Landing craft are boats and seagoing vehicles used to convey a landing force (infantry and vehicles) from the sea to the shore during an amphibious assault. Most renowned are those used to storm the beaches of Normandy, the Mediterranean, and many Pacific islands during WWII. This was the high point of the landing craft, with a significant number of different designs produced in large quantities by the United Kingdom and United States.
Because of the need to run up onto a suitable beach, WWII landing craft were flat-bottomed, and many designs had a flat front, often with a lowerable ramp, rather than a normal bow. This made them difficult to control and very uncomfortable in rough seas. The control point (bridge was far too fancy a description for the facilities of the LCA and DUKW) was normally situated at the extreme rear of the vessel as were the engines. In all cases they tended to be known by an abbreviation derived from the official name rather than by the full title.
However during World War I, mass mobilization of troops equipped with rapid-fire weapons quickly rendered such boats obsolete; after the disastrous landing phase of the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, military powers around the world tended to avoid large-scale amphibious warfare altogether.
The British produced a landing craft in 1920 that could put their then-current medium tank directly onto a beach. From 1924 it was used with landing boats in annual exercises in amphibious landings. It would later be given the name "Landing Craft, Mechanized" (abbreviated to LCM). In the 1930s the British Army carried out divisional sized amphibious landing exercises. A boat for landing infantry, the Landing Craft Assault, was drawn up after research by the Inter-Service Training and Development Centre in 1938.
In the United States, the interest in amphibious warfare was revived during the late 1930s, when the United States Marine Corps became interested in the military potential of Andrew Higgins's design of a powered, shallow-draught boat. These LCVPs, dubbed the 'Higgins Boats', were developed to a final design with a ramp and were produced in large numbers.
The "Landing Craft Control" (LCC) or were 56-foot U.S. Navy vessels, carrying only the crew (Scouts and Raiders) and newly-developed radar. Their main job was to find and follow the safe routes in to the beach, lanes which had been cleared of obstacles and mines. There were 8 in the entire Normandy invasion (two per beach). After leading in the first wave, they were to head back out and bring in the second wave. After that, they were used as all-purpose command and control assets during the invasion.
The smallest landing craft were amphibians such as the U.S.-designed DUKW, basically an amphibious truck, and the Landing Vehicle Tracked, an amphibious armoured personnel carrier. These were operated by Army personnel, not naval crews. They had a capacity of about three tons. The British introduced their own amphibian the Terrapin into use after the landings.
Of the landing craft proper the smallest were the U.S. Landing Craft Personnel, Large (10 tons) and the British Landing Craft Assault (LCA) (13 tons). These were small craft intended to be transported around by larger vessels then lowered into the water off the target beach. Typically they could carry 36 fully armed soldiers. The LCPL sometimes came with an enclosed cockpit and was often used as a command boat. It lacked a loading ramp which the LCA did have.
The U.S. Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel (LCVP), also known as a Higgins Boat, was a more flexible variant of the LCPL with a wide ramp — it could carry 36 troops or a small vehicle such as a Jeep, or a corresponding amount of cargo.
None of the above was capable of making a voyage longer than about 6-12 hours, mainly through fuel limitations.
The Landing Craft Utility (LCU) is used transport equipment and troops to the shore. They are capable of transporting tracked or wheeled vehicles and troops from amphibious assault ships to beachheads or piers.
Then came the Landing Craft Infantry (Large) or LCI(L), capable of making serious voyages under its own power (some were sailed directly from the United Kingdom to take part in the Operation Torch landings, and U.S. Navy LCIs island hopped across the Pacific). LCI(L)s were about 158 feet long and 23 feet wide and carried around 200 troops. There were several sub-types of the craft, with the LCI(L) infantry carrier dominating; but LCIs also served as rocket (LCI(R)) and mortar (M), and gunboat (G) platforms, as well as a flotilla flagship (FF). While still intended to run up on the beach, these tended to have a normal type bow with stepped ramps each side for the troops to disembark. The LCI was re-classified Landing Ship Infantry (LSI) by the U.S. in 1949.
Of a similar size was the Landing Craft Tank, which could carry up to 4 Tanks or other vehicles. These had a ramp at the front which was dropped for the vehicles to get ashore. Behind the ramp was an open space known as the Tank Deck. There were several different designs and sizes varied.
The next step was the Landing Ship Tank. This carried more vehicles than the LCT (20 in the US-built versions) and had normal looking bows, although the bows were actually formed by doors which were opened for the unloading ramp to drop. Fully loaded, these displaced more than 3,000 tons, rather more than any Royal Navy destroyers of the period.
Finally there was the Landing Ship Dock, which had a large open compartment at the back. Opening a stern door and flooding special compartments allowed this area to be open to the sea and LCI-sized vessels could enter or leave.
Initial British nomenclature used different type names leading to alternate names such as Assault Landing Craft, Infantry Landing Craft and Tank Landing Craft.
Due to their rather small size the majority were not given names and were simply given serial numbers, e.g., LCT 304. The LSTs were an exception to this being much the same size as a small cruiser. Three British-built LSTs were named as well, HMS Boxer, Bruiser and Thruster which were somewhat larger than the U.S. design; they also had proper funnels.
LCIs and LCTs carried weapons such as the Oerlikon 20 mm cannon each side of the bridge structure. LSTs had a somewhat heavier armament.
This had a large set of launchers for the British RP-3 60 lb (27 kg), 3 in (76 mm) rockets mounted on the covered-over tank deck. The full set of launchers was "in excess of" 1,000 and reloads totaling 5,000 rockets were kept below. The firepower was claimed to be equivalent to 80 light cruisers or 200 destroyers.
The method of operation was to anchor off the target beach, pointing towards the shore. The distance to the shore was then measured by radar and the elevation of the launchers set accordingly. The crew then vanished below (apart from the commanding officer who retreated to a special cubby hole to control things) and the launch was then set off electrically. The launch could comprise the entire set or individual ranks of rockets.
A full reload was a very labor-intensive operation and at least one LCT(R) went alongside a cruiser and got a working party from the larger ship to assist in the process.
Inflatable boats were often used to transport amphibious troops from high speed transports and submarines. The United States used a 7 man Landing Craft, Rubber (Small) (LCR-S) and a 10 man Landing Craft, Rubber (Large) (LCR-L.)
The air cushioned landing craft is based on small to mid sized multi-purpose hovercraft, Also known as "over the beach" ("OTB") craft, they allow troops and material to access more than 70 percent of the world's coastline, while only approximately 15 percent of that coastline is available to conventional landing craft. Like the mechanized landing craft, they are usually equipped with mounted machine guns, although they also support grenade launchers and heavy weapons. These vehicles are commonly used in the United States Navy, the United Kingdom's Royal Navy, the Russian Navy, and the Hellenic Navy.
Some were fitted with engines while others were towed to the beach. They were used for defence, transportation, supply (food, water and oil) and repair (fitted out with workshops).
Those fitted for vehicle carrying had a ramp fitted in place at the rear and they had to back onto beaches. They would work from ships and coasters to the shore and back.
Two flotillas were made up of "flak barges" to provide defence of the beaches. Like landing craft, flak barges carried A/A guns: two 40 mm Bofors and two 20 mm Oerlikon, with army gunners and naval crew.
The "Landing Barge Kitchen" (LBK) was fitted with a large superstructure containing the galley. With a crew of 20 plus they could carry food for 800 for a week and provide 1,600 hot and 800 cold meals a day, including freshly baked bread.