The Army, Amphibious Warfare, and the Engineer Special Brigades- Part II

When we last discussed the Engineer’s role in amphibious warfare, the 1st Engineer Amphibious Brigade had just been gutted to provide longshoremen and stevedore services to the forces involved in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in late 1942.

As we discussed earlier, the Army was eager to come to grips with the main body of the Wehrmacht. As events in North Africa showed, it is just as well that we invaded Africa first. Many lessons were learned fighting the Germans, and most popular histories center on the actions of II Corps under Lloyd Fredenhall at Kasserine. While that first bloody nose was certainly a wake up call to the Army Ground Forces headquarters to revamp and improve unit training, and to the Army staff to improve the equipment of troops, behind the scenes, there were other lessons learned.  And after Patton took over II Corps, the fight became the stuff of legend. The troops might not have covered themselves in martial glory, but Patton certainly did. The real lessons, however, weren’t at the front.

One of the prime lessons “big Army” learned in the North African invasion was the strategic importance of speed and momentum. The initial goal of the invasion was to seize Tunisia, to deny it to the Germans and Italians. But the decision was made to use as much shipping space as possible for troop units, and to deliberately short support, logistical, and supply units. Coupled with often chaotic conditions at the landings, the first forces came ashore, but with little or no momentum. Had the Vichy French forces continued to resist, US and British troops would have been in even more disarray than they were. As it was, a lunge was made to seize Tunis, but the logistics of the entire field army had to be carried over a single, old, poorly maintained rail line. Coupled with a nearly nonexistent road network, the Allies simply couldn’t drive to Tunis fast enough, even with little or no resistance, to occupy the city before the Germans landed enough troops to mount a defense. If the Army had maintained momentum over the beaches, through the assault, and onto the road, they might very well have avoided over five months of bitter campaigning in North Africa.

The Army had allowed the Navy to assume responsibility for landing craft operation during Torch because none of their crews had trained for ship-to-shore movements. The problem was, neither had the Navy crews. The landings in Africa were in shambles almost from the first waves. Virtually all the landing craft used were lost, and there was an awful bottleneck at the shoreline trying to move supplies from the assault shipping over the beach to the forces ashore. If the Navy wasn’t willing to concede a role operating landing craft to the Army, they certainly realized that they’d have to do a better job themselves. Further, there was clearly a need for a specialized organization to operate assault beaches, from the moment the first troops set foot ashore, until the landing beaches were closed and replaced by regular port facilities.  The 1st Engineer Amphibian Brigade would be reconstituted.

Meanwhile, half a world away, GEN MacArthur had problems of his own. With the fall of the Philippines, the bulk of his command was in Australia. Any return to the Philippines would first have to wrest control of New Guinea from Japan. And that meant amphibious operations. Lots of them.  More on that in Part III.

4 thoughts on “The Army, Amphibious Warfare, and the Engineer Special Brigades- Part II”

  1. The Army actually conducted more amphib ops than the Marines. Most people don’t know that. The 7th Fleet, which was assigned to the Southwest Pacific area under MacArthur, engaged mostly in amphib operations. I think KIncaid had a few Jeep carriers assigned, but that was about it. Kenney’s 5th AF handled most of the aviation tasks for the SWPA. The Battle of The Bismarck Sea was fought mostly by the 5th AF. Along with skip bombing techniques, they mounted 75mm guns in B-25s, and bunches of Ma Deuces in others and went and got ’em a few tons of flesh from the Imperial Japanese Navy.

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