We’re working on it… Honest!

Right now we’re working on a post that gives an update on the current order of battle for the US Army, showing a list of the active force divisions, their subordinate brigades, and showing the typical organization of the three main types of ground maneuver brigades: Heavy, Stryker and Light.

If you have questions on these topics, just let us know and we’ll try to address them in the post.

Inside Special Forces

We’ll get around to giving a more in-depth explication of the Army’s Special Warfare community, but I just found this excellent National Geographic special on Hulu and thought I’d share it with you.

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This movie is a few years old, but is still an interesting look at the operations of a Special Forces detachment.

The Army and Amphibious Warfare

When you mention the words “amphibious warfare” most people think immediately of the US Marines, and rightly so. But during WWII, the Army invested huge resources into the ability to land on a hostile shore and conduct operations.

There are two general types of amphibious operations: ship-to-shore and shore-to-shore. Ship to shore operations are those in which the landing force is transported to the objective in large, ocean going vessels, then landed via small craft onto the shore. Shore to shore operations take place over relatively short distances, and generally the troops are carried in smaller craft, rather than large transports. Obviously, the anticipated objectives will dictate which approach is taken.

In the late 1930s, with war clouds clearly on the horizon, both the Army and the Marines came to the conclusion that they would need to develop a serious amphibious capability, but they reached different conclusions because of very different assumptions about what type  of war they would be fighting.

For 20 years, the Navy had forseen war with Japan in the Pacific. And the cornerstone of the Navy’s strategy to defeat Japan was to defeat the Japanese fleet in a battle, likely somewhere near the Philipines. Since it would be impractical for the fleet to steam all the way from San Diego or Pearl Harbor and fight in those waters, the need for advanced bases was clear. And the Marines understood that as a consequence of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, any islands that could serve as an advance base would almost certainly be held by the Japanese. That meant the Marines had to be ready to travel the huge distances of the Pacific, land on remote islands, and seize relatively small objectives. For the Marines, this was a raison de etre.

The Army faced a different challenge. The Army had no desire to get into the amphibious warfare business. But watching the rise of Nazi German power, the Army leadership was convinced that sooner or later, they’d have to go fight in Western Europe again. And, unlike 1918, they weren’t at all sure the French ports would be available to land the huge armies planned. After the fall of France in June of 1940, the cold realization came that just to get  the Army to the fight would mean sooner or later, landing somewhere in Western Europe, under the guns of the enemy. And not only would the Army have to land there, they would have to build up their forces and simultaneously supply them over the beaches until a suitable port could be seized. Fortunately for the Army, England was still available as an advance base.

The Army didn’t completely ignore the ship to shore model of amphibious warfare, mostly because they couldn’t. When it became apparent that no cross-Channel operation to invade Europe would be possible in 1942 (mostly because of a lack of landing craft) President Roosevelt made the decision that a front in the Atlantic theater would be opened in North Africa. A combined British and American force would be landed in the French occupied territories of North Africa, then drive east to engage the German forces in  Tunisia. Due to the distances involved, this could only be a ship to shore movement. Many forces sailed from England, but a significant portion sailed all the way from ports on the East Coast of the US. Even against only fitful French and German resistance, the invasion fleet lost five large transports. One of the lessons the Army learned was that transports waiting to discharge their troops and cargoes were extremely vulnerable. In response, the Army wanted to make sure as many ships as possible had the ability to beach themselves to unload, minimizing the reliance on small craft such as the Higgins boat, LCVP, and the LCM.

LCM(3) (Landing Craft Mechanized Model 3)
LCM(3) (Landing Craft Mechanized Model 3)
Higgins Boat (Landing Craft Personnel Light)
Higgins Boat (Landing Craft Personnel Light)
LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel)
LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel)

These craft were carried near the objective by transports, and lowered over the side by booms or davits. That took time, time during which the transports, only 5-10 miles offshore, were vulnerable to submarines, airplanes and even coastal artillery.  While they were fairly good for getting the first units of lightly armed troops ashore, they were less efficient at getting ashore the huge numbers of follow-on troops needed, and importantly, the massive numbers of vehicles the troops would need to break out from any beachhead. Further, they just weren’t capable of bringing ashore the cargoes of supplies, fuel and ammunition the troops would need.  Something bigger was needed. And the first of these bigger craft was known as the LCT, or Landing Craft Tank. An LCM3 could carry one tank, barely. An LCT was a much bigger craft and could carry from 3 to 5 tanks. Five was an optimum number, as that was the number of tanks in a platoon, and keeping tactical units together on a landing greatly assisted in the assualt. As you can see from the picture, the LCT was essentially a self-propelled barge with a bow-ramp.

2lctmk5pageThe LCT could easily sail from England to France, or from Mediterranean ports in North Africa to Sicily and Italy. And while it could carry real numbers of tanks, something even better was in the works- the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. Early in the war, espcially as the Allies were first gearing up  for the invasion of North Africa, the Army (and especially the British) realized they had no way of shipping tanks overseas and landing them across beaches in any numbers. The LCT couldn’t handle the voyage, and loading LCMs over the side of a transport was problematic in anything but a flat calm. Worse, tanks kept getting heavier and heavier, faster than the booms on transport ships could grow to handle them. The idea arose of converting vessels originally built to carry rail cars from Florida to Panama as tank carriers. But while they could drive the tanks on at the embarkation point, the problem of discharging them remained. To unload them, the Army would need to seize a port. Indeed, this limitation was precisley why Casablanca was a target of the invasion. Enter the British. They had built a series of very shallow draft tankers to serve the waters around Venezuala. The reasoned that the design could quickly be adapted to build a large vessel that could safely beach itself, unload tanks held in what had formerly been the holds via a ramp in the bow, and then retract itself from the beach. Unlike an LCT, the LST might be ungainly and slow, but it was a real seagoing vessel.

LST (Landing Ship Tank)
LST (Landing Ship Tank)

While the LST was very valuable in bringing tanks, up to 20 at a time, it turns out the real value was in trucks. The Army in WWII was by far the most mechanized and motorized army in the world. And that meant trucks. Lots of trucks- to move people, supplies, tow guns, you name it. And the LST could carry a lot of trucks, already loaded, both on its tank deck, and on the topsides. And unlike the hassle of unloading a regular transport, all they had to do was drive down a ramp. After making an initial assault, as soon as an LST had discharged its tanks, it would turn around, go back to England (or where ever) and load up on trucks to build up the forces on the beachhead. To say the LST was a success would be a bit of an understatement. The US built roughly 1100 of them during the war for our Navy and the British.

While the LST was great for carrying tanks and trucks, it didn’t do so well at carrying people. One thing the Army really wanted was a small ship that could carry a rifle company from England and land them on the shores of France, non-stop and as a unit. The trick was getting the size just right. It had to be small enough to be built in large numbers, but big enough to cross the Atlantic on its own. It wouldn’t be expected to carry troops across the Atlantic. Those would come across on troopships. But any vessel large enough to do the job would be too large to carry aboard a transport. Pretty soon, the Navy designed and built the Landing Craft Infantry, or LCI. This was a vessel designed almost entirely with the invasion of Normandy in mind. It carried about 200 troops, roughly a reinforced rifle company, for up to 48 hours, which is about the time it took to load and transport them from ports in the Southwest of England and discharge them over the beaches of Normandy.

LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)
LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)

The Army had one other great tool for bringing supplies across the beach. In the days before the LST was available, the only method of getting trucks ashore across the beach was to winch them over the side of  a transport into an LCM. Someone at GM had the bright idea of doing away with the LCM part, and making the truck amphibious. That way, the truck could swim ashore, then drive inland to the supply dumps.  The result was basically a boat hull grafted onto a 2-1/2 ton truck, known as the DUKW, and commonly called a “duck.” Thousands of DUKWs, almost all manned by African American soldiers, brought wave after wave of critical supplies ashore across the beaches of Normandy and at other beaches the Army invaded. Unlike most landing craft, these were bought by, and operated by the Army, not the Navy.

DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck
DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck

Finally, in the Pacific, when you speak of amphibious warfare, again, you rightly think of the Marines. But in fact, the Army had a huge presence there as well. Indeed, it was always a larger prescence than the Marines. The Army made over 100 amphibious assualts in the Pacific theater, many in the Southwest Pacific in and around New Guinea. In conjunction with the US Seventh Fleet, MacArthur’s forces in the Southwest Pacific became masters at the art of amphibious warfare, striking where the Japanese least expected them, and routinely conducting sweeping flanking movements that left Japanese garrisons cut off and useless. Dan Barbey, the Commander of 7th Fleet became known as “Uncle Dan The Amphibious Man.” All this with a fleet mostly composed of tiny LCTs, a few LSTs and LCIs.

The Army also fought alongside the Marine Corps in some of their most storied battles, such as the invasions of Saipan and Okinawa. Indeed, if the atomic bomb attacks had not lead to the early surrender of Japan, the invasion of the home islands would have been mostly  an Army affair. Largely as a result of the Army’s preocupation with the European theater, these magnificent efforts have received little attention from the public at large.

After WWII, the Army’s focus again turned to Europe and the Cold War. For several reasons, including the vulnerability of shipping to nuclear weapons, amphibious operations fell out of favor with the Army. The Marines of course, continued to maintain that unique capabilty. Currently, the Army has no capability to conduct a landing against opposition. Current doctrine does still provide for limited ability to sustain forces by what is known as LOTS or “Logistics Over The Shore” and for the rapid deployment of troop units to hot spots via Afloat Prepositioning Squadrons. Basically, sets of unit equipment are mainained aboard large ships just days sailing from their possible objectives. If needed, they can sail to a friendly port or harbor, and unload their cargoes to meet up with troops flown in by either commercial aircraft or military transport planes. Alternatively, they can serve as a follow-on force to reinforce a beach seized by Marine amphibious assault.


Hey- Not bad for 53! Our girl Dana Delaney just celebrated her birthday on March 13. The star of Desparate Housewives sure doesn’t look desparate. And since we’re an Army blog, we’re plaesed as punch to have  a lovely lady who once portrayed an Army Nurse (China Beach 1988-91, where her co-star was Marg Helgenberger). And you longtime readers may have noticed, I do like the redheads!

Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!

Our blog buddy “This Buddy of Mine” has a brother who just graduated from the US Army Parachute School at Ft. Benning, GA after finishing his initial entry training to become an infantryman.

Normally, that’s no big deal. Except his brother is 37! Now, that’s not old to you or me, but it is positively ancient to soldiers.

TBoM’s brother just found out he’s headed to the 173rd Airborne Brigade, stationed in Vincenza, Italy, and he’ll be due for a rotation to Afghanistan sometime in the fall of this year.

The 173rd has a glorious combat record in Vietnam, and has added to its honors with a tour in Iraq. Here’s just a taste of what they saw:


Pimp my ride

We’ve talked before about how the Humvee isn’t really meant to be a fighting vehicle, even in its up-armored state.  The next obvious question would be, “What does a vehicle designed for fighting look like?” Well, we’ve all heard about the MRAP. But MRAPs have their own problems. They cost a fortune, and are big and heavy, limiting their mobility on the goat trails of Afghanistan, and the narrow alleys in Iraq.

In the 80’s, Army doctrine for a linear battlefield had heavy combat units securing the front line. Units in the rear area were responsible for their own local defense, but the lines of communication were (and supposedly still are) the responsibility of the Military Police. MPs may function as law-enforcement in peacetime, but in a combat situation, their primary focus is on three missions- POW handling, traffic control, and rear area security. The MP Corps wanted a vehicle heavier than the existing Humvee weapons carrier for some situations that needed a little more protection. They looked to the past, found the Cadillac Cage V-100 Commando armored car and had it updated into the M1117  Armored Security Vehicle or ASV.


The MP Corps bought about 50 of these in the late 80’s before procurement was switched to up-armored Humvees. Most of the decision to switch was based on cost. An up-armored Humvee only cost about $140,000 while an ASV ran about $700,000. That’s five times the cost. It wasn’t until the IED threat in Iraq became clear that the MPs started to rethink the decision to switch.

But there were still problems. At that price tag, the Army might be able to afford enough ASVs for the MPs, but not for the whole force. Secondly, right about the time the Army decided to restart production, the factory was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. They have finally rebuilt the factory, and are currently looking at buying  just over 2000 ASV’s.

Each ASV carries a three man crew- driver, gunner/commander, and a rear gunner. There’s also space for a 4th passenger. Thus each ASV can carry 4 men, versus 5 in an up-armored Humvee.  The ASV has a small turret carrying a 40mm Mk-19 machine gun and a M2 .50cal machine gun. There’s also a mount for an M249 SAW for the rear gunner.

By using angled armor, applique ceramic plates on the exterior and a kevlar spall liner in the interior, the ASV is designed to withstand fires from .50 cal machine guns and bursts from 155mm artillery shells at 15 meters. They aren’t proofed against RPGs, but most ASVs in Iraq that have been hit with PRGs have come through with few if any casualties to the crew.