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Amphbious Operations

Amphibious warfare is a form of operations on the boundaries of land and sea that involve attacks from or retreats to ships by troops. Amphibious warfare has a long written history that may be traced back to the wars fought between the Greeks and the Persians 2,500 years ago. The Romans conducted amphibious landings in Britain 55 and 54 BC. After initial successes, the Romans (under Caesar) pulled back. Claudius returned in 43 AD resulting in Roman colonial rule over Britain for 500 years. From the 8th-11th century the Vikings launched multiple amphibious operations eventually establishing Norman colonies all over Europe, including Britain. In 1066, William the Conqueror crossed the English channel, and Britain was conquered.

In 1745, England launched the Cartagena expedition, which failed, mainly because of Army-Navy rivalry. In 1759, after the British amphibious landing at Quebec, Quebec captured from the French. This operation succeeded notably because of inter-service cooperation between General Wolfe and Admiral Saunders. The foundation of British amphibious warfare came during the Napoleonic era [1793-1815]. In 1799, a British force of 10,000 men under Sir Ralph Abercromby, later reinforced by Russians, landed in Holland. Initially successful, it eventually failed due to lack of follow-through. In 1801, the British amphibious assault landing at Aboukir Bay, Egypt, succeeded under Sir Ralph Abercromby.

During the War of 1812, the United States had to contend with British amphibious operations. Naval strength on coastal and inland waterways allowed the British to land large numbers of troops, as in August 1814 when some 4,000 regulars came ashore and burned Washington, DC.

Adm Fisher, the British First Sea Lord, had also foreseen the importance of amphibious operations in modern war, but no appropriate craft were developed in time for the Great War. The first amphibious assault of the Great War, an amphibious assault on Tanga, German East Africa, ended in disaster in 1914. The Gallipoli campaign of 1915 is a classic study in failure. All subsequent British amphibious operations have been conducted under the spectre of the Gallipoli disaster. Between the World Wars, Britain did not maintain forces specialized in amphibious operations. British Royal Marine Light Infantry (merged with the Royal Marine Artillery in the 1920s to form the Royal Marines) were used primarily as naval parties onboard Royal Navy warships to maintain discipline and man ships' guns. The RMLI joined a new Royal Navy division - the Royal Naval Division - formed in 1914 to fight on land.

Amphibious warfare can be regarded as coming of age during the Second World War with a large number of landings throughout the war. Important early experiments were carried out in the United Kingdom, largely the work of the Commandoes. The Commandoes originated with the independent British companies which raided the coast of France immediately after the withdrawal from Dunkirk. They were first organized as commando units in July 1940, but their progress became more rapid after September 1941 when Lord Louis Mountbattan was named their commander. Combined Operations Headquarters, as the organization was called, set up a series of training centers. A series of raids on the continent was carried out successfully, and these experiences proved valuable in planning for operations on a larger scale. During the Second World War, Britain created a large and potent amphibious warfare capability that played a major role in the recapture of Western Europe in 1944.

Possibly the most famous amphibious assault were the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, in which British, Canadian, and US forces were landed at Gold, Juno, Sword Utah, and Omaha beaches. By the end of this conflict, British amphibious warfare assets were formidable, being second only to those ofthe United States. But the British lacked any substantial amphibious forces through the immediate postwar decade. Unlike the United States Marine Corps, the British had no single service responsible for amphibious operations.

In the light of the Government's 1976 White Paper on Defence Estimates, it was planned that the amphibious forces will consist of the Royal Marines brigade headquarters, three commando groups together with their associated Wessex helicopters and Army support, and two assault ships, one of which will be kept at immediate operational readiness. HMS "Hermes" will also retain a secondary rle as a commando ship. One commando group has for a number of years been equipped and trained to be available for all-year service in Arctic Norway; now, in addition, we have offered to assign the other two commandos for specific NATO priorities. One of these two commandos, together with a small tactical brigade headquarters, will also be trained and equipped for service in Arctic conditions. Sufficient shipping will be available for the deployment of the Royal Marines.

Since the Second World War there have been several important operations, from the American landings at Inchon in 1950 and the Falklands war of 1982 perhaps being the most notable. British Armed Forces continue to regularly deploy amphibiously, since 1999 operating in Bosnia, Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The undertaking requires the coordination of several military specialties which include air power, naval gunfire, naval transport, logistical planning, specialized equipment, land warfare, tactics, and extensive training in the nuances of this manoeuvre for all personnel involved.

The Royal Navy had a very long and glorious history in amphibious warfare but this capability had weakened during the early 1980s. The experience of the Falklands War in 1982 turned things around. The Royal Navy had to make an epic journey down far south, establish a beachhead amidst hostile fire and support the British infantry and marines in their quest to recapture the island. It was a close call which led to the development of the HMS Ocean, which forms part of the bigger plan to revive and sustain the Royal Navy?s amphibious capability.

By the mid-1980s, the British government decided that Britain would need to have a comprehensive fleet of amphibious platforms to create a mobile, flexible and sustainable amphibious fleet. A landing platform helicopter (LPH) ship, HMS Ocean, was to be complemented by the new landing platform dock (LPD) ships HMS Albion and Bulwark and five landing ship logistics (LSL) vessels. They would form the Amphibious Task Group (ATG), which could be deployed to hotspots around the world. With the completion of the ATG, it would be Europe's newest and most powerful amphibious force. This necessity of such a fleet was further reinforced during the crisis in the Balkans during the early 1990s. The Royal Navy pressed the air training ship RFA Argus as a temporary LPH in 1993 but its accommodation and facilities were totally unsuitable.

Two new LPDs are pivotal elements of the UK's dedicated Amphibious Forces. The other major naval elements being the LPH HMS Ocean currently at sea, the force of 3 LSLs of which Sir Galahad is the newest and the Aviation Training Ship RFA Argus. These ships between them provide the primary specialist lift for the air and sea deployable elements of the UK AF.

The generic Royal Navy Amphibious Task Group (ATG) will include at least one Albion Class Landing Platform Dock (LPD) as the command ship, one Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH - either HMS Ocean or if unavailable an Invincible Class in its secondary LPH role), and normally two Bay Class. The Embarked Military Force (EMF) will usually be major elements of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, although British Army units may also be embarked to a greater or lesser degree.

In an assault landing operation, the first wave of troops are landed on the beach by landing craft from the LPDs and by a "vertical assault" to establish a beachhead and landing zone. The LSD(A)'s are initially positioned about 20nm offshore and remain over the horizon during the first wave assault, they may use landing craft and helicopters to help offload the second wave and subsequent waves of troops and equipment from themselves. When the beach area and landing zone have been finally confirmed as secure, the LSD(A)s will approach the landing zone and from just 1-2 thousand yards off-shore will deploy Mexeflotes (motorised pontoons) to assist in the quick and efficient offloading of the heavy vehicles and equipment that they carry. Once a harbor has been secured, Point Class "Ro-Ro" Strategic Transports and ships taken up from trade (STUFT) will bring in further reinforcements and re-supply the force.

Amphibious Forces (AF) form an integral part of the capability needed to project maritime power. Their usefulness derives mainly from their ability to concentrate a balanced force at a chosen point on a coastline or to deter aggression by providing a potent independent UK presence off shore in an area of regional tension. The UK's AF can operate as a national force, or as part of the UK/NL Amphibious Force. This latter unit is declared to NATO and will contribute to Rapid Reaction Forces (RRF) such as the Joint Rapid deployment Force (JRDF).

UK amphibious operations can cover a wide spectrum of intensity from limited intelligence gathering, through raids, to a full Brigade assault. It is the Amphibious Assault that is the principle type of operation and this involves establishing with some permanence a force on a hostile or potentially hostile shore. Prior to this it may be politically expedient to position the amphibious force in the littoral as a demonstration of intent and capability.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:08:13 ZULU