Monday, January 08, 2007

LVT(1)--The 'Amtrac'

While the Marine Corps was developing amphibious warfare doctrine during the 1920s and 1930s, it was apparent that a motorized amphibian vehicle was needed to transport men and equipment from ships across fringing reefs and beaches into battle, particularly when the beach was defended.

In 1940, the Marines adopted the Landing Vehicle, Tracked (1), designed by Donald Roebling. More commonly known as the "amtrac" (short for amphibian tractor), the LVT(1) had a driver's cab in front and a small engine compartment in the rear, with the bulk of the body used for carrying space. During the next three years, 1,225 LVT(1)s were built, primarily by the Food Machinery Corporation.

The LVT(1) was constructed of welded steel and was propelled on both land and water by paddle-type treads. Designed solely as a supply vehicle, it could carry 4,500 pounds of cargo. In August 1942, the LVT(1) first saw combat on Guadalcanal with the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion, 1st Marine Division. Throughout the Solomon Islands campaigns, the LVT(1) provided Marines all types of logistical support, moving thousands of tons of supplies to the front lines. At times they also were pressed into tactical use: moving artillery pieces, holding defensive positions, and occasionally supporting Marines in the attack with their machine guns. They also were used as pontoons to support bridges across Guadalcanal rivers.

The LVT proved to be more seaworthy than a boat of comparable size; it was able to remain afloat with its entire cargo hold full of water. However, defects in the design soon became apparent. The paddle treads on the tracks and the rigid suspension system were both susceptible to damage when driven on land and did not provide the desired speeds on land or water. Although the LVT(1) performed admirably against undefended beachheads, its lack of armor made it unsuitable for assaults against the heavily defended islands of the central Pacific. This weakness was apparent during the fighting in the Solomon Islands, but LVT(1)s with improvised armor were still in use at the assault on Tarawa, where 75 percent of them were lost in three days.

The LVT(1) proved its value and validated the amphibious vehicle concept through the great versatility and mobility it demonstrated throughout numerous campaigns in the Pacific. Although intended solely for supply purposes, it was thrust into combat use in early war engagements. In its initial role as a support vehicle, the LVT(1) delivered ammunition, supplies and reinforcements that made the difference between victory and defeat.—Second Lieutenant Wesley L. Feight, USMC

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