an amphibious assault ship, but the conversion was cancelled soon after work began. On 15 January 1954 she had been placed in commission in reserve at Philadelphia and out of commission in reserve 27 August 1954. The Block Island was classified as the LPH-1 on 22 December 1957 although she was never used as an amphibious assault ship. Work had begun on 2 January 1958, but budgets were tight.

The Navy had other priorities for what funds Congress had approved. The Forrestal class of attack aircraft carriers was vital; the atomic submarine and the Polaris missile required huge sums. There was little left over for Marines who still were convinced that a vertical assault in amphibious landings was a valid part of the nation' s military strategy. Conversion of the Block Island was cancelled. The Block Island was reclassified LPH 1 when the conversion was initially planned, but reverted to the previous CVE 106 designation after the conversion was cancelled. Block Island was stricken from the Navy List on 1 July 1959.

The newly appointed Commandant, General Randolph McC. Pate, reacted sharply. In one of the more remarkable letters ever sent by a CMC to a CNO, he pointed out the disparity in priorities: "I view the recent action by the Secretary of the Navy which eliminated the LPH conversion from the Fiscal Year 1957 shipbuilding and conversion program with extreme concern. The Marine Corps has reorganized and introduced new items of equipment to a degree where it is unquestionably ready to exploit the potential of the helicopter. Only one major component of this weapons system is missing the modern amphibious assault ship." He continued, to insure that the CNO understood exactly how he felt: "But without this component of the system our capability in the already developed components is negated. This situation is analogous to one which would exist if the Polaris [missile) were in being, but the submarines to carry it were still years in the future."

The comparison of the Marine Corps vertical assault capability and that of the Polaris submarine was not lost. In essence he had said that the Marine Corps had made great strides to insure that they still maintained the capability of conducting amphibious assaults in an atomic age and flatly challenged the Navy to match these efforts. It was a daring stroke.



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