Amtracs

So I’m cruising along the I-10 today, and come across an armored vehicle on the back of a flatbed truck. It was a newly refurbished AAVP-7 amphibious armored assault vehicle.

aav7

It’s fairly common to see military vehicles being transported on I-10, but I do believe this was the first time I’ve seen an AAVP-7.

The Marines were justly famous for their many amphibious assaults in the Pacific Theater during WWII. We commonly envision them charging down the ramps of small landing craft. And they did. At first. But early on, the Marines realized that troops were incredibly vulnerable to the enemy right at the shoreline. Somewhat serendipitously, an inventor in Florida named Donald Roebling had spent the 1930s developing an amphibious tracked vehicle for search and rescue in the massive swamps of Florida. Eventually, the Marines got wind of this, and via a long and painful development process, came up with the Landing Vehicle Tracked, which was an armored tracked vehicle that was seaworthy enough to manage the run from ship to shore, but could also move inland, away from the worst kill zones on the beach. Several variants were used in the war, by the Marines, and by the US Army. Postwar developments and deployments led to today’s AAV-7 family of vehicles.

The personnel carrier version is a big vehicle. It has to be, to carry the 25 Marines it is loaded with, in addition to its three man crew. There are also recovery and command versions of the vehicle. It can swim at about 8 knots in the ocean, and make about 35mph on land. Originally designed solely to transport Marines ashore for the assault, since Desert Storm, the Marines have used it mostly as an armored personnel carrier.

The AAV-7 is also pretty old. It first entered service in 1972. The fleet underwent a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) in the early 1980s, giving them an improved engine and transmission, and upgrading the weapon station from a single .50cal machine gun  to a station with both a .50cal and a 40mm Mk19 grenade launcher. An additional rebuild program started  around the turn of the century. The latest improvements include another new, larger engine (the same 600hp diesel as the M2 Bradley) and other improvements to the suspension system to increase ground clearance and ease maintenance. Given the additional armor the Marines have added to them over the years, the improvements were needed just to regain the original level of capability.

The Marines currently intend to replace the AAV-7 fleet with the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a smaller, much faster, more heavily armed vehicle, but that program has its neck on the chopping block right now in these austere times. In an age when a Bradley or a Stryker costs about $4 million the price of the EFV in 2007 was listed as an astonishing $22 million dollars! That’s half the cost of a MV-22 Osprey. The money spent on the development of the EFV alone would have more than paid for recapitalizing the AAV-7 fleet.

To go back to the early LVTs in WWII, it is interesting to look at the differences between the philosophy of the Army and the Marine Corps when addressing amphibious operations. The Army didn’t use many LVTs in the European theater. They mostly stuck to small and medium sized landing craft, while the initial waves of almost all Marine landings went in on LVTs. Why?

Well, most Marine assaults were on relatively small islands. Almost every square inch of any island they landed on  was fortified, and under the guns of the Japanese. There was no room for maneuver. The Marines were pretty much forced to charge straight into the teeth of the defenses.  Following the initial landings, there would be a sharp, relatively short fight for the island. Cut off from reinforcements, the Japanese could do little beyond delaying the inevitable loss of the island, and extract a high price in blood.

The Army’s amphibious operations in Europe were of a different nature. Rather than seizing a small island cut off from other resources, these invasions were generally to gain a foothold into a new theater of operations, such as North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and most famously, Normandy as the gateway to Western Europe.  Given the large size of these theaters, the Germans could not defend as densely every possible landing site. This gave the Army a good deal of leeway to maneuver in terms of choosing the exact landing sites. But the initial landings weren’t the point of the fight. The only purpose of the landings was to secure a means of bringing in the huge follow-on forces needed in these theaters. That meant the huge fleet of amphibious ships that landed the first wave of Army forces had to turn around immediately, and start shuttling in the next wave of divisions. For instance, the US Marines and Army landed on Okinawa on 1 April 1945. By the end of the second day, virtually all of the over 100,000 troops who would fight there were landed. But contrast that with Normandy, where the first day was just the kicking in of the door. The buildup of troops to fight in Western Europe would go on almost until the end of the war.

Given the limited numbers of amtracs available, and the differing nature of amphibious assaults between European and Pacific theaters, the decision was made to give the Marines (and, of course, the large number of Army units in the Pacific) priority on production. After WWII, the Army generally abandoned the amphibious assault mission, leaving that mission to the Marines.

2 thoughts on “Amtracs”

  1. Regarding WW II use of LVTs and the split between the ETO and PTO, the tactics certainly weighed into the allotments. At the same time, terrain was no small factor (and often noted by the planners). In the Pacific, planners had to consider coral reefs and other natural obstructions. As you say, in European waters, planners had more options when picking beaches. Further, a shingle in the Med is not as hard on the landing craft hull compared to a coral reef in the Carolines.

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