Today in WW II: 19 Jan 1942 Japanese troops seize control of North Borneo.   

Overview of the Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) in World War II

Landing Vehicle, Tracked (1) Marine amphibian tractor (AMTRAC), New River, NC, May 1942
Landing Vehicle, Tracked (1) Marine amphibian tractor (AMTRAC), New River, NC, May 1942.

The Amphibious Tractor (Amtrac or Landing Vehicle, Tracked LVT) was the solution to a military problem: how to bring Marines across open water, coral reefs, and interior water onto the beach with maximum shock against the defenders and minimal casualties to the attacking force. Ordinary small craft would founder on the coral and could not move off the water line once the beach was reached. The LVT amphibious tractor solved the problem so well that it became a legend, as it performed its mission starting at Guadalcanal and continuing across the Pacific against beaches that were fanatically defended. Eventually the Japanese, Germans, North Koreans, and North Vietnamese came to understand that when they saw the LVTs coming with guns blazing, their end was near.

Prior to World War II, the Fleet Marine Force promoted landing exercises and development of amphibious doctrine, highlighting the need for an amphibious vehicle to cross shallow waters and reefs, permitting Marine Corps attackers to choose their landing points. The Roebling Alligator, originally Intended for hurricane rescue operations in Florida, eventually became the LVT(1), a vehicle intended for cargo use only. Early combat lessons of Guadalcanal and Bougainville showed the weaknesses in the LVT(1) suspension and track, but also illustrated the great versatility of the LVT design. Upon the success of the LVT(1), development progressed to the LVT(2), with greatly improved performance. Limited numbers of the LVT(2) were used at Tarawa in the Gilberts, the landmark battle of the Central Pacific.

Tarawa taught the Marine Corps bitter lessons, paid for in blood. But the Amtrac stood out as a success and the subsequent changes in amphibious doctrine became standard practice throughout the remainder of the war. The LVT(2) demonstrated Its worth as a troop carrier and production moved ahead.

In the campaign for the Marshall Islands, invaded 31 January 1944, the full range of the LVT models became available, including the armored Amtrac LVT(A)1, based on the proven LVT(2) chassis with the addition of a 37mm tank gun in its turret. The armored LVT was introduced to provide close-in firepower as the cargo LVTs neared the beach. The LVT(2) and the LVT(A)1 together helped to capture the Marshalls far ahead of schedule, thus allowing acceleration of the timetable for the attack on Saipan.

Saipan, invaded in June 1944, was the most massive use of the LVTs in the Central Pacific with six battalions of cargo LVT, including the new ramped LVT(4), and two battalions of armored Amtracs, employing the new LVT(A)4 with a 75mm howitzer. The loading ramp represented one of the greatest single design improvements in the history of the LVT.

Iwo Jima, February 1945, was the Marine Corps' toughest battle. The LVT(4) played a crucial role both as the assault vehicle to carry troops and as the chief logistical vehicle in the battle's first days. Okinawa, April to June 1945, was the largest landing in the Central Pacific drive. The new LVT(3), a redesign of internal arrangements, was used successfully through the long campaign.

As experience accumulated with the use of LVTs, tactics and operational plans for their use improved. One constraint was the need for extensive maintenance, a fault common to all the models of LVTs as well as other tracked vehicles. This did not improve over the course of the war and few LVTs lasted through the end of the war.

The LVTs were used in Europe as well as Pacific, by the Army and the USMC. In the ETO they were used for landings and river crossing as well as in swampy zones. In the Pacific, LVTs not only took part in beach landings but also provided armored infantry fire support for subsequent fighting to gain control of large islands, although armored LVT's light armor was vulnerable to fire from anti-tank weapons. LVTs found uses as APCs, utility vehicles, artillery prime movers, and more.

On the linked page, find more information and photos about the "Amtanks", the armored LVT(A) series of amphibious tractors developed to provide artillery-like support for landings ahead of the cargo/personnel LVTs.

For the history of the LVT following World War II see the linked page.

Variants of the Landing Vehicle, Tracked in WW II

Crawler crane loads an LVT(4) amphibious tractor (AMTRAC) at Hampton Roads, VA, during WW II
Crawler crane loads an LVT(4) amphibious tractor (AMTRAC) at Hampton Roads, VA, during WW II.

Cargo and Personnel:

Armored and Armed:

  • LVT(A)l
  • LVT(A)2
  • LVT(A)4
  • LVT(A)5

Additional photos and information are available on the linked pages. Vehicles were designated as, for example, LVT(2), LVT-2, or Amtrac 2, without implying any difference.

Material on this page primarily adapted from "ALLIGATORS, BUFFALOES, AND BUSHMASTERS: THE HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LVT THROUGH WORLD WAR II" by Major Alfred Dunlop Bailey, USMC (Retired), History and Museums Division, HQ USMC, Washington, DC, 1986 (PCN 19000319000)

Recommended Books about Tracked Landing Vehicles (Amtracs)

Find More Information on the Internet

There are many fine websites that have additional information on this topic, too many to list here and too many to keep up with as they come and go. Use this Google web search form to get an up to date report of what's out there.

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