The Navy had a problem. The landings at Tarawa had shown that extensive shelling by battleships, cruisers and destroyers wasn’t enough to keep Japanese defenders suppressed. The interval between the when the large ships lifted their fires and the troops landing gave the Japanese time to shift from bombproof shelters to their defenses. What was needed was close in fire support for the last stretch of the run in to the beach. The Navy had actually foreseen the problem, but had totally underestimated the scale of fire support that was needed. It had originally thought a pair of .30cal machine guns on each landing craft would be sufficient. It wasn’t.
The first answer to the problem was the Landing Craft Support Small or LCS(S). This was the basic hull and machinery of a Higgins boat landing craft, but instead of carrying troops, it was armed with .50cal and .30cal machine guns. Further, simple rail launchers were provided for several barrage rockets. Typically, an assault transport might carry as many as 20 Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel, as well as one LCS(S). This was a start, but something better was needed.
In the Southwest Pacific Theater, MacArthur’s Navy had taken to converting Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) to gunboats by adding gun tubs on the foredeck. Others had large numbers barrage rocket rails added. These LCI(G) quickly proved their worth. Because they were landing craft, they were perfectly suited to sail close in to shore alongside the assault forces. Their rockets kept the Japanese pinned down while the 3”/50 guns and 40mm Bofors mounts could suppress machine gun and mortar positions, giving the landing troops the critical moments needed to transition from sea to shore.
Big Navy took note, and took steps to move beyond field expedient conversions. Very quickly, 130 purpose built Landing Craft Support (Large) were built in three yards. The LCS(L) was based on the LCI hull and machinery, but troop quarters were were omitted and gun mounts and rocket rails were installed instead. The former troop quarters spaces were instead used for magazine spaces.
At 185’ and 250 tons, these “Mighty Midgets” packed a lot of firepower on a little ship. The ships were originally fitted with two twin 40mm powered mounts, one forward and one aft, as well as either a 3”/50 mount our single unpowered 40mm mount forward. The ultimate battery replaced the forward mount with a third powered twin 40mm Bofors. The ships also packed rails for a large number of barrage rockets. Four Oerlikon 20mm rounded out the armament (though locally added extra guns were common). The ships were small enough to close in to shore with the landing forces, but big enough to cross oceans on their own bottoms.
Two Gray Marine Quad diesels gave the ship a maximum speed of only 16 knots, but also gave it an astonishing endurance of up to 5000 nautical miles. The pilot house and gun tubs had 10# STS splinter shields (proof against rifle fire, but not much else). The rest of the ship was unarmored. A crew of 6 officers and 65 sailors manned the ship, most of whom manned the guns or supplied them with ammunition.
While they were designed to provide fire support during landings, they turned out to be remarkably handy ships for a variety of roles. They could provide call fires for forces already ashore. They also had a very respectable fire-fighting capability. In the later campaigns of the Pacific War, they commonly conducted “skunk patrols” protecting the fleet from Japanese suicide boats attempting to attack transports in the unloading areas. At Okinawa, most of the radar picket stations had one or two destroyers on station to control fighter director teams. Often they would have an LCS(L) on station as well to add their 40mm guns to the anti-aircraft effort. Losses were heavy in both these roles, with two sunk and nine damaged by kamikazes and two sunk and two damaged by suicide boats.
These ships also helped support minesweeping operations both prior to landings, and immediately after the war. Soon, however, almost all the surviving LCS(L) were brought home, to be decommissioned and lie in wait.
Their simplicity, ease of operation and maintenance, and good firepower meant they made excellent coastal patrol craft, and many were transferred to friendly nations, such as Japan (irony?) France (for use in Vietnam), Italy, Greece, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Only one has survived, the LCS(L)-102. Transferred to Thailand, she served for many years as the Nahka, but in 2007 was returned to the US where she will be a museum ship in Vallejo, California.
Little known outside naval history circles, the LCS(L) provided sterling service. It’s a shame that today’s Navy has used the LCS designator for the monstrosity that has become the Littoral Combat Ship. The irony is that the previous LCS designation showed what a littoral combat ship was all about.