Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
Table of Contents
Abstract ii Introduction 1-3 Chapter I Assault From the Sea 4-16 Chapter II Donald Roebling's Alligator 17-34 Chapter III The Marine Corps' Amphibian 35-48 Epilogue 49-52 Conclusion 53-55 Notes 56-61 Bibliography 62-69
TITLE: Roebling's Amphibian: The Origin of the Assault Amphibian
The amphibian tractor played a decisive role in contributing to the United States Marine Corps' amphibious victories in World War II. In a letter sent from Okinawa in 1945 Marine Major General Roy S. Geiger called amphibian tractors, "the work horses of the Marine Corps." He went on to state, "Except for the 'amtracs'it would have been impossible for our troops to get ashore on Tarawa, Saipan, Guam or Pelelieu without taking severe, if not prohibitive losses." In 1944, then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift wrote, "Our success in the bitter fighting at Tarawa was due in a considerable measure to the magnificent performance of the amphibian tractor."
Since World War II, the amphibian tractor, now known as the assault amphibian vehicle, has become a mainstay of the Marine Corps' amphibious arsenal and will remain in the vanguard of amphibious assaults well into the twenty-first century. Despite the assault amphibian vehicle's significant role in Marine Corps history and modern operations, the story of the origin of this venerable amphibian remains largely untold. The purpose of this study is to examine the earliest years of the assault amphibian vehicle and identify those factors that led to the vehicle's fortuitous introduction to the Fleet Marine Force in 1941.
This study of the origin of the Marine Corps' amphibian vehicle begins with a general overview of the Marine Corps' development of the amphibious doctrine during the two decades preceding World War II. The study then turns to the remarkable story of the eccentric inventor of the amphibian tractor, Donald Roebling. The diverse factors that influenced the pioneering efforts that led to Donald Roebling's achievement are reviewed. The narrative then concludes with a discussion of the joint efforts of the Marine Corps and Donald Roebling to produce the vehicle that would eventually spearhead the Marine Corps' march across the Pacific in World War II.
The United States Marine Corps' assault amphibian vehicle stands today as the world's only seaworthy battlefield transport. There is no more obvious symbol of the Marine Corps' unique capability of maneuver on a battlefield including open sea, plunging surf and the entire spectrum of land terrain. The course of the United States' victorious march across the Pacific in World War II would have been decisively more difficult and prolonged without the assault amphibian vehicle's predecessor, the amphibian tractor. And, it is difficult to imagine a modern exercise of the Marine Corps' primary task of amphibious assault without the routine participation of assault amphibian vehicles. The assault amphibian vehicle has become a commonplace and reliable workhorse of amphibious operations. Yet, the history of the assault amphibian vehicle, particularly the vehicle's remarkable origin, remains largely untold.
The purpose of this study is to focus on the origin of the assault amphibian vehicle in an attempt to fill in the many gaps in the story of the earliest years of one of the Marine Corps' most venerable performers. It is hoped that this story will help to provide a special historical perspective that may contribute to the ongoing debate over the future of amphibious vehicles.
In addressing the origin of the Marine Corps' amphibian, a remarkable and unlikely tale unfolds. The factors leading to the arrival of the first amphibian tractors on the beaches of Guadalcanal in 1942 include some of the same developments that placed United States Marines, and not U.S. Army soldiers, in the vanguard of amphibious warfare. The Japanese seizure of central and southern Pacific islands at the close of World War I made Japan the primary focus of United States naval war planning and study. These efforts led to the recognition of the requirement to aggressively seize advanced bases for the United States Navy. Prior to this recognition the Navy's primary emphasis had been on the traditional task of defending the Navy's overseas facilities. The Japanese threat shifted the emphasis from defense to offense. At the same time, the United States Marines emerged from World War I searching for a meaningful and unique mission worthy of ensuring the Corps' continued institutional existence. Evolving from a decade of threatened army encroachment, skeletal budgets and vigorous, sometimes rancorous, Corps-wide conflict and debate, the unique mission of offensive amphibious warfare became the Marine Corps' proprietary domain and primary task. The newly focused Marine Corps spent the 1930s developing and practicing an amphibious doctrine that until the last months before World War II dangerously lacked the hardware to transform theory into reality.
Joining Japanese imperial expansion and the U.S. Marine Corps' proprietary acceptance and development of amphibious warfare as factors leading to the origin of the amphibian tractor was an enigmatic personality totally unrelated to the Pacific, the Marine Corps or the business of war. The story of the robust eccentric millionaire Donald Roebling, inventor of the amphibian tractor, adds one of the most unusual chapters to a Marine Corps' history full of unusual characters. Finally, the amphibian tractor would never have been conceived without the disastrous Florida hurricane of 1928. Japanese aggression, Marine Corps innovation born of institutional paranoia, an eccentric millionaire and a devastating hurricane; these were the diverse ingredients that joined to produce the Marine Corps' amphibian vehicle.
The Japanese threat in the Pacific and the U.S. Marine Corps could not have been further from Donald Roebling's thoughts as he handcrafted his first amphibian Alligator in 1935. Reobling's efforts were directed at creating a land-sea hybrid capable of negotiating swamps and flooded areas to rescue hurricane victims.1 Yet, when the Marine Corps fortuitiously discovered Roebling's Alligator in 1937 it appeared as an unsolicited and hitherto unconceived solution to one of the most basic problems of the Corps' newly developed amphibious doctrine. Marine Corps thinkers had not seriously sought a truly amphibian vehicle like Roebling's Alligator. The emphasis of innovation and progress had been on the development of surf-capable landing boats.2 But, the unexpected arrival of Roebling's amphibian vehicle perfectly complemented the existing landing boats and provided an ideal tool to help support the Marine Corps' amphibious doctrine. This doctrine that awaited the addition of the Alligator in the late 1930s grew from two decades of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps historical and strategical innovation and evolution.
Assault From The Sea
A new world order emerged from the First World War. The central European powers were defeated and the eyes of America shifted westward to the threat of Japanese expansion in the Pacific. Japan had seized Germany's central Pacific islands in the Marshalls, the Carolines and the Marianas and threatened territorial expansion in China, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Japanese expansion clearly challenged United States Pacific influence and threatened exposed American trade routes to China and the Phillipines. By 1920, Japan had become the primary focus of United States Navy war planning.3
A Pacific Ocean war with Japan had been considered by the United States War Department prior to World War I in a contingency plan entitled War Plan ORANGE, one of a series of color coded global plans. By 1921 the Navy Department had thoroughly reviewed War Plan ORANGE and drafted a new plan for war with Japan that envisioned the Japanese using her island territories and a powerful new Navy to challenge the U.S. Navy in the Central Pacific. A key element of the new War Plan ORANGE was the recognition by Navy Department planners that the defeat of Japan would require the offensive seizure of island bases held by the Japanese as well as the more traditional task of defending the Navy's advanced Pacific bases. This shift from the exclusive consideration of defending naval bases to offensive seizure of new bases was a conceptual watershed that naturally suggested a significant new role for the Marine Corps. In January 1920 Chief of Naval Operations Robert E. Coontz advised the Marine Corps Commandant, Major General George Barnett, that War Plan ORANGE had become the primary target of Navy planning and suggested that the Marine Corps develop plans, programs and forces to support the plan for war with Japan. The Admiral urged General Barnett to focus particularly on the roles of advanced naval base seizure and defense.4 However, General Barnett was reluctant to throw his Marine Corps on the War Plan ORANGE bandwagon. Despite the Commandant's reservations the leaders of the U.S. Navy as well as a growing number of progressive Marine Corps officers continued to urge the Marine Corps' full participation in the advanced base issue, with particular emphasis on offensive amphibious operations.
Much like the amphibian tractor that would unexpectedly appear in 1937, the United States Marine Corps in 1920 was a solution waiting for a problem, an answer waiting for the right question. Upon General Barnett's end of tour as Commandant of the Marine Corps in June 1920, the progressive thinking John A. Lejeune assumed the Marine Corps' top post. General Lejeune was keenly attuned to the Marine Corps' traditional requirement to fight for institutional existence and believed that the development of unique (from the U.S. Army) capabilities and the assumption of a unique task or mission best addressed this requirement. This theme was expressed by Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak in his book, First To Fight as he wrote, "The continuous struggle for a viable existence fixed clearly one of the distinquishing characteristics of the Corps."5
General Lejeune saw the Marine Corps' service with the U.S. Fleet, and particularly the role of supporting War Plan ORANGE requirements for advanced naval base seizure and defense, as the key to ensuring the Corps' institutional survival. In 1922, Commandant Lejeune wrote to the General Board of the Navy concerning the Marine Corps' peacetime duties and wartime missions and asserted that, "the primary war mission of the Marine Corps is to supply a mobile force to accompany the fleet for operations on shore in support of the fleet." He called this wartime role the, "real justification for the continued existence of the Marine Corps."6 General Lejeune's views were contested by many of the Marine Corps' senior leaders, including the Commanding General of the Marine Corps' base at Quantico, Virginia, Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler. General Butler believed that the Marine Corps' future was best directed as far away from the Navy as possible.7 Throughout the decade of the 1920s (Lejeune was Commandant from 1920 to 1928) General Lejeune exercised his persuasive leadership to shift a growing number of Marine officers to his belief on the primacy of the mission of service with the Navy. He generated annual fleet landing exercises during the 1922 - 1925 period and gradually increased the emphasis on landing operations at the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico. The Commandant's efforts set the stage for the Marine Corps' development of the amphibious doctrine during the 1930s.
Among General Lejeune's many contributions to the development of the Marine Corps' role as the nation's arm of amphibious power was his inspiration of the eccentric prophet of amphibious warfare, Lieutenant Colonel Earl Hancock Ellis, USMC. Born in Luka, Kansas in 1880, Ellis graduated from high school and enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1900. His exceptional intelligence and professional zeal led to his commissioning as a second lieutenant in 1901. Remaining unmarried and totally immersed in his Marine Corps duties, Ellis soon gained a Corps-wide reputation as a brilliant staff officer and a driven workaholic. These qualities earned him the respect and protection of senior officers willing to overlook his alcoholism, fiery temper and impatience.8 Captain Ellis attended the Naval War College during the 1911 - 1912 term and was invited to remain as an instructor on the staff of the college. While serving at the Naval War College, he condensed a series of lectures into a paper entitled "Naval Bases; Location, Resources, Denial of Bases, Security of Advanced Bases." This 1913 study addressed one of Ellis' principle passions, the problems and techniques of offensive and defensive amphibious operations against the Japanese in their Pacific island strongholds. Ellis' paper helped to establish his reputation as one of the Corps' leading theorists. He joined a handful of progressive Marine Corps officers, including John H. Russell and Eli K. Cole, already noted for their pioneering work in operations with the fleet. Major Ellis later served with distinction in France in World War I, receiving a Navy Cross for his duty with the 4th Marine Brigade. In 1921, the recently appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps, John A. Lejeune, summoned Major Ellis to the newly formed Division of Operations and Training at the Marine Corps headquarters and tasked him to study and write about the Marine Corps' role in the Navy's War Plan ORANGE.10
Major Ellis' response to General Lejeune's assignment was a document that became a prophetic beacon for modern amphibious warfare doctrine. Revising his 1913 Naval War College study, Ellis concentrated on the tactics of seizing advanced coaling and repair stations for the Navy in the Japanese-held coral atolls and volcanic islets of the Caroline, Marshall and Mariana Islands. His conclusions marked a break with tradition in that no longer would the primary role of Marines be to defend advanced naval bases; instead Marines would attack and seize these bases from a determined enemy.11 The mission of the Marine Corps would be offensive amphibious operations.
As the result of the wholesale failure of the British amphibious campaign at Gallipoli in the Dardenalles during World War I, the majority of the world's military theorists largely discounted amphibious assaults as being too difficult, indeed almost impossible.12 Major Ellis confidently insisted that amphibious operations against the Japanese could be successful and provided the theoretical tactical blueprint for these operations. While he underestimated the fighting qualities of the Japanese soldier (he wrote, reflecting the values of his time, "Our advantages over the enemy will be those generally common to the Nordic races over the Oriental; higher individual intelligence, physique and endurance"),13 Ellis prophetically sketched the Marine Corps' Pacific island battles of World War II with uncanny accuracy. The product of Ellis' study, entitled "Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia, 1921" was accepted in total by General Lejeune, and later, the Navy Department. The study was approved as Operation Plan 712D, an annex to the Navy's War Plan ORANGE.14 Earl Ellis' far-sighted work would become the blueprint for the Marine Corps' amphibious warfare planners of the 1930s.
Shortly after completing his work for General Lejeune in 1922, Major Ellis' services were requested by the fledgling Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). ONI earmarked Ellis to join a team being formed to spy on the Japanese in the Far East. The team members would be posing as participants in scientific and photographic expeditions. Earlier in his career, Ellis had performed intelligence work for the Marine Corps in Central America. General Lejeune granted Ellis a leave of absence to work for ONI and Ellis headed for the Pacific. Soon breaking away from ONI's control, Ellis made several failed personal attempts to penetrate the Japanese-held islands in the central Pacific via Australia, posing as a merchant for the Hughes Trading Company in New York. After being hospitalized in Yokohoma, Japan, in August 1922 for "severe nervousness" (probably alcholism) and generating genuine concern from U.S. Navy and diplomatic officials because of his boasting and erratic behavior, Ellis disappeared sometime in the autumn of 1922. Earl Ellis mysteriously died at Parao in the Caroline Islands on 12 May 1923. Most authorities attributed his death to excessive alcoholism, some accused the Japanese in the Carolines of foul play. The U.S. Navy pharmacist mate sent to Parao to investigate and recover Ellis' remains, Lawrence Zembsch, was later killed along with his wife in an earthquate that devastated Yokohama, Japan, on 1 September 1923.15 In his history of the Marine Corps, Semper Fidelis, Allan R. Millett reports that Earl Ellis' mysterious death made him a, "martyr in the eyes of World War II Marines and gave his studies the historic glow of prophecy."16
It would be a mistake to assert that General Lejeune and Earl Ellis immediately and radically redirected the efforts of the Marine Corps toward amphibious warfare during the 1920s. More correctly, they provided the intellectual foundation for the fruition of the amphibious doctrine in the 1930s. The Marine Corps did, however, execute limited tests of Earl Ellis' theories during the 1920s. Under the progressive leadership of amphibious warfare pioneers Colonel Eli K. Cole, USMC, and Colonel Dion Williams, USMC, Marines participated in fleet landing maneuvers in the Caribbean during the years 1922 through 1924 and in Hawaii in 1925. These exercises were invaluable in providing an opportunity for most of the Corps' field grade officers (senior leaders during World War II) to experiment with amphibious tactics and equipment. Ironically, the primary benefit of these exercises was to demonstrate that Earl Ellis' amphibious concepts remained woefully theoretical and that the equipment of the day (particularly landing craft) fell short of the minimum requirements of amphibious assaults.17 By 1926, the Marine Corps' involvement in Haiti, China and Nicaragua consumed the energy and manpower of the Corps and postponed serious progress in the development of amphibious doctrine to the next decade.18
In 1933 the institutional existence of the Marine Corps was challenged by the U.S. Army under the leadership of General Douglas MacArthur. Like generations of soldiers before and after him, General MacArthur coveted the funds provided to the Marine Corps while questioning the need for a separate service whose land combat role appeared similar to that of the Army.19 Like General Lejeune before him, the Marine Corps' fifteenth Commandant, General Ben H. Fuller, responded by touting amphibious warfare as a unique and meaningful raison d'etre for the Corps. Fuller was vigorously supported and encouraged by his assistant, General John H. Russell, a long-time visionary and proponent of amphibious warfare as the Marine Corps' primary mission. The result of this joust with the Army was the Navy General Board's first-time official recognition of the seizure and defense of advanced bases as the Marines' most important job. Equally important, General Russell successfully spearheaded the approval by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy of a new official designation for the Marine Corps' forces operating with the Navy fleet - the Fleet Marine Force.20 The Fleet Marine Force became a nominal reality on 7 December 1933 with Navy Department Order 241.21 With exactly eight years left before Japanese bombs would fall on Pearl Harbor, the Marine Corps had a basic amphibious theory (Ellis' plan) and a new name for its amphibious forces. But the Corps still lacked the detailed doctrine, specialized equipment and manpower to make the amphibious idea a reality.
Commencing in 1931, a special committee of staff members from the Marine Corps' Field Officers School at Quantico, Virginia, began work on a much needed manual addressing the doctrine of amphibious operations. Work on this ground-breaking manual proceeded slowly through late 1933 when progress was interrupted by the mobilization of the 7th Marine Regiment for duty in Cuba. The mobilization brought the departure of several of the key officers on the manual writing committee. Major General James C. Breckinridge, USMC, then the Commanding General of the Quantico base, recommended to the Commandant that all instruction at Quantico's officer schools be discontinued and that the schools' staff and students join together and devote the entire 1933-1934 academic year to the production of a manual for landing operations. The Commandant agreed with General Breckinridge and classes were discontinued on 14 November 1933.
Banding together in a dynamic confluence of creativity and teamwork, the assembled officers of the Marine Corps Schools produced a landmark manual. Guided by many of Earl Ellis' prophetic concepts, they codified the basic doctrine, tactics and equipment of amphibious warfare into a document that, almost in its original form, continues to guide the amphibious doctrine of the modern Marine Corps. By June 1934, the "Tentative Manual for Landing Operations" was essentially complete. A mimeographed copy of the Tentative Manual was used as a training manual at the Marine Corps Schools during the 1934-1935 academic years. During subsequent years, the Tentative Manual experienced numerous minor revisions and was officially published as the "Landing Operations Doctrine, U.S. Navy 1938," in November 1938.22
By 1938 the Marine Corps had produced, in the "Tentative Manual for Landing Operations," a solid doctrinal manual for amphibious warfare. This manual supported the Corps' primary mission of amphibious warfare, approved by the Navy Department in 1933. But, the Marine Corps still lacked the basic amphibious tools to make the amphibious doctrine a reality. In 1935, the Marine Corps commenced a series of Fleet Landing Exercises (FLEX's) designed to test the theories of the newly codified amphibious doctrine as well as to provide practice in landing operations desperately needed by both the Navy and the Marine Corps. Each year from 1935 through 1941, elements of the Fleet Marine Force joined with a Navy task force to conduct landing operations in the Caribbean or the Pacific.
In the excellent review provided by Lieutenant General Holland M. Smith in several 1946 issues of The Marine Corps Gazette, General Smith documented the activities, lessons learned and deficiencies of the annual Fleet Landing Exercises of the 1935-1941 period. An obvious highlight of General Smith's review is his repeated emphasis on the major deficiency of the Marine Corps' amphibious capabilities - the shortage and total inadequacy of landing craft.23
By 1940, Andrew Higgins had provided a family of exceptionally capable personnel and vehicle transporting landing boats that began to partially alleviate the Marine Corps' landing craft problems. However, even the remarkably capable Higgins boats floundered in high surf, grounded on sand bars, avoided coral reefs and debarked their precious cargo of Marines at the point of greatest crisis, the water's edge. The Marine Corps clearly required truly amphibious vehicles or craft to successfully tackle the most obvious challenge of amphibious assaults - the uninterrupted transition from sea to land. Despite this widely recognized requirement, virtually no practical progress in the development of amphibious craft was made by the Marine Corps prior to the eve of World War II. There were two interesting experimental amphibian tanks, one American and one British, that were considered but rejected. In the 1924 fleet maneuvers at the Caribbean island of Culebra, the Marines tested a seven-ton amphibian tank, mounting a 75 millimeter gun, built by Walter Christie of the Sun Shipbuilding Company of Chester, Pennsylvania.24 Christie's tank was propelled in the water by two boat-type screws and had an odd suspension system consisting of both tracks and rubber tires. The vehicle had performed impressively in demonstrations on the Hudson and Potomac Rivers but proved to be unseaworthy and dangerous in the open sea and surf at Culebra. The Christie Tank was discarded by the Marine Corps and the concept was later sold to the Japanese.25 Walter Christie subsequently gained considerable repute for his innovative development of land tracked vehicle suspension systems. In 1931 the British War Office tested an amphibian vehicle similar to the Christie Tank. The Vicker-Armstrong Light Amphibious Tank weighed 2.17 tons and mounted a 30 caliber machine gun. The British amphibian was reliable and relatively fast on land (27 mph) but slow (3.7 mph) and unsteady in the water. It was rejected by the British and never tested by the United States but purchased and successfully developed by the Soviet Union as a river-crossing amphibian.26 The Vicker-Armstrong Tank was the forerunner of the Soviet World War II T-37 and modern PT-76 amphibious tanks.
The failure of the Christie Amphibian Tank and the Vicker-Armstrong Light Amphibious Tank to meet the need of the Marine Corps for a truly seaworthy and versatile amphibian vehicle left a void that persisted almost to the final days preceding World War II. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Marine Corps' development of a true amphibian lagged as the result of scarce military funding and more vigorous interest in the development of landing boats, amphibious ships and modernization of the Corps' basic land fighting weapons. While conflict with Japan appeared increasingly imminent as war ignited in Europe in 1939, the Marine Corps still lacked a suitable amphibian vehicle to support the amphibious doctrine it had developed over the previous two decades.
By the end of the 1930s the United States Marine Corps had claimed a solid foundation of institutional longevity with the official acceptance and development of the amphibious mission. Through the pioneering efforts of John A. Lejeune, Earl H. Ellis, John H. Russell and a generation of young officers serving at the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, the Marine Corps faced the threat of amphibious war in the Pacific with a clear, detailed and valid amphibious doctrine. The Fleet Landing Exercises of the late 1930s prepared thousands of Marines and sailors for the unique challenges of attacking and defeating a determined enemy from the sea. But, without decisive and rapid advances in the tools of amphibious warfare, particularly amphibious landing craft, the Pacific war against the Japanese promised to be supremely difficult.
There could be no more unlikely Marine Corps hero than Donald Roebling. The rotund, eccentric inventor of the amphibian tractor is rightly credited for making a decisive contribution to his nation's victory in World War.II. Yet his creative success was achieved totally beyond any military influence. For this reason, Donald Roebling's gift of the amphibian tractor to the Marine Corps just in time to spearhead the Corps' amphibious assaults in the Pacific is often, and quite correctly, attributed to fortuity, fate, or blind luck. But Donald Roebling's invention was a product of a uniquely American experience. Donald Roebling and his Alligator were progenies of eighteenth-century immigration, the boom of American industrialism, entrepreneurial capitalism, and Yankee ingenuity. The fortunate meeting of Roebling's Alligator and the war-bound United States Marine Corps was a uniquely American accident.
Donald Roebling's Alligator
John Augustus Roebling, Donald Roebling's great grandfather, immigrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from Muhlhausen, Prussia in 1831. Born in Prussia in 1806 and educated as a civil engineer at the Royal Polytechnic Institute in Berlin, John Roebling soon gained employment as an engineer with the state of Pennsylvania. He rapidly built a reputation for dependability, industriousness, and brilliant engineering innovation. By the early 1840s, Roebling had embarked on a career as one of America's pioneer builders of suspension bridges. Among others, he designed and built highway bridges over the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh and the Ohio River in Cincinnati as well as America's first cable suspension railroad bridge over the Niagara River. John Roebling's landmark contribution to the science of bridge building was his invention of high strength steel wire. In 1848 he moved his family to Trenton, New Jersey, and built a factory for the production of steel wire and other steel products. Roebling became famous as the "father of the modern era of the great suspension bridge," and represented the epitome of the confident, enlightened American engineer. In 1869, Roebling, assisted by his son, Washington A. Roebling, commenced his most challenging project, the Brooklyn Bridge. In June of 1869, John Roebling's foot was crushed when he was struck by a ferryboat while surveying the Brooklyn Bridge site. Tragically, he died several weeks later of tetanus as the result of the freak accident.
Washington Augustus Roebling, Donald Roebling's grandfather, was born in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania in 1837. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, in 1857 and became his father's principal assistant. In 1861 he enlisted as a private in the Union army. He soon gained a commission as an officer and served most of the Civil War as a colonel of engineers under Irvin McDowell. Throughout the rest of his life, Washington Roebling enjoyed being called "The Colonel." Upon the death of John A. Roebling, Washington Roebling assumed the leadership of the Brooklyn Bridge project. He completed the bridge in 1883 and is credited as the "Builder of the Brooklyn Bridge." During the 1870s, Washington Roebling built his father's Trenton wire rope manufacturing plant into an industrial giant. The company, by then called John A. Roebling's Sons, became the foundation of the fabulous wealth of the Roebling family. Washington Roebling built a new factory for the expanding company eight miles south of Trenton on the Delaware River and established a model town around the factory. The town of Roebling, New Jersey, remains today as a symbol of the height of American industrialism.27
John A. Roebling II, Donald Roebling's father, was Washington Roebling's most trusted son and assistant. He was born in 1867 and, like his father, was trained as an engineer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Near the turn of the century, Washington Roebling's health failed (the elder Roebling suffered from severe decompression sickness, "the bends", resulting from extensive underground work while building the caissons for the Brooklyn Bridge) and John assumed direction of the Roebling family's financial interests.28
The wartime contribution of the Roebling family during World War I foreshadowed the decisive role that Donald Roebling would play in winning the Second World War. In November 1915, the John A. Roebling's Sons plant in Trenton suffered two fires in one week with damages valued at over $1,000,000. The fires followed months of threats from prominent Germans that American industrial plants would be crippled. Immediately after the Roebling plant fires, an American German-language newspaper, the Brooklyn Frei-Presse, ran the headline, "RENDERED HARMLESS - Factory Building of Roebling Company Reduced to Ashes - Was Used to Produce Wire for the Allies." Actually, John A. Roebling's Sons' production capacity was only briefly handicapped by the fires. The company soon geared up and expanded to play a major role in the fight against German submarines. During the war, the Roebling company produced over 95 million feet of steel rope and coupling devices to build submarine nets for American and European harbors and the framework for the 1918 North Sea Mine Barrage. The North Sea Mine Barrage was credited with destroying at least twenty-three U-Boats and putting an end to the menace of German subs. In 1931, the German biographer, Wilhelm Anener, wrote of the Roebling participation in the defeat of Germany, "To us it appears tragic fate that this emigrant's cleavage of nationality exerts its effect long after his time. With Roebling the Fatherland not only lost an engineering genius and a great industrialist; but that which he created has worked damagingly against Germany in that war materials in enormous quantities have been produced."29
By the end of World War I, John A. Roebling II had concentrated his efforts on banking and the management of the Roebling family fortune, leaving the leadership of the John A. Roebling's Sons plants to other family members. John and his wife, Margaret, built a sprawling estate called the Boulderwood Mansion in Bernardsville, New Jersey, only thirty miles west of John's office complex in New York City. He also built a lovely winter home in Lake Placid, Florida, thirty-five miles northwest of Lake Okeechobee in the Florida Everglades.30 By the 1920s, John A. Roebling II had become a nationally noted financier, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and humanitarian.
John Roebling's son, Donald, would never be accused of being a conformist. Throughout his life Donald Roebling, the creator of the amphibian tractor, would walk a singular path of sublime eccentricity. Donald Roebling was born in New York City on 15 November 1908. Young Roebling, strong-willed, temperamental, and overweight, spent his childhood in the luxury of his parents' Bernardsville, New Jersey, mansion. Shipped off to the Stuyvesant Prep School in Warrenton, Virginia, he demonstrated little scholastic aptitude and, upon graduation, chose not to follow the Ivy League college routine of his wealthy peers. In August 1927, the nineteen year old Roebling enrolled in the Bliss Electrical Academy in Washington, D.C. In April 1928, he was asked to leave the Bliss Academy as the result of conflicts with his teachers.31
Finding life with his parents in New Jersey difficult, the restless Donald Roebling travelled to Clearwater, Florida, in 1929 to live with his cousin, Margaret MacIlrane. A year later, the twenty-two year old Roebling, undoubtedly subsidized by his father, established the Roebling Construction Company, a business specializing in the building of luxury homes. In 1930, Donald Roebling purchased a choice seven-acre tract of beachfront property in Clearwater. Inspired by his fiancee, Florence Spottiswood Parker of East Orange, New Jersey, he built a fifteen-room English Tudor mansion with a large outdoor pool and surrounding gardens. The mansion, awkwardly named Spottis Woode after Miss Parker, was of fortress proportions and strength and for decades was considered to be the largest, best built single-family dwelling on Florida's West Coast.32 Near the mansion, Roebling constructed an expensively outfitted machine shop to satisfy his personal passion for tinkering. This machine shop and the nearby swimming pool and Gulf of Mexico would be the birthplace of Donald Roebling's first amphibian vehicle, the Alligator.
Once established in his new Florida home, Donald Roebling and his bride (he married Florence Parker in October 1932) settled into a pleasant life of wealth and leisure. Roebling loosely managed his construction company while devoting himself to his hobbies: stamp collection, HAM radio operation, and mechanical tinkering. He quickly gained local repute for his eccentricities, particularly his unusual physical appearance. Roebling was addicted to candy and other sweets and his extraordinary physique featured over 400 pounds of body weight primarily concentrated in his enormous buttocks and thighs. Roebling was so large that the local cinema created a special seat for the wealthy patron by removing the armrest from two normal seats. In the early 1930s, the rich and eccentric Donald Roebling could not have been more removed from the world of the United States Marine Corps. He was a most unlikely candidate to play a pivotal role in the momentus years of worldwide conflict that lay ahead.
The initial catalyst for the chain of events that led to Donald Roebling's invention of the amphibian Alligator was an act of nature, the Great Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of l928.33 As noted earlier, Donald Roebling's father, the financier John A. Roebling II, owned a lavish winter retreat in Lake Placid, Florida, just thirty-five miles northwest of Lake Okeechobee. Lake Okeechobee, 730 square miles of largely swampy water in the central Florida Everglades, lies forty miles inland from West Palm Beach, Florida. Throughout the 1920s, unscrupulous Miami real estate speculators aggressively developed new towns on the banks of Lake Okeechobee, promising the new residents, mostly northerners, that the traditional flood control problems of the region had been solved.34 On 16 September 1928, a monster hurricane packing 128 m.p.h. winds crashed into the eastern Florida coastline at West Palm Beach and rushed inland toward Lake Okeechobee. Already, the same hurricane had left 600 people dead in Guadeloupe and 300 people dead and 200,000 homeless in Puerto Rico. The storm swept across Lake Okeechobee and drowned the newly established lakefront hamlets. The boom towns of Belle Glade, Pelican Bay, and Clewiston were demolished. 1,836 area residents were drowned. Some particularly unfortunate folks were killed by fatal water moccasin bites as the snakes and the people struggled to reach the same trees and housetops.35 Nearly all the loss of life and the $25,000,000 in damages occurred in the Lake Okeechobee area.36
At the time of the hurricane a group of John A. Roebling's employees were working at Roebling's estate at Lake Placid. These men formed a team and for several days following the hurricane assisted in rescue efforts in the nearby Lake Okeechobee towns. Most likely because of the participation of his own workers in the relief effort as well as concern over his own Florida property, John A. Roebling became keenly interested in the disaster. When his team of workers returned from their mission they reported on the details of the rescue operation. They highlighted the fact that many victims drowned in the hours and days following the hurricane because rescuers could not traverse the miles of flooded, muddy morass created by the storm. One of the men suggested that a vehicle or boat that could travel on land and through mud, and also negotiate deep water, would have helped immeasurably. They all agreed that hundreds of lives could have been saved if only the rescuers had been given the means to reach the victims in time.
John A. Roebling, humanitarian, financier, and shrewd businessman, recognized the need, and perhaps a potentially lucrative market, for a land and water dual capability rescue vehicle.37 Fourteen years before Marine amphibian tractors would first crash through the surf at Guadalcanal, the concept of an amphibian vehicle rose out of the hurricane flooded swamps of Lake Okeechobee.
John Roebling's son, Donald, became the agent for transforming the idea of an amphibious rescue vehicle into reality. It remains unclear when or how the senior Roebling first suggested the amphibian concept to Donald. But by early 1932 the twenty-three year old Donald Roebling had completed his mansion in Clearwater and possessed both the means and the time to address a serious project. John Roebling clearly recognized the requirement to set his eccentric and hitherto unproductive son to work on a useful and possibly profitable activity. He challenged his mechanically gifted son to build a reliable and commercially useful amphibious rescue vehicle, a vehicle that, in his words, "would bridge the gap between where a boat grounded and a car flooded out."38 He offered to pay all the design, development, and production costs and the father-son deal was sealed with a handshake. Donald Roebling accepted his father's challenge with gusto. The amphibious vehicle became the primary focus of young Roebling's creative energy for the next eight years.
By January 1933, Donald Roebling had his amphibious vehicle production project in full gear. He hired Earl De Bolt, Warren Cottrell, and S.A. Williams as his technical staff and set them to work in his personal machine shop at Spottis Woode, his Clearwater estate.39 From the outset of the project, Roebling focused on the two major problems of building a durable and versatile amphibious rescue vehicle. First, the vehicle had to be light enough to provide safe buoyancy in the water yet sturdy enough for rugged land use. And second, the propulsion systems for water and land could not be so complicated or space-consuming as to render the vehicle useless. Donald Roebling's innovative approach to these problems provided the conceptual point of departure that resulted in the success of his vehicle where previous attempts at amphibious vehicles had failed. He answered the weight problem with a relatively new product, aluminum. Aluminum was much lighter than steel yet provided adequate strength and rigidity for land operations. The second problem, the issue of dual propulsion, was addressed with truly revolutionary imagination. Roebling proposed to devise a single propulsion system for both land and water rather than trying to somehow simplify and coordinate two separate propulsion systems. The result was Roebling's creation of a paddle-wheel track system, a commercial crawler type tractor track affixed with cleats that would work much like the paddles of a paddle-wheel boat when the vehicle was waterborne.
Roebling's innovations solved the most basic duality problems of his amphibious vehicle but created new problems of their own. Because aluminum was a new material, the technology of working with aluminum was undeveloped. Metalworking tools proved ineffective on the soft aluminum and traditional methods of steel welding and riveting were not applicable. Roebling's crew pioneered aluminum working methods as they designed new shapes for aluminum rivets and discovered that woodworking machinery was far superior to metalworking tools in manipulating the soft metal.40 The cleated paddle-wheel tracks were equally troublesome. While the track system on Roebling's first 1935 prototype produced 25 m.p.h. on land, it was heavy and flimsy and quickly broke apart on rough terrain. And the straight paddle-wheel cleats, set straight across the track, were extremely inefficient in the water, producing only 2.3 m.p.h. in the water in the 1935 prototype.41 These track problems would require two more years of modification and experimentation before the vehicle could approach an acceptable level of reliability.
Donald Roebling's original goal was to produce a useful amphibious rescue vehicle in time for the 1933 hurricane season, less then a year after he commenced the project.42 He soon discovered that this goal was unrealistically optimistic. Finally, by 1935, Roebling and his team loaded their first vehicle aboard a flatbed truck to take it beyond the confines of Spottis Woode for serious testing. So far, the vehicle had seen only the rigors of Roebling's driveway and swimming pool. The next proving ground would be a small lake nearby where Roebling had built a work shed for housing and repairing his vehicles. Donald Roebling and his men proudly called their invention the "Alligator." All of Roebling's subsequent models of amphibious vehicles would retain this apropos label. Later, generations of amphibian tractor and assault amphibian Marines would proudly claim the Alligator as their unit mascot and symbol.
As previously noted, Donald Roebling's original 1935 Alligator was somewhat of a disappointment. The vehicle weighed 14,350 pounds, was 24 feet long, and was powered by a 92-horsepower Chrysler engine. It would achieve 25 m.p.h. on land, but the weak tracks invariably broke within just a few miles. And the biggest disappointment of all was the Alligator's 2.3 m.p.h. speed and lack of maneuverability in the water. Still, Donald Roebling offered to sell his original model to both the U.S. Coast Guard and the American Red Cross. Neither agency accepted his offer.43
Unwillingly to concede defeat, Donald Roebling stripped his first Alligator, Model I, down to the ground and vigorously pushed forward to the task of building an improved version, Model II. In the many rebuilds of his Alligator, Roebling's free-wheeling engineering philosophy encouraged maximum innovation and creativity. Few blueprints or engineering drawings were made during the development phase (1933-1937) of the first four models Click here to view image of the Alligator.44 Donald Roebling and his team of technicians preferred the workshop to the drawing board. They used commercially available materials, hardware, machinery, and engines whenever possible while focusing their creative energies on making the vehicle simple and rugged.
The Model II Alligator was completed in April 1936. This vehicle was a vast improvement over the Model I. The new Alligator weighed 13,110 pounds, 2,240 pounds less than the Model I, and was equipped with a lighter 85-horsepower Ford V8 automobile engine. The Model II travelled at 18 m.p.h. on land, 6 m.p.h. slower than the Model I, but its 5.45 m.p.h. water speed more than doubled the performance of the Model I. The improved water performance of the Model II was produced primarily by Donald Roebling's idea of changing the paddle-wheel cleats to a diagonal setting across the track. The new cleat angle also helped to increase stability and steerabillty in the water.45 The Model II Alligator demonstrated the mechanism's vast potential for improvement and motivated the Roebling team to continue the quest for a truly practical amphibious rescue vehicle. Almost as soon as the Model II was built and tested, it was torn apart to begin work on the Model III.
The Model III Alligator was finished and tested in September 1936. It was 310 pounds lighter (12,800 pounds) than the Model II and went slightly faster on both land and sea. But the Model III was still plagued with the same inefficient suspension system that handicapped the original Model I. The tracks continued to break after minimal land use and the Model III developed the troublesome tendency to get hung up on the bank when entering or Click here to view image exiting the water.46 A new track system had to be found before the Alligator could reliably save lives in Florida's hurricanes.
Finally in 1937, Donald Roebling and his dedicated assistants produced an Alligator that came close to their expectations. The Model IV Alligator was four feet shorter in length than the earlier models, thus reducing the length and weight of the tracks. And, most significantly, Roebling installed a totally new suspension system. His new system featured roller bearings built into the chain track rather than bogie wheels, and fixed idler blocks to replace idler wheels. This new suspension system was lighter, much more durable, and produced smoother performance on embankments than previous models. In the Model IV Alligator Roebling also replaced the straight paddle-wheel cleats with curved cleats, producing enhanced water speed and maneuverability. It was the diagonally affixed curved cleat and paddlewheel principle that produced the Alligator's only patent. Several years later, at the height of World War II, Donald Roebling patriotically turned over his patent, No. 2138207, without fee, to the government.47 The 1937 Model IV Alligator was lighter, faster in the water, more reliable on land, and more maneuverable than any of its predecessors. The new Alligator weighed only 8,700 pounds (5,650 pounds less than the 1935 Model I) and had a water speed of 8.6 m.p.h. and a land speed of l8 m.p.h.48
Donald Roebling saw the Model IV Alligator as having real commercial potential. He decided not to tear down this 1937 version of the Alligator like he had earlier models. He retained the Model IV and commenced work on building a second copy. He billed his father $100,000 for the first Model IV Alligator. This fee covered the costs of the four years of development and experimentation that produced the Model IV.49 The second copy was a bargain; it eventually cost Donald's father only $18,000 (the Alligator's distant descendant, the AAVP7A1, was produced in 1982 at approximately $815,000 per copy).
By the time Donald Roebling produced his Model IV Alligator in 1937, he had spent four years swimming his odd inventions conspicuously around St. Joseph Sound in the Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater Bay, and in the lakes and swamps of the Clearwater area. The sporadic interest of the local press blossomed in the autumn of 1937 with the arrival of reporters and photographers from Life magazine. The resulting national publicity was a dream-come-true for Donald Roebling. A two-page picture story entitled "Roebling's Alligator for Florida Rescues" was featured in the Science and Industry section of Life's 4 October 1937 issue. Of particular note, the Life article praised the Alligator's versatile amphibious qualities, its ability to crash through mangrove swamps, "grinding whole trees and shrubs to matchwood," its 40-man capacity, its impressive land and water speeds and its $10,000 production price.50 As a matter of historical perspective, the superlative language of the Life magazine article underscores the truly innovative and revolutionary quality of Donald Roebling's achievement. The Alligator was the world's first truly successful amphibious vehicle.
The Life magazine article undoubtedly gave John A. Roebling II, Donald Roebling, and his team of assistants good reason for celebration. The article would surely produce willing custumers for their Alligator and a long awaited payoff for their labors. They could not have imagined that their first customers would be United States Marines.
The Life magazine article telling the story of Donald Roebling's amazing Alligator became the messenger of good fortune for a Marine Corps desperately short of the tools of amphibious warfare. The 4 October 1937 Life magazine article gained the attention of Rear Admiral Edward C. Kalbfus, Commander, Battleships, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet in San Diego, California. At a cocktail party Rear Admiral Kalbfus picked up the Life magazine and showed the Roebling article to Major General Louis McCarty Little, the Commanding General of the Fleet Marine Force, then located in San Diego. Major General Little was greatly excited by Donald Roebling's strange invention and mailed a copy of the magazine article to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General Thomas Holcomb, in Washington, D.C.51
The Marine Corps' Amphibian
The Marine Corps' remarkable fortuity of finding the Alligator in the pages of a popular magazine came none too soon. The same Life magazine issue that contained Donald Roebling's Alligator also contained a shocking pictorial essay on the Japanese aerial bombing of the Chinese city of Shanghai on 28 August 1934. In four short years, Japanese bombs would devastate the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor. And in less than five years, amphibian tractors would help the U.S. Marines whip the Japanese on Guadalcanal.
On 4 January 1938, the Marine Corps Commandant, Major General Thomas Holcomb, forwarded the Life magazine article he had received from Major General Little to the Marine Corps Equipment Board at the Marine Corps' Quantico, Virginia, base. He directed Brigadier General Frederick L. Bradman, the President of the Equipment Board, to evaluate Donald Roebling's Alligator and make a recommendation on the vehicle's use by the Marine Corps.52 Over the course of the next twenty-four months the Alligator negotiated a labyrinth of military committees and boards and almost became a victim of the timeless governmental maladies of bureaucratic negativism and insufficient funding. Except for the personal advocacy and zeal of a few dedicated Marine Corps officers, the Marine Corps' chance to add the amphibian tractor to their amphibious team may have been lost.
During January 1938, General Bradman routed the Life magazine article to the several committees of the Equipment Board for comments and recommendations. After viewing the photograph of the Alligator provided in the Life article, the Committee on Transportation and Tanks concluded that the vehicle did "not appear suitable for Marine Corps purposes ashore" and strongly recommended against "its adoption by the Marine Corps for use in operations ashore."53 The main problems noted were the Alligator's light armor and unproven suspension system. The Marine Corps' Committee on Boats of the War Plans Section agreed with the Transportation and Tanks Committee that the vehicle had "no particular use once it reached the beach," but conceded that a few Alligators could have some limited use in small unopposed flanking or covering force operations. The Committee on Boats concluded that the Alligator issue should be dropped by the Marine Corps and turned over to the Navy.54 Luckily, General Bradman directed further inquiry into the Alligator before the issue was passed to the Navy and forgotten.
On 3 February 1938, the Marine Corps Equipment Board sent a letter to Donald Roebling requesting detailed information on the Alligator. Within five days, Roebling enthusiastically responded to all of the Marine Corps' questions. After describing his vehicle with obvious pride and some exaggeration, he noted that "the Alligator may be inspected and we will be glad to demonstrate it to you at any time."55 Donald Roebling's positive and timely response impressed the members of the Equipment Board and on 28 February 1938, General Bradman wrote to the Commandant of the Marine Corps requesting authority to dispatch a member of the Equipment Board to Clearwater to personally inspect the Alligator. Two weeks later, Major John Kaluf was enroute to Florida.56
Major Kaluf's visit with Donald Roebling marked a significant turning point in the Marine Corps' attitude towards the Alligator. Kaluf meticulously inspected the vehicle and observed its operation at sea, through the surf and in mangrove swamps. He took 400 feet of 16 mm movie film of the Alligator in action and personally drove the Alligator at sea and on land.57 He immediately saw that the Alligator was a revolutionary vehicle that represented the essence of what the Marine Corps was striving to do: project military power from the sea to the land in a smooth transition. Major Kaluf became a zealous believer in the Alligator concept and helped to keep it alive until it became a reality. Kaluf's glowing report on the Alligator led the Commandant of the Marine Corps, on 18 May 1938, to formally request funds from the Chief of Naval Operations to purchase one Alligator for testing under military conditions. The tests would take place during the Fleet Landing Exercises scheduled for the winter of 1939 (FLEX No. 5).58 On 28 June 1938, the Commandant received a disappointing response from the Chief of Naval Operations. The Navy agreed that Alligators would be of some value to the Marine Corps but the limited funds available for landing craft would continue to be solely devoted to the development of the Navy's landing boats.59
Meanwhile, Donald Roebling had been hard at work modifying his Model IV Alligator to satisfy the comments and recommendations made during Major Kaluf's inspection back in March. In January 1939 Donald Roebling sent photographs and a general description of his improved vehicle to the Marine Corps Equipment Board. The Commandant of the Marine Corps as well as leading members of the Equipment Board recognized the importance of maintaining Mr. Roebling's enthusiasm and cooperation despite the fact that the Navy had, at least for awhile, declined to fund the Alligator. Major Kaluf again visited Clearwater in February 1939 to review Roebling's latest work and sustain the good will that the Marine Corps had been able to cultivate with the eccentric inventor.60 Although the $18,000 price tag for the updated Alligator caused Kaluf some alarm, his report following this second visit echoed the enthusiasm of his first report. In this second report he made the following interesting comment concerning Donald Roebling's attitude toward cooperating with the Marine Corps:
"For the benefit of any officers who have any future dealings with Mr. Roebling... it should be explained that the designer, Donald Roebling, and his father, John Roebling, who furnished the necessary funds, are very wealthy people and are not developing this amphibian to make money and cannot be approached on a profit basis. Any additional income would probably be an embarrassment to them. Unlike the ordinary manufacturer who has something he is anxious to sell, they can be appealed to only on the basis of patriotic or humanitarian motives as far as this amphibian is concerned."61
In October 1939, Donald Roebling was visited by a three-officer committee headed by Brigadier General Emile P. Moses, USMC (the new President of the Marine Corps Equipment Board). The committee came to inspect the Alligator and assure Mr. Roebling of the military's continuing vigorous interest in his invention.
Following General Moses' visit to Clearwater and his subsequent glowing report on the Alligator, a second effort was made to convince the Navy to relinquish the money to buy a pilot vehicle. This time the Navy finally coughed up the requisite $24,492 for one Alligator. Donald Roebling received his contract in April 1940 and the Marine Corps acquired its first amphibian vehicle in November 1940.62
The Alligator that Donald Roebling delivered to the Marine Corps in October 1940 featured many military modifications resulting from the visits of Major Kaluf and Brigadier General Moses. The 1940 Alligator was powered by a 120-horsepower Lincoln-Zephyer engine with a Ford standard transmission.63 It could achieve 29 m.p.h. on land and 9.72 m.p.h. in the water. The vehicle weighed 7,700 pounds (1,000 pounds less than the 1937 Model IV Alligator) and had a cargo capacity of 7,000 pounds. As advertised in a glossy promotional leaflet produced by Roebling in 1940, "in the open sea, or when landing on a beach through the surf the Alligator is more seaworthy than a normal boat of comparable size. It will not sink, even with its 7,000 pound cargo compartment full of water; nor will it capsize in a dive into deep water off a six-foot seawall."64
On 18 October 1940, at Clearwater, Florida, the Secretary of the Navy convened a "Sub-Board of Inspection and Survey" under the direction of Brigadier General Moses, to conduct the final testing of Donald Roebling's first Marine Corps Alligator. After the Alligator successfully passed this hurdle, the vehicle was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, for further testing. On 31 October 1940, the Alligator completed the Norfolk tests and the Marine Corps finally received its first true amphibian, at Quantico, Virginia, on 4 November 1940.65
During November the Marines at Quantico extensively tested the Alligator in the Potomac River and Chopawamsic Creek. The tests became a popular highlight attracting bigger crowds of disbelieving leathernecks each day. These tests culminated with a much publicized formal demonstration for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Holcomb brought along a large party of high-ranking Army and Navy officers and an assortment of congressmen and reporters. Despite getting embarrassingly stuck in the mud in Chopawamsic Creek, Roebling's Alligator succeeded in entertaining and impressing the assembled dignitaries.66
After the Quantico tests, the Commandant shipped the Alligator to the 1st Marine Brigade on the Caribbean island of Culebra. The new amphibian would undergo field testing during Fleet Exercise Number 7 (FLEX No. 7) scheduled for December 1940 through February 1941. The brigade commander, Brigadier General Holland M. Smith, placed Captain Victor H. Krulak in charge of the testing of the Alligator. Krulak and his crew, Sergeant Clarence H. Raper and Corporal Walter L. Gibson, put Roebling's monster through an extensive series of sea, surf, and sand tests with impressive results.67
In his book, First to Fight, Lieutenant General Krulak reminisces that every Marine who saw the Alligator was fascinated by it and wanted a ride. He also relates the humorous story of his ill-fated attempt to dazzle the Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Ernest J. King, with the new vehicle's capabilities. On General Smith's orders, Captain Krulak brought the Alligator alongside Admiral King's flagship, the U.S. Battleship Wyoming, and offered the Admiral a ride. Reluctantly, out of courtesy to General Smith, the Admiral consented to the demonstration. In a surge of enthusiasm and bravado, Krulak headed the Alligator away from the Wyoming and attempted to breech a coral reef, only to have one of the Alligator's tracks knocked off by a jutting coral head. As Krulak and his amphibian wallowed immobilized in the lagoon, Admiral King, starched white uniform and all, angrily leapt overboard and waded ashore.68
Despite the Alligator's inglorious episode with Admiral King, both Captain Krulak and Brigadier General Smith praised the vehicle and, with several modifications, recommended that the Marine Corps procure the vehicle in quantity. With the successful Culebra testing of January 1941 the Alligator had won its well-deserved place in the Marine Corps' amphibious arsenal. General Holland M. Smith, like Major John Kaluf, clearly grasped the unlimited logistical and tactical potential of a true amphibian in the execution of opposed amphibious landings.
On 22 February 1941, the Navy Department contracted with Donald Roebling to build 200 Alligators. With this order, the Navy directed two major modifications. First, the new vehicles would be constructed of welded steel plating rather than aluminum. The steel plating would provide some protection from enemy small arms fire and would make the Alligator more capable of withstanding the rigors of coral and surf. And second, the 120-horsepower Lincoln-Zephyer engine would be replaced by a slower-speed, heavy duty 146-horsepower Hercules WXLC-3 engine. The engine modification had been recommended by Captain Krulak and Sergeant Raper after their Culebra tests of the Alligator indicated that a more powerful, slower speed engine was required for efficient land operation.69 These changes posed major challenges for Donald Roebling and his small staff. Additionally, the construction of 200 vehicles far exceeded the capabilities of Roebling's personal machine shop. Disregarding these problems, Donald Roebling signed the Navy's $3,300,000 Click here to view image contract and set about the task of providing the 200 amphibious war machines by the ambitious July 1941 deadline.70
Donald Roebling's first step in meeting the Marine Corps' needs was to subcontract with the nearby Food Machinery Corporation to build the hulls and assemble the vehicles. The Food Machinery Corporation (FMC) had a citrus processing machinery plant in Dunedin, Florida, a small beachfront town immediately north of Clearwater. FMC had provided many Alligator parts over the years and Donald Roebling had developed a close rapport with the Dunedin plant staff. Roebling called on John D. Crummey, president of FMC, to form a design and production team at the FMC plant in Dunedin to tackle the Alligator contract. FMC immediately assembled a top-notch team to spearhead the effort. James M. Hait, one of the company's most talented engineers, headed up the redesign project. And Bert Street was transferred from his top post at the company's Lansing, Michigan, plant to manage the Alligator assembly line. A large crew of welders and other skilled technicians were shipped in and hurriedly set to work on building the Marine Corps' first fleet of amphibians. Throughout the winter and spring of 1941, Donald Roebling tirelessly labored alongside the FMC engineers. While his disdain for engineering plans and blueprints may have contributed to the creative process that resulted in the original Alligator models, the scarcity of plans and specifications made the military redesign of the Alligator particularly challenging.
Inspired by the imminent threat of war in the Pacific as well as the promise of huge wartime production requirements (and profits), the FMC team succeeded. The Marine Corps' first production model Alligators rolled out of the Dunedin plant in August 1941, only one month later than stipulated in the overly ambitious Navy contract.71
From the outset of their participation in the Alligator project, FMC recognized the limited capacity of their Dunedin, Florida, plant and initiated contracts with the Navy Department to fund the construction of additional Alligator production facilities in Lakeland, Florida, Riverside, California, and San Jose, California. Donald Roebling's construction company was awarded the lucrative U.S. government contract to build FMC's new plant at Lakeland, Florida.72
While Roebling may have indirectly profited from the production of the Alligator through the building of the FMC plant, he steadfastly refused to accept any direct royalties or commissions from the government. Despite wholly committing his energies and resources to the Alligator project, the patriotic Roebling considered his non-profit work to be his personal duty in support of the war effort.73
The Marine Corps' first amphibian vehicle was officially designated the LVT(1) (Landing Vehicle, Tracked, Model 1) by the Navy. The Marine Corps further designated the vehicle the "amphibian tractor." The LVT(1) was constructed of 12-gauge steel plating, weighed 17,500 pounds, and was powered by a 146- horsepower Hercules WXLC 3 engine. The vehicle, still called the Alligator by its Marine Corps crewmen, had a land speed of 18 m.p.h. and a water speed of 7 m.p.h. The cargo capacity of the LVT(l) was 4,000 pounds.74 The vehicle was far from perfect. The Marine Corps' first amphibian tractor required incessant maintenance and repair. Every vehicle would break down every day. But the amphibian tractor was a technological innovation that profoundly contributed to the Marine Corps' ability to conduct truly amphibious projection of military power ashore.
When the first production LVT(1) appeared in August 1941, the Marine Corps was already well established in the Dunedin area. Major George W. McHenry, USMC, was assigned in February 1941 to the FMC plant in Dunedin to oversee the production of the first batch of Alligators. On 2 May 1941, a Marine Corps Amphibian Tractor Detachment was activated at Dunedin under the command of Major William W. Davies, USMC. Major Davies, four other Marine officers and 33 enlisted Marines of the detachment tested new LVTs and established the first Amphibian Tractor School. This first amphibian tractor detachment occupied the Hotel Dunedin until barracks and maintenance facilities could be completed. By September 1941, a steady flow of Marines headed for Dunedin. Upon completion of the training provided by Major Davies and his instructors they proceeded to flesh out the newly activated 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion. By 16 February 1942, the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion was complete with four letter companies (each letter company was equipped with 100 LVTs) and a Headquarters and Service Company and was assigned to the 1st Marine Division.75 Six months later, in August 1942, the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion supported the 1st Marine Division in the amphibious assault on Guadalcanal.76 By this time, the 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion was established at Camp Pendleton, California.77
From the pages of a remarkably fortuitous 1937 article in Life magazine to the tropical sands of Guadalcanal, the Marine Corps' amphibian tractor evolved from the creative genius of an eccentric millionaire to a versatile and effective machine of amphibious warfare. The amphibian tractor became the technological symbol of the act of amphibious assault and promises to remain at the heart of the Marine Corps' amphibious doctrine well
The Marine Corps' amphibian tractor of 1941, the LVT(1), was only the first of many generations of amphibian vehicles that have spearheaded the Marine Corps' surface amphibious assaults in the four decades since Donald Roebling's Alligator graced the pages of Life magazine. The amphibian tractor became an indispensable element of the Marine Corps' successful amphibious campaign against the Japanese in the Pacific and was widely used by U.S. Army and Allied forces in amphibious exercises in every theater of the Second World War. In March 1944, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Alexander A. Vandegrift chronicled the early Pacific contribution of Donald Roebling's amphibian tractor in a letter to U.S. Senator Charles O. Andrew with the words:
"The machine was given its first battle test at Guadalcanal in 1942 where its contribution was of great dimensions. It has subsequently been used with great effect by Marines in Bouganville and again in New Britain. Our success in the bitter fighting at Tarawa was due in a considerable measure to the magnificent performance of the amphibian tractor."78
The 1st Marine Division's August 1942 assault on the Japanese-held island of Guadalcanal introduced the versatile amphibian tractor as a logistics vehicle. The 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion's LVT(1)s performed yeoman work executing continuous ship-to-shore and inland shuttling of supplies, ammunition and casualties. In the Marine Corps' subsequent island-hopping march across the Pacific, the LVT(1) and its successors (by the end of World War II, the LVT had evolved through four distinct cargo versions and two versions equipped with assault guns) quickly transcended their logistical role to become assault vehicles providing fire support for, and transporting, the leading waves of Marines and soldiers ashore. In April 1945, Major General Roy S. Geiger, USMC, then Commanding General of the III Amphibious Corps, eloquently described the contribution of the amphibian tractor in a letter to an official at the Food Machinery Corporation. General Geiger wrote:
". . . amphibian tractors are the "work horses" of the Marine Corps. Except for the 'amtracs' it would have been impossible for our troops to get ashore on Tarawa, Saipan, Guam or Pelelieu without taking severe, if not prohibitive losses. But their use is by no means limited to the assault waves; after landing troops and equipment, they play an indispensable part in the movement of supplies, ammunition, et cetera ashore. In fact, the whole ship-to-shore movement in the normal amphibious operation is to a considerable extent dependent upon one or more of the 'amtrac' family."79
By the end of World War II, American industry had produced 18,620 amphibian tractors for the allied war machine. During the war, the Food Machinery Corporation was joined by the Graham-Paige Motors Corporation of Detroit, Michigan, the Borg-Warner Corporation of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the St. Louis Car Company of St. Louis, Missouri, in the Production of Donald Roebling's remarkable amphibian.80 Regrettably, the colorful saga of the Marine Corps' amphibian tractors, the amphibian tractor units and the gallant men who drove and maintained them is beyond the scope of this brief study on the origin of the Marine Corps' amphibian. The fact that the Alligator's direct descendant, the modern assault amphibian vehicle, remains at the heart of the Marine Corps' amphibious methodology is an eloquent tribute to the genius of the Alligator's creator, Donald Roebling.
After the relative fame that he unintentionally achieved during World War II as the result of his Alligator, Donald Roebling quite happily returned to his quiet life of wealth and eccentricity at Spottis Woode. On 15 February 1947, at a ceremony held at the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, he received the Award of the Medal of Merit, signed by President Harry Truman and presented by Rear Admiral Ralph Davison, USN, Commandant of the Seventh Naval District.81 But except for a few Marines, Roebling's profound contribution to his nation's victory in World War II seems to have been quickly forgotten. After World War II, Donald Roebling returned to his favorite pastimes of HAM radio operating and stamp collecting and established himself as an influential philanthropist in the Clearwater area. He built the Roebling wing of Clearwater's Morton Plant Hospital and contributed the Roebling Hall of Clearwater's Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church. He also substantially supported the local Boy Scouts of America, and financed numerous college educations for needy boys. Roebling's first marriage to Florence Spottiswood Parker ended in divorce in 1936. But despite his 400-pound physique and eccentric lifestyle, he managed to marry twice more. He had no children. Donald Roebling died at the age of 50 on 29 August 1959, at the Lahey Clinic in Boston, Massachusetts. He died from complications of an earlier gall bladder operation.82
The fabulous wealth of the Roebling industrial empire faded with time. In 1952 the one-time industrial giant, the John A. Roebling's Sons Company, was sold to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. Colorado Fuel and Iron repeatedly attempted to sell the unprofitable Roebling plants during the early 1970s. Finding no buyers, the doors to the Roebling plants closed forever on 30 June 1974.83
The Food Machinery Corporation, now officially known as FMC, continues to produce amphibious vehicles for the United States Marine Corps and FMC has become one of the world's largest producers of military hardware.
The amphibian tractor, now known as the assault amphibian vehicle (AAV), continues to occupy a prominent and indispensable place in the Marine Corps' air-ground amphibious combat team. Amphibian tractors were in the vanguard of the Corps' operations in the Korean Conflict (LVTs formed the leading edge of the Inchon landing) and supported Marine Corps amphibious, riverine and mechanized operations throughout the Vietnam War. Assault amphibian vehicles transported Marines ashore in Grenada in 1985 and patrolled the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, during the Marine's peacekeeping mission. In 1984 the FMC Corporation produced the Marine Corps' newest evolutionary version of Donald Roebling's Alligator, the AAV7A1 assault amphibian vehicle. While incorporating state-of-the-art electronics and automotive technology and achieving field reliability, durability and maneuverability far beyond the dreams of World War II amphibian tractor Marines, the AAV7A1 continues to reflect Donald Roebling's fundamental innovations in the concept and technology of amphibious vehicles. The AAV7A1's likely successor for the twenty-first century, the Advanced Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAAV) will, like the thousands of amphibians that have gone before it, carry the legacy of the genius of Donald Roebling.84
Near the center of the area known as "Mainside" aboard Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California, stands a curious collection of relics. The lines of quiet, rusting vehicles that fill the asphalt acre known as the Marine Corps Amphibian Vehicle Museum speak eloquently of the profound yet simple genius of Donald Roebling.
The first thing that strikes any visitor about the fifty or so vehicles baking in the California sun is their consistent similarity. While the assembled amphibians represent over thirty years of constant technological change and seven distinct generations of amphibian tractors that fought in three different wars, the vehicles from first to last contain the same basic features of Donald Roebling's Alligator. Donald Roebling's brilliant inspiration was the simple recognition of the basic features of a true amphibian. His understanding of the best approaches to the compromises of a vehicle of dual purpose has required little conceptual alteration through the years. The origin of the amphibian vehicle did not result from a steady line of technological evolution. Rather, the Marine Corps' amphibian was born in Donald Roebling's simple understanding of the amphibious problem.
Another feature of the amphibian vehicle museum at Camp Pendleton is the sharp contrast in how Marines and non-Marines view the display in its entirety. Marines see amphibian vehicles as commonplace agents of the routine transition of warfare from the sea to the land. In sharp contrast, those who have never witnessed a Marine Corps amphibian emerge from the surf look with suspicion and disbelief at the huge hybrid machines. They appear too heavy and boxlike to do anything but flounder at sea and too complicated and flimsy to be of much value ashore. Perhaps it's the unlikelihood of the amphibian vehicle that prevented its invention by the Marine Corps, the real innovators and thinkers of things amphibious. It took the eccentric mind of a civilian, Donald Roebling, to conceive of the unlikely amphibian and press the idea to fruition.
As stated at the outset of this study, the timely appearance of the amphibian tractor on the embattled beaches of faraway Pacific islands in World War II required a confluence of many disparate factors. One factor was the requirement for offensive amphibious assaults mandated by Japanese expansion in the Pacific and the perceived Japanese threat to U.S. interests throughout the Pacific basin. Another factor was the United States Marine Corps' proprietary involvement in the business of amphibious assaults. But the fact remains that the Marine Corps had, by the end of the l93Os, shown absolutely no inclination for successfully conceiving or developing a truly amphibious vehicle. Without Donald Roebling there would have been no amphibian tractor to spearhead the Marine Corps' drive across the Pacific in World War II.
In conclusion, Donald Roebling's conception and development of the profoundly simple yet unlikely concept of the amphibian vehicle was totally unrelated to and uninfluenced by the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps' systematic evolution of the amphibious art throughout the two decades preceding World War II provided the background necessary to recognize the utility of the amphibian vehicle when it appeared. Thus the Marines were ready to take maximum advantage of the Alligator's versatility as a perfectly suited instrument of war. But the Marine Corps owes its possession of the amphibian vehicle to the winds of good fortune and the unique American experience that produced the special genius of Donald Roebling.
Chapter 1: Assault from the Sea
1. William L. Davidson, Dunedin Thru the Years 1850-1978 (Charlotte, N.C.: Delmar Printing Co., 1978), p. 101.
2. Kenneth J. Clifford, Progress and Purpose (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1973), pp. 48-53, hereafter Clifford, Progress and Purpose.
3.Allan R. Millett, Semper Fidelis (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1980), p. 319, hereafter Millett, Semper Fidelis.
4.Ibid., pp. 320-321.
5.Victor H. Krulak, First to Fight (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984), p. 15, hereafter Krulak, First to Fight.
6.Clifford, Progress and Purpose, p. 30.
7.Millett, Semper Fidelis, p. 325.
8. Krulak, First to Fight, p. 77.
9. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, p. 64.
10. Ibid., p. 65.
12. Krulak, First to Fight, p. 72.
13. Jeffery M. Dorwart, Conflict of Duty (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1983), p. 29, hereafter Dorwart, Conflict of Duty.
14. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, p. 65.
15. Dorwart, Conflict of Duty, p. 35.
16. Millett, Semper Fidelis, p. 326.
17. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, pp. 30-36.
18. Krulak, First to Fight, p. 80.
21. Millett, Semper Fidelis, p. 330.
22. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, pp. 44-47.
23. Lt Gen Holland M. Smith, USMC, "The Development of Amphibious Tactics in the U.S. Navy,"The Marine Corps Gazette, June 1946-Sept. 1946.
24. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, pp. 34.
25. Alfred D. Bailey, Alligators, Buffaloes and Bushmasters, (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1986), p.17.
26. Ibid., p. 33.
Chapter 2: Donald Roebling's Alligator
27. D.B. Steinman, The Builders of the Bridge: The Story of John Roebling and His Son (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1945), hereafter Steinman, The Builders of the Bridge. The information on John A. Roebling and Washington A. Roebling provided in this paper represents selections from Mr. Steinman's entertaining story of the industrious immigrant and his devoted son.
28. David McCullough, The Great Bridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), pp. 57-65.
29. Steinman, The Builders of the Bridge, pp. 274-279.
30. William L. Davidson, Dunedin Thru the Years 1850-1978, (Charlotte, N.C.: Delmar Printing Co., l978), p. 101, hereafter Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years.
31. Most of the biographical information on Donald Roebling found in this paper results from two telephone interviews that the author had with Dr. William L. Davidson, Phd., on 19 March 1987 and 20 March 1987. Dr. Davidson is a historian and longtime resident of Dunedin, Florida. Additional Roebling biographical information was selected from Dr. Davidson's book, Dunedin thru the Years 1850-1978.
32. Marge Costa, "Roebling Home to Remain Private Residence," Clearwater Sun, Clearwater, Florida, 11 June 1980, p. 81.
33. Nearly every historical account of Donald Roebling's invention of the Alligator dutifully notes the fact that a hurricane motivated the initial idea of building a truly amphibious vehicle. However, there is much disagreement on which hurricane was responsible. The 4 October 1937 Life magazine article that brought the Alligator to national attention mentions the devastating Florida Keys hurricane of 1935. However, by the time the 1935 hurricane swept across Florida, Donald Roebling had already been at work on his Alligator for over two years. The 1935 hurricane is otherwise of considerable historical interest not only because some 300 World War I veterans of the Bonus March were among the fatalities, causing a difficult political scandal for the Roosevelt administration, but because retired Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, was among the most vocal leaders in the national outcry over the incident. A good source on the hurricane of 1935 and the subsequent government "scandal" and debate is the New York Times from 2 September 1935 through 18 September 1935. The 18 September issue features excerpts from a rousing anti-Roosevelt speech that General Butler delivered at the 1935 Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in New Orleans.
34. Marjory S. Douglas, Hurricane (New York: Rinehart and Company, Inc., 1958), p. 268.
35. Ibid., p. 269.
36. Ivan R. Tannehill, Hurricanes: Their Nature and History (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1938), pp. 196-197.
37. Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years, p. 101.
38. Kenneth J. Clifford, Progress and Purpose (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1973), p. 54, hereafter Clifford, Progress and Purpose.
40. Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years, p. 102.
41. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, p. 55.
42. Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years, p. 101.
43. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, p. 54.
44. Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years, p. 102.
47. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, pp. 54-55, Donald Roebling's personal papers located at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C., contain a letter written to the U.S. patent office discussing the details of his track system and requesting an amendment to his original patent.
48. Ibid., p. 55.
49. Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years, p. 102, Donald Roebling's personal papers located at the Marine Corps Historical Center in Washington, D.C., contain extensive vouchers and budget reports dating from 1935 through 1949. Roebling clearly maintained meticulous and detailed financial records for his Alligator project.
50. "The Roebling Amphibian for Florida Rescues," Life, 4 Oct. 1937, pp. 94-95.
Chapter 3: The Marine Corps' Amphibian
51. Maj Henry G. Lawrence, Jr., USMC, History of LVTs and LVTAs (Amphibious Warfare School, Junior Course, undated), p. 2, hereafter Lawrence, History of LVT's.
52. Ibid., p. 3.
54. Ibid., p. 5.
55. Capt James E. Wilson, Jr., USMC, Development of the Landing Vehicle Tracked and Landing Vehicle Tracked (Armored) (Amphibious Warfare School, Junior Course, undated), p. 4, hereafter, Wilson, Development of the LVT.
56. Ibid., p. 6.
57. Kenneth J. Clifford, Progress and Purpose (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1973), p. 55, hereafter Clifford, Progress and Purpose.
58. Lawrence, History of LVT's, p. 12.
59. Ibid., p. 13.
60. Wilson, Development of the LVT, p. 12.
61. Lawrence, History of LVT's, p. 14.
62. Navy Department Bureau of Supplies and Accounts Contract No. 73181 dtd 20 Apr 1940 (Donald Roebling's Personal Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).
63. Donald Roebling ltr to LCdr R.B. Daggett, Navy Dept. Bureau of Construction and Repair, dtd 29 Jan 1940 (Donald Roebling's Personal Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).
64. Donald Roebling, "The Alligator: Amphibian Tractor of Proved Ability," 1940, promotional pamphlet.
65. Wilson, Development of the LVT, p. 13.
66. Victor H. Krulak, First to Fight (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984), p. 102, hereafter Krulak, First to Fight,
67. Sergeant Clarence H. Raper ltr to BGen Emile P. Moses, USMC Equipment Board and Report of Alligator Tests dtd 21 Dec 1940 (Donald Roebling's Personal Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).
68. Krulak, First to Fight, p. 104.
69. Sgt Clarence H. Raper ltr to BGen E.P. Moses dtd 21 Dec 1940.
70. William L. Davidson, Dunedin Thru the Years 1850-1978 (Charlotte, N.C.: Delmar Printing Co., 1978), p.103, hereafter Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years.
72. William L. Davidson, author's telephone interview of Dr. Davidson on 20 March 1987.
73. E.D. Lambright, "Practical, Unselfish Patriotism," Tampa Morning Tribune, Tampa, Florida, 14 Jan 1943 (Donald Roebling's Personal Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).
74. Davidson, Dunedin thru the Years, p. 103.
75. Clifford, Progress and Purpose, p. 57.
76. A fascinating article containing quotes of amphibian tractor officers who participated in the Guadalcanal exercise as well as an extensive photographic essay on the Marine Corps training and testing facility at Dunedin, Florida is contained in Alice Moore's article, "Yankee Alligators Rolling," in the 24 February 1943 edition of the St. Petersburg Times of St. Petersburg, Florida.
77. Secretary of the Navy, Continuing Board For The Development of Landing Vehicle, Tracked, History of Landing Vehicle Tracked, 1 Dec 1945, p. 2.
78. LtGen Alexander A. Vandegrift ltr to Senator Charles O. Andrews dtd 18 Mar 1944 (Donald Roebling's Personal Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).
79. MajGen Roy S. Geiger ltr to Mr. S.L. Hanscom dtd 27 Apr 1945, included in Secretary of the Navy, Continuing Board for the Development of Landing Vehicle, Tracked, History of Landing Vehicle Tracked, 1 Dec 1945.
80. Secretary of the Navy, Continuing Board for the Development of Landing Vehicle, Tracked, History of Landing Vehicle, Tracked, 1 Dec 1945, pp. 4-6.
81. Cdr A.F. Richardson ltr to RAdm Ralph Davison dtd 15 Jan 1947 (Donald Roebling's Personal Papers, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.).
82. William L. Davidson, author's telephone interview of Dr. Davidson on 20 March 1987.
84. At the time of the writing of this paper, the discussion on the nature and specific technology and capabilities of the Advanced Assault Amphibious Vehical (AAAV) had just fully developed. The challenge for the Marine Corps is to find the technology to economically produce a true amphibian capable of achieving a water speed sufficient to realistically support the Over-The-Horizon amphibious assault concept. Detailed information on the AAAV is available from the Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Vehicle Program Manager (PMS 310) of the U.S. Navy Sea Systems Command as well as from the Assault Amphibian Vehicle Sponsor under the Deputy Chief of Staff, Installations and Logistics, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.
Marge, Costa. "Roebling Home to Remain Private Residence." Clearwater Sun. Clearwater, Florida, 11 June 1980.
This newspaper article, provided to the author by Dr. William L. Davidson, reports on the 1980 purchase of Donald Roebling's Clearwater estate by a Palm Beach developer. The article contains a detailed description and photographs of Roebling's mansion.
William L. Davidson. Author's telephone interviews of 19 March 1987 and 20 March 1987.
These two telephone interviews were generously provided by William L. Davidson, Phd., a retired employee of the FMC Corporation, a scientist and an author. Dr. Davidson is a long time resident of Dunedin, Florida, and a noted expert on the history of the Clearwater and Dunedin areas. His book, Dunedin thru the Years, 1850-1978, contains a fascinating chapter on Donald Roebling. Dr. Davidson provided the author with extensive biographical information on Donald Roebling as well as historical information on Clearwater and Dunedin.
FMC Corporation. "Amtracs." FMC Corporation/Ordnance Division. San Jose, California, undated.
This is an undated four-page promotional pamphlet, produced by the FMC Corporation, providing a brief history of amphibian tractors and a collage of photographs of amphibian tractors in combat. The feature of this pamphlet is a two-page "fold-out" containing photographs of thirty-six amphibian tractors from Donald Roebling's 1937 Alligator to the 1972 LVT7. The address provided on the pamphlet is, FMC Corporation/Ordnance Division, 1105 Coleman Ave., Box 1201, San Jose, California 95108.
FMC Corporation. "Landing Vehicle, Tracked (Experimental) LVT(X) Executive Summary, December 1983." FMC Corporation/Ordnance Division Engineering. San Jose, California, undated.
This promotional booklet, produced by the FMC Corporation, advertises FMC's candidate for the Marine Corps' LVT(X) program. The LVT(X) program was cancelled in 1985.
Gen Paul X. Kelly, USMC. "Assault Amphibious Vehicle Development." Memorandum for the Secretary of the Navy from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters, United States Marine Corps. Washington, D.C., 8 April 1985.
General Kelly's one-page memorandum to the Secretary of the Navy cancelled the Marine Corps' LVT(X) program and announced the establishment of the Advanced Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAAV) program. This memorandum signalled the Marine Corps' shift in emphasis from the infantry fighting vehicle concept of the LVT(X) to the high water speed concept of the AAAV.
"The Roebling Amphibian for Florida Rescues." Life, 4 October 1937.
This two-page photographic essay highlights the technological innovations of Donald Roebling's 1935 Alligator rescue vehicle. This historic article provided the initial informational link between Donald Roebling and the Marine Corps. Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Vehicle Program Manager (PMS 310).
Navy Sea Systems Command. Advanced Assault Amphibious Vehicle Notebook, February 1987.
The assault amphibian vehicle program manager at the Navy Sea Systems Command maintains this continuously updated loose-leaf notebook containing pertinent letters of direction, program strategy, program milestones and general information about the AAAV.
Alice Moore. "Yankee Alligators Rolling" St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, Florida, 24 February 1943.
The purpose of this 1943 newspaper article, provided to the author by Dr. William L. Davidson, is to tell the story of the amphibian tractor training detachment at Dunedin, Florida. The article praises the efforts of the Dunedin Marines, gives anecdotes from participants of the Guadalcanal operation and provides nine excellent photographs of the Dunedin facility. Donald Roebling's Alligators are referred to as "Jap-eating monsters."
New York Times. The New York Times Company. New York, New York, 2 September 1935 through 20 September 1935.
The devasting 1935 hurricane that killed hundreds of World War I veterans participating in government work projects in the Florida Keys gets front-page coverage, for over two weeks, in the New York Times. An anti-Roosevelt speech delivered by retired Marine Major General Smedley Butler is quoted in the 20 September 1935 issue.
Donald Roebling Personal Papers, Personal Papers Collection, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
The Marine Corps Historical Center's collection of Donald Roebling's personal papers are a gold mine for any student of the early years of the amphibian tractor. Included in the collection are hundreds of photographic negatives of amphibian vehicles from 1935 through 1947, Donald Roebling's original Alligator maintenance logbook for the period of 26 August 1938 to 5 February 1941, original budgets, vouchers and expenditure reports from Roebling's Alligator shop and documents pertaining to the ceremony during which Roebling received his Medal of Merit. Also included are several newspaper articles pertaining to Donald Roebling's World War II activities, a letter from Lieutenant General A.A. Vandegrift praising the amphibian tractor and the original 1940 Navy contract for the first Alligator. The Marine Corps Historical Center's Donald Roebling Collection presents a vivid portrait of Roebling's personal contribution to the Marine Corps' victories in World War II.
Donald Roebling. "The Alligator: Amphibian Tractor of Proved Ability." 1940 promotional pamphlet.
This historical gem, published by Donald Roebling in 1940, is a four-page promotional tract for Roebling's 1940 Alligator. Along with six photographs of the Alligator in action, mechanical and performance specifications are provided. An original copy of this document was generously loaned to the author by Dr. William L. Davidson.
Secretary of the Navy. Secretary of the Navy Continuing Board for the Development of Landing Vehicle, Tracked, History of Landing Vehicle Tracked, 1 December 1945.
This document, located in the archives of the Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C., consists of a brief history of amphibian tractors from 1937 to 1945 and approximately thirty photographs of World War II amphibian tractors in action. Also included is a detailed chronological production record for LVTs through 1945, and a 1945 letter from Major General Roy Geiger extolling the World War II contribution of the LVT.
Books and Research Papers:
Alfred D. Bailey. Alligators, Buffaloes, and Bushmasters: The History of the Development of the LVT through World War II. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. Washington, D.C., 1986.
Major (USMC, retired) Alfred D. Bailey's 272-page "occasional paper" on the history of LVTs through World War II is the most complete history of LVTs currently available. The paper, originally a master's degree thesis, is particularly strong in its analysis of amphibian tractor participation in the Marine Corps' World War II Pacific landings and resultant technological developments.
Kenneth J. Clifford. Progress and Purpose: A Developmental History of the United States Marine Corps, 1900-1970.
History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. Washington, D.C., 1973.
This expertly detailed and extensively illustrated history of the development of the amphibious Marine Corps is an indispensable foundation for the study of the origin and evolution of the LVT. Colonel Clifford's exhaustive notes and bibliography were particularly valuable.
Jack Coggins. The Campaign for Guadalcanal: A Battle that Made History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1972.
This popular history of the Marine Corps' August 1942 assault at Guadalcanal is an entertaining and inspiring narrative intended for general readers. The maps and illustrations are excellent.
Norman V. Cooper. The Military Career of General Holland M. Smith, USMC. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Xerox University Microfilms, 1974.
Norman Cooper's lengthy unpublished manuscript, located in the oral history room of the James C. Breckinridge Library of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College at Quantico, Virginia, provides a generally upbeat biography of Holland M. Smith. The emphasis of the study is on General Smith's World War II exploits.
William L. Davidson. Dunedin Thru the Years 1850-1978. The Dunedin Historical Society, Inc. Charlotte, N.C.: Delmar Printing Co., 1978.
Dr. William L. Davidson's entertaining and highly readable history of Dunedin, Florida, contains a chapter on Donald Roebling, Roebling's Alligator and Marine Corps activities in Dunedin and Clearwater during World War II. This chapter constitutes the most complete published biography of Donald Roebling that currently exists.
Jeffery M. Dorwart. Conflict of Duty: The U.S. Navy's Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1983.
This intriguing study of the origin and development of the Office of Naval intelligence includes an interesting account of Earl Ellis' 1922 intelligence activities in the Far East. This account differs from the many Marine Corps versions of the Ellis mystery and adds new questions to the Ellis enigma.
Marjory S. Douglas. Hurricane. New York: Rinehart and Company, Inc., 1958.
Majory Douglas' scientific and historical review of twentieth century American hurricanes is intended to educate the general reader about these devastating storms. The book includes a valuable overview of the Florida hurricanes of the 1920s and 1930s that played in the Donald Roebling story.
Victor H. Krulak. First to Fight. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1984.
General Krulak was one of the truly influencial pioneers of the early years of Marine Corps amphibian tractors and his inspiring book includes a facinating chapter on the origin of the LVT. First to Fight eloquently discusses the history of the Marine Corps' unending fight for institutional existence.
J.D. Ladd. Assault from the Sea 1939-45: The Craft, The Landings, The Men. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1976.
This book by the British historial J.D. Ladd, provides a broad overview of Allied amphibious operations in World War II. The chief strength of this book is its excellent photographs, diagrams and landing craft specification charts.
Maj. Henry G. Lawrence, USMC. History of LVTs and LVT(A)s. Amphibious Warfare School, Junior Course, 7th Class. Marine Corps Educational Center, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, undated.
Located at the James C. Breckinridge Library of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College at Quantico, Virginia, Major Lawrence's research paper provides an overview of the history of LVTs from 1937 to 1950 with emphasis on the 1937 to 1940 period. Included in the paper are extensive quotes from correspondence between Donald Roebling and Navy Department agencies dating from the pre-World War II period.
David McCullough. The Great Bridge. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972.
David McCullough's entertaining history of the Brooklyn Bridge focuses on the colorful political scandals surrounding the financing of the bridge. While they were not central figures in the scandals, John A. Roebling, Sr. and his son, Washington Roebling, are prominent characters in the book.
Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski. For the Common Defense. New York: The Free Press, 1984.
This survey of American military history does not directly address the origin or development of amphibian tractors but offers a fresh and highly readable overview of the trends of development in the military services of the United States.
Allan R. Millett. Semper Fidelis: The History of the United States Marine Corps. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1980.
Colonel Millett's thorough and stimulating history of the Marine Corps can provide a solid foundation and starting point for any study of Marine Corps issues. The book's notes and bibliography are extremely valuable. Colonel Millett's explanation of the development of the Marine Corps' amphibious doctrine was pivotal to this study of the origin of the AAV.
Capt Tom S. Parker, USMC. Development of LVTs and LVT(A)s. Amphibious Warfare School, Junior Course, 7th Class. Marine Corps Educational Center, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, undated.
This research paper provides a brief review of the LVT's technological and tactical evolution during World War II. Written in the early 1950s the paper is located at the James C. Breckinridge Library of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virgnia.
Holland M. Smith. Coral and Brass. New York: Scribner's Sons, 1949.
General Smith's memoir concentrates on his decisive participation in the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The book spotlights the general's colorful and contentious personality as well as his authoritative mastery of the art of amphibious war. Coral and Brass includes numerous citations of LVT-related issues and operations before and during World War II.
D.B. Steinman. The Builders of the Bridge: The Story of John Roebling and His Son. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1945.
Steinman's popular history of the Brooklyn Bridge concentrates on the characters and careers of the Roebling family. This book is the best available reference on the turn-of-the-century history of the Roeblings. Although Donald Roebling is not mentioned, his father, John A. Roebling II, is addressed in detail.
LtCol S.C. Stephen, USMC. Employment of the 3rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion in the Guam Operation, 5 May 1944 to 16 August 1944. Amphibious Warfare School, Senior Course, 1948-1949. Marine Corps Educational Center, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, undated.
This operational history of the 3rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion in the amphibious assault on Guam (May-August 1944) is a forthright chronicle of many of the issues that are common to all of the Pacific campaign LVT operational reports. This paper is located at the James C. Breckinridge Library of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia.
Ivan R. Tannehill. Hurricanes: Their Nature and History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1938.
In this book, Ivan Tannehil succinctly reports the dimensions and resultant damages of American hurricanes of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Capt James E. Wilson, USMC. Development of the Landing Vehicle Tracked and Landing Vehicle Tracked (Armored). Amphibious Warfare School, Junior Course, 8th Class. Marine Corps Educational Center, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, undated.
Captain Wilson's research paper, dating from the early 1950s and currently located at the James C. Breckinridge Library of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, Quantico, Virginia, offers a detailed overview of LVT and LVT(A) history through World War II. Many documents pertaining to the Marine Corps Equipment Board's pre-war consideration of Donald Roebling's Alligator are quoted at length.
Maj J.H. Alexander, USMC. "LVTPX-12 Test Program: A progress Report." The Marine Corps Gazette, November 1967.
Major Alexander's report on the testing of the experimental amphibian tractor that eventually became to be LVT7 of the 1970s includes insightful observations on the future utility of amphibian vehicles.
LtCol Victor J. Croizant, USMC. "Amphibian with a Future." The Marine Corps Gazette, February 1953.
This brief article by a veteran of World War II amphibian tractor operations reviews the contributions of amphibian tractors through the Korean conflict and discusses the future employment of the LVT and LVT(A).
Capt Richard S. Moore, USMC. "Is the Doctrine Viable?" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, November 1984.
Captain Moore's examination of modern and future amphibious operations provides an excellent overview of the issues facing the Marine Corps' future amphibious planners.
Konrad F. Schreir, Jr. "Whaleboats to Amtrac." The Marine Corps Gazette, February 1969.
This article briefly chronicles the development of ship-to-shore transportation from surf boats of the 1920s to modern amphibian tractors.
LtGen Holland M. Smith, USMC. "The Development of Amphibious Tactics in the U.S. Navy." The Marine Corp Gazette, June 1946 through September 1946.
General Smith's series of articles traces the history of the development of the amphibian doctrine from ancient times through World War II. His story of the early years of the Marine Corps and his review of the pre-World War II Fleet Landing Exercises (FLEXs) were particularly important for this study of the origin of the AAV.