Landing Craft Support (Large) ships were developed to support amphibious landings and to intercept inter-island barge traffic. Used solely in the Pacific Theater of operations, they were a further development of gunboats that had been converted from Landing Craft Infantry ships - LCIs.
The need for a close fire-support vessel was demonstrated during the assault on Tarawa on 20 November 1944. After the larger ships had shelled the beaches and landing zones to disrupt enemy defense efforts, the landing craft headed for shore to deliver the troops. During the time that the naval bombardment had stopped and the troops had landed, the enemy had time to regroup, and the effect on the Marines was deadly. In order to deliver fire support to protect them, a new type of vessel was necessary. It needed the ability to get in close to shore and had to have sufficient armament to support the landings. Experiments were begun using LCIs with additional guns and rockets. These LCI(G)s and LCI(R)s proved to be effective and were an interim solution to the problem. Fortunately, a more advanced gunboat had been in the planning stages as early as 1942, and the first contracts for the new fire support vessel had been awarded in 1943. The first of these gunboats, the LCS(L) 1, was launched on 15 May 1944 at the George Lawley and Sons Shipyard in Neponset, Massachusetts.
Using the existing plans for the LCI hull, the Lawley yard had designed a new fire support ship, one that was not a modified troop carrier but a true fighting ship. The result was the Landing Craft Support (Large) or LCS(L). Packed with firepower, the LCS(L)s had two twin 40mm guns, four 20mm guns, and four .50 caliber machine guns. Mounted in the bow was one of three guns, either a single 3"50, a single 40mm, or a twin 40mm. Just aft the bow gun were ten Mark 7 rocket launchers. One writer described LCS(L)s as the most heavily armed of the World War II gunboats, and still another claimed that they looked like the Fourth of July fireworks when they were leading an assault.
One hundred thirty LCS(L)s were produced by three shipyards. In Neponset, Massachusetts, the Lawley shipyard produced 47. In Portland, Oregon, the Albina Engine and Machine Works produced 31 and Commercial Iron Works produced 52.
LCS(L)s were usually involved in the first assault on the beach. Attacking the beach in a line, they made two runs, firing rocket barrages at 1000, 800, and 500 yards. After the third rocket barrage, they turned broadside to the beach and fired on targets of opportunity before heading seaward for the next run. On the third run, they were followed by the landing craft. As they approached the shore, they slowed to allow the troop-laden boats to pass by and deposit their men on the beaches. The LCS(L)s then continued to fire over the heads of the troops and remained inshore, firing on targets as they became available. On some occasions, they took Marine artillery spotters on board for assistance in locating enemy targets on shore. They were active in the campaigns for the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Borneo.
In the Philippines, the LCS(L)s attacked shore targets and aided Philippine rebels. Their most disastrous night came on the evening of 16 February 1945, when LCS(L)s 7, 8, 26, 27, 48, and 49 were anchored across the mouth of Mariveles Bay, near Corregidor. The ships were attacked by about 20 Japanese suicide boats and suicide swimmers from Corregidor. LCS(L)s 7, 26, and 49 were sunk and LCS(L) 27 damaged.
Twelve LCS(L)s arrived at Iwo Jima just in time to lead the assault on 19 February 1945. After assaulting the beaches and leading the troop carriers ashore, the gunboats cruised just off the beach firing on targets of opportunity. Marine spotters were often taken on board to coordinate shipboard fire with that of Marine units ashore. The Mighty Midgets continued to cruise the perimeter of the island during the campaign, adding the support of their guns and rockets wherever and whenever needed.
LCS(L)s were heavily involved in leading the assault on the landing beaches at Hagushi, Okinawa, on 1 April 1945. After the initial phase of the invasion had been completed, the ships had two main duties: skunk patrol and radar picket duty. Skunk patrol involved intercepting Japanese suicide boats that were attempting to ram into American Navy ships. Many of the suicide boats went to the bottom under the guns of the Mighty Midgets. The most hazardous duty faced by the LCS(L)s involved radar picket duty. The Navy had set up a ring of radar picket stations around the island, each manned by one or more destroyers, one of which was equipped with a Fighter Director Team. The mission of the picket ships was to pick up incoming air raids from Japan and Taiwan and vector the Combat Air Patrol to intercept them. LCS(L)s were assigned to the radar picket stations as fire support for the destroyers. Soon the picket ships became targets themselves. While serving on Radar Picket Duty, LCS(L)s 15 and 33 were sunk by kamikazes, while 25, 31, 51, 52, 57, 88, 116, 121, and 122 were damaged. LCS(L) 119 was hit by a kamikaze while retuning from a radar picket station. LCS(L) 37 was also disabled when she was attacked by a suicide boat.
The assault on Borneo began on 1 May 1945. Prior to the landing, a number of LCS(L)s worked with YMSs to assist in clearing mines from the landing zone. Heavily involved in leading the assault troops to the beaches, the gunboats saw a great deal of action. Once the initial landings at Tarakan Island had taken place, the ships continued to see action around the main island as they assisted in minesweeping and firing at on-shore targets.
After the war, the ships served in mine sweeping operations around the Japanese islands, Korea, Taiwan, and other locations in the Far East. By early 1946, most of the ships had returned to the states and been placed in reserve at Green Cove Springs, FL, or Astoria, WA. In 1949, the LCS(L)s still on duty in the U.S. Navy were reclassified as LSSLs, or Landing Ship Support Large. In the early 1950s, a number of LCS(L)s were lent to our allies, with fifty-three of them going to Japan to serve in the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces. Still others were lent to the French and eventually the Vietnamese for use in Indochina. Other countries that received LCS(L)s were Italy, Greece, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
At present, only one ship, the LCS(L) 102, remains afloat. She was until very recently used as a gunboat in the Royal Thai Navy and was named the Nakha. The Thai government has recently returned her, and she now belongs to the Association and will be berthed at the Mare Island Historical Foundation in Vallejo, CA. (Click here to see the Retrieval information elsewhere on this site.) Still another ship, the ex LCS(L) 50, is still afloat in the Pacific Northwest, where she has been converted into a fishing boat.