Manifestly this subject is one of the greatest importance to every officer in the naval service who may be connected in any capacity with forced landings. At the present time there appears to be no adequate supply of suitable boats, nor any generally accepted doctrine based on experience or experiment as to just what characteristics such boats should possess. It is in the hope of awakening interest in and promoting discussion of this subject so that all apparently reasonable ideas may be developed, tried out, and ultimately the best types adopted as standard, that this article has been prepared. It is perhaps too much to hope that a supply sufficient to meet the requirements of a major emergency will be procured in advance, but at least the most acceptable types can be determined, plans approved, provision for the rapid production of sufficient quantity to meet the initial requirements of a major emergency be made, and a few for training purposes provided.
As to the necessity for something more than the regular allowance of boats furnished ships in the fleet, it may be stated that the Marine Corps school recently made a computation of the boats of existing types that would be required in executing a forced landing by one Marine Corps division and two battalions of 155mm guns. It was found that all the boats the Navy has in store at east coast navy yards plus all that the Coast Guard has in store on the east coast plus everything except lifeboats on ships of the Scouting Fleet plus the three experimental boats now at Quantico,-371 boats of 13 different types,—would be barely sufficient to land the foot troops (less than a battalion of light artillery, and the aviation component, although the rear echelons of all units would be left on the transports). It was found that it would be necessary to utilize three YFs and three 500-ton coal barges from the naval district to provide for the medium artillery, the remainder of the light artillery, and the tanks. Some of these types, due to lack of speed or other causes, are not very well suited to this duty and the fitting of the various task organizations into boat groups that would be at least somewhat homogeneous, requires careful manipulation. It is a much more difficult problem than that involved in putting the same sized liberty party ashore, or even of landing an equal naval brigade to participate in a parade ashore. It is a foregone conclusion that in any major emergency the fleet will need bases beyond those now in existence, and that the Marine Corps as the military arm of the fleet should be prepared to occupy or capture those necessary bases. The movement from ship to shore involves the use of boats, many boats. The Navy operates and supplies them, and it seems only in keeping with our naval doctrine that we should endeavor to provide suitable boats so far as our resources permit, and eliminate from peace-time use as many types unsuitable to our war needs as we can.
As has been stated, there appears to be no generally accepted doctrine as to the characteristics of the boats desired. There are those who favor the large armored boat commonly known as the "beetle boat" such as was used by the British at Suvla Bay in the Gallipoli campaign and the Spanish at Alhucemas in Morocco in 1925. This boat is armored against rifle, machine gun, and shrapnel fire, carries about 500 men (one battalion, less one rifle company and all rear echelons, Marine Corps war strength), has a speed of about five knots and probably draws considerable water. Its advocates claim that it furnishes protection for personnel and equipment during the difficult phase of the operation, the movement from ship to shore, that it simplifies the exercise of command since the battalion commander has three-fourths of his command in the same boat with him, that since comparatively few boats will be needed it reduces the number of trained boat crews the Navy must furnish, and finally that the fewer boats reduce the chances of confusion and of boats going astray during the movement. They also point to General Sir Ian Hamilton's praise of this type and to its successful use in actual campaign at Suvla Bay and Alhucemas. Its opponents object to it on the grounds that due to its size and slow speed it offers a most vulnerable target to high explosive shell and antiboat guns, that if one boat were disabled the front of a whole battalion would not be covered, and that the most critical period of the attack is not during the advance to the beach, but the moment of landing when the men disembarking are necessarily concentrated in a small area immediately surrounding the boat and will offer an ideal target for machine gun and automatic weapon fire. They consider unsound the movement of half a battalion or more in a mass to the hostile outpost line or possibly the main line of resistance before deploying. The difficulties of transporting these large unwieldly boats to a distant theater of operations unless there were an advance base conveniently located nearby is also noted, and finally they point out that neither the landing at Suvla Bay nor that at Alhucemas was seriously opposed at the water's edge, and that General Hamilton was comparing the "beetle boats" to the previous method of landing in tows of pulling boats when he praised them.
At the other end of the scale is the "paddle your own canoe" theory. There would be only two men to a boat; one would be both engineer and coxswain, while the other would be prone, employing, if opportunity offered, "marching fire" of his weapon (or of an extra automatic weapon provided with the boat.) The boat would be small, light, seaworthy, and comparatively fast, powered with a commercial type outboard motor. On reaching the beach all hands (both of them) would disembark, leaving the boat to be salvaged later by the beach party. The advocates of this type of boat would avoid losses during the movement from ship to shore by deploying in depth and frontage, assimilating as nearly as possible the lines of skirmishers in an attack on shore. They maintain too that no suitable target is offered the defender's artillery, thereby, in a measure, neutralizing the advantage the defender has in this arm during this stage of the attack. The opponents of this type argue that it is impracticable because of the large number of boats that must be supplied, the number of men that must be trained to handle them, the difficulties in control, the probable mixing of units, and the navigational difficulties of directing such a swarm of boats to their appointed places on the beach.
These two views represent the two extremes so far as boats are concerned. Probably each would be ideal under certain specific circumstances. For example, where the approach to the beach is through a comparatively narrow channel and the beach itself is protected from fire from farther inland by fairly steep bluffs the "beetle boat" would appear desirable, while on an open beach of considerable extent especially for a feint or a secondary attack where the attacker wishes to conceal his relatively small strength, the larger number of small boats well dispersed would tend to deceive the defenders. But the practical disadvantages of either type seem to outweigh the advantages, especially as neither seems to be suitable for general service in time of peace. But somewhere between these two extremes the solution must lie.
The A Boat, beached empty. The forward port cover is unshipped.
Recognizing the drawbacks to the "beetle" the advocates of the large boat have designed a 50-foot motor lighter commonly called the "A" boat. One of these has been constructed and is now undergoing tests. The armor is to be capable of resisting armor piercing small arms and machine gun fire. A canopy (also armored) extends as far aft as the engine compartment. It has been suggested that this canopy be removable to permit the use of the boat as a cargo carrier during peace time. The boat itself is quite seaworthy with twin screws capable of producing, when the boat is fully loaded, a speed of about eight knots. Empty it weighs 39,000 pounds. Fully loaded it draws less than 2.5 feet forward. It will carry quite a number of different, very handy "infantry teams" or task organizations composed of Marine Corps war strength units (with their rear echelons left on the transports) as follows:
1 rifle company (less 1 platoon) plus 1 machine gun section.
1 rifle company (less 1 platoon) plus one-half howitzer platoon.
1 rifle company (less 2 platoons), plus 1 machine gun platoon.
1 rifle platoon plus 1 section 3-inch Navy pack gun battery; (1 gun and 23 enlisted) with the gun in firing position.
Its advocates claim for it that it has all of the desirable features of the "beetle" without the latter's drawbacks. Its opponents maintain that it is excellent for the battalion supports, and possibly for the support platoons of the assault companies, and for all succeeding waves, but that for the assault echelons it is still "putting too many eggs in one basket," that it offers an excellent target to artillery and antiboat guns, that the front to be covered by two platoons in attack is too great for them to deploy after reaching the hostile outpost line ( the beach) and finally that its size and weight preclude its general use in time of peace, besides rendering it extremely doubtful if a sufficient number could be carried on board and put overside from the available auxiliary transports.
The artillery lighter beached empty. One ramp is secured, the other in position for disembarking load.
Possibly to meet some of these objections there has also been designed and tested a 40-foot motor lighter commonly known as the "B" boat. It is an open metal boat with water-tight compartments, armored on the sides, single screw with the screw housed in a tunnel. Its speed is considerably less than the "A" boat and because of the tunnel, it lacks backing power to get itself off the beach. Its capacity is about two-thirds of the "A" boat, and its most useful load seems to be:
1 rifle company (less 2 platoons) plus either 1 machine gun squad or 1/2 howitzer platoon.
As a whole this boat appears to be neither one thing nor the other, and, as a matter of fact, has most of the disadvantages of both without any of the advantages claimed for either.
The advocates of the smaller boat visualize a self-propelled, shallow-draft, seaworthy boat with a speed of about twelve knots capable of carrying ten men fully equipped lying prone on the bottom, a crew of three men, one coxswain, one engineer, and one gunner, and with armor and a removable shield forward high enough to protect the coxswain and gunner and extending from the turn of the bilge to about one foot above the water line on the sides. They suggest that three types of boats now in existence: the standard Navy motor whaleboat, a Coast Guard power boat, and a commercial type known as a "seabright" skiff seem to possess many of the qualities desired and should be tested with a view of possible adoption or modification of one of them before proceeding to design a new type. This type of boat, frequently referred to as the "X" boat, it is claimed will have many uses aboard ship in peace time, will not be too expensive, and will permit flexibility of formation and deployment so as to reduce the target to be offered, without sacrificing control.
One other controversial point in connection with both types of boats should be noted. This is the question of armament. One group is adverse to any armament, principally it seems because they believe that the motion of the boat, especially if there is any sea on, will preclude any accuracy of fire, and to a certain extent because of the added weight involved; gun, gun shield, and gun crew. The other group maintains that, from the moment the ships supporting gunfire is forced to lift, to the time the artillery can go into action ashore, the greater the volume of fire, even if it is comparatively' inaccurate, that can be directed at the enemy from the boats the better for the attacker. For this reason they advocate emplacing a pack gun or pack howitzer in one of the "A" boats carrying the battalion support, so that it can fire during the approach to the beach, and can continue to fire using the beached boat as a gun emplacement until the situation permits the crew to dismount the gun and manhandle it to a more advanced position ashore. And they urge provision for mounting one-pounders, or machine guns in multiple mounts, on all boats. These mounts must permit rapid train and elevation as well as high angle (antiaircraft) and horizontal fire. The machine gun (multiple) mounts must carry two 50-caliber machine guns. On the "X" boats it is proposed that the gun mounts be forward, and on the "A" boats, that a mount be installed on each quarter at the break of the canopy. While admitting that the roll and pitch of the boats will interfere with the accuracy of the fire, they do not admit that the resulting inaccuracy will be as great as claimed by their opponents, and maintain that the moral effect both on the enemy and on our own troops will be considerable, and furthermore they claim that all of these shots cannot miss everything.
And thus the matter stands at present except for the fact that there appears to be no argument concerning a suitable type in which to land the artillery and tanks, and for which at present there is no provision. Along with the "A" and "B" boats there has been designed a 45-foot artillery lighter which, strange as it may seem, appears to satisfy everybody who has observed it. It is a shallow-draft, not self-propelled, square stern barge with the gunwale across the stern cut away to permit the vehicles to be run off easily. Two short ramps pivoted so as to swing outboard easily and allow their outer ends to rest on the bottom furnish runways from the deck level to the ground.
One group of officers desires the "A" boat or something similar for the support and succeeding waves and something along the lines of the proposed "X" boat for the assault waves with the artillery lighter for tanks and all artillery units (except accompanying guns transported in the "A" boats with the infantry). While recognizing that different situations will require different solutions, especially in the matter of distances, they visualize, as a basis for training both Marine Corps units and naval officers in charge of boat groups an attack formation for front line battalions similar to the accompanying diagram.
They advocate most earnestly the continuation of tests and experiments until the standard types of boats that will fulfill all requirements are a minimum. They further recommend the construction of a sufficient number to assign to each transport in commission as many of each type as could be utilized as replacements for boats now carried, and to assign to Quantico and San Diego for training purposes enough to transport a front-line battalion and a tractor-drawn battery.
While the writer is one of this group, he has endeavored here to present the views of all groups. Doubtless other arguments and other ideas for standard types of suitable boats will suggest themselves to many readers. It is in the hope of stimulating thought and interest in this matter in order that the most satisfacory type may be selected that this article has been prepared.