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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 8 April 2023

Landing craft and Allied strategy

 I have been assembling and painting landing craft this week. This modelling effort reminded me that the shortage of landing craft was a significant constraint on Allied strategy in WW2. It is often said that the immense manufacturing resources of the USA were one of the critical factors in the victory over the Axis. But even those resources had their limits, and landing craft was one of them.

In the British official war history (Vol.4), Sir Michael Howard notes, 'the necessary ground forces for operations in all theatres could be made available, and, more important, there would be enough shipping to carry them.' However, 'The only critical shortage which the Planners foresaw was in landing-craft and assault shipping. Arrangements had been made to provide enough—or so it was hoped—for the ‘Overlord’ operation, largely at the expense of the Mediterranean theatre; but thereafter the full scope of operations both in the Far East and the European Theatres would be restricted unless production could be expanded.'

A quick search of this volume alone brings up 101 mentions of landing craft, mostly identifying a shortage that constrained actual or planned operations. This was also a major constraint on the operations Churchill favoured in the eastern Mediterranean as part of his efforts to get Turkey into the war, as I highlighted in my book, Chasing the Soft Underbelly. For example, the decision to invade Sicily meant there was no landing craft to spare for a Dodecanese operation on the scale projected.

Plan of the Higgins LCVP

A similar search of Sir Alan Brooke, the British Chief of Staff's diaries, also shows many discussions about the shortage of landing craft. He notes this remained a problem as late as 1945 in the Pacific. On 29 March 1944, he notes, 'A very difficult COS when we discussed the production of landing craft for the Pacific in 1945. Third Sea Lord, Hurcomb [Transportation], and Sinclair all attended. It is one of those awful jigsaw problems when it becomes very difficult to fit in all the right pieces.'

Sadly for the allies building landing craft was more complex than my modelling. I wanted a landing craft for one of my Chasing the Soft Underbelly scenarios that we are playing at the Carronade show in May. Mind you, more than 23,358 LCVPs were built by Higgins Industries and licensees.

What struck me about the two I built was how small they seemed. The one in the foreground is a 28mm model from Butlers. The background model is a 1/72nd scale Airfix model. I have put a 28mm and 20mm figure in each boat to give an idea. All I can say is that they must have been packed in, as they were 36 feet long and 11ft wide, designed to carry 36 troops in a 17' by 7' loading area.

This is a closer look at the 28mm Butlers model with a commando inside. Not cheap at £23.00, but it comes with just a few parts to glue together. This will work fine for the participation game at Carronade, which is loosely based on a British plan to establish a Balkan bridgehead at Durres in Albania. It will also work for commando and partisan raids by units based on the island of Vis.

The 20mm model is an Airfix kit I picked up for a bargain £4 at the Hammerhead show Bring and Buy stall. It went together fairly quickly, although it isn't a waterline model, a point that didn't occur to me at the time. They can sit on the beach, as the plan was to use them for my Cyprus 1974 project, which is in 20mm. Strictly speaking, I don't think the Turks used this type. The main landing craft appears to be the C305 class which is somewhat larger and can carry an MBT or 150 troops.

Either way, I am not planning a fleet of landing craft. Just a representation.

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