NEW VANGUARD • 157

LANDING CRAFT, INFANTRY AND FIRE SUPPORT

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GORDON L ROTTMAN           ILLUSTRATED BY PETER BULL

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION
LANDING CRAFT, INFANTRY – DEVELOPMENT
LCI(L) CONSTRUCTION

•   Armament

LCI(L) DESCRIPTION

•   Propulsion

•   Below decks

•   Main deck

•   Deckhouse

•   Forecastle and ramps

LCI VARIANTS

•   Landing Craft, Infantry (Gun)

•   Landing Craft, Infantry (Rocket)

•   Landing Craft, Infantry (Mortar)

•   Landing Craft, Support (Large) Mk 3

LANDING SHIP, MEDIUM

•   Landing Ship, Medium (Rocket)

OPERATIONAL HISTORY

•   LCI and LSM units

•   Fire support missions

•   Landing missions

•   The crews

•   Early use in the Pacific

•   LCIs assault Sicily

•   Rocket boats at Kwajalein

•   LSMs at Ormoc

•   LCI(M)s at Okinawa

THE VESSELS REMEMBERED
BIBLIOGRAPHY

LANDING CRAFT, INFANTRY AND FIRE SUPPORT

“Protect me oh Lord for my boat is so small and your sea is so great.” From the Breton Fisherman’s Prayer

INTRODUCTION

The Landing Craft, Infantry (Large) – LCI(L) – was a large beaching craft intended to transport and deliver an infantry rifle company to a hostile shore once the beachhead was secured, or as one soldier claimed: “The LCI was a metal box designed by a sadist to move soldiers across the water.” The LCI and its larger vehicle-delivery counterpart, the Landing Ship, Medium (LSM), were important and widely used World War II amphibious-warfare ships. They were intermediate-size beaching craft, filling the gap between the much larger Landing Ship, Tank (LST)1 and the many types of smaller, bow-ramped, open cargo compartment landing craft.

The LCI was strictly a passenger carrier and could not transport vehicles. Lacking bow doors or a ramp, cargo had to be hand-carried off the ship. The LCM, by contrast, could carry up to five tanks and other large vehicles as well as bulk cargo. It lacked the accommodation and sanitary facilities for large numbers of troops, other than for a short ship-to-shore haul. (Passenger accommodations were only for transported vehicle crews.)

The matter of designations as “craft” and “ship” must be addressed. Seagoing amphibious beaching vessels over 200ft in length were designated ships. The LSM was 203ft 6in long while the LCI(L) was 160ft. The LCI, nevertheless, was a seagoing vessel given moderate conditions and reasonable ranges. The type was redesignated Landing Ship, Infantry (LSI) on February 28, 1949, although few were still operational.

The LCI and LSM were the smallest landing vessels assigned Bureau of Ships (BuShips) hull numbers rather than names. Official names, for example, would be USS LCI(L)-351 or USS LSM-36. Those provided to the Royal Navy retained the US BuShips hull numbers, but were designated HM LCI(L)-2, for example (HM = His Majesty’s). The Soviet Navy designated them “DS” (desantnoye sudno – assault ship) and assigned new numbers (e.g. DS.10), though they retained US hull numbers up until December 1945. To the sailors manning these awkward craft, they were known as the “Elsie Item” – “Elsie” representing “LC” and “Item” being the phonetic alphabet word for “I.” Their boxy shape also led to their being called the “Floating Bedpan,” perhaps influenced by the close troop quarters and limited toilet facilities, while destroyer crews working with them as radar pickets called them “small boys.”

In 1943/44, the LCI and LSM both provided the hulls for new types of rocket-firing gunboats, known as “bazooka boats.” Another type based on the LCI’s hull was the Landing Craft, Support (Large) Mk 3, the LCS(L)(3). The LCS(L) was variously known as the “Whoofus” and “Mighty Midget.” These were all specialized fire support craft intended to place suppressive fire on landing beaches using guns, automatic cannons, rockets, and mortars. The principal conversions discussed in this book are:

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LCS(L)(3)-3 clad in a navy green and pale green camouflage scheme. All LCSs were fitted with radar for surface search, air warning, and also positioning in order to fire their rockets accurately.

Landing Craft, Infantry (Gun)              LCI(G)

Landing Craft, Infantry (Mortar)          LCI(M)

Landing Craft, Infantry (Rocket)          LCI(R)

Landing Ship, Medium (Rocket)          LSM(R)

Landing Craft, Support (Large) Mk 3   LCS(L)(3)

Landing Craft (Flotilla Flagship)           LC(FF)

1 See Osprey New Vanguard 115, Landing Ship, Tank (LST) 1942–2002

LANDING CRAFT, INFANTRY – DEVELOPMENT

In late 1941 and early 1942, development was underway for two large beaching vessels vastly different in size and capabilities, but designed as companion amphibious vessels. The LST and Landing Craft, Tank (LCT) were both based on British requirements and versions were built on both sides of the Atlantic. The LST was a big ship, almost 330ft in length and capable of carrying 20 medium tanks, while the 114ft LCT possessed a bow ramp and an open cargo compartment capable of carrying five medium tanks. LST vessels were capable of trans-oceanic movement, but the LCT was not so seaworthy and one of the LST’s many roles was to transport LCTs overseas either as deck cargo or disassembled and carried in the copious tank deck.

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The pilothouse of LSM-34 was similar in design to that on LCI(L)-31 class boats, with “castle bridges” but taller, the height necessary in order to provide vision over the high forecastle and elevated bow ramp. The canvas awning over the conn was removed in combat zones to provide full overhead observation to detect aircraft.

The British had another requirement, what they initially referred to as a “giant raiding craft” (GRC). To keep the Germans in occupied Europe off balance, and to conduct some form of offensive operations, the British were executing minor coastal raids. Small landing craft were used in this role, such as the Landing Craft, Assault (LCA), a 41ft boat carrying 35 troops. These lacked the capacity for transporting more than just small detachments, and their endurance, speed, range, and cross-Channel capabilities were poor. What was desired was a 150ft beaching vessel capably of carrying 200 troops – a rifle company – at 20 knots with a range of 230 miles. The low-silhouetted vessel needed adequate air defense features and protection from small arms fire, as it was expected to discharge its raiders directly ashore and not have to wait offshore and carry smaller landing craft to deliver and retrieve the troops. It would also provide accommodation for troops for up to two days. Looking into the future, it was realized that such a vessel would be valuable for the planned invasion of the Continent.

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LCI(L)-412 under construction at the George Lawley & Sons Shipbuilding Corp., Neponset, MA, in January 1944. The LCI’s box-like hull design can readily be seen.

As an interim measure, the British had converted cross-Channel ferries, minesweepers, and other vessels into Landing Ships, Infantry, Medium and Small – LSI(M) and LSI(S). These vessels were almost 400ft long and carried between 200 and 400 troops, depending on the particular ship. They typically carried eight LCAs or similar landing craft – they were not beaching vessels.

By the time the development of what would become the LCI was underway, the British had begun to conduct fewer coastal raids as the Germans strengthened the Atlantic Wall. Development continued, though, as the LCI would be an ideal craft to deliver follow-on infantry during the projected summer 1943 invasion of France. It was not conceived as an initial-wave assault craft. The British commission hoping to find a builder in America discovered that private builders such as Higgins were not only fully committed to contracts, but were running behind. British building capacity was unable to handle any additional projects. The US Navy was none too interested in such a raiding craft and had little faith in larger landing craft, feeling they were too vulnerable to air attack. As with the LST, the British approached the US Army. In order for the US to construct Lend-Lease ships for the British, the design also had to be intended for use by the US armed forces. The US Army was indeed interested in the LCI, realizing the need to land larger follow-on units than was feasible by Landing Craft, Personnel (LCP) or Landing Craft, Vehicle (LCV) carrying a platoon-minus.

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The stern of LCI(L)-443 provides a view of the large foot-like skegs protecting the props forward of the rudders. The kedge anchor and rack are on the transom and the engine exhaust and coolant water ports, emitting spray, can be seen on the side just above the waterline. To the right of the three stacked fog oil drums is the Besler smoke generator.

The British needed 300 craft by April 1943, a year away, and the design was little more than a sketch. There were no shipping capabilities for vessels this size, so it had to be capable of trans-oceanic crossings. It needed a 500nm (575-mile) endurance and required a speed of at least 15 knots, 20 preferred. To save space and weight, and speed up production, a bow ramp and doors were forfeited. Instead the troops would disembark using three or four 2ft 6in-wide gangway ramps from weather-deck level. There was no capability to deliver even light vehicles, wheeled crew-served weapons such as antitank guns, or bulk cargo. BuShips revised the design in May. It was hoped to be capable of better than 15 knots, beach on a 1:50 ratio gradient, and provide limited small arms fire protection. Armament would be four 20mm guns. Early proposals foresaw it being unarmed when carrying troops, instead relying on the passengers’ armaments, with 20mm guns mounted when no troops were embarked, to prevent overloading. This set-up, of course, was impractical as once the troops debarked the vessel, in the forefront of the action, the vessel was unable to protect itself from aircraft attacking the beachhead and shipping.