Amphibious warfare ship

Amphibious warfare ship

Infobox Aviation
name = Amphibious warfare ship

caption = Essex Amphibious Ready Group in the Pacific Ocean.
Pictured left-to-right, the USS "Germantown" (LSD 42), USS "Essex" (LHD 2), USS "Juneau" (LPD 10), and the USS "Fort McHenry" (LSD 43).

Amphibious warfare ship, often shortened to amphibs, phibs, or popularly known as gator freighters, denotes a range of classes of warship employed to land and support ground forces on enemy territory by an amphibious assault. The largest fleet of these types is operated by the United States Navy, including the "Tarawa" class amphibious assault ships dating back to the 1970s and the newer and larger "Wasp" class ships that debuted in 1989.


Amphibious assaults need such fine control and such a large degree of coordination that it is only the top tier powers that have the ability to even attempt them seriously, let alone pull them off. The two nations that have made by far the most amphibious assaults during the past century are the United States and the United Kingdom. From the great assaults of World War II to the recent attack on the Al-Faw Peninsula in Iraq, both countries have been at the forefront of developing amphibious assault doctrine and shipping.Fact|date=February 2007

World War I and interwar period

The history of the specialist amphibious assault vessel really begins during World War II. Prior to World War I, amphibious assaults had taken place using conventional boats. The disastrous Gallipoli landings of 1915 (see Battle of Gallipoli) showed that this type of operation was impossible in the face of modern weapons, especially the machine gun. The 1920s and 1930s did not see much progress in most of the world, the exception being the U.S. Marine Corps. The small Corps operations of the period in Central and South America led to the development of amphibious assault doctrine much in advance of the rest of the world. By the late 1930s, concrete plans were beginning to form to build the first true specialised amphibious assault ships.

Specialised shipping can be divided into two types, most crudely described as ships and craft. In general the ships carry the troops from the port of embarkation to the drop point for the assault and the craft carry the troops from the ship to the shore. Amphibious assaults taking place over short distances can also involve the shore-to-shore technique where landing craft go directly from the port of embarkation to the assault point.

World War II developments

Many of the early types of shipping were converted cargo vessels. However, the Landing Ship Tank (LST) stands out. As the name suggests it is a specialised type for getting tanks or other large vehicles ashore. Unlike the other larger shipping, LSTs could beach and discharge directly onto shore. Beyond the ships carrying the troops, other vessels were needed. It was quickly appreciated that amphibious assaults were such complicated operations that a specialised flagship was needed, with facilities that a normal naval vessel simply could not provide. It was also realised that battleships, cruisers and destroyers could not necessarily provide all the fire support (including suppressive fire) that an assault would need. Therefore specialised shipping was developed that incorporated various direct and indirect fire weapons. These included guns and rockets which could be mounted on landing craft and landing ships. As part of the final barrage before an assault, the landing area would be plastered by these types.

Despite all the progress that was seen during World War II, there were still fundamental limitations in the types of coastline that were suitable for assault. Beaches had to be relatively free of obstacles, and have the right tidal conditions and the correct slope. However, the development of the helicopter fundamentally changed the equation.

Early Cold War developments

The first use of helicopters in an amphibious assault came during the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956 (the Suez War). Two British light fleet carriers were pressed into service to carry helicopters, and a battalion-sized airborne assault was made. One of these HMS|Bulwark|R08|2 was commissioned in the late 50s as a dedicated "commando carrier". The techniques were developed further by American forces in the Vietnam War and refined during training exercises. The modern amphibious assault can take place at virtually any point of the coast, making defending against them extremely difficult.

Earlier ships which played a similar role to the current vessels as the heart of an amphibious assault included five "Iwo Jima" class Landing Platform Helicopter vessels, built in the 1950s and 1960s and various converted fleet and escort carriers. The first of the type envisaged was the escort aircraft carrier USS "Block Island" (CVE-106/LPH-1), which never actually saw service as an amphibious assault ship. Delays in the construction of the "Iwo Jima" class saw other conversions made as a stopgap measure; three "Essex"-class aircraft carriers (USS "Boxer" (CV-21/LPH-4), USS "Princeton" (CV-37/LPH-5), and USS "Valley Forge" (CV-45/LPH-8)) and one "Casablanca"-class escort carrier (USS "Thetis Bay" (CVE-90/CVHA-1/LPH-6)) were converted into amphibs, the "Boxer" and "Thetis Bay" classes.

The "Tarawa" and "Wasp" types and their "Iwo Jima" class forebears resemble aircraft carriers. However, the role of an amphibious assault ship is fundamentally different from that of an aircraft carrier. Its aviation facilities are not to support strike or air defence aircraft, but for hosting helicopters to support forces ashore.

Future developments

One of the most recent innovations is the LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushioned). These large hovercraft further expand the range of conditions under which an amphibious assault can take place and increase the speed of transfer of assets from ship to shore. Ground effect planes such as the Ekranoplan, straddling the line between aircraft and ship, have also been proposed for the role in the past.

Amphibious assault submarines, while proposed during the 1950s, and almost brought to actual construction by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, are currently not being designed. However, if the predictions of military experts such as John Keegan or others [ [ Submarine aircraft carriers] (uneven-quality private website, but has third-party citations in support)] hold true, and surface shipping becomes extremely dangerous during future wars of evenly matched powers (due to satellite recon and anti-ship missiles), then transport- and amphibious assault submarines might deserve another look.

maller ships

Beyond the largest vessels in the fleet, a variety of other specialised types support amphibious assaults. These include the landing platform dock (LPD), landing ship dock (LSD) and command ships (LCC and AGF). Navies other than the USN operate still further types including landing ship tank (LST), landing ship logistics (LSL) and landing ship medium (LSM).

List of types

* LHA: Landing Helicopter Assault (USS "Tarawa" class)
* LHD: Landing Helicopter Dock (USS "Wasp" class)
* Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH)
* LPD: Landing Platform Dock
* Dock Landing Ship (LSD)
*Landing Ship, Infantry (LSI)
* LSL: Landing Ship Logistics
* LSM: Landing Ship Medium
* LST: Landing Ship Tank
* LCC: Landing Craft Command
* AGF: Auxiliary Command Ship
* AKA/LKA: Attack cargo ship
* AP/APA: Auxiliary Personnel Assault
* ARL: Landing Craft Repair Ship (USS|Achelous|ARL-1|6) class
*Commando Carrier

ee also

* Amphibious assault ship
* Landing craft
* List of amphibious warfare ships


External links

* [ In-depth look at various classes]

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