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Marine Airborne Opertions As Part Of The Amphibious Assault
AUTHOR Major Jeffrey R. Earley, USA
CSC 1988
                         EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Title: Marine Airborne Operations as part of the Amphibious
I.Purpose:To establish the validity of introducing U.S.Marines
into the amphibious operation area utilizing the technique of
airborne assault.
II.Problem:Although the employment of airborne insertion of
Marines into the object area is not a new concept, the Marine
Corps has failed to realize the potential advantage the airborne
assault would compliment and support the overall mission.
III.Data:The employment of Marine airborne units into the
amphibious operation area would add a new dimension to the
commander to secure designated task force objectives.Marines must
plan to go ashore from both airborne and amphibious
transportation assets.Commanders should not find it difficult to
incorporate airborne operational planning in the over all scheme
of manuever.The beach landing and airborne assault can be
independent or mutually supporting operations.By employing
airborne forces, the commander can expect to exploit such
tactical advantages as surprise, shock, and the enemy's inability
to predict probable direction and location of attack.
IV.Conclusion:Due to the similarity between capabilities and
problems that are common to amphibious and airborne operations,
the Marine Corps can readily adapt itself to a combined method of
employment role.This role will allow commanders additional
flexibility in planning and executing operations against enemy
shores.The Marine Corps already has the assets available to it
and would not require any additional physical or financial
V.Recommendation:The U. S. Marine Corps must train its force in
individual and unit airborne techniques and operations.
Headquarters, Marine Corps should certainly be able to arrange an
agreement with the U.S. Army for additional training quotas for
individual parachute proficiency and with the U.S.Airforce for
the allocation of aircraft to enhance and retain acquired
skills.The doctrine for such operations currently exists, it
would be relatively simple to incorporate this doctrine into
Marine Corps practice.
     Marine Airborne Forces in the Amphibious Assault.
          Thesis Statement.The employment of Marine airborne
units into the amphibious operations area would add a new
dimension to the Commander,Landing Force's options of securing
the designated amphibious task force objectives.
I.    Marine Corps mission
      A.Historical Perspective
      B.National Security Act of 1947
      C.Amphibious Doctrine
      D.Airborne Doctrine
      Strategic and Tactical implications
      A.securing the objective
      D.Problem areas
III.  Capabilities
      B.Employment capability options.
IV.   Conclusion
        Marine Airborne Operations as Part of the
                  Amphibious Assault
    Amphibious operations have been employed many times
throughout history out never with the degree of success
attained during World War II .This type of operation was
used by the United States throughout the war in order to
carry out offensive missions against thie Axis powers and
the Japanese.The technique utilized was that which was
employed by the U. S. Marine Corps in conjunction with the
U. S. Navy during peace time.This concept was tested on
Guadalcanal in 1942 in which many hard lessons were
learned.From that point on the technique was improved at a
rapid and continuous pace.The success of the technique was
proven time and again by the Allies.
    Landing of combat troops from the air was forecast by
numerous visionaries throughout history. This prophecy was
not realized until 1939 when the Soviet Union dropped
paratroopers in combat against the Finns during the Russo -
Finnish War.Regardless of the degree of success obtained,
the act was the spark that made all other nations intensify
their search for the proper means of employing airborne
troops in combat.
    The first successful large scale combined use of
airborne and amphibious operations was made against the
Axis powers in Sicily in 1943.Just as Guadalcanal was the
birthplace of amphibious warfare, so Sicily became the
birthplace of United States airborne 0perations.This
operation was the forerunner of the greatest airborne /
amphibious assault in history made in 1944 by the allied
forces against the Axis Powers at Normandy.1
    The employment of Marine airborne units into the
amphibious operations area would add a new dimension to the
commander, landing force's options of securing the
designated amphibious task force objectives.United States
airborne forces and amphibious forces together form a
strong portion of the nation's strategic policy which is
the projection of power.The inherent capabilities of each
method of employment make them ideally suited for this
mission. Strategicly. and  tactically airborne forces move
with great speed and amphibious forces move with great
    If the Marine Corps is to fully accomplish its mission
as assigned by the National Security Act of 1947, it must
exploit all of the tools available to it."The United States
Marine Corps, within the Department of the Navy, shall
include land combat aid service forces and such aviation as
may be organic there in.The Marine Corps shall be
organized, trained, and equipped to provide to fleet marine
forces of combined arms, together with supporting air
components, for service with the fleet in the seizure
and defense of advance naval bases and for the c onduct of
such land operations as may be essential in the prosecution
of a naval campaign. It shall be the duty of the Marine
Corps to develop, in coordination with the Army and the
Airforce , those phases of amphibious operations which
pertain to the tactics, technique, and equipment employed
by landing forces....." .The mission assigned is restrictive
in nature ,but the tools for accomplishing the mission on
the other hand are not restictive. The Marine Corps/must
equip and utilize its air component to the maximum and
capitalize on  its capability to employ the tatic of
vertical assault .This employment must occur with the
ability of both aircraft and Marines being able to land
directly on the designated objective.The age old principles
of war are unchanging , however the application of these
principles in strategy and tatics must chance as the means
to wage war are ever changing.
    The employment of air transportation as a means of
delivering armed forces into battle has been one of those
changes and improvements that have now and will continue to
exert considerable influence on strategical and tactical
concepts.Under this concept, the Marine Corps in any future
conflict, probably will be called upon to make amphibious
landings.Marines will be going ashore not only in boats but
also in helicopters and airplanes.The Marine Corps should
not find it to difficult to adapt itself to the airborne
technique because of its similarity to amphibious
    Airborne and amphibious operations are compared to one
another because of the similarity in both the planning and
execution phases.Primarily, their stated missions are quite
similar.Simply stated, the airborne operation is to secure
an airhead and the amphibious operation is to secure a
beachhead from which follow - on troops and equipment can
operate successfully for the fulfillment of a specified
mission.Any airborne or amphibious force with an offensive
mission must land in hostile territory where it must
establish itself firmly and secure itself against enemy
surprise and fire.It must reinforce and resupply itself and
it must move in a planned direction to accomplish a
specified mission.These steps constitute the establishment
of an airhead just as an amphibious assault means in a
similar manner the establishment of a beachhead. The only
difference between an airhead and a beachhead is that an
airhead covers 360 degrees and a beachhead usually covers
180 degrees.An airhead is two beachheads back to back with
reinforcements and resupply comming from the sea.2 The
force beachhead line is not a closed circle however it must
also be protected from possible attack from any direction,
including enemy airborne and airmobile vertical
envelopment.The only significant difference betwten
airborne and amphibious operations is by the means in which
troops are delivered to the target.
    In order to execute each mission, troops must be
specially trained and they must be specially equipped to
accomplish their respective mission.Troop training must
stress small unit tactics and the development of leadership
from the small unit leader up through the highest levels of
command.Detailed planning that is necessary for one type of
operation is necessary for the other type as well.This
transition from one type of operation to the other or a
combination of both should pose no particular problem on
the leadership ability of leader at any level.The problem
areas that operational and logistic planners are required
to solve for each or simultaneous employment of airborne
and amphibious operations are essentially the same. Briefly
outlined, some of the common problem areas are:1.)
selection of embarkation or marshalling area sites 2.)
Staging, tactical loading, and cross decking 3.) selection
of landing zones, drop zones, and landing beaches 4.)
Supply and resupply 5.)command and control relationships
6.) communications 7.) supporting arms 8.) rehearsals 9.)
protection of troop carriers into the objective 10.) timing
and 11.) evacuation.
    When airborne troops are used in conjuction with an
amphibious operation, the highest degree of cooperation
will be required with naval and other ground forces.The
most favorable characteristic of any airborne force is
their ability to move to any objective over a large area
with the speed inherent to their mode of
transportation.This speed and mobility should enable the
force to exploit one of the most important principles of
offensive operations, surprise!The airborne force can
overcome many of the geographic or man - made barriers that
may hinder a traditional amphibious force ashore.The
ability of airborne forces to conduct a vertical
envelopment permits it to strike directly at the vital
assets of an enemy defense by seizing key terrain and
objectives, desroying or rendering ineffective
installations and facilities, attacking enemy defenses from
the rear, paralizing communications, and blocking the
movement of enemy reserves that may attempt to reinforce,
and to create confusion and disorder among enemy forces.
    The ability of airborne troops to move relatively great
distances in a short time make them available as
reinforcements who otherwise could not be counted on for
assistance if required if they were configureod in another
fashion.This situation is particularly applicable if
forward or expeditionary airfields are not secure for the
reception of follow - on forces and equipment.A primary
concern that must also be taken into account as to the
absolute necessity for a secure airhead.A secure airhead is
necessary for evacuation and retrograde operations to
commence as soon as the combat situation will permit.
    The U.S  Army and U. S. Airforce recognize parachute
operations as "providing rapid, nearly simultaneous
delivery of a force under most weather conditions on any
terrtin that is relatively free of obstacles.Airdropped
troops must land on or as close as possible to their
objectives.Such forces are best employed where few fixed
defenses or enemy combat are known to be located.During
landing and reorganization , and until combat equipment is
recovered from airdropped loads, airdropped troops are
particularly vulnerable.Airborne forces and accompanying
equipment should be loaded in a manner that will expedite
employment on the ground after arrival in the objective
area."3  The outlined concept of employment states that
airborne forces are transported by air for employment to
areas within the delivery capability of the airlifted
force.Once delivered, forces are employed as a combat or
deterrent force.Units delivered by air execute parachute or
airlanded assaults to seize, and hold objectives until
grouud linkup , reinforcement , or, withdrawal can be
accomplished.Airborne, light infantry, and air assault
units can conduct sustained combat operations when
reinforced with appropriate combat, combat support, and
combat service support elements.The previously stated
missions and concept of employment are not unique to
airborne troops and units alone.They are missions that have
been carried out by successful military units throughout
history By utilizing airborne troops, these missions can be
carried out more rapidly, with greater degrue of security
and surprise and in a direction that is most favorable to
the attacker.Again these functions can be exploited to the
maximum if employed in conjunction with a simultaneous
amphibious assault.
    Marines must plan to go ashore from both airborne
platforms as well as from amphibious ships.U.S Marine Corps
commanders should not find it to difficult to incorporate
airborne operational planning because of its cycle
requirements being essentially the same.The airborne /
amphibious movement ashore will allow commanders greater
latitude and flexibility in the selection of key
objectives.Immediate capture or isolation of key terrain
features as initial objectives concurrently with the
seizure of the beach area would facilitate the securing of
the forced beachhead area.The landing on the beach and the
insertion of airborne troops can be independent or mutually
supporting operations.
    In the conventional amphibious assault, a certain
amount of surprise is possible to attain.However, prior to
D - Day operations, the concentration of ships, preparation
fires on beach landing sites and objectives, and obstacle
removal may reduce the opportunity for tactical surprise.By
considering the employment of airborne forces during the
planning phase of an operation, the landing force commander
can expect to exploit such tactical advantages as shock,
surprise , and most importantly the enemy's inability to
predict probable direction of attack or probable landing
    Amphibious warfare integrates virtually all types of
ships, aircraft, weapons, and landing forces in a concerted
military effort against a hostile shore.The essential
usefulness of the amphibious operation stems from mobility
and flexibility.The amphibious operation exploits the
element of surprise and capitalizes upon enemy weaknesses
through the application of the required type and degree of
force at the most advatageous locations at the most
opportune times.The mere threat imposed by the existence of
powerful amphibious forces may induce the enemy to disperse
his forces which may result in his making expensive and
wasteful efforts in defense of his coast line.The most
important requirement in the amphibious assault is the
necessity of building up combat power ashore.4 A quick
definition of an amphibious assault from Landing Force
Manual 01 states tliat "an amphibious operation is an attack
launched from the sea by naval and landing forces embarked
in ships or craft involving landing on a hostile shore.It
normally requires extensive air participation and is
characterized by closely integrated efforts of forces
trained, organized, and equipped for different combat
    Similarity between airborne and amphibious operational
planning and execution has intentionally been stressed.The
same degree of emphasis must be applied to the problem
areas that may arise.The commonality that exists between
the advantages of each type of employment are the same for
many of the limitations as well.The limiting factors for
both methods are :1.) movement-forces are particularly
vulnerable during air movement.Therefore, air superiority
is essential during the entire operation, and enemy air
defense systems must be surpressed or avoided.Selection of
the type of delivery system must be made after considering
the ground force mission, threat and the locations and
quality of landing zones, drop zones, and other landing
sites.The capability and availability of airlift or sealift
and fixed - winged assets may also limit the scope of the
operation 2.) ground tactical vulnerabilities-airborne and
amphibious forces are vulnerable to armor, mechanized
infantry, nuclear and chemical threats during the initial
assault phase of the operation.With this threat in mind,
planners must plan to deliver a force of sufficient size
and capability to avoid undue risk.Commanders must
anticipate to augment the airhead or beachhead with
additional forces and plan for a continuing commitment to
subsequent operatioal phases 3.) weather-low visibility,
low ceiling, high seas, and high winds restrict any type of
military operation.Prolonged periods of adverse weather may
threaten the mission as a whole.One point that must be'
mentioned is that low visibility and low ceilings could be
an advantage to a force which is looking to avoid enemy air
defenses and increase the measure of tactical surprise in
staging and movement to the objective area 4.) mobility-the
mobility of forces depends on the number and type of ground
and air vehicles that can be delivered to and supported in
the objective area.The mobility of forces will be
restricted until substantial build up of combat service
support units are introduced into the amphibious operation
    The Marine corps visualized, studied, and solved these
problems as they apply to amphibious operations, it should
also seek for the establishment and development of the
airborne technique of troop delivery.Due to all the
similarities between the capabilities and problem areas of
both amphibious and airborne assault , the Marine Corps can
readily adapt itself to a combined method of employment
role.The adoption of this role will increase the
flexibility of operations against enemy shores.
    Employment of airborne Marines into battle will provide
the commander yet another option , relying only on organic
assets, as to how shock troops will be delivered to the
assault area during the amphibious operation.
    "The Nation that in the future has the best trained and
equipped airborne forces has the best chance of
survival.Indeed, more than this, only by having such
security forces can any nation survive.For as long as the
means of waging modern war are available to us they are
available to aggressor nations.A modern airborne force of
aggressor nations cannot be fought successfully with the
weapons that fought past wars.Not if they are to be engaged
at parity and beaten.
    Airborne troops are our best national security and the
world' s most promising hope for international security.The
knowledge of the existence of a well trained airborne
force, moving anywhere on the globe on short notice, is our
best guarantee of lasting peace.The nation or nations that
control the air will control the peace."5
    It is not the intention to strip or alter in any way
the missions or capabilities of the U. S. Marine Corps as
they now exist.It should be extremely clear that the Marine
Corps should not become the airborne / amphibious arm of
the U. S. Army.
    The Marine Corps has the available air assets with
C-130, helicopter, and especially with the introduction of
the MV-22, Osprey, to utilize an airborne method of
introducing Marines into the amphibious operation
area.Considering the pro's and con's of the Marine Corps
and its mission, the United States Marine Corps is well
qualified to accept and would benifit from adopting the
technique of vertical assault as an aid or compliment to
Marine airborne operations as part of the amphibious
1   Davis, William J. To Determine How Simultaneous
    Employment of Amphibious and Airborne Forces Should
    be Coordinated.Marine Corps Command and Staff
    College research paper, 1965,pg.1 and 2.
2   Gavin, James M. Airborne Warfare.Infantry Journal
    Press, 1947, pg.10.
3   U.S.Army, Army / Airforce Doctrine For Joint
    Airborne and Tactical Airlift Operations.FM 100-27
    Jan .85,pg.5.
4   U.S. Marine Corps, Doctrine for Amiphibious
    Operations.LFM 01 w/change 4,Nov.86,pg.1-3.
5   Gavin, James M. Airborne Warfare. Infantry Journal
    Press, 1947,pg.155.
1.    Davis, William J. To Deteriine How Simultaneous.
      Employment of Amphibious And Airborne Forces Should be
      Coordinated.Marine Corps Command and Staff College
      research paper, 1965.
2.    Gallagher, Burnette R. Employment of Troop Carriers
      and Airborne Forces.Amphibious Warfare School Junior
      Course, 1949.
3.    Gavin, James M. Airborne Warfare.Infantry Journal Press
4.    Seeds, Elmore W. Airborne Operations as an Adjunct
      of Amphibious Operations.Senior Course, Project study
5.    U.S. Army, Army Airborne Doctrine.FM 57-1, Jan.85.
6.    U.S.Army, Army / Airforce Doctrine for Joint Airborne
      and Tactical Airlift Operation.FM 100-27, Jan.85.
7.    U.S.Marine Corp. Doctrine for Amphibious. Operations.
      LFM-01 w/change 4, Nov.86.
8.    Wallace, Elmore W. Airborne Operations as an Adjunct
      of Amphibious Operations Senior Course,Project Study

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