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By land and by sea

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 06:00
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Between the Wars

Operators must be thoroughly trained in loading and unloading the DUKW. Photo supplied by Jim Gilmore. Courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps

Remembering the Gallipoli campaign, the British created a vessel called the “Motor Landing Craft” and used it for maneuvers as early as 1926. The craft had a flat bow and was deployed at the onset of World War II. Used until late 1940, it was capable of disembarking troops and equipment from the front, and paved the way for other versions of landing craft. The Motor Landing Craft is said to be the first of its kind.

By the late 1930s, the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair was requested to build a landing craft that would satisfy the need to disembark on a beach quickly. However, the military grew frustrated with the Bureau’s lack of progress, and contracted boat builder Andrew Higgins to design a suitable landing craft. Higgins’ first design had drawbacks in that the boat had to be unloaded over the sides, exposing men to combat fire.

In 1937, the Japanese built a landing craft with a ramp at its bow — and a picture of that craft provided an example for Higgins’ next design. He quickly contacted his designers and had them develop a prototype similar to the Japanese craft.

Testing proved to be successful, and the boat was dubbed Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP), or the “Higgins Boat.” The combination wood-steel landing craft was approximately 36 feet long and carried up to 36 infantrymen. The front or bow of the craft was a ramp, allowing for quick disembarking.

One crucial problem would exist with these traditional landing craft, however: Cargo transfers would still put troops in grave danger, as infantry would have to unload cargo on the beach and then load it onto a truck or other form of transportation, sometimes while under attack. This process was laborious, time-consuming and exposed the infantry to aerial attacks.

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