LCIL Landing Craft, Infantry (Large)
The LCI(L) Landing Craft Infantry (Large) were vessels with a ramp on each side of the bow that could be lowered to permit infantrymen to debark after beaching. Faster and more maneuverable than the LSTs, they were uncomfortable at sea with almost 200 soldiers aboard, and their small crews which included 24 officers and men, needed careful training to lower and raise the heavy ramps safely.
Early in 1942 the British Combined Operations Headquarters approached the Americans about a “raiding” ship that could carry an infantry company at least 200 nautical miles, approach shore quietly, and land the troops directly onto the beach. The Army leadership saw merit in such a vessel as a way to get troops across the channel. Eventually, the ship would be produced as the 153-foot landing craft, infantry (large) (LCI[L]). The early versions had gangways on either side of the bow, but later versions had a bow ramp. The LCI(L) was widely used in the Mediterranean, at Normandy, and in the Solomons and Southwest Pacific where it was particularly useful for shore-to-shore operations. It also proved to be quite adaptable.
They were not well suited for the Central Pacific, however, because they could not cross coral reefs and, because they had to beach to unload troops, could not transfer troops into LVTs at the reef line, like the LSTs and LCTs. At the end of the war, the Pacific Fleet recommended the type be discontinued.
An LCI is a landing craft for infantry, about 159 feet long, with a beam of 23 feet. It carries four officers, a crew of twenty-five men, and has sleeping and messing accommodations for around two hundred soldiers. First experiences at handling them proved more excitement having disastrous results in mooring the slips. They are light and large enough to catch every breeze. They have no keel to hold them steady, and the large flat bottom reacts to every little twist of the currents. Skippers were having disastrous results in mooring the ships. Stanchions were knocked off so often a welding crew was kept going at top speed repairing the damage.
Under an agreement made between the Coast Guard Commandant and the Chief of Naval Operations, the Coast Guard agreed to supply officers and crewmen for a number of LCI(L)s beginning in 1943. From 1941 up to that time, Coast Guard crews had served successfully on board Navy attack transports (APs & APAs) and with personnel to spare, it was an obvious choice to let the Coast Guard continue to assist in manning various ships of the ever increasing Navy fleet. Their experience with sailing in shallow waters as well as on the high seas made the Coast Guard crews a valuable addition to the Allied invasion fleets and they readily took to all of the various types of landing craft utilized by the Navy, including the Landing Craft Infantry, Large, or LCI(L).
Even with Coast Guard crews all LCI(L)s remained commissioned US Navy vessels. The Coast Guard manned 28 of these landing ships that despite their name were anything but "large." Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)s participated in almost all of the major amphibious invasions undertaken by the US during the war. Twenty-four were grouped into a single flotilla which was commanded by a Coast Guard officer, Commander Miles Imlay, USCG. First known as Flotilla 4 for the invasion of Sicily and Salerno, its designation was changed to Flotilla 10 for Operation Overlord, or the invasion of Normandy. They were reinforced with 12 Navy-manned LCIs, making the Flotilla's total number of landing craft 36, divided evenly between the invasions at Omaha and Utah beaches. It was at Omaha Beach that the flotilla suffered grevious losses, including four LCI(L)s completely destroyed by enemy fire and a number of others damaged. The surviving vessels performed yeoman duties in the English Channel for the next several months before sailing back across the Atlantic, now under the command of Commander Aden C. Unger, USCG.
Once back in the U.S., the flotilla's four lost LCIs were replaced with LCI(L)s 520, 562, 581, and 583. Many of the veteran crews were replaced with new recruits and officers and they underwent amphibious training in the Chesapeake. The flotilla, now designated as Flotilla 35, then sailed to the San Diego in preparation for service in the Pacific Theatre. Once in San Diego, they served as training ships while awaiting assignment to the Western Pacific, where many participated in the campaigns in the Philippines and Okinawa, among others.
The LCI(L)s carried out a myriad of duties while in the Pacific. These included: minesweeping, serving as ferries for passengers and mail, made smoke to screen US Navy capital warships during invasion bombardments, fought off kamikaze attacks, trained B-29 crews in ditching techniques, laid buoys and carried out other aids to navigation work, escorted submarines, conducted air-sea rescue patrol duty, operated as harbor entrance control vessels, and acted as salvage vessels. Many participated in the mine-clearing operation in the East China Sea known as "Operation Klondike" after the Japanese surrender.
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