War may be considered Darwinian in every sense. The victory is usually to the strongest, and military organizations that fail to adapt to changing situations are eventually defeated. In the midst of World War II, Japanese tactics in the Pacific had caused consternation among the Navy brass, forcing them to rethink the procedures for amphibious assaults. Changes in the manner in which troops were supported as they landed needed to be considered. As American weapons and tactics evolved so did those of the Japanese. In the end, the American adaptations coupled with her great industrial might proved superior, and Japan lost the war.
American adaptations led to the development of four major varieties of gunboat based on the LCI(L) hull: the LCI(G), which mounted additional guns and also rockets, the LCI(R), which was designed to clear the beaches with rockets in preparation for troop landings, the LCI(M), which supported troops ashore with heavy mortar fire and, a final development, the LCS(L)(3) or Landing Craft Support Large Mark 3 which combined many of the features of the first three.
The story of America’s amphibious gunboats begins about halfway through the war. In previous wars there had been no need for their service, and it was to take the experience of many amphibious landings on Pacific islands before their need would be recognized. In 1942–1943, with the neutralization of Rabaul as the eventual goal, American forces under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz worked their way up the Solomons chain as General Douglas MacArthur’s forces forged ahead on New Guinea and the adjacent islands. The Japanese, who had recognized the danger from American air power in sending their troops on large ships, had changed their tactics accordingly and made increasing use of armed barges to transport them between islands. This became evident during the battle for Guadalcanal from 1942 to 1943, and later after the Battle of the Bismarck Sea from 2 to 4 March 1943. During the latter battle, a Japanese resupply convoy transiting from Rabaul to Lae on New Guinea suffered great losses. Of the eight transports carrying supplies and men destined for Lae and their eight escorting destroyers, all eight transports were sunk as well as four of the destroyers. Supplies destined for the Japanese garrison on Lae were destroyed and the Japanese lost over 3,000 men in the attack. According to Samuel Eliot Morison: “The enemy never again risked a transport larger than a small coaster or barge in waters shadowed by American planes.”1
The barges in particular posed a special problem. They were shoal draft and could operate in very shallow water. This made it difficult for larger ships to intercept them. PT boats were successful against them, but their light armament and wood hulls made them vulnerable to the enemy’s counter-fire. Another type of ship had to be developed, a heavily armed, shoal draft gunboat that could intercept and destroy the barges. The answer was to mount guns on the LCI(L) ships and send them after the inter-island barge traffic. As a result, the first conversions did not carry rockets, as they were primarily designed to combat barges. The first of the conversions, LCI(G)s 21, 22, 23, and 70 were armed with 3"/50 guns, along with 40mm, 20mm and .50 caliber machine guns.
A second major use for armed gunboats came as the landing forces assaulted island after island in the Pacific. As the American forces pushed through the islands they found that their tactics did not always prevent heavy casualties. This became abundantly apparent by the time of the landing on Tarawa in November 1943. It had become a standard procedure to precede each amphibious landing with naval bombardment of the enemy’s positions. This did not always work as planned. Japanese defensive positions on the islands frequently consisted of covered trenches and foxholes. Surrounding the interior of a foxhole might be two rows of palm logs fastened together. The roof of such an installation would be built of two layers of palm logs, then sheet metal covered with several feet of earth. When faced with heavy shellfire, the Japanese hunkered down in their well-constructed bunkers and waited it out. Unless the bunker or other installation took a direct hit, it was likely that the defenders would emerge unscathed. Once the gunfire support ended there was usually a short period of time before the landing craft were able to place their troops ashore. This brief period gave the Japanese time to regroup and direct their fire at the assault forces. Japanese strategy at that time was to annihilate the attacking forces on the beach before they could land and consolidate their positions.
The Marine experiences at Tarawa in November 1943 were particularly horrific. Once the capture of Tarawa Atoll had been completed, the performance of the amphibious forces was assessed. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson, appointed as a Marine observer and liaison for Colonel David M. Shoup at Tarawa, suggested “that Navy devise an armored boat to carry a gun of 75mm caliber or larger. Boats of this type to be used against shore pill boxes at close ranges (200–700 yards) before assault units approach beach, in order to reduce machine gun and 40mm fire during movement of troops ashore.”2 Fortunately for the Marines and troops which would assault the beaches, such a ship had just come into use, the new LCI(G). Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, Commander of Task Force 52 at Tarawa, eventually submitted a report to CinCPac, entitled “Lessons Learned at Tarawa.” This report, dated 30 November 1944, identified the need for additional fire support of the troops as they began the final assault on an enemy island. He suggested the inclusion of LCI gunboats as important in future amphibious assaults. By that time the gunboat conversions had been in use over a year and had become an obvious addition to all island campaigns.
Early British Close-Support Craft
Although the LCI gunboats and the LCS(L)s provided needed support, they were not the first experiments with close-in support of assault troops. The Royal Navy had already mounted guns and rockets on a variety of small craft. Among the early adaptations was the 195' LCT, the first of which underwent conversion in December 1942. Three varieties of the conversion took place, the LCF (Landing Craft Flak), the LCG (Landing Craft Guns), and the LCT(R) (Landing Craft Tank Rockets). Since they were new weapons, they were considered secret projects and Royal sailors and Marines knew nothing about them until they reported aboard.
Mounted on the first version of the Landing Craft Flak (Mark 3) (LCF 3-6) were eight 2 pdr. pompoms and four 20mm guns. A second version (LCF 7-18) mounted four 2 pdr. pompoms and eight 20mm guns. Both were designed to defend invading forces against enemy aircraft. They were first used to support the ill-fated raid at Dieppe, France on 19 August 1942, and later at the invasions of Sicily, 9–10 July 1943, and France, on 6 June 1944.
Another conversion of the LCT was the LCG(L). This version was designed to combat shore targets such as pillboxes and gun batteries. It mounted two 4.7" QF naval guns and either two 20mm guns or two 2 pdr. pompoms.
The deadliest shore attack version of the LCT was the LCT(R), described as “one of the more terrifying inventions of the Second World War.”3 Mounted on the deck of the LCT(R) were rocket launchers capable of firing either 792 5-inch rockets in the LCT(2) conversion or 1,064 in the LCT(3) conversion. “According to one authority on Landing Craft, the total salvo of an LCT(R) was equivalent to the combined fire power of 80 light cruisers or 200 destroyers.”4 A pair of 20mm guns rounded out its armament.
Each of the conversions was designed for a specific task. The LCF was tasked with combating German and Italian air attacks, but as the war progressed and Allied air superiority increased, their usefulness diminished. The LCG(L) was an excellent weapon for shore assault as its guns could bear on specific targets and provide support for landings or troops ashore. Although the firepower of the LCT(R) consisted of devastating rockets, they could not be aimed. A rocket had a range of 3,500 yards at a fixed elevation of 45°. The ship had to be pointed in the direction of the target and a ranging rocket had to be fired. Once the proper range had been determined, the entire salvo was launched. It was not as accurate, but its immense barrage made that less than necessary. It would share this characteristic with other rocket bearing gunboats. As devastating as their armed landing ships were, the number of amphibious assaults in the European Theater of war was not that great. Fighting moved quickly inland out of the range of the new gunboats.
Early versions of the LCT conversions ran into design problems, not unusual for ships designed for one purpose and converted under war conditions to another mission. The first of the LCG(L)s were designed so that there was an open space between the bow and the gun decks, with no means of pumping out water that entered the space. On the delivery trip to their base, LCG(L)s 15 and 16 hit rough weather, shipped water and sank. Modifications were quickly made to the ships and future disasters were thwarted. However, conversions of these ships and others would usually be problematic until the design flaws were worked out.
Although some LCTs were converted for use in the European theater, their use in the Pacific was deemed impractical. Here an LC(F), or Landing Craft Flak, moves toward the French coast for the D-Day invasion on 7 June 1944. This was a British conversion of the LCT(3). NARA 80G 252745.
An LCM(R) with rockets is shown at the Amphibious Training Command, Florida Island, in the Solomon Islands, 24 April 1944. Boats thus equipped were used just prior to the landing of ships. Their rockets cleared away beach obstacles and mines. NARA 80G 270134.
Among the other landing craft armed were the LCM, the LCG(M), the LCVP, the LCS(S) and the LCS(M). These craft provided a variety of support services for the troops as they landed. Rockets mounted on these craft were used to clear beaches of mines and barbed wire, and later for support against enemy troops.
The Development of the LCI Conversions
The beginnings of America’s amphibious gunboat conversion took place in early 1943. Under consideration at that time were a number of smaller vessels that might prove adaptable for close-in fire support. Among the ships and craft considered for conversion were:
A major consideration for the ships was their ability to carry a variety of weapons. The smaller craft were simply not capable of delivering the firepower needed to cover the landings. The wooden hulls on the LCC, MTB, SC, and PCS ruled them out. It was thought they would come off second best in an encounter with an enemy barge and would be too vulnerable to shore fire. The LCT-5, while capable of mounting significant firepower, was simply not seaworthy enough to transit long distances in the Pacific. The small size of the LCC ruled her out and was also a factor in not pursuing conversions of the LCS(S) and MTB. The PC was of significant size but already overloaded. Conversion of her would have required the installation of much more equipment which would prove impractical. The options for a close-in support craft seemed limited.
PC 1078, shown at Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon, on 9 February 1945. The 173 foot PC was considered for conversion into a close-support ship but the necessary changes would have been impractical. NARA 19LCM PC 1078.
However, studies by the Bureau of Ships had determined the feasibility of mounting additional guns on the LCI(L)s.
At the conferences on 18 and 20 May 1943, the Bureau submitted advance prints of a preliminary study of a 153' Support Craft converted from the LCI(L) type. It was emphasized at the time that the scheme was subject to further study and development. The armament shown consisted of two—3"/50 caliber antiaircraft double purpose guns, two—40mm. twin antiaircraft guns (director controlled) and four—20mm. antiaircraft guns.5
Subsequent studies revealed the desirability of having a twin 40mm gun forward, making it necessary to eliminate one of the 3"/50 guns in order to ensure stability. Still other armament configurations were considered as additional designs, but the ideas were discarded for reasons of simplification in production and flexibility in ship assignment.
Having determined the desirability of a fire support ship that could operate close-in to the beach and the type of ship to be converted, it was now a question of putting the plan into action.
Within a few months, the Fifth Amphibious Forces gave birth to the first of the LCI(G)s. Captain Roy T. Cowdrey, who served as the Force Maintenance Officer, Service Squadron, South Pacific Force for Admiral William Halsey, developed the plans for mounting additional armament on the LCI(L) ships. The shallow draft of the LCI(L) would allow it to get in close to shore and support the troops as they landed. Japanese barges had an average speed of about six knots and the fourteen knot LCIs could easily catch them. Early LCI(L)s conversions were primarily designed to attack inter-island barge traffic.
The first LCI(L)s to be converted to gunboats came from LCI(L) Groups Thirteen and Fourteen of Flotilla Five. These ships had been active in the Solomons and were sent to Noumea, New Caledonia, for conversion. LCI(L)s 21 and 22 set out from Flotilla Five’s base at Florida Island in the Solomons for Noumea on 26 September 1943 and LCI(L)s 23 and 70 departed two days later. They returned to Florida Island several weeks later, on 23 October. At Noumea, they came under the experienced hand of Cowdrey who added firepower to the four ships, effectively turning them into gunboats.6 Mounted on these conversions were:
1—3"/.50 Caliber AA Gun
1—40 M/M Single Air-cooled AA Gun
4—20 M/M AA Gun
6—.50 AA Machine Guns7
In his letter to BuShips, Cowdrey noted that the additional armament had reduced the stability of the ships and that changes in loading were made. This consisted of recommendations for loading specific tanks with diesel fuel or sea water as ballast. Two of the newly converted gunboats, LCI(G) S22 and 23, were first put into use in the capture of the Treasury Islands on 15 October 1943, and shortly thereafter, during the campaign for Bougainville.
Admiral William Halsey (left), Commander of the South Pacific Force, awards the Legion of Merit to Captain Roy T. Cowdrey for “outstanding service in salvaging damaged ships.” Cowdrey was instrumental in converting the LCI(L)s into gunboats. NARA 80G 81392.
With the value of the new gunboats recognized immediately, a number of conversions took place at several locations. Flotilla Five sent LCI(L)s 67 and 69 to Noumea for conversion on 10 November 1943 and LCI(L)s 24 and 68 followed them six days later. They were back with Flotilla Five on 17 December and 28 December respectively. Conversion of other ships in the group continued over the next few months. By mid–1944, Group Thirteen of Flotilla Five would consist solely of gunboats: LCI(G)s 21–24, 61,and 64–70. They patrolled the waters around Bougainville, the Green Islands, New Ireland, and New Britain, making sure that Japanese barge traffic was kept to a minimum and disrupting the inter-island transport of troops and supplies. In August 1944, LCI(G)s 23, 64, 65, 68, 69, and 70 reported to the VII Amphibious Force for the invasion of Morotai.
For the LCI sailors who were on board during the change, the conversion left them with doubts. They recognized that the heavy gun mounted high over the deck would make the ship top heavy and they speculated that its presence would “contribute to rougher rides in future storms.”8 For crewmen on the newly converted LCI(G) 24, trepidation rose as they approached the testing time for the new armament. Louis V. Plant, a signalman on board the ship, later wrote:
We don’t know if it is going to blow up or if this tub will sink or what. We drop a 50-gallon drum into the water and go out about a thousand yards. The gunners fire the gun and it works. The vibration knocks out the gyrocompass and disturbs a lot of dust in our living quarters, but it works. We miss the barrel by about 100 yards, but practice will improve our marksmanship.9
In addition to the new guns, some of the ships were equipped with depth charges, but without sonar gear these were of no use. They were off-loaded at Bougainville.
Converted at Pearl Harbor, beginning in December of 1943, were LCI(L)s 77–80 and 345–348. Shortly thereafter, Pearl Harbor converted a second group, consisting of LCI(L)s 365, 366, and 437–441. Also during that month, the San Diego Naval Repair Base converted LCI(L)s 449–453, 455and 457 to gunboats. Variations in the armament mounted on these ships was partly based on minor differences of the two main classes of LCI(L), the 1–350 Class and the 351–1098 Class. In a letter dated 24 March 1944, Chief of Naval Operations noted armament installations on various LCI(G)s that had been completed by February 1944.
Gunboats normally used tripod mounted .50 caliber machine guns. However, once suicide boats and swimmers made their appearance, it became obvious that the guns could not depress sufficiently to combat those threats. As a result, gunboat captains acquired additional machine guns. These were set on mounts that were welded onto the rail, allowing the gun to point almost directly down into the water. This gun was mounted on LCS(L) 48 after several of her companion ships were sunk by suicide boats at Mariveles Harbor in the Philippines.LCS(L)(3) 48 A Souvenir Photo Booklet by Robert Amick, circa 1990s, p. 17.
LCI(L) 77–82, 345–348 (Type A)
2—40mm AAG (single)
6—cal. .50 AAMG
10—4.5 inch Rocket Launchers, Mark 7 (C.I.T. Type 8)
LCI(L) 365, 366, 437–442 (Type B)
3—40mm AAG (single)
5—cal. .50 AAMG
8—4.5 inch Rocket Launchers, Mark 1 Mod 1
LCI(L) 449–453, 455, 457 (Type C)
2—40mm AAG (single)
6—cal. .50 AAMG
10—4.5 inch Rocket Launchers, Mark 7 (C.I.T. Type 8)
2—Projectors, Mark 2210
Forward guns on LCS(L) 8 fire on Mariveles Harbor, 15 February 1945. The two guns shown here are the twin 40mm, which is in the foreground, and the 3"/50 at the bow. The 3"/50 was used on the early LCI(G)s and on a number of LCS(L)s. The twin 40mm was standard on the LCS(L)s and later used on the last LCI(G) conversions. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
Many of the LCS(L) gunboats carried the single 40mm gun at their bow instead of the twin 40mm or 3"/50 gun. This was an interim fit caused by a shortage of twin 40mm guns. Wiring was in place for the twin 40mm gun and, on a few occasions, the swap was made in the war zone. The single 40mm was also mounted on most of the LCI gunboats. This is the bow gun on LCS(L) 35. Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy Charles R. Thomas.
The single 20mm gun could be found on LCI(L)s and LCI gunboats, as well as on the LCS(L)s. This gun is shown on LCS(L) 35.Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy Charles R. Thomas.
LCI(G) 347 is shown underway at Peleliu on 16 September 1944. She was one of the early conversions and saw action in the South Pacific. NARA 19LCM LCI(G) 347 BuAer 257263.
Within the next year, and up until the end of the war, additional conversions took place, each having slightly different arrangements of guns and rockets.
Rockets as weapons of war date from the early 1200s when the Chinese put them to use against Mongol invaders. However, the Western world did not see them as a viable weapon until the twentieth century. The initial stages of World War II saw the Allied forces attempting to stem Japanese advances throughout the Pacific, and it was not until the first stage of the war against Japan was over that the Americans began to consider the rocket as an offensive weapon. The American organization most responsible for their development and subsequent use in amphibious assaults was the National Defense Research Committee. Working closely with the research group at the California Institute of Technology, the NDRC charged them with the task of developing rockets, explosives, and rocket launchers that might be used against the enemy. Attending a demonstration of the new rockets was one of the Navy’s senior officers,
who immediately suggested the development of a special type of rocket projector for amphibious operations.
The suggestion was made by Vice-Admiral Wilson Brown, Commander Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet, at a demonstration of the Mousetrap and other California Institute rockets. He had assumed that command only a short time before, having previously been the commanding officer of the task force which had made the brilliant raid on Lae and Salamaua some months before. No doubt when he witnessed the rocket demonstration he was thinking of the necessities of his new command, and therefore saw in rockets an opportunity to take care of one of the most critical phases of an amphibious operation.11
Based on his previous experience, he saw the mounting of such rockets on amphibious assault craft as the answer to a major problem in amphibious landings. The lapse of time between shore bombardment by larger ships and the actual landing of infantry troops on shore gave the enemy time to regroup. A shallow draft boat or ship was required that could get in close to the shore and continue firing on the enemy positions to keep them off balance as the troops landed. Mounting rockets on shallow draft boats seemed the logical solution. Based on Wilson’s suggestions and his description of the Navy’s needs, the scientists at CalTech went to work. Within a short space of time they had developed a barrage rocket (BR) based on standard 4.5 inch tubing. Since the immediate plan was to mount them on small boats, the launchers for the rockets were limited to only five feet in length. This was short enough to mount on the Landing Craft Support (Small) or LCS(S) boat that was in existence at the time. The boat was only about thirty-seven feet in length and a rocket launcher could be mounted both port and starboard of the pilot’s compartment. The first tests of the rocket carrying LCS(S) took place at San Diego in late July 1944, with the boat successfully delivering rocket fire on the beaches at San Clemente Island, a standard Navy test range.12
Word quickly spread about the new rocket boat and the Commander Amphibious Forces, Atlantic Fleet requested a demonstration. This took place at Solomons Island in Chesapeake Bay on 25 August 1942. Apparently the Navy officials were impressed and immediately put in an order for twenty-five pairs of launchers and 3,000 rockets. The invasion of North Africa was imminent and the Navy planned to use them there. As a result, the first amphibious launch of rockets against shore targets was made during the invasion of North Africa at Casablanca on 8 November 1942.
A DUKW of the Second Engineer Special Brigade shown with rocket launchers mounted at Cairna, Queensland, Australia, on 17 July 1943. The rocket DUKW made its first amphibious assault at Arawe on 15 December 1943. NARA 111-SC 236001.
Rocket racks are shown installed on one of the first DUKWs to mount them. This photograph was taken at Cairna, Queensland, Australia, on 17 July 1943. NARA 111-SC 236001.
The Mark 7 Rocket Launcher had a simple construction, however, it was not robust as shown by this drawing. It could be quickly fabricated, was adaptable for mounting on all types of craft, and was the primary rocket launcher on the LCI gunboats. War Department Technical Manual TM 9-394, 4.5 Inch Rocket Material for Ground Use (Washington: DC: War Department, 7 February 1945), p. 12.
The next amphibian to carry rockets was the DUKW. Engineers of the Second Engineer Special Brigade were convinced that a DUKW carrying rockets was the answer to their prayers. Work on launchers for the DUKW began at CalTech in November 1942. The first rockets fired by the vehicle took place on 22 January 1943 at nearby Fort Ord. From that point on research on developing better launchers for the DUKW continued, with the final launcher version capable of launching 120 barrage rockets. The success of the rocket DUKW saw the ordering of increasing numbers of rocket launchers for DUKWs as the war progressed. The DUKW would be the first amphibian to fire rockets at the Japanese when it participated in the fight for Satelberg, New Guinea, in early November 1943. However, this was not a beach assault, but rather an inland target fifteen miles from the ocean. The first amphibious assault involving DUKWs was at Arawe on 15 December 1943 where they were put to use by the Second Engineer Special Brigade as it made its landing.13 Having proven their worth at Arawe, they were again used on 26 December where they
supported the landing of the 1st Marine Division and attached troops at Cape Gloucester (Yellow Beach) and Tauali (Green Beach). As at Arawe, the landings were preceded by heavy aerial and naval bombardment including, at Tauali, a close-support rocket barrage from the DUKWs. The effect was so devastating that target areas were completely laid waste and Japanese defenders on the beaches were forced to withdraw into the jungle.14
Additional firepower was desired against beach targets, and the scientists at CalTech developed a launcher that could be mounted on the LCM. It consisted of paired rails, each capable of launching a single rocket. With twenty-two such double rails on each side of the cockpit, an LCM could launch a total of eighty-eight rockets.
In this photograph, taken at Central Rocket School, ATB Fort Pierce, Florida, on 11 April 1944, an instructor stands near a mock up of a Mark 7 rocket launcher used for training. The rockets shown here are the 4.5 inch fin-stabilized barrage rockets (BR) that were in use in the earlier part of the war. Toward the end they were replaced by the 5 inch spin-stabilized rockets which had a greater range. NARA 80G 264471.
Mark 7 rocket launchers held twelve rockets in two tiers. The sequence for firing the 4.5 inch barrage rockets is shown above. If one of the rockets failed to fire, it would sit in the rack, preventing the others from firing. This was a flaw in the rocket launcher, which needed constant maintenance and repair in the war zone. The fragile nature of the launcher is shown in this diagram. If the frame of the launcher was impacted and thrown out of line, the rockets would fail to feed properly. It was not uncommon for the outboard mounted launchers on the LCI gunboats to suffer damage when they were alongside other ships for transfer of supplies or personnel. War Department Technical Manual TM 9-394, 4.5 Inch Rocket Material for Ground Use (Washington, DC: War Department, 7 February 1945), p. 96.
A further development of the launcher was the Mark 7 Automatic Rocket Launcher which was gravity fed and capable of launching twelve rockets.
The gravity-feed automatic proved to be the most versatile and widely used of all the barrage-rocket launchers. It could be mounted on practically anything—and was. A simple attachment allowed two to be hung outboard on a jeep. With light blast scoops, twelve could be mounted in the cargo space of a Duck or on a 2½ ton truck. These launchers were mounted on ¾ ton 4 × 4 and 1½-ton 6 × 6 trucks. They were mounted on LCV(P)’s, on LCM’s, on LCS’s, on LCS(L)(3)’s. They were mounted on PT boats and on LVT(A)’s—the latter the combat version of the amphibious tractor commonly known as the Buffalo. They could have been mounted on rowboats had there been any reason to do so.
In the Pacific, LCI’s, with automatic launchers mounted on every available foot of deck and coaming space, came to be used as the standard rocket gunboat for all sizeable amphibious landings.15
With the introduction of the rocket carrying DUKW the VII Amphibious Force, under Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey, decided to place the rocket launchers on two LCI(L)s. Thus came about the development of the LCI(R). Barbey reasoned that the use of machine guns against beach defense forces was insufficient. Naval gunfire from the larger ships could not be used for fear of hitting American aircraft operating over the landing area. Rockets were the best answer. The development of these new rocket ships was considered vital as the invasion of Cape Gloucester, New Britain, was imminent. According to Barbey:
Commander Dwight Day, our assistant repair officer, was the man who supplied the answer.
On the decks of the LCI-31 and LCI-34 he installed racks to hold twelve rocket launchers. Each launcher could fire twelve 4.5-inch rockets. Each rocket had a fixed range of about 1200 yards. Since the launchers were in a fixed position, the rockets could only be aimed by heading the ship and hence the launcher in the direction of the target.
The launchers when installed were angled out from zero degrees for the launchers farthest forward, up to three degrees for those farther aft on each side, which gave them a coverage of about three hundred feet.16
The conversion of the two LCI(L)s into rocket gunboats was performed from March to April 1943 when the two LCI(L)s were taken to the repair ship Rigel AR 11 at Efate, New Hebrides, for the installation of 40mm guns on 31 March 1943. After the 40mm guns were installed, the two new rocket gunboats spent several days testing them and training their crews in their use. On 18 April the two moored to LST 453 at Seeadler Harbor and their rocket launchers were welded in place.17 The test run for the LCI(R)s would be at Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943.
Although the rockets mounted on the gunboats were excellent weapons, they frequently proved unreliable. It was not uncommon for launchers to fail. This might occur if the rocket exhaust burned the insulation off the wiring and caused a short circuit. Jams were not uncommon and were likely to occur if the rockets were not loaded properly or if they had been shaken out of position by enemy gunfire or rough weather. Many of the rocket launchers were bent out of shape and rendered inoperable as the gunboats came aside larger ships to replenish supplies and were battered into them by wave action. LCI(G) 453, in the attack on Peleliu on 15 September 1944, noted that of 1,008 rockets loaded for the assault, 189 failed to fire. These problems were reported in virtually every amphibious operation, and those of the gunboats of Task Force 79 at Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines were typical. LCI(G) 451, part of Task Unit 79.8.2 during the assault on Lingayen on 9 January 1945, reported that 49 of 359 rockets failed to fire due to “hang-ups” in the projectors.18 LCI(G) 440, also at the Lingayen attack reported that: “The failure of two rocket launchers to maintain a live firing circuit is probably due to rockets being loaded too far ahead of time and then subjected to salt spray.”19 On board LCI(G) 407 109 rockets fired but others did not. Her CO, Lieutenant (jg) John D. McEnroe, reported that it “was a result of vibrations, caused by 40mm and 20mm fire, which shorted out some of the electric circuits.”20 Captain Theodore W. Rimer, CO of Task Group 79.8, commenting on the action report of LCI(G) 373, indicated in his endorsement that less than ten percent of that ship’s rockets failed to fire and that the cause was: “Due to the directed procedure of firing rockets in salvos, the heat generated serves to burn away and cause defective firing leads to adjacent unfired banks of rocket launchers.”21
Commander Dwight H. Day (right) is congratulated by Rear Admiral Albert G. Noble after receiving Silver and Bronze Stars. Day is credited with developing the LCI(R) conversion at the behest of Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey. NARA 80G 312798.
Fixing fuses on board LCI(R) 708 at Iwo Jima 19 February 1945. The new 5 inch spin-stabilized rockets made their first appearance on LCI gunboats at Iwo Jima. This photograph may be compared with the one showing the 4.5 inch fin-stabilized rocket. NARA 80G 305047.
Continued development of the rocket produced a new type, the 5 inch spin-stabilized rocket, which first came into use at Iwo Jima and shortly thereafter at Okinawa. It had a range of 5,000 yards compared to the 1,200 yard range of the 4.5 inch fin-stabilized barrage rocket. This solved the problem caused by offshore reefs which kept the rocket gunboats too far from shore to use their rockets during some amphibious assaults. In his letter to the Coordinator of Research and Development, the Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, Rear Admiral William H. P. Blandy, “requested that a project be initiated with the National Defense Research Committee for the study and development of rotating rockets using solventless extruded ballistite or its equivalent as a propellant.”22 Blandy noted that CalTech had already made progress in the development of the new type rocket.
The 4.5 inch fin-stabilized rocket was the standard for LCI gunboats up until the assault on Iwo Jima at which time the 5 inch spin-stabilized rocket began to appear. LCS(L)s used the 4.5 inch rockets until the end of the war. NARA 80G 257243.
Spin-stabilized rockets were mounted on the LCI(R)s of Flotilla Sixteen at Hunter’s Point in San Francisco in November 1944. Half of the thirty-six LCI(R)s had six Mk. 51 launchers and the other half Mk. 30 launchers. Flotilla Sixteen, under the command of Lieutenant Commander C. E. Coffin, headed for action at Iwo Jima with the new spin-stabilized rockets.
An earlier innovation in naval artillery surfaced during World War II. Mortars had been used on ships by the French and English as early as the 17th Century. At that time they were mounted on purpose built ships known as bomb ketches. Their use continued in more modern navies, and ships with mortars were used during the American Revolution and in the American Civil War. It was only a matter of time before they once again became useful.
Although the development of the LCI(G) and the LCI(R) were strictly Navy innovations, the use of mortars on board ships during World War II and the development of the LCI(M) was a different matter. The Navy, in cooperation with the Army, had experimented with the use of mortars on board landing craft in the European theater in early 1943. The geography of the area and tactical operations demonstrated that they would not be of much use there. In contrast, they might be an ideal weapon to support the many amphibious landings in the Pacific.
Plans to place 4.2 inch mortars on LCI(L)s and LCTs were formulated in early 1942. By 1943 the project was well underway and in “July 1943 a chemical mortar battalion with weapons mounted in landing craft took part in the seaborne assault on Sicily. The battalion was ready to fire from its offshore positions, but the need did not arise.”23
About the same time at a joint Army-Navy meeting in Hawaii, Colonel George F. Unmacht of the Chemical Warfare Service, presented the idea to Navy officers who found it to their liking. A letter from Colonel Unmacht to Brigadier General Alden H. Waitt, Chief of the Chemical Warfare Service, dated 24 April 1944, noted:
For many months we have done a great deal of planning with respect to the use of the 4.2 mortar, believing that adequate fire support could be obtained if the mortars were placed in a ship of sufficient size to mount from six to eight mortars with ammunition and personnel. As a result of discussions with the Navy, an LCT(6) was made available, special mortar mounts were built by the Navy, and four mortars fired during the recent Robert’s demonstration at Makua. The fire power of these mortars astounded General Richardson and the several hundred, Navy, and Marine officers who witnessed the demonstration. Since the additional tests have been conducted, the mount has been strengthened considerably, and eight mortars have been mounted on the LCT, four firing on the starboard and four on the port.24
Apparently the display of firepower from the LCT was impressive. In a post script to his letter, Unmacht noted the reaction of General Burgin, Chief of Artillery, who exclaimed “‘Jesus Christ they are still coming down’ when 90 shells HE were fired in 1 minute and 12 seconds.”25
Further experiments were tried using both LCTs and LCI(L)s. By fall of 1944, the Navy was ready to put the experiment into action. An abortive attempt to use mortars mounted on LCTs for the invasion of Saipan in June 1944 had met with disaster. Operational mishaps destroyed the three mortar-equipped LCTs before they could get into the battle. The lack of success in the operation led the Navy to consider other options.
The open well space on the LCT, intended for transporting tanks, made the craft unsuitable for open ocean campaigns. The British had learned this the hard way when several of their early LCT conversions had sunk after hitting rough weather.26 By this time, the LCI(L) gunboat conversions had proven their worth in carrying extra guns and rockets. A decision was made to mount three of the 4.2 mortars on LCI(L)s. Thus converted, the new gunboat would be designated as the LCI(M).
Initial tests mounting the 4.2 inch chemical mortar on LCTs were conducted in June 1944, but the open deck space of the craft made it unsuitable. NARA 80G 307567.
Four ships from Flotilla 14, Group 40, LCI(L)s 739, 740, 741, and 742, reported to the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor on 21 July 1944 to undergo conversion to LCI(M)s. On each were mounted three 4.2 chemical mortars. One was mounted forward and two on either side of the ship about amidships. The mortars were fixed and fired over the bow. Earlier tests of the mortars had demonstrated that they could wreak havoc with the ship’s deck plating. Additional plating was used to reinforce the deck around and beneath the mortar mounts. To protect the hull and decks of the ships, special mortar mounts had to be devised. These consisted of “a reinforced box to which the standard of the mortar could be bolted. The box was filled with a mixture of sand and sawdust and the base plate was seated on a wooden block which in turn rested on this mixture. A buffer was constructed at the back of the box to take the backlash out of the mortar.”27 The No. 2 crew compartment was converted to a magazine for mortar ammunition designed to hold 1,200 mortar rounds. Sprinkler systems were installed in the magazines as an added safety measure. Work on the mortar ships was finished on 7 August 1944.28
Since the mortars were Army weapons, the Navy used Army personnel to man them during the early phases of their use. In this manner LCI(M) 739, one of the first of the mortar bearing gunboats, embarked two officers and twenty-five men on 30 July 1944 from the Army’s 88th Chemical Mortar Battalion, the 91st Chemical Mortar Company, and the 111th Infantry Regiment. They would man the mortars and eventually train sailors to work them. The following day the LCI(M)s steamed off Oahu and test fired their mortars. The four ships would be the first of the mortar gunboats to see action, participating in the assault on Peleliu and Angaur Islands on 15 September 1944.29 From that point on they regularly accompanied the other LCI conversions in amphibious assaults.
One of the deficiencies noted in the use LCI(G)s and LCI(R)s was that the ships needed time to reload once they had fired their rockets. This was not to be the case with the mortars. Mortars could be fired continuously and their rounds were more destructive than rockets.
Although the mortars were set in specially designed mount boxes, problems did occur. It was not unusual for the support rods and mounts to break. Carrying welding equipment on one of the ships within the group usually proved valuable, as repairs could be made on site. Recommendations in action reports frequently noted that the rate of fire could be increased if the mortars were fitted with water cooling mechanisms.30
Further problems with the mounts were noted by Lieutenant (jg) Kenneth L. Bush, CO of LCI(M) 638 at Okinawa. According to Bush:
As the mount stands the mortar is not a ship-borne weapon. The simplest type of spring hydraulic recoil counter recoil system would make it so. Mortar ships have, I believe, proved their worth. Future designs should include a mount that can be depended on for the continuous fire wherein lies the principal advantage of the mortar ship as an harassing unit. The makeshift lashings necessary to keep a mortar in action would be considered unsafe for operation on any other Navy weapon. The success of the mortar on ship board is not the result of a satisfactory mount but the result of the ingenuity of the American Sailor and his ability with a piece of line, a pair of pliers and a welding torch.31
Within a short time adjustments to the types of fire plans made the weapon more effective. The range of the mortar could be changed by adding additional powder rings. Normally the angle of the mortar could be adjusted to affect the range. This worked well for stationary mortars on land, however, the mortar on the LCI(M) was under continual movement. Four different fire plans were developed during World War II. They were:
1. Laying a Rolling Barrage Moving at the Same Speed as that of the Ship was effected by maintaining a constant number of powder rings on all shells. The firing was started at the water’s edge and the desired rate of fire was maintained until the barrage had reached its farther limit….
2. Laying Fire in a Limited Zone was done by a series of rolling barrages using decreasing increments of powder rings so as to run through the area as in the previous case and then employ a lesser number of rings so that the firing was again started at the beach and rolled inland until the ship reached the limit of its course inshore….
3. All Firing With the Ship Stopped is not completely equivalent to land firing since a stopped ship cannot maintain heading and in consequence, moves backward and forward to maintain steerageway and swings to either side of the target. This results in greater dispersion of fire which is not a bad feature when area bombardment is underway but renders pinpoint firing more difficult….
4. Single Successive Runs were employed at Iwo Jima. The ships were used in a circle—successively running in toward shore, firing as they went. When they had reached a predetermined distance from shore, they swung out and took position at the end of the line as the next ship went in over the designated course.32
The LCI(M)s soon proved themselves capable and valuable in island assaults. The 3,200-yard range of the mortars was greater than that of the rockets, and they could reach the reverse slopes where enemy soldiers were protected from rocket and gunfire. From the initial use of four mortar gunboats at Peleliu, forty-five were in operation during the campaign for Okinawa.
Shortly after their introduction, word spread about their effectiveness. Ships that were designed to mount other weapons found that the addition of a mortar or two would be desirable in some situations. Lieutenant (jg) Olin C. Taylor, CO of LCI(G) 24 at Bougainville, had earlier recommended that LCI gunboats “be allowed two 81MM mortars, one forward and one aft, so that they can shell in areas where only high angle trajectories can reach.”33Gunboat skippers, ever ready to adapt, would supplement their firepower with whatever they could fit on board. In this manner LCS(L)s 9 and 10, operating with Philippine guerrilla forces around Mindanao, each utilized single 81MM mortars in their attacks on enemy positions.
Colonel George F. Unmacht (center), of the Army’s Chemical War Service in Hawaii, is shown viewing a flame thrower demonstration at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, on 23 March 1945. Unmacht was instrumental in pushing for the adoption of the 4.2 inch chemical mortar on Navy ships. NARA 111 SC 231517.
Continual problems with the mortar mounts and beds were of great concern to the unit commanding officers. In addition, the work at some conversion sites was considered inferior to that of others. Lieutenant Commander S. J. Kelley, who served as Commander Task Unit 52.25.2 at Okinawa, noted this problem after his ships had been in action during May of 1945 against enemy emplacements near Naha, Okinawa. He wrote, “The usual minor damages were sustained on many base and cradle assemblies. Damages occurred to steel frames, wooden liners, standard supports and tie-rods. Repairs were accomplished by Group Engineering personnel. It is of interest that ships that were converted at PEARL have, for the most part, experienced more of such damages than those converted on the WEST COAST.”34
Mortars being loaded on an unidentified LCI(M). The outboard position of the two mortars on each side near the deckhouse exposed the mortar crews to sniper fire and it was recommended that they be shielded or moved to a safer position. This did not happen for the duration of the war. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
One of the downsides for the LCI(M) was the lack of a 40mm bow gun. In order to lighten the weight of the LCI(M), the landing ramps had been removed. This was necessary since the ship would be carrying the additional weight of mortar ammunition. It was suggested that by removing the little used forward anchor, anchor winch, cable and engine, along with spare anchor and cable, a savings of 10,229 pounds could be made. The weight of a 40mm gun with its ammunition would be only 9,845 pounds, making the addition of a 40mm bow gun quite feasible.35 Consideration for this adjustment in armament of the LCI(M) was made in late 1944, and the following year 40mm guns were installed on a number of the mortar gunboats. However, shortages of the 40mm in the war zone made it a slow process.
This diagram of an LCI(M) shows the placement of the three mortars. From Military Review, November 1946, p. 17.
This photograph shows the conversion of LCI(G) 803 to the LCI(M) version at San Pedro, California, in December 1944. Visible in this view from the forecastle are the three special beds used for mortar mounts. NARA RG 19 C-LCI(M) 803.
LCI(L) 414 being converted to LCI(G) 414 at George Lawley & Sons Shipyard, Neponsett, Massachusetts. This view shows the installation of gun tub and director on the aft end of the ship. NARA 19LCM LCI(G) 414.
LCI(L)s 414 and 408 being converted to LCI(G)s at George Lawley & Sons Shipyard, Neponsett, Massachusetts. This view shows the bow area after the foc’sle had been cleared away. NARA 19LCM LCI(G) 414.
Still another problem with the use of the LCI(L) hull for use as a rocket or mortar platform became quickly evident. The flat bottomed ship had no keel, and maintaining a consistent angle of fire for rockets or mortars proved problematic. In a seaway the ships could easily be pushed off course, making it difficult for them to deliver their missiles on the desired targets. A moderate set to the currents off the beaches could push them sideways, requiring constant attention to the helm. In some cases they were unable to deliver their fire on the designated target areas because of this attribute.
By 1945 the value of amphibious gunboats was well known. In addition to the production of the new LCS(L)s, numerous LCI(L)s were under conversion to gunboats. This photograph, taken at Long Beach Naval Shipyard in California, shows ten LCI(L)s undergoing conversion to LCI(G) variants. Also shown are the destroyer Mustin DD 413 and the escort carrier Petrof Bay CVE 80. The one LCI identifiable is LCI(L) 192, which is on the port side of Mustin DD 413, indicating that theLCI(L)s undergoing conversion were probably from Group 111, Divisions 221 and 222. Their conversion took place from June to July 1945. The ships of Group 111 all carried conversion dates of 15 July 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy A. H. Gauthier.
A solution to this problem was offered by Ensign Thomas A. Cooke, Commanding Officer of LCI(M) 659, based on his experiences at the invasion of Leyte in the Philippines. Cooke recommended that
due to the fact that a fixed mortar mount which cannot be moved in train is definitely a limiting factor on a mortar ship’s operations, especially under conditions of strong current and wind, that future mounts be so constructed as to give a train of at least 90 degrees, if such a mount can be made feasible and practicable. This would considerably increase the versatility and effectiveness of this type of weapon, and would enable a much more accurate bombardment than is possible under present conditions.36
There was no modification to the mortar mounts as suggested by Cooke. Although it was a good idea, the modification would have required far more design and production than was possible in the area at that time. The mortar gunboats would continue to do their best with what they had.
The Ultimate Gunboat
The necessity of converting LCI(L) gunboats at forward areas led to a variety of LCI(G), LCI(R) and LCI(M) versions. Each had strong and weak points, however, all had been conversions of ships intended for troop carrying. By mid–May 1943, BuShips noted that preliminary studies for various types of amphibious craft had been undertaken and the most suitable for conversion into a fire support craft was the LCI(L). Various armament configurations had been studied and the final version was to have:
One—3"/50 caliber double purpose gun
Two—40mm. twin antiaircraft guns with directors and electric generator
Four—20mm. antiaircraft guns37
LCS(L)(3) Outboard Profile from Plan No. 1711-111-6 by George Lawley & Son Corporation.
Later changes to the plans would add ten Mk. 7 rocket launchers capable of firing a salvo of 120 rockets. In addition, each of the ships also carried between three and six .50 caliber machine guns. The variation in the number reflected the addition of more of them by individual ship’s commanding officers.
Early in 1944, work began on a new series of gunboats using the existing hull form for the LCI(L), but with a greatly modified superstructure. This would become the LCS(L)(3) or Landing Craft Support Large Mark Three. These new gunboats would join their converted sisters during the last year of the Pacific war. Responsibility for the new adaptation fell to the George Lawley & Sons shipyard in Neponset (Boston) Massachusetts.
LCI(L) plans were … modified to the LCS(L)(3) type … by George Lawley & Sons. The gun arrangements were revised; rocket throwers were installed; no landing ramp or bow doors were required: a revised and smaller deck house was installed; the flag ships of both classes were arranged to provide additional officer’s quarters and radio and radar equipment.38
Initially sixty of the new gunboats were ordered. However, the escalating conversions of gunboats in the Pacific made it obvious that additional LCS(L)s were needed. In a letter from the Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Quincy, MA to the Lawley yard, it was noted that an additional seventy of the new gunboats (hulls 61–130) were authorized for production.39
In all, a total of 130 of the LCS(L)(3) ships were built by three yards. George Lawley & Sons built LCS(L)(3)s 1–25 and 109–130. The Albina Engine and Machine Works in Portland, Oregon built LCS(L)(3)s 48–78, and Commercial Iron Works, also in Portland, built LCS(L)(3)s 26–47 and 79–108. The keel for LCS(L) 1 was laid at Lawley on 28 April 1944 and the ship was launched on 15 May. She was put into commission on 20 June 1944. From keel laying to first commission usually took about two months, although Lawley produced LCS(L)(3) 118 in only nine days from 28 October to 6 November 1944. Such rapid construction under wartime pressure sometimes led to problems in the ships and LCS(L) commanding officers frequently noted deficiencies with welds on the ships, as well as misaligned engine shafts and faulty bearings.40
The ships were produced with three varieties of armament and the only significant difference was in the bow gun. LCS(L)s 1–10, 26–30, 41–47, 48–50, 58–60 and 79–80 mounted a 3"/50 gun in the bow. LCS(L)s 11–25, 31–40, 51–57, 61–66, 81–91, and 109–124 mounted single 40mm guns in the bow, while LCS(L)s 67–78, 92–108 and 125–130 mounted twin 40mm guns.
LCS(L)(3) Inboard Profile from Plan No. 1711-111-23 by George Lawley & Son Corporation.
The first of the ships produced were destined for the Southwest Pacific and mounted a 3"/50 gun on the bow. Interception and destruction of inter-island barge traffic was one of the primary uses for this variant. A second variant was planned using a twin 40mm as the bow gun. This was considered to be the standard armament for the ship, with the 3"/50 as a special order. By mid–1944, shortages in the production of twin 40mm guns led to an interim arrangement in which a single 40mm gun was mounted on the bow of a number of the LCS(L)s.41 Ships carrying the single 40mm were wired for twin 40mm guns and Mark 51 gun directors. On at least one occasion an LCS(L) with a damaged single 40mm was able to swap with another damaged LCS(L) and mount a twin 40mm in her bow. This took place at Okinawa.
LCS(L) 26 under construction at Commercial Iron Works on 21 July 1944. NARA BS 69622.
Immediately behind the number one gun was a set of ten Mk. 7 rocket launchers. One director controlled twin 40mm gun tub was in front of the conning tower and another aft the deck house. A 20mm single was mounted on either side of the conning tower and two more just abaft the deck house. Once the ships reached Pearl Harbor they were usually fitted with at least three .50 caliber machine guns, although some of the LCS(L)s were later found to have as many as six. These were particularly effective against suicide boats and swimmers.
Thomas Lee, who had been a crewman on the destroyer escort Barber DE 161, found himself at Fort Pierce, Florida, for additional training. Barber was to undergo conversion to a fast transport or APD. After gunnery training at Fort Pierce, Lee was assigned to further training at the amphibious base in Solomons, Maryland. This was in preparation for his new assignment. Lee was to become a member of the first crew for a new ship, the LCS(L) 31, which was being completed at Commercial Iron Works in Portland, Oregon. Not sure what he would see when he arrived in Portland, Lee’s first impression of the LCS(L) was that it was “small, very small, but it had more firepower in a small space—a lot of firepower.”42 LCS(L) 31 was to serve at Iwo Jima, and later on the radar picket lines at Okinawa where it shot down six kamikazes and was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. Tom Ryan, who served on LCS(L) 81 said that “we were so cramped on deck side you could not go more than six feet from a gun … even the flag man had a machine gun attached to his flag bag.”43 Jim Mallin, QM/3c on LCS(L) 117 thought that the ships resembled a small destroyer because of their shape and the large number of guns they carried.44
LCS(L) 26 is shown under construction at Commercial Iron Works on 21 July 1944. Her keel was laid on 10 July 1944 and she was launched on 13 August 1944. After additional fitting out, she was commissioned on 26 August 1944. NARA BS 69621.
The ships were the most heavily armed of the gunboats but did not carry as many rockets as the LCI(R)s or some of the LCI(G)s. As a result they were frequently teamed with LCI(G)s or LCI(R)s during amphibious landings.
Although the first of the LCS(L) ships commissioned, LCS(L) 1, was put into service on 20 June 1944, it was used as a training ship at Solomons ATB in Maryland for the duration of the war. It was not until 5 December 1944 that the first of the new gunboats finally appeared in the war zone when LCS(L)s 26, 27, 48, and 49 arrived at Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. A few weeks later, on 28 December, they were joined by LCS(L)s 7, 8, 9, 10, 28, 29, 30, and 50. All of these ships mounted 3"/50 guns on their bows.
The first to be used in an assault operation, LCS(L)s 7, 8, 26, 27, 48, and 49, participated in the attack on San Antonio in Zambales Province on the west coast of Luzon in the Philippines. From that point on, the new gunboats served alongside the LCI(G)s, LCI(R)s, and LCI(M)s until the end of the war.
LCS(L) 50 after completion at Albina Engine & Machine Works, 19 September 1944. Her 3"/50 bow gun is clearly visible. Ships mounting this gun were used in the Philippines, Borneo, and Okinawa. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
Building the Landing Craft
LCI(L)s were produced in a number of yards throughout the United States, including Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon; Brown Shipbuilding Company, Houston, Texas; Commercial Iron Works, Portland, Oregon; Consolidated Steel Corporation, Orange, Texas; Defoe Shipbuilding Company, Bay City, Michigan; Federal Ship Building and Dry Dock Company, Port Newark, New Jersey; George Lawley & Sons, Neponset, Massachusetts; New Jersey Shipbuilding Corporation, Barber (Perth Amboy), New Jersey; and New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. Numerous other yards participated in converting the LCI(L)s to gunboats. Only three yards built the LCS(L)s: Albina Engine and Machine Works, Commercial Iron Works, and George Lawley & Sons.
LCS(L) 77, on the left, displays a twin 40mm gun in her bow while LCS(L) 91, on the right, has a single 40mm in the Number 1 position. The ships are shown at Astoria, Oregon, on 25 January 1952, just prior to their transfer to the Republic of Korea. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
The keel is layed for LCI(L) 315 at Port Newark, New Jersey, on 10 August 1942. This was a construction site for Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, a major builder of LCIs during the war. NARA 19LCM-LCI(L) 315.
The price for building the ships varied from place to place. Part of the costs had to do with shipping building materials from one location to another. In other cases, the government might require changes to the delivery date, forcing the builders to pay for express shipping and overtime for employees. The average cost for an LCI(L) produced by Albina in mid–1944 was $252,680 and LCS(L)(3)s averaged $315,291.45 Lawley had initially estimated the cost of an LCS(L) at $275,000, but the government renegotiated the price downward to $263,000. Availability of supplies, shipping, labor contracts and other factors determined the relative costs of the ships at different yards. Although the cost was higher on the West Coast, the ships produced on the East Coast had to make the trip from Boston south through the Panama Canal and then up to San Diego, prior to heading to the war zone. The cost of this trip still made it practical to produce ships on the West Coast, even though they were more expensive. Within six years of their launching, many of the ships were sold off as surplus for a price of about $10,000-$11,000 each. Some were scrapped, while others were put to use in the fishing fleets.
An alternate construction view of LCI(L) 315 at Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, Port Newark, New Jersey, on 10 August 1942. NARA 19LCM—LCI(L) 315.
Construction of LCI(L) 315 on 12 August 1942. NARA 19LCM—LCI(l) 315.
1013 (left) and 1014 (right) under construction at Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon, on 28 January 1944. Various bulkheads are shown installed within the ships’ hulls. Albina produced a number of LCI(L)s and LCS(L)s during the war. Many of the LCI(L)s were later converted to gunboats. Naval History and Heritage Command 19-N-61190.
The initial costs for construction of the first vessel built under a contract were usually much higher than the average. Once the process of building was set, additional ships cost less as the production became more familiar and needed construction equipment and materials were in place. Thus LCI(L) 1013 required 97,343 hours of direct labor in March 1944, but in May 1944, only 57,380 hours of direct labor was required to produce LCI(L) 1032. Direct labor hours for six LCS(L)s built at Albina Engine and Machine Works in September 1944 ran from 98,525 to 78,258 hours, the total hours declining with each ship produced.
Launching a Gunboat
In most cases the launching ceremonies were similar. The Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Portland, Oregon, supervised the building of vessels on the West Coast. He described the process:
Launching ceremonies were conducted on a modest scale, but were always colorful and were uniformly successful. The launching party usually assembled in the office of the President of the Company, where flowers were presented to the sponsor and her attendants. The party then proceeded to the launching platform. The launchings were usually scheduled to occur during the lunch hour or between shifts, to permit as many workers as possible to attend and to cause the least interference to production. After the playing of the National Anthem, appropriate remarks were made by the Master of Ceremonies or guest speakers, after which the sponsor, her attendants and distinguished guests were introduced, and a Chaplain or civilian Clergyman offered a prayer. After this, the sponsor took her position at the bow of the vessel, breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow just after the vessel started to move, at the same time pronouncing the words of Christening.
LCS(L) 48 ready to launch at Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon. Her smooth hull may be compared to later photographs of various LCS(L)s and LCI gunboats. The thin 3⁄16 inch hull plating soon took on a deformed look from the constant crashing of ocean waves into their sides. NARA BuShips General Correspondence 1940–1945 LCS(L)(3) Class SS/S1-6 to C-LCS(L)(3) Class 1 S/8.
Mrs. A. Allen, wife of the Chief Timekeeper at Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon, christens LCS(L) 48 on 14 July 1944. NARA RG 19 BuShips General Correspondence 1940–1945.
Stern details of LCS(L) 48 at Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon. NARA BuShips General Correspondence 1940–1945 LCS(L)(3) Class SS/S1-6 to C-LCS(L)(3) Class 1 S/8.
LCS(L) 48 goes down the ways at Albina Engine and Machine Works, Portland, Oregon, on 14 July 1944. NARA RG 19 BuShips General Correspondence 1940–1945.
After launching, the company usually gave a luncheon for the launching party, at which time a small gift was presented to the sponsor as a remembrance of the occasion.46
With the large number of ships produced by the West Coast shipyards, it was difficult to obtain sponsors at times. Larger ships might be sponsored by ladies recommended by the Secretary of the Navy or the Commandant of the regional naval district. Others would be recommended by the Supervisor who depended on recommendations from the shipyard owner. “The majority of the sponsors were selected from the wives and daughters of the yard workmen. The balance were from the families of shipyard officials, Navy personnel, prominent citizens, winners of War Bond contests, etc.”47
LCS(L) 48 shortly after her launch on 14 July 1945. NARA RG 19 BuShips General Correspondence 1940–1945.
Commissioning ceremony for LCS(L) 91 at Commercial Iron Works, Portland, Oregon, 4 January 1945. Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy Norman H. Wackenhut.
Commissioning ceremonies were held after the ship had been fitted out and was ready to head to sea. The christening of the ship as it headed down the ways in its launching ceremony was the beginning of the end of production. Still to be fitted out were the ship’s guns and various other pieces of equipment. This might take from several days to a few weeks. Once the ship was ready to go into action, the official commissioning ceremony took place. As with the christening ceremony, these were fairly standard.
Commissioning ceremonies were simple, short, and strictly Naval in character. When the Supervisor arrived to commission the vessel, as representative of the District Commandant, the officers and crew were drawn up at quarters. He was accompanied by an official of the Company and they were met at the gangway by the Prospective Commanding Officer. Upon taking his station with the officers and crew, the Supervisor proceeded to read his orders. On completing this, he accepted the vessel on behalf of the U.S. Navy from the contractor’s representative, pronounced the vessel in full commission, and ordered the Colors, Jack and Commission Pennant hoisted. The Prospective Commanding Officer was then directed to read his orders, upon completion of which he assumed command, and ordered the watch set, and the starting of the ship’s log and the ship’s time. A benediction was then pronounced by a Chaplain and the crew dismissed. The ship usually held “open house” for about an hour after commissioning, for guests of the ship’s officers and crew, during which time light refreshments were served.48
Camouflage paint schemes were devised to give the gunboats maximum protection against the enemy wherever possible. This was a more difficult task for amphibious craft as they might be found run up on the beach or far from shore. At the beginning of the war, paint schemes tended to favor the mottled appearance of shallow water. At Okinawa, the excessive air attacks by the kamikazes brought other camouflage paint schemes into use. This was particularly true for the LCS(L)s on the radar picket lines as they mainly had to be protected from air attack. The LCI gunboats faced similar tasks at Okinawa. Although they were not assigned as radar pickets, they did not run up on the beaches, so camouflage schemes resembling shallow water were not as useful as patterns which broke up the shape of the gunboat or that made it invisible from the air. Various camouflage colors were used during the war in shades of green, brown, blue, gray, and black with the green shades emphasized in the Pacific.
Some camouflage patterns were designed to give the appearance of shallow water with their mottled paint schemes. In the Pacific these were frequently in shades of green. LCI(G) 580 is shown in such a camouflage paint pattern just after her conversion in the Chesapeake. Official U.S. Navy photograph.
LCS(L) 58 is shown in San Francisco Bay, probably on her return home after the war. Her paint scheme is designed to give the appearance of a smaller ship and to confuse distance measurements. Official U.S. Navy photograph courtesy of the National Association of USS LCS(L) 1-130.