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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELL
Loading an amtrac; the LVT-4 of 1944 could hold about 34 passengers, and had a rear ramp, which made loading and unloading much easier and safer. Note the gull-winged track pattern. These men all carry the M1936 musette as a pack.
The Army also used the USMC-developed amphibious tractors or 'amtracs' to support their operations in the Pacific. This vehicle had been initially designed by John Roebling for civilian use as a 'swamp buggy'. The open-topped Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT-1) or 'Alligator' was a fully-tracked amphibian that could cross reefs and sandbars to deliver troops on to the beach, propelled by its flanged track plates. With a crew of three, it carried 20-plus soldiers or 2 tons of cargo, and travelled at 25mph/4 knots; at least three machine guns could be mounted, but it was initially unarmoured, and was a transport rather than a fighting vehicle. The improved LVT-2 or 'Water Buffalo' which reached combat units in 1943 carried 24 men or 3 tons of cargo. Infantry had to clamber over the hull sides to disembark from the LVT-1 and -2; the LVT-4 (1944) and LVT-3 (1945) had rear ramps, and could carry a jeep and a 37mm gun, a 105mm gun, 4 tons of cargo, or at least 32 infantry.
Okinawa, 1 April 1945: over the top - GIs of the 96th Division clamber between the .50cals at the front of an amtrac and up a seawall at Hagushi beach. The 'April Fools Day' landing by four divisions was unopposed. These men wear the old M1928 packs; and note, centre foreground, a camouflage-painted helmet.
The 'amtracs' soon gave birth to 'amtanks', armed and lightly armoured variants to provide fire support at the point of landing (though their inherent vulnerability was always recognised, and every effort was made to get 'real' tanks ashore as early as possible). The LVT(A)-1 and -2 of 1944 mounted the 37mm gun turret from the Stuart M5A1 light tank; the LVT(A)-4 had an open-topped turret with a short 75mm howitzer. Small numbers of amtracs were also modified to carry flamethrowers, rocket projectors, several .50cal machine guns and 37mm aircraft cannon. The armour on the LVT(A)s was only capable of turning small arms fire, but their presence on the beach gave troops a critical firepower edge during the first minutes of a landing.
The USMC enjoyed priority of issue, and the first US Army amtrac battalions did not see combat until the Kwajalein landing in the Marshall Islands in February 1944; each had 119 I.VTs organised in two 51-vehicle companies and a headquarters. In time the Army would actually outstrip the Marines in these units - 23 Army to 11 Marine amtrac, and seven Army to three Marine amtank battalions. By June 1944 in the Marianas the first Army amtank unit, the 708th Amphibian Tank Bn - which won a Distinguished Unit Citation on Saipan - had four companies each with 13 x LVT(A)-ls and 4 x (A)-4s, supporting the amtracs of the 534th, 715th and 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalions.
The only US Army tanks available in the Pacific at the time of Pearl Harbor were about a hundred M3 Stuart light tanks of the Provisional Tank Group (192nd and 194th Tank Bus), on Luzon in the Philippines. Although the M3 was under-gunned and under-armoured by international standards, the unit fought bravely and effectively against the even weaker Japanese Type 95s before the fall of Bataan.
New Guinea, April 1944: M4A1 Shermans and infantry prepare for an assault up Pancake Hill, Hollandia. The GIs have fully loaded camouflage jungle packs; the tank crews wear both leather tanker and M1 steel helmets. At night the tanks would 'laager up' side by side, facing in opposite directions, to fend off any surprise attack.
By 1943 the heavier M4 Sherman began to become available, but until 1945 the improved M5A1 Stuart still equipped some companies of mixed tank battalions. The units in theatre represented about one-third of the US Army's total of tank battalions; none were organic to Army divisions in the Pacific - all were independent, assigned by corps or army as needed.
For the first half of the war the jungles and islands did not provide much of a field of use for the tank; and throughout the war its main role was in direct support of infantry, where its cannon and machine guns were of huge value in suppressing enemy fire and 'bunker busting'. Stuarts were fitted with flamethrowers in 1943; and the flamethrower-equipped Shermans of the complete 713th Tank Bn were particularly valuable in 1945 on Okinawa, where the bloody fighting sometimes resembled World War I trench warfare. Apart from the fighting on Luzon in December 1944-February 1945 tank-vs-tank actions were rare, and the US equipment was always superior to the Japanese. (On Peleliu in September 1944 US Marine Sherman crews used HF. rounds to ensure a kill when they encountered Japanese Type 95s - the armour-piercing rounds punched right through them so easily that they failed to destroy them.)
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