Tarawa, Gilbert Islands November 20, 1943

On this date in 1943 the Alligator LVT-1, or Landing Vehicle Tracked‑1, made its first com­bat debut. Actually, the LVT‑1 saw use in landings on Guadal­canal and the adja­cent islands of Tulagi, Tanam­bogo, and Gavutu over a year earlier, in August 1942, but only as a logis­ti­cal support vehicle carrying cargo and ammu­ni­tion from mother ship to inva­sion beaches and evac­u­a­ting the wounded on return trip. In combat on Tarawa on Novem­ber 20, 1943, the LVT turned in a less than stellar per­for­mance in its new offen­sive role: over 70 percent of the amphib­i­ous vehicles were put out of commission on D‑Day.

The brainchild of Floridian inventor and philanthropist Donald Roebling, the LVT‑1 was known as an amtrac or amtrak by U.S. Marines for “amphib­i­ous tractor” and “Alli­ga­tor” or “Gator” by Roebling. What Roebling built in his estate work­shop in the mid- to late-1930s was an amphib­i­ous tractor intended for rescue work in the after­math of Florida’s many devas­tating hurri­canes. A 1937 article in LIFE maga­zine touting Roebling’s inven­tion caught the atten­tion of the Comman­dant of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Corps and parent Depart­ment of the Navy recog­nized the mili­tary poten­tial of Roebling’s amphib­i­ous machine about the time war clouds began casting omi­nous shadows stretching from the Chi­nese main­land, where Japan was em­broiled in a war it started in 1937, to the thou­sands of Pacific islands in Japan’s watery back­yard. Japa­nese mili­tary leaders and ultra-nation­alist states­men were beginning to formu­late a pan-Asian scheme—even­tu­ally morphing into the Greater East Asia Co-Pros­per­ity Sphere—that would have their empire become the domi­nant player in an Asia-Pacific region that decades earlier had been parceled among British, French, Dutch, and American squatters.

In 1940 several more generations of the Alligator, each more power­ful than its prede­ces­sor, were deliv­ered and field-tested at Quan­tico, Vir­ginia, and on the U.S. Carib­bean island of Puerto Rico. The first mili­tary version, LVT‑1, was neither armor-plated nor armed. It was kludgy to drive. Deployed over­seas in May 1942, it saw logis­tical support service during the Guadal­canal cam­paign (August 7, 1942, to Febru­ary 9, 1943). Modi­fied by the U.S. mili­tary to its own speci­fi­ca­tions, the larger and more power­ful LVT‑2 Water Buffalo saw ser­vice at Bou­gain­ville (Novem­ber 1943 to August 21, 1945). Manned by a crew of 6, it carried 24 fully equipped men or 4,600 pounds of cargo. The LVT‑4 Water Buffalo, finally furnished with a stern ramp to deploy troops, landed on Saipan on June 15, 1944. The LVT‑A4 armored amtrac mounted a 75mm howit­zer and two Browning machine guns to add fire support for assault troops, seeing service on Saipan and on Guam and Tinian in July 1944. The formidable LVT‑3 Bush­master, powered by two Cadillac V‑8 engines, faced down Japanese resistance on Okinawa in 1945.

Nearly 20,000 LVTs were produced and used by all branches of the armed services, including those of several other Allied nations, and in all thea­ters in World War II. They played their greatest role in securing the Pacific islands so stra­te­gically crucial to any inva­sion of the Japa­nese Home Islands, an inva­sion that was scrapped after two atomic bombs oblit­er­ated Hiro­shima and Naga­saki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respec­tively. Shelled from sea and blasted from the air, in the end enemy-held Pacific islands had to be secured by ground forces who often had to wade long dis­tances from their drop-off point to the landing beaches, cir­cum­vent inter­vening reefs and sand­bars, all the while taking heavy fire from the well-hidden and well-protected Japa­nese bunkers and pill­boxes. The ability of the tracked LVTs to deposit troops directly from ship to enemy shore went a long way in mini­mizing overall Allied casualties and shortening the Pacific War.

The LVT Amtrac Changed the Conduct of World War II Amphibious Warfare

Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) testing phase, Pueto Rico, 1940Disabled Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) at beach baracade on Red Beach 1, Battle of Tarawa

Left: A Landing Vehicle Tracked-1 (LVT-1) during its testing phase on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, 1940. Donald Roebling had conceived the Alligator, as he dubbed it, in 1935 to operate in swampy areas. At first resistant to a militarized version of his rescue vehicle, Roebling embraced the LVT‑1 after war broke out in Europe. Roebling delivered his first production LVT‑1 to the U.S. government in July 1941, 5 months before the U.S. was sucked into the war at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Two facilities in Florida and two in California delivered 18,616 LVTs to the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and to British and Australian armies.

Right: Disabled by enemy fire during the Battle of Tarawa, an LVT‑2 Water Buffalo sits awkwardly at a beach bar­ri­cade on Red Beach 1. Of the 75 unarmed LVT‑1s and 50 armed LVT‑2s deployed at Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, only 35 were still operational at the end of the first day.

Marines on a Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) bound for Tinian Island, July 1944A Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) Water Buffalo carries U.S. troops to Okinawa’s invasion beaches, April 1, 1945

Left: Loaded with U.S. Marines an LVT‑4 Water Buffalo churns through the sea bound for the beaches of Tinian Island, in the Northern Marianas, July 1944.

Right: An LVT-4 Water Buffalo in the foreground carries U.S. troops to Okinawa’s inva­sion beaches, one of over 1000 LVTs that took part in the landings, while Pearl Harbor sur­vi­vor battle­ship USS Tennessee bombards the island with her triple 14‑inch (356mm) main battery guns on April 1, 1945.

Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) unload Marines at Cape Gloucester on December 26, 1943British Second Army engineers mount a Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) Water Buffalo for their Rhine crossing, March 23, 1945

Left: Moving off the ramp of a Coast Guard-manned LVT, Marines move ashore on D‑Day at Cape Gloucester (also known as Tuluvu), Decem­ber 26, 1943, during the Battle of New Britain.

Right: Royal Engineers with the British Second Army under Lt. Gen. Sir Miles Dempsey climb into an LVT‑4 Water Buffalo (British designation Buffalo IV), one of some 600 Buffaloes avail­able to the British, during the Allies’ Lower Rhine crossing, March 23, 1945. Part of Oper­a­tion Plunder, the amphib­ious assault into the heart­land of Nazi Germany was at Rees, Wesel, and south of the river Lippe in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

U.S. Navy Documentary: A Talking LVT, Landing Vehicle Tracked

Continue Reading