American Amphibious Gunboats in World War II:
A History of the LCI and LCS(L) Ships in the Pacific
By Robin L. Rielly
408 pp. $45.00
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
By John Rooney
Thoughts about that old war, the
Big One, have grown dimmer with the years, but the big stories from it
keep coming along. Historian Rob Rielly’s new book, AMERICAN AMPHIBIOUS
GUNBOATS in WORLD WAR II, his fourth book about the war, is one. It is
an extensive account of the inception, evolution and uses of the
shoal-draft gunboat which became a major offensive component of the
amphibious force during our island-hopping invasions and campaigns
across the Pacific.
Days before an invasion, the big boys, well seaward, would plaster the
shoreline with heavy ordnance up to 16-inches. When the bombardment
ended, some armed enemy survivors were able to appear from pillboxes,
revetments, foxholes and caves to offer lethal resistance against
landing troops, and later, those moving into the island. Given the hard
lesson of Tarawa in 1943 - 1,800 Marines, Navy and Army killed - the Navy
brass knew they had to have many more ships with strong firepower
working close to the beach to strengthen landing preparation and assist
our ground forces fighting their way inland. A klaxon call went out to
the Amphibs, and the era of the small, powerful gunboat began.
The pug-nosed 158-foot LCI(L), Landing Craft, Infantry was
flat-bottomed, could make up to 14 knots safely in shoal water, and,
with heavy deckloads of guns, rockets, mortars and ammunition, would
remain open-ocean seaworthy with sufficient ballast. She was selected as
the basic hull platform for the four main gunboat types: LCI(G), LCI(R),
LCI(M) and LCS(L).
The first conversion was the LCI(G), used to intercept and destroy enemy
barge traffic operating in shallow water big ships couldn’t enter. It
was armed with an ear-shattering 3”/50 in the bow, 40mm, 20mm and .50
caliber guns, and used in the Solomon Islands. It was very effective,
and many more LCIs were soon converted to LCI(G)s and employed on beach
assault in landings to put heavy gunfire on pillboxes and guns ashore
before troops hit the beach. Various armament configurations were used
on LCI(G)s, and some acquired rocket launchers as well. They stood guard
near underwater demolition teams preparing a beach approach for
invasion, led invasion runs into a beach, destroyed enemy barges and
targets of opportunity, defended against aircraft, protected anchorages
against suicide boats and swimmers, and made smoke to cover anchored big
ships from air and surface attack.
LCI(R)s carried a deck full of rack-mounted barrage rockets, good for
hitting a beach during the slack time between heavy shore bombardment
and the landing of troops, when enemy defenders were likely to appear
on the beach. They carried 4.5 inch fin-stabilized rockets with a
1,200-foot range and a 300 foot barrage depth, and later 5 inch
spin-stabilized rockets with a 5,000 foot range. Rockets were a
devastating weapon, clearing large areas of a beach, and giving the
small LCI(R) the firepower of a capital ship.
LCI(M)s carried three 4.2 inch mortars with a range of 3,200 yards,
longer than the short, 4.2 inch fin-stabilized rockets, and were more
destructive. With their parabolic flight mortars were able to reach far
into the littoral and behind mountains. They were also very effective,
in spite of lost time repairing damaged mounts from the mortar’s
kickback, and the tricky helm work sometimes required to keep a
flat-bottomed hove-to ship from wandering in a seaway while pointing at
a fixed target ashore.
LCS(L)s joined the gunboat flotillas in the last year of the war.
Heavily armed like the LCI(G), they mounted ten rocket launchers,
four 20 mm astride the conning tower and deckhouse, and various bow-gun
configurations of the 3’’/50, single or twin 40mm, a few .50 caliber
machine guns along the rails, and a twin 40 near the stern. Early ones
were used to support troop landings in Borneo and in the Phlippines off
Corregidor, where they lost three ships to suicide boat attacks. In
fleet anchorages they laid smoke for the big ships and fought suicide
boats and swimmers. They accompanied destroyers on the hazardous radar
picket line off Okinawa with anti-aircraft support, firefighting, damage
control and recovery and treatment of wounded. Those posted for the
radar picket line had their single 40 mm “Army job” in the bow replaced
by a fire-directed twin 40 if available, better for anti-aircraft work.
Their performance against kamikaze aircraft earned LCS(L)s the nickname
of Mighty Midget.
Deeply researched and wide-ranging, this history has 356 pages of text,
a glossary, five indexes of flotilla makeup, ship damage and awards,
voluminous chapter notes, a bibliography of sources and an extensive
alphabetic index, making it an excellent reference work. Throughout the
narrative many tense actions are detailed, in official reports, and
often personalized with oral accounts from combatants. Pictures
throughout are of high quality and illustrations are legible and
informative. All in all, this is a complete, definitive account of the
gunboats of World War II and their contributions.
This well-wrought story of the gunboats shows them to be a most vital
and successful component of the amphibious force in all the island
campaigns, from the Solomons on, including the Philippines, Iwo and
Okinawa. Neither sleek nor swift, each of the LCI-spawned gunboat
variants showed its unique value, and produced a memorable record of
versatility and effectiveness. What these powerful little ships and
their sailors did is well worth learning about – and honoring.