Background of Amphibious Operations
Invasion was born in the minds of British soldiers who looked back from their strange assortment of fishing boats, yachts and small naval craft, toward the burning port of Dunkirk and realized that some day they must return. Prior to that time neither Germany nor the Allied nations realized the need for such an operation. All of their plans had been based on the assumption that the outcome of the war would be settled by the men and materials then in western Europe, but the successful withdrawal of the British from Dunkirk in May 1940 made it evident that victory could only result from a successful Channel crossing. If Germany could invade England, the war might end quickly. If Germany failed, England must eventually invade the continent to force a decisions. At the time, neither side was ready for such an operation. Germany's failure to wipe out the Royal Air Force and its inability to
The Beginnings of Invasions1
cope with the Royal Navy ended its hope of attempting an amphibious operation for which it was ill prepared, and British planning and testing for a return to the continent began almost immediately.
The entrance of the United States into the War 7 December 1941 found the principles of amphibious warfare still in their infancy, although the British War Office had developed preliminary techniques and the navies of Great Britain and the Unite States were beginning to procure the first landing craft. From Pearl Harbor through the first half of 1942 the Japanese undertook a series of amphibious operations which included the invasion of the Philippines, New Britain, the Aleutians, the Malay Peninsula and the East Indies. Landings were almost unopposed and ports were captured intact so that there was little hint of the complexity of future Allied landings against prepared positions.
The Japanese successes and the need for amphibious operations in Europe and the Mediterranean brought home to the United States the necessity for devoting a greater portion of its war effort to the planning of amphibious operations and producing specialized amphibious equipment. Production of small landing craft was increased under Navy direction, and the Army devoted additional time and effort to the development of amphibious vehicles, such as the DUKW. The British continued their experiments, giving particular attention to commando training and landing craft operation. As early as 13 January
1942 the Mediterranean became a center of attention. On that date the chiefs of staff of Great Britain and the United States held the occupation of French North Africa to be "of the first strategical importance in the Atlantic area," although they agreed that they did not have sufficient resources to carry out the project immediately.2
The United States Navy actually inaugurated Allied amphibious warfare 7 August 1942 when it sent Marines ashore on Guadalcanal Island in the Solomons. Then, on 19 August, a small force of British, Canadian, American and French troops stormed ashore at Dieppe, destroyed important enemy installations, and withdrew after suffering heavy casualties. Both Guadalcanal and Dieppe provided important information on landing techniques, but the operations were on too limited a scale to be indicative of the scope of the invasion of the continent.
The original amphibious unit in the United States Army
Training in the United States
was the 1st Inf Div, which was consolidated in the winter of 1940-1941 at Fort Devens, Mass, its units having been scattered in a number of locations. In 1941 it spent several months loading on transports and landing on beaches at Buzzard's Bay, Mass, Onslow Beach, New River, N.C., and other beaches. In January 1942 it made practice landings at Virginia Beach, and sailed for the United Kingdom in July and August 1942. This early training was very preliminary and contained no hint of the type of operation which was to take place in Normandy. When it left the United States it could hardly be called an amphibious unit.3
The first concrete step taken by the US Army to solidify amphibious doctrine and to train amphibious supply troops was the establishment of the Amphibian Command at Camp Edwards, Mass. The command conducted experiments of preliminary nature, but was handicapped greatly by lack of equipment. On 15 June 1942, the First Amphibious Brigade and the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment were activated at Camp Edwards, under command of Col, later Brig Gen, Henry C. Wolf.4
This brigade was the first unit formed by the army to set up and operate a beachhead, and the shore regiment, its key unit, was to be trained to assume responsibility for all supply and engineering functions in the beach area. Other organizations assigned to the brigade were the 591st Engineer Boat Regiment, charged with operation of small landing craft and other shore-to-shore functions; the 286th Amphibian Signal Company, to handle communications; the 261st Medical Battalion, to evacuate the wounded; the 361st Quartermaster Battalion, to operate the dumps; and the 161st Ordnance Platoon, the 561st Boat Maintenance Company, and a depot platoon of the 411th Base Shop Battalion to repair vehicles and craft.
The functions of the brigade were not clearly defined, partially because no clear boundary had been established between Army and Navy spheres of operation. Available publications consisted of an obsolete field manual, FM 31-5, Landings on a Hostile Shore, and a single page standing operating procedure for shore parties. The Amphibian Command seemed to feel that, in some cases at least, small landing craft would be under Army jurisdiction. This assumption proved correct as it concerned the Pacific Theater where landing
craft were operated by the 2d, 3d and 4th Amphibian Brigades, but it was never true of the European Theater to which the 1st Brigade was sent. The 1st Brigade actually had very little training in the United States, its work at Camp Edwards consisting primarily of beach development and hasty road construction. It embarked for the United Kingdom 5 August 1942.5
Additional engineering units were given amphibious training later, such as the 540th Engineer Combat Regiment, which entered Camp Edwards 11 September 1942 and later participated in the North African campaign. This regiment and the 36th Engineer Combat Regiment also participated in landing exercises with naval units in Chesapeake, where supplies were loaded on ships. But training continued to be of a preliminary nature.6
More important were the early experiments carried out in the United Kingdom, and these were largely the work of the Commandoes. The Commandoes originated with the independent British companies which raided the coast of France immediately after the withdrawal from Dunkirk. They were first organized as commando units in July 1940, but their progress became more rapid after September 1941 when Lord Louis Mountbattan was named their commander. Combined Operations Headquarters, as the organization was called, set up a series of training centers. A series of raids on the continent was carried out successfully, and these experiences proved valuable in planning for operations on a larger scale.
Early Developments in the United Kingdom
The United States Army was interested in Combined Operations from its inception, and special observers made frequent reports on developments. American officers at Combined Operations Headquarters were sent through training center courses, and the 1st US Ranger Battalion trained with the British. This battalion was composed entirely of volunteers, mostly from the 34th Inf Div, then in Iceland. Training began 1 July 1942 at the commando depot, Achnacarry, Scotland, and the course was completed 31 July, at which time the battalion was assigned to the Number 3 and 4 Commando groups. Fifty Rangers from these groups took part in the Dieppe raid.
In April 1942 Gen Marshall and Lord Louis Mountbatten met and agreed to create an American section at Combined Operations
Headquarters. On 20 April Brig Gen L K Truscott Jr was assigned to head the section, and the section was established 19 May under AG letter orders. From that time on the Army kept a watchful eye on the British developments and was able to participate in British experiments.7
The first major units to arrive in the United Kingdom from the United States were the 1st Armd Div, the 34th Inf Div, and the 1st Inf Div. The British, at this time, were conducting a series of exercises and tests, in some of which the Americans were able to participate. From 1 July to 8 July 1942 an exercise known as ATLANTIC was conducted in Northern Ireland between Belfast Lough and Lough Meagh to test cooperation between United States and British Troops. The 1st Armd and 34th Inf Divs participated, together with the 61st and 59th British Inf Divs and the 72d British Inf Brig.8 From 21 September to 29 September 1942 the same British and American
Arrival of American Units in the United Kingdom
units participated in Exercise PUNCH held in the same general area.9
The British held a number of their own exercises, of which BUMPER, held 27 September-3 October in the Salisbury Plain area, was an example. An American Military attache, observing the exercise, reported that the British troops appeared to be unfit for any major invasion effort.10 Other British exercises included ADDER, AERIAL, BULL, CUCKOO, CURLEN, LIGHTNING, LONGHOP, MANCHESTER, MARS and TYNE.11
The 1st US Amphibian Brigade, which arrived in the United Kingdom in August 1942, was attached to the Maritime Command, a naval administrative unit, and its assigned units were scattered
throughout the United Kingdom. The 531st Engr Shore Regt stayed at Rosineath which was being taken over as an American naval base by the Maritime Command, and the British Amphibious Training Center at Invarary, Scotland. Some basic instruction was given, but the Brigade's officers had little knowledge of the purpose for which the unit had been activated. Many believed that it had been formed for a combined British and American invasion of France, tentatively scheduled for the spring or summer of 1943.12 The 1st Inf Div received some amphibious training but it was preliminary in nature and did not employ techniques later used in actual operation.13
In spite of these early efforts, prior to the invasion of North Africa there were no standard amphibious doctrines and few amphibious practices which had been adequately tested, but the seeds had been planted. Four major developments had taken place which were to be expanded and refined in the Mediterranean operations until the successful invasion of France became possible. Two were directly concerned with supply: the establishment of the first beach supply organization, and the development
of landing craft. The other two were tactical: the training of specialized assault troops, such as the Commandoes and the American Rangers and Marines, and the development of the theory of assault from the air as practiced by parachute and glider units. None of these developments had progressed far, but they were the seeds from which the invasion of Normandy grew.
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1. Material in this section has been drawn from general sources and no attempt has been made to give specific references.
2. Minutes of Chiefs of Staff Conference, 13 Jan 42 (ABC-4-JCCSs-11), Annex 2 (US ABC-4/British WW-14), in Hist Sec ETOUSA file.
3. The 1st US Inf Div (historical sketch), submitted with ltr, Hq 1st US Inf Div, AG 314.7-3-1, subj: "Biographical Sketches and Historical Report," to CG ETOUSA, 1 Mar 44, in Hist Sec file Basic History-1 (1st Div).
4. Notes on Utah Beach and the 1st Engr Spec Brig, compiled 20 Oct-7 Nov 44, Hist Sec ETOUSA, Ch I, p. 2.
5. Ibid., p. 4.
6. Engineers in Italy, study, NATOUSA, 21 Dec 43.
7. American Section, Combined Operations Headquarters (history), 23 Sep 43, in His Sec ETOUSA file, Operations and Exercises.
8. ETO AG file 354.2, Exercise ATLANTIC, 1942.
9. ETO AG 353 file Vol I 1942, GHQ Training Program.
10. ETO AG 354.2 file, BUMPER 1942.
11. Notes on these exercises may be found in Hist Sec ETOUSA file, Operations and Exercises.
12. Notes on UTAH Beach and the 1st Engr Spec Brig, p. 4.
13. The 1st Inf Div (historical sketch).