In WWII, the military quickly realized that amphibious assaults would require efficient and effective means of getting men, machines, and supplies ashore. More to the point, they quickly learned from bloody experience that they needed to get heavy firepower ashore in the initial wave and they needed to provide better protection for the assault troops than the open and unarmored Higgins boat, the iconic landing craft. The solution to both needs, firepower and protection, was found in the Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) family of amphibious, armored vehicles.
I’d like to examine the armored firepower version, the LVT(A), of which there were several evolutionary variants. The end result was the LVT(A)-4, essentially an amphibious light tank. Take a look at the specifications.
- Armament – M8 turret with 75 mm M3 howitzer or Canadian Ronson flamethrower plus 1x 0.50 cal machine gun or 3x 0.30 cal machine guns
- Armor – 6-38 mm
- Weight – 20 tons
- Speed – 20 mph land, 7.5 mph water
- Range – 150 miles land, 75 miles water
- Length – 7.95 m
- Engine – gasoline radial, 250 hp; 12.5 hp/ton
Around 1890 LVT(A)-4’s were built during the war and continued in service until the mid-1950’s. They were first used in combat at
Saipan in June 1944. Being in the
initial assault wave and then used at the front line of combat once ashore, the
LVT(A)-4’s often experienced high loss rates.
A few things jump out when looking at this vehicle. First, the LVT has essentially the same specifications as today’s Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV). That we have been unable to produce a significantly better vehicle in seventy some years is depressing and disturbing.
For comparison, here are some specs on the AAV.
AAV (formerly LVTP-7)
- Armament – turret with Mk19 40 mm grenade launcher and M2 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) machine gun
- Armor – 45 mm
- Weight – 29 tons
- Speed – 20 mph land, 8.2 mph water
- Range – 300 miles land, 20 miles water
- Length – 7.94 m
- Engine – diesel, 400 hp; 13.8 hp/ton
Now, before anyone starts pounding out replies disputing some specification, just relax. The exact specs are all over the map depending on exactly which version of the AAV we’re talking about and which upgrades it’s had. The point of this comparison is not to discuss exact specs but to note the lack of significant improvement since WWII.
The most notable aspect of the comparison lies in the armament. The LVT(A) had a heavy 75 mm howitzer whereas the AAV has only machine guns and grenade launchers. To be fair, today’s AAV is not intended as a “tank” whereas that was exactly the purpose of the LVT(A). The AAV is simply an armored personnel carrier and is not meant to provide heavy firepower.
|LVT(A)-4 at Okinawa|
While today’s military continues to flounder around with the dilemma of firepower in the initial assault wave the WWII military solved the problem with a light amphibious assault tank. Today,
has developed light amphibious assault tanks and the
China military views that as cutting edge and a controversial
concept. Hey, it’s just reinventing the
WWII wheel. US
We also need to keep the role of a light amphibious tank firmly in mind. It's role is not to stand toe-to-toe with main battle tanks - no light tank can prevail in such a match up. The role of the amphibious light tank is to provide heavy infantry support with suppressing fire and to reduce enemy strongholds, fortifications, and emplacements. Thus, an amphibious light tank does not need to be a water-going Abrams - though figuring how to get an Abrams ashore in the initial assault wave would be great!
|LVT(A)-4 Providing Infantry Support|
We lack any kind of significant firepower in the initial assault wave and the Navy has doctrinally stated that they will not risk ships close enough to shore to be able to use even the small 5” guns. Airpower, against a peer, will be only sporadically available and, in any event, is unable to provide the sheer volume of sustained heavy firepower needed to support an assault.
The only viable solution is to provide heavy firepower in the assault wave and the only way to do that is with a tank of some sort. We would do well to consider the lesson of the WWII LVT(A)-4 as we continue to ponder our amphibious assault doctrine and operations.
(1)World War II Database,