THE TIN ARMADA:
SAGA OF THE LCT
By Basil Hearde
PLEASE NOTE: I have attempted to contact the author and or the publisher of this article without success. This has been retyped word for word from a photocopy that was sent to me with Photo, comments and links added and is believed to be public domain.
Some sailors label them "large crude targets. "Some call them names that where unprintable. Two others they were little more than powered barges; the kind of gritty working vessel no one ever took pictures of or wrote numerous duties about. To all the men that man them they were skittish, dirty, cramped, not, sweaty, on comparable, and often downright dangerous. But for all their scow-like functional simplicity, they were truly unique, a special breed of vessel borne of war. They where the LCTs or landing craft tank of world war II.
They came in several sizes, shapes and marks and so help to revolutionize amphibious warfare, that more and a half century after their conception they are still the only practical means of getting heavy tanks and vehicles ashore in a hurry where no port facilities exist. Created with one purpose in mind, new versions serve today's navies little altered in concept or use from the design that evolved out of the brutal necessity two reclaim distant beaches from the grip of axis tyranny.
Although the LCT could trace its lineage to the powered lighters used to land horses and vehicles during the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of world war I, it was the curiosity and influence of England's Prime minister Winston Churchill that renewed interest in a special vessel capable of carrying a tank directly to a beachhead. In mid 1940, with the war not going well for Great Britain on any quarter, Churchill reviewed design studies of the landing craft concept evolved in 1937 out of the self propelled lighters all of world war one. Ever eager to go on the offensive despite the fact that Hitler appeared nearly ready to invade England, Churchill wanted the vessel that could carry a load of tanks and armored vehicles in any kind of seaway and deliver them directly onto the beach on now occupied coast of Europe.
Unfortunately, the proposal advanced by the British landing craft committee in 1937 still held to the arcane theory that an army was moved by horses and mules rather than tanks and trucks. As such, the landing craft they conceived was too small for the type of large-scale amphibious actions Churchill envisioned. Even then in the mid 1930's the mindset of the royal navy focused entirely on major warships with scant attention being paid to other types of possible naval warfare.
In pressing his views on admiral Maund, chief of naval construction, Churchill hammered his argument that if the royal navy had possessed ramped amphibious vessels of the type he advocated the British army might not have been forced to leave the cream of its armored equipment on the beaches of Dunkirk only months earlier. Few could counter the merit of the doughty Prime ministers views for, indeed, much of the mechanized might of the royal army had been left behind to rust or be captured as the British expeditionary force beat a hasty retreat across the English channel.
On this once serene French beach the fast advancing German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe unmercifully hacked at the British army as it tried to escape in a motley assembly of hastily gathered civilian pleasure craft and riverboats. Sufficient naval transport simply did not exist to ferry a vanquished army across the English Channel. The evacuation from Dunkirk was a demoralizing blow to the British morale and though 330,000 men were saved from capture, the royal army was left virtually the devoid of any tanks, artillery or mobile equipment. Humiliated, Churchill vowed the English would never again be forced to suffer such a shattering exodus from a battlefield. It was a promise he was determined to keep.
The prime minister's idea called for an amphibious vessel capable of landing at least three 36 ton tanks directly onto a beach; a vessel able to sustain itself at sea for at least a week; a vessel with acceptable if not commodious crew accommodations, and a design simplicity whereby the craft could easily be built in separate unitized sections. The sections would make for easier shipment aboard large cargo vessels were they could then be launched at sea, assembled and loaded by the ships' cranes. He also advocated a simple sequence of construction that could be executed by steelworkers unfamiliar with the intricacies of ship construction. In short, he wanted assault craft that were inexpensive and easy to build; expendable vessels that could put tanks and men ashore in the quickest time.
Taking the prime minister's mandate, admiral Maund enlisted the skills of naval architect Robert Baker who in a matter of three days remarkably completed initial drawings for what would become a 152 foot landing craft with a 29 foot beam in a shallow draft. Ship builders Fairfield and John Brown agreed to work out details for the design under the guidance of the admiralty experiment works at halsar. Tank test with models soon determined the hydrostatic characteristics of the crafts flat bottom hull, single rudder and blunt bow, indicating the craft could make 10 knots on engines delivering about 700 hp. Two twin propellers.
Work now began earnest and by November 1940, the first LCT Mark one, yard number fourteen was launched. The designers had transformed Churchill's visionary concept into an all welded 372-ton steel-hulled vessel that remarkably drew only 3 ft. of water at its bow. A twelve foot wide hinged bow door ramp enabled tanks to exit onto beaches with a 1: 35 slope gradient so they could wade ashore in water only 3 ft. deep. A second steel door behind the hinged ramp sealed the bow area from the tank well or tank deck. Flanking both sides of the landing craft were water tight, lengthwise, bulwark coamings that contained storage compartments, which added to the buoyancy provided by the double bottom under the tank deck. Within the double bottom were ballast and fuel tanks that were plumbed to be able to change the fore and aft trim for beaching operations.
Diagram of a British Mark 1 LCT
At the rear of the low silhouetted vessel was a small box like bridge beneath which two 350 HP. Hall Scott gasoline engines were crammed along with an auxiliary generator, batteries and pumps. The hull tanks contain fuel for a range of 900-mi. Aft of the engine room were equally cramped quarters for ten matelotes and a skimpy gallery and meat locker. Behind the bridge was a tiny wardroom for two officers and months for port and starboard 2 ponder pom-pom machine gun.
Key to the LCTs concept was a large stern mounted kedge anchor which was dropped while inbound to the beach. This anchor helped to keep the craft from slewing or broaching and with its powerful winch, enabled the craft to pull itself off the beach once the cargo was unloaded. The bow ramp was initially raised and lowered by hand cranks, but on later marks, a powered winch assisted and ramp positioning. Crews would quickly learn that much technique was required in handling of the ramp and anchor winch least the props get fouled in the anchor cable or the ramp become a giant unruly shovel.
Sea trials soon proved the mark one to be skittish and almost unmanageable in some sea conditions. Door in its difficult test course on the Tyne LCTs shallow draft made steering by the helm alone all but impossible and quick reversal of the engines mandatory. Below, the cork lined crew compartment sweated profusely and the sound level was deafening. The engine spaces where no better, insufferably hot and so cramped the motor mechanics had to be of slight physical stature. Yet, despite its many shortcomings and ungainly barge like appearance, the prototype LCT delivered its promise of handily putting tanks ashore on any beach.
Orders were immediately placed for 30 mark 1s while the designers set about correcting all that was wrong in the slightly larger (159') Mk 2 version that was quick to follow. In addition to a wider beam (31') three 460hp Paxman diesel engines replaced the Hall Scott's and 15 and 20 lb. armored shielding was added to the wheel house and gun tubs. Built in four sections, the increased length and beam also allowed storage for two rows of 25-ton tanks and the enough diesel fuel to triple the mark 2's range to 2700 nautical miles. In handling and reliability, the mark 2's would be a quantum leap ahead of its box like forebear.
British Mk 2 LCT
73 Mk 2 LCTs were under construction as the prototype mark ones saw their first blistering action during the British evacuation from Greece and Crete early in 1941. As Churchill anticipated, the LCTs play a key role in saving much of the armored equipment that would soon served them well in North Africa. Though the campaign in Crete was far from a victory for the hard pressed British, neither was it the gut wrenching type of disaster that had the befallen them at Dunkirk. Winston Churchill was vindicated. The LCT had earned its first laurels in naval history even though seventeen of the mark 1s would be lost in the hard fighting of the Grecian operations.
With the development of the LCT, the royal navy now had the kind of beaching vessel amphibious warfare demanded. Fast unfolding events in North Africa and Sicily further proved their viability and other marks soon were developed to fulfill a variety of needs. Next to come was the mark 3's. It would be even larger with an added 32-foot section giving a length of 192 feet and a displacement of 640 tons. Amazingly, this section added at the John brown yard made the vessel a little faster than the original mark one. The mark 3 was accepted on 8 April 1941, and would be entirely prefabricated in five sections. That increase in length allows it to carry five 40-ton tanks and all their related support equipment, or 300 tons of deck cargo.
Photo of Mk3 LCT 7059 is Courtesy of laurence sharpe-stevens
of The British Warship Preservation Trust.
Though the royal navy like the higher load capability of the mark 3's it soon discovered several construction deficiencies. Quickly pressed into service without sufficient testing, combat operations demonstrated the need to add longitudinal stiffeners to the Mk 3s(and later the Mk4s) in order to avoid torsional stresses to the so lengthy hull.
The soon to evolve Mk4 would be slightly shorter but would have a much wider beam of almost 39 feet as opposed to 31 feet of that Mk 3 and a displacement of of 186 tons. The wider beam was intended for cross channel operations where the ferrying aspect was critical for the fast unloading of the raiding assaults as opposed to seagoing use for the transfer of tanks and vehicles to smaller landing craft. Better accommodations for the tank crews was also made possible by the increased beam. In each subsequent model, despite the size variances, the basic arrangement of power ramp, long tank well and aft going station would essentially be retained.
British Mk 4 LCT
Although at a glance, the LCT all looked to be much the same vessel, they did contain a wide variety of interior equipment, communications, and berthing and armament installations. Various makes of engines and generators were fitted, as hard pressed wartime engine production allowed. These included 225 HP gray built diesels and 350 HP Napier lion gasoline engines in addition to the widely used Paxman diesels. The LCT use versatility also led to the adaptation of many special purpose versions such as rocket craft (LCT-R) armored gunboats (LCT-G) and 76 patient hospital ships (LCT-H). Ends to the simplicity of their construction, many were modified into other specific uses such as dredges, salvage, repair and mine craft. One even served as a floating a bakery during the Normandy invasion. Their shallow drafts also made that LCT Ideal for riverine use in inland waterways. In fact, after the war many weary LCTs shed their guns and donned civilian paint working as car ferries in many corners of the world. For vessels hastily constructed as expendable invasion craft, the LCT showed an amazing adaptability little envisioned by its designers. Armament varied widely on the LCTs with the ponderous two pounder pom-pom mounts gradually losing favor for the more agile faster firing 20 mm Oerlikons on later production. Widely used was the combination of 40-mm Bofors 20 mm Oerlikon that proved the LCT to be a superb the gunfire support vessel. Indeed, in calm seas the LCTs flat bottom offered such excellent stability that howitzers and mortar batteries were often temporarily installed for close in fire support. Other weapon, combinations made the LCT into effective floating flak batteries for harbor or support area defense. These installations would be manned by a combination of naval and army crews, as the occasion warranted.
British Mk 3 LCT(R)
As the war broadened in scope after pearl harbor, English LCT production increased. Three hundred fifty Mk 3's were built (71 with sterling gasoline engines) followed by an 865 Mk 4s powered with two reliable 460 hp Paxman diesels. These could carry nine M4 Sherman or six Churchill tanks. Carrying a load of 350 TN., the Mk4 would be dealt throughout the war, being the largest LCT reduction in English yards.
Tested in early assault operations like the ill-fated Canadian commando raid on Dieppe in 1942, shortcomings in the larger LCT maneuvering ability led to the preference for shorter overall length in future variants, most of which were to be built in the united states. England's hard learn lesson in amphibious warfare would inure to the benefit of their yank allies. Soon to be mass produced, American made Mk 5 and Mk 6 LCTs, 160 of which were lendleased to the royal navy, would be 117 and 120 footers, respectively, and both marks would be rated at out by 285 TN. displacement. These versions would see the largest number of LCTs procured with 500 Mk 5's and 965 Mk 6'sbuilt by the war's end.
With America's entry into the war the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean would raise a whole new concept of amphibious warfare principles. Without a single amphibious vessel on its register at the time of Pearl Harbor the U.S. navy found itself forced to look at and consider several of the successful British designs already in existence. One of these, an idea advanced by K. C. Barnaby of Thornycroft, was for a double-ended ramp ferry LCT to work with landing ships. The Bureau of ships like the concept and quickly set about drawing plans for landing craft based on Barnaby suggestions, although favoring only one ramp.
Diagram of the US built LCT Mk 5
The result, by the spring of 1942, was LCT Mk 5, a 117 foot craft with a sizable beam 32 feet 9 in. that could accommodate five 30 ton, four 40ton tanks or 150 tons of cargo. With a group of twelve men and one officer housed well aft, this 286 ton landing craft the merit of being shipped to assault areas in either three sections aboard a cargo ship or carried piggyback pre-assembled aboard the flat deck all of a 327 one LST. The LCT would be launched like heeling the LST on its beam to let the craft slide off its chocks into the sea. Cargo ships with lower each of the three water tight sections into the water via their booms where the LCT would be connected British style, afloat on their own bottoms.
LCT Mk 5 as deck cargo on a LST
Powered by three 225 hp gray marine diesels the Mk 5's had a limited range of 700 NM. They were only capable of making eight knots and as, at best in a driving sea; a speed to slow for independent passage across the fast vast Pacific. Shipped 24 where areas aboard other vessels, Mk 5's soon proved themselves in repeated into this operations becoming a mainstay for getting tanks ashore in the fast this possible time. Inland Americans feel yards would lead year the war LCT reduction dated in great measure line of three fabricated is eyeing of its components it wasn't long before patriotic yard workers "boasted that they built them by the mile and cut them up in feet".
First used in the invasion of north Africa, LCT Mk 5 crews immediately earned a reputation for delivering the goods under intense enemy fire and the worst of whether or sea conditions. Their barge like size, Lilliputian living spaces and the veried nature of their duties led to a special "esprit d corps" among LCT crews that sometimes bordered on polite piracy. Enjoying little priority in fleet maintenance schedules the crews largely were left to fend for themselves in half- forgotten backwaters. Much of this lack of status with their peers aboard the APAs, LSTs and LSDs of the ever-growing amphibious forces was the simple reality that an LCT was the smallest landing craft organize into independent assault flotillas. Almost entirely manned by reserve and wartime draftees most LCT skippers, often to the chagrin of their naval superiors, threw away the book and manage their high-spirited crewmen more with the attitude of the team coach and the high collar spit and polish naval officer. With something akin to buccaneer spirit liberally spiced with down home entrepreneurial skill, these long suffering LCT crewmen somehow scrounged the parts to keep their often bulky, war-wary vessels going. While many former LCT crewman fondly recalls exploits in war ravaged ports no record exists of them ever once failing to accomplish the toughest missions.
Diagram of a LCT Mk 6
The LCT Mk 6. Variant soon appeared as somewhat larger (120') landing craft boasting the same engines, equipment and crew size as the Mk 5. The basic difference was the addition of a stern gate that, in effect, allowed the LCT to moor in front of larger craft to become a Passover vessel for tanks and vehicles disembarking the deeper draft LST. Exiting the LST nested bow ramp, tanks would rumble across the LCT tank and enters the water at depths which the tanks, hopefully, could safely negotiate to the shore. In practice this plan was more difficult to carry out in the designers anticipated. Strong title currents in the vagaries of uncharted reef shoals limited employment of this form of beaching heavy armored vehicles. To allow the pass through flow of traffic the small wheelhouse was moved to the starboard side of the fourteen-foot wide passageway. A large winch for the stern kedge anchor was located atop the port side deckhouse, just aft of the port side 20-mm mount.
Photo and comments Courtesy of George Shiner LCT 926
This photo shows LCT 926 being used as a bridge between a landing ship, tank and the beach. This was done when a LST couldn't get close enough to the shore. Note the open bow doors of the LST and the jeep being driven onto the deck of LCT 926. All of the LST's cargo could be moved across the deck of the LCT in this manner and be dry when it reached the shore. Concerning this photo George Shiner said, "I can remember that later they tried to move a tank across and it was too heavy and submerged the stern of the LCT, so I think they abandoned the idea. At least they never used our LCT for that purpose again." This photo was labeled Purvis Bay. It was most likely taken on the isle of Tulagi, a small island in Purvis Bay, off the coast of Florida Island. It could also have been taken on Florida Island itself. Florida Island is north of Guadacanal. Solomon Islands.
So successful was the LCT Mk 6 that naval architects where soon ordered to draw up plans for an even larger LCT Mk 7 version which would have troop-carrying accommodations that Mk 6 lacked. As the design evolve, more emphasis was placed on speed and stamina for long pacific transits with the result that the Mk 7 literally outgrew itself by virtue of specific seeakeeping needs far greater in the LCT profile could provide. When Mk 7 design study reached a length over 200 ft., its designation was changed in 1944 to LSM (landing ship medium). Placed in production and proving itself able to maintain convoys speeds up twelve knots, the 203 foot LSM quickly took over much of the Pacific role of the LCTs seeing 558 built by V-J day in 1945.
The British would generate one more large LCT design, the 226 foot Mk 8 which was roughly similar to the American LSM. Intended for the pacific and far east, it carried eight heavy tanks or. 350 tons of cargo and had accommodation for 50 fully armed troops plus a crew of twelve. Only one Mk 8 was in operation by VJ day in 1945, the balance having been canceled after VE-day. A still larger Mk 9 was considered in 1944, but by then, allied amphibious shipping was at peak production and the admiralty saw no further need for additional LCT variants. The Mk 9design was never finalized.
By late 1943, most early Mk 5's where relegated to states side training or harbor duties. By then almost 500 American Mk 5's had been built. They had served long and hard to virtually every invasion in every theater of operations. Some even served the Russian navy. The few mechanical or design faults of the Mk 5 would be corrected in Mk 6 with 965 of these being delivered before the end of hostilities.
Though never designed to cross the Pacific on their own bottoms, several flotillas of LCT did make the journey from Pearl harbor to forward combat areas. Success with earlier having towed strings of LCTs behind LSDs to forward areas led to the decision to let flotilla number 31 with 24 Mk 6's make an island hopping voyage under their own power. Leaving pearl harbor on fifteen 1945, the passage was torturously slow and breakdowns were numerous along the way. Weary and much sun burned, the happy flotilla safely arrived at its destination in a key on fifteen April, after making one of the longest duration voyage in the history of World War II.
Three months later groups 91 and 92 of this flotilla encountered six days of high seas in a typhoon off Okinawa. Fighting monstrous 50 with swells and hurricane force winds at saw the craft made only 26 mi. in nine hours, the LCT formation acted like sea going Bobsleds almost impossible to steer or control. Skidding and zooming from one direction to another many of the crewmen felt ceaking hulls would not long withstand the nerve-shattering roller-coaster ride. When the typhoon finally abated, the LCT had remarkably all survived and was able to reform to take stock of the damage before continuing on to their destination. Battered and bent, most halyards, antennas and masts blown away, guns and ripped from their mounts, to a craft all had been so severely over stressed by the mountainous seas that each had to replace the stripped bolts or weldments holding their sections together before they could proceed.
In the forefront of virtually every wartime assault landing, LCT crews took a heavy beating sustaining the heaviest losses of any large landing craft. The royal navy lost 133 LCTs of all marks, 29 of which were American made Mk 5's. The U.S. navy lost 67 Mk 5's and Mk 6's in storms, accidents or combat. 26 were lost in the Normandy landings alone, many of these in a howling Gale that wrecked the French beaches days after the initial landings. Hundreds of more were badly damaged in the invasion landings, hammered into so much scrap metal by vicious Axis gunners as again and again they snubbed their blunt bows on alien beachheads.
That World War II was an amphibious war is borne out by the more than 70,000 landing craft of all types built in United States alone. From the first uncomplicated British Mk 1 ramped sea-going barge, the LCT at transformed into a versatile, well proven mini-warship by 1945. Unlike so many of their wartime landing craft contemporaries the LCT would long remain in peacetime naval service. Reforming a variety of nine combat shores ranging from coastal cargo carriers to harbor ferries, a served naval bases all over the world.
Hundreds of Mk 5 and Mk 6 LCTs would be loaned or given to the postwar fleets of allied or NATO countries. Although they are fast being retired, many of these still serve third world navies today. Other LCTs remained on active duty with the U.S. navy assault craft divisions. Late in 1949, the LCT designation was changed to LCU (landing craft utility) with many war-built Mk 6's continuing to serve U.S. navy well in two and beyond the Vietnam era. Number and not named, modern LCT/LCU versions still fulfill vital naval functions more than a half century later. Much to the chagrin of his many critics, Winston Churchill's ingenious concept for an amphibious landing vessel was not just another of his wild aberrations.
© 2000 LCT Flotillas of World War II ETO PTO