From Julius Caesar's first invasion of Britain, to Operation Overlord, amphibious invasions have always been a tricky endeavour. As anyone who's tried to disembark a crowded car ferry will know, getting a large number of people and vehicles off a boat and onto dry land is an exercise in severe frustration. Now imagine doing that with a bunch of bad guys firing at you.
Unfortunately for military planners and strategists, the make-up of today's global security situation means amphibious invasions are still on the cards, and its something America and her allies have been engaging in more frequently than you might think. Although World War II battles such as the D-Day landings and Iwo Jima dominate our perception of an amphibious assault, similar, albeit often smaller scale, amphibious operations have been carried out in conflicts such as Korea, The Falklands, Grenada, The Gulf War and the Iraq War.
They're also no stranger to the big screen, with film such as Troy, The Longest Day and Letters from Iwo Jima all showing these dangerous operations. Of course, the world's most famous amphibious invasion - the D-Day landings - have been grimily immortalized on film several times, most notably by Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan. Remind yourself of that scene below:
How Have Things Changed?
Amphibious invasions present a unique set of tactical, strategic and logistical issues for military planners. The inability to pull back, quickly reinforce and rely on heavy armored equipment means it is essential to quickly secure a beachhead before enemy units can drive the attackers back into the ocean. Traditionally speaking, the prevailing strategy involved softening up the enemy's fortifications with bombing and naval artillery before storming the beaches with wave upon wave of infantry. Only then could the heavier landing craft with their armor come onto the beach. The use of deception also played an important part in ensuring the enemy would not know the time and place of the invasion.
However, a new video from Sploid shows how things have advanced in the 70 years since Operation Overlord. In the video, we see a joint US Marines and Republic of Korea military exercise from 2014 which illustrates some of the advances in tactical thinking and technology since the 1940s. Take a look below:
Of course, the most major difference between D-Day and modern amphibious invasions is the use of amphibious assault vehicles like the one shown in the video. These specially adapted 'swimming' personnel carries allow for troops to be protected while still on the beach. This is particularly important as large open beaches at low tide can quickly becoming dangerous killzones with hardly any cover.
The use of vehicles, such as the AAVP-7A1 shown above, means infantry can advance much further up the beach before being unloaded. Another important, but seemingly simple innovation, is unloading troops from the rear of the vehicle, allowing them to maintain in cover while disembarking.
Although relatively weakly armed compared to other armored vehicles, the AAVP-7A1 does pack a Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher and .50 calibre machine gun, meaning it can also provide supporting fire and dislodge even fortified defenders. As illustrated in the video, it also comes with smoke canister launchers that allow for a barrage of concealing smoke to be fired before assaulting the beach.
As also illustrated in the video, Landing Craft Air Cushion (or hovercrafts to most people) are also increasingly used for these operations. They offer extensive advantages over traditional vehicles and landing craft. Firstly, they can carry much more, and can allow even heavy armor to move in with an initial invasion. Secondly, their hovercraft design means they can navigate rough coastal terrain, which allows them to access over 80% of the world's coastline. Thirdly, their air cushion design makes them less vulnerable to mines, and finally, they can start their assault from 'over the horizon' (OTH) points, meaning they can take defenders by surprise. Most other methods of amphibious assault requires ships to move close to the shoreline - giving the defenders time to prepare.
Having said that, amphibious vehicles were not entirely unheard of in World War II. For example, the Sherman Duplex-Drive 'swimming tank' was used on the D-Day beaches to various degrees of success, while specially modified tanks known as "Hobart's Funnies' were also developed. These odd-looking vehicles, developed by the British but rejected by the Americans, proved to be hugely successful, and are often cited as one of the reasons the British D-Day beaches were taken easier than their American counterparts.
In reality, however, the modern training exercise video is also lacking many other elements which make up an amphibious assault, most notably close-air support or CAS.
This was generally unavailable during the D-Day landings as close air-support at the time could not act with enough precision to ensure only enemy positions were hit. Nowadays, however, with guided munitions and attack helicopters, air support would mostly like support any amphibious invasion, softening up the enemy and allowing the assaulting marines to mop up and quickly establish a beachhead.
Although it now seems unlikely the US and others would ever become embroiled in major industrial wars involving amphibious invasions, there is still a pressing need for this kind of training, South Korea and Japan in particular place high value in such operational strategies, especially in the face of growing Chinese power in the South China Sea.
China, in particular, are greatly expanding and updating their amphibious capability, especially in the face of territorial disputes concerning several islands. For example, in August 2015, China and Russia also conducted a joint amphibious training exercise in which 400 troops were landed on Russia's Pacific Coast.