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Amphibious Warfare

Amphibious Warfare is the projection, transition, or movement of military force from sea against a hostile shore. As a form of warfare, it is as old as seaworthy ships.

Britain's grasp of amphibious warfare was one of the secrets of its empire‐building. The American colonies had ample exposure to its uses prior to the Revolution. Not surprisingly, the Continental Congress foresaw amphibious as well as shipboard uses for Marines and authorized the raising of two Marine battalions on 10 November 1775 for a never‐executed operation against Nova Scotia. The British, however, repeatedly moved amphibiously against the Americans, but the one large‐scale operation attempted by the Americans against Fort George at Penobscot, Maine, in July 1779, was a failure, chiefly because of squabbling between the naval and land force commanders. More successful were amphibious raids conducted by the Continental navy against the British in the Caribbean and even against the British home isles.

The British gave the Americans further lessons in amphibious warfare in the War of 1812 with their harrying of the Atlantic Coast, which included the burning of Washington and the failed attack against Baltimore. The war would see, however, the humiliating defeat of Britain's largest amphibious expedition of the war. Sir Edward Pakenham executed a technically superb landing and approach to New Orleans in December 1814, but in a final, overconfident attack against Andrew Jackson in January 1815, he met his own death and disastrous defeat.

In the Mexican War (1846–48), the United States made singularly enlightened use of amphibious warfare. Not only were there a series of highly successful amphibious raids and lodgments against the California and Gulf coasts of Mexico, but the conclusive operation of the war hinged on the landing of Winfield Scott's army at Vera Cruz in March 1847.

Most of the amphibious lessons learned in the Mexican War were forgotten by the time of the Civil War, less than a generation later. Landing operations, often ineptly conducted, against Confederate forts and positions on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts were an inevitable extension of the Union blockade. As the war went on, successful Union lodgments increased. The final large amphibious operation was the assault against Fort Fisher, which guarded the river approaches to Wilmington, North Carolina, the Confederacy's last remaining major port. The first assault, made in December 1864, failed. The second assault, in January 1865, after Grant's personal intervention in matters of command, was an overwhelming success.

During the remainder of the nineteenth century, the United States, increasingly involved in foreign affairs, found its navy making dozens of landings, amphibious operations in very rudimentary form, to “protect American lives and property” around the globe.

The Spanish‐American War (1898), because of the insular nature of Spain's colonial possessions in the Carib bean and the Far East, was largely naval and amphibious in nature.

Thereafter, the United States increasingly involved itself in interventions, in such places as China, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Santo Domingo, of much longer duration than the transitory landings of the previous century. The experience of the Spanish‐American War and the increasing professionalization of their officer corps caused the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to give at least some attention to the development of the doctrine, tactics, and techniques needed for modern amphibious warfare. These largely experimental studies had an almost comic opera testing in the April 1914 landing at Vera Cruz.

In World War I with secure bases available in France, there was no requirement for amphibious operations to introduce the American Expeditionary Forces to the European battlefields. The sole great amphibious operation of that war, the Franco‐British landing at Gallipoli in 1915, had ended in disaster for the invaders.

The experience of the first two decades of the twentieth century seemed to leave the U.S. Marine Corps with two destinies: to provide colonial infantry for the garrisoning of such places as Haiti and Santo Domingo, and to provide cloned augmentation of the U.S. Army in larger wars. Some Marine officers, most notably Lt. Col. Earl H. “Pete” Ellis, and some fewer Navy officers studied War Plan Orange, the long‐lived plan for the evantuality of a war with Japan, coupled with a study of the British failure at Gallipoli, and saw a need for specialized amphibious ships and troops and a doctrine to manage their use.

In 1934, a Tentative Manual for Landing Operations was published by the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia. In the few years that remained before the entry of the United States into World War II, this tentative manual, tested in fleet exercises, was refined into a doctrine accepted by the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, and perforce all the Allies. The amphibious ships and landing craft needed to make the doctrine work also evolved, and were built in huge quantities.

The reentry of the Allies into Europe was predicated on a series of amphibious invasions, first of North Africa, then of Italy, and then of Normandy and the South of France. In the Pacific, with its vast watery spaces and limited land areas, amphibious operations were more often seizures rather than invasions. The abrupt end to the war precluded the planned amphibious invasion of the Japanese home islands.

The Korean War saw not only the amphibious triumph of Inchon Landing (September 1950) but also the very successful amphibious withdrawal of the X Corps from Hungnam (December 1950).

In the Vietnam War, there were no great amphibious assaults of defended beaches. The possibility of a great turning movement in the manner of Inchon, perhaps at Vinh, North Vietnam, was much discussed but never ventured. Amphibious techniques were used to land American ground forces in South Vietnam as a substitute for adequate port facilities, and there were many minor landings that attempted to catch the elusive Viet Cong along the coast.

The next large use of amphibious techniques was in the Persian Gulf War during the buildup of American and Coalition forces in Operation Desert Shield (1990). When Desert Shield became Desert Storm and the allies went on the offensive to recapture Kuwait, U.S. Navy and Marine forces afloat in the Persian Gulf, although unused, posed a palpable threat to Iraq's seaward flank.
[See also Amphibious Ships and Landing Craft; Lejeune, John A.; Marine Corps, U.S.]


Alfred Vagts , Landing Operations, 1946.
Jeter A. Isley and and Philip A. Crowl , The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War, 1951.
Alan Moorehead , Gallipoli, 1956.
Merrill R. Bartlett, ed., Assault from the Sea, 1983.
Kenneth J. Clifford , Amphibious Warfare Development in Britain and America from 1920–1940, 1983.
Edwin Howard Simmons , The United States Marines: A History, 3rd ed., 1998.

Edwin Howard Simmons

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"Amphibious Warfare." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 16 Nov. 2017 <>.

"Amphibious Warfare." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . (November 16, 2017).

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amphibious warfare

amphibious warfare (ămfĬb´ēəs), employment of a combination of land and sea forces to take or defend a military objective. The general strategy is very ancient and was extensively employed by the Greeks, e.g., in the Athenian attack on Sicily in 415 BC The term is, however, of modern coinage. It is sometimes applied to the joint operations of the Allied army and naval forces in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign (1915) of World War I. Amphibious warfare was widely employed in World War II. When the Japanese entered the war on a large scale in Dec., 1941, they used combined air, land, and naval operations to capture strategic islands such as the Philippines, Java, and Sumatra. However, the Japanese landings, like the Allied landing in N Africa (Nov., 1942), encountered little opposition and did not offer a true illustration of the problems of amphibious warfare. The problem faced by the Allies in the reconquest of Europe and the Pacific islands was how to land their forces on a heavily defended coast line. It was solved by the construction of special vessels called landing craft that were seaworthy and yet capable of allowing tanks and infantry to emerge without difficulty into shallow water for landing. The typical Allied amphibious operation consisted of heavy and continued air and naval bombardment of the enemy defenses, followed by a landing of troops with complete equipment from landing craft; the landing forces were supported in the early stages by naval guns until land artillery could come into action. By use of this method the Allies were able to invade heavily defended Pacific islands such as Tarawa (1943), Saipan (1944), Iwo Jima (1945), and Okinawa (1945). In Europe the Allies made landings on Sicily (1943) and Italy (1943–44), but the most spectacular example of amphibious warfare was the invasion of Normandy by the Allies from England on June 6, 1944 (see Normandy campaign). That action was a prime example of combined movements of naval craft, land forces, and aircraft (used for offense, protection of other forces, and transport). The U.S. invasion of Incheon (1950) during the Korean War and the British and French invasion of Egypt during the Sinai crisis (1957) utilized the same basic tactics. Amphibious landings later occurred in Vietnam War and in the British retaking (1982) of the Falkland Islands. Modern amphibious assault ships use helicopters and VTOL airplanes to mount and support amphibious attacks.

See J. A. Isely and P. A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War (1951); B. Fergusson, The Watery Maze: The Story of Combined Operations (1961).

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"amphibious warfare." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 16 Nov. 2017 <>.

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"amphibious warfare." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 16, 2017 from