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Photo Album

US Beach Landing Operations, 1943-45

Part 1

n Text by Martin Waligorski
n Photos: Center of Military History, US Navy



June marks the anniversary of D-Day landings, so it feels all the more appropriate to present our new photo album this month. 

It was almost 60 years ago that Allied forces surprised German defenders with an invasion of Europe across the widest part of the English Channel, in rough weather. The Normandy invasion was the greatest amphibious landing in history, but there were many more, from Operation Torch in West Africa and Guadalcanal in the Pacific, through Sicily, Salerno and Anzio in Italy to Tarawa, Marianas, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The Allies could not have won the war, in either theatre, without amphibious capability. Perfecting beach landing operations in terms of organization, technology and tactics must rank among the most significant military developments during World War II, besides carrier aviation and submarine warfare.  

Due to the scale of planning and logistics in many of these operations it is easy for the casual reader to be overwhelmed by the maps, plans and statistics. This photo album is but one humble attempt to illustrate the different stages of a beach assault from within. The album shows US forces, but this is by no means intended to diminish the role of at least twelve other nations participating in the Operation Overlord. However, it cannot be denied that it was the United States that have perfected amphibious warfare, reducing it in the space of three years from rare and extremely risky undertakings to routine elements of military planning. 

Due to its size, this album has been divided in two parts. This part covers embarkment, movement of the landing force and the assault.  Part two will be published in the next issue of this magazine. 

Stage 1. Embarkment
 


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Embarking into the unknown. Carrying heavy packs and M1 rifles, troops march up the beach at Adak, during pre-invasion loading for the Kiska Operation, August 13th, 1943. 

The LCM behind the soldiers is from USS Zeilin (APA-3). USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) waits in the far right distance.  
  

 


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In preparation for the landing  operation, artillery equipment is loaded aboard LCTS.  
Photo taken at Brixham, England, 1 June 1944.
 

 

Stage 2. The landing force


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The smoke. Before the landing armada would close to the shore, combat ships would lay a smoke screen to obscure the view for the shore defenders and provide additional cover against air attacks.

This image shows USS Philadelphia (CL-41) and a motor minesweeper (YMS) making a smoke screen to cover the landing area at Salerno, September 9th, 1943.
  

 


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The enemy could be expected to bring up all the air power they could muster to destroy the invasion fleet and stop the landing forces before they could reach the shoreline. D-Day was unusually lucky in this respect with no German opposition in the air, but other Allied landings in the Mediterranean and Pacific areas saw some fierce aerial action. 

This dramatic photograph captures the moment on September 11th, 1943, as USS Savannah (CL-42) is hit by a German radio-controlled Fritz X bomb off Salerno. The bomb hit the top of the ship's number three 6"/47 gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before exploding. The photograph shows the explosion venting through the top of the turret and also through Savannah's hull below the waterline. A motor torpedo boat (PT) is passing by in the foreground.
 

 


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Artillery bombardment. USS Boise (CL-47) steams parallel to the shore to bring all of its main guns to action against the enemy forces, passing in front of the fully-loaded invasion ships. The photograph has been taken from LST-325. Landing at Gela, Sicily, on 11 July 1943.
  

 

 


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Big guns talking. Effectively superseded by aircraft carriers as capital ships of the Navy, battleships found their right element in artillery support of amphibious landings. Offering heavy guns not only able to destroy fortified defence lines close to the shore, but also reach far inland, battleships found their new niche in which they are unequalled until today. 

The picture shows USS Tennessee (BB-43) bombarding Okinawa with her 14" main battery guns, as LVTs in the foreground carry troops to the invasion beaches. April 1st, 1945.

The Okinawa landing represented the pinnacle of the amphibious assault in skill and technology, one example of it being the tracked LVTs (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) which, first employed two years earlier at Tarawa, now  formed the bulk of the assault force. Ironically, Okinawa was also the only battle in US military history in which an amphibious landing suffered more casualties than the enemy. Total American casualties in Okinawa reached a stunning number of 28686.
  

 

Stage 3. Assault


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Transport ships are unloading troops to the LCVPs. The ship is USS Hunter Liggett (APA-14), place unknown in the Pacific theatre.

The LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel), also known as Higgins Boat was used to carry first waves of infantry from ship to shore. After the first plywood, rampless vessels used in the Operation Torch proved inadequate, an improved variant was designed - steel, diesel-powered, ramped craft that could carry 36 combat-equipped infantrymen or 3,6 tons of cargo from ship to shore. During World War II the United States produced 23398 of these boats. 
  

 


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LVCPs group towards the Line of Departure . The LCVP just beyond is from USS President Jackson (APA-18). A PT boat, two attack transports (APA) and a LST are in the distance. Photographed from a PT boat, one of whose twin .50 caliber machine guns are visible  in the foreground. Empress Augusta Bay, off the Bougainville beachhead, November 20th, 1943.
 

 


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Through the fog.  Landing craft are lead by a larger ship through the fog and smoke towards the yet invisible shore. Here, USS Pruitt (DM-22) leads landing craft from USS Heywood (APA-6) toward their landing beaches in Massacre Bay, Attu, 11 May 1943. Pruitt used her radar and searchlight to guide the boats nine miles through the fog. The searchlight beam is faintly visible pointing aft from atop her pilothouse.
 

 


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Tension reaches its peak as the assault craft nears a beachhead, looking for a suitable beaching spot manoeuvring free of underwater obstacles and other craft at the shore.  The raised front ramp forms about the only protection from the fire ahead. The shore is covered in smoke, the result of supporting Naval gunfire. June 6th, 1944, Normandy.
  

 


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It all happens now! Ramps open and the Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division is one of the first waves to reach the Omaha Beach, June 6th, 1944. An earlier assault wave lies broken on the shore.
 

 


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Nailed down to the beach. 

The picture speaks for itself. Iwo Jima, February 19th, 1945.
 

 


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At times, heavy sea conditions could be just as dangerous to the landing units as the enemy fire. The D-Day itself was a good example of a notoriously bad weather. The above photograph captures the moment as soldiers already ashore help survivors from a sunken landing craft. These survivors lost their craft and reached Utah Beach by using a life raft. On the photo below, GIs are pulled ashore from another swamped landing craft. June 6th, 1944. 
  
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Photo Album: US Beach Landing Operations, 1943-45 (Part 2)

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