Amphibious Warfare: First World War

1915 - British Introduce self-propelled armored landing barges called Beetles

In August 1915, British forces attempted to break the stalemate on the Gallipoli peninsula with a second amphibious landing at Suvla Bay, north of the beachheads established that April. In planning for the Suvla Bay landing, the British incorporated some of the lessons they had learned from these earlier assaults.

Photo of Armored Motor Lighters (beetles)

Armored motor lighters (beetles) run right up to shore at Suvla.
Imperial War Museum, Q13461. Crown copyright 2000

One of these was the vulnerability of troops in open boats. Unlike the landings on Cape Helles and Anzac Cove, where troops had gone ashore in open ships' boats, at Suvla Bay British troops were carried to their beaches by armored motor lighters, known as "beetles." Each of these craft could carry 500 men or 40 horses and was designed so that men, equipment, and animals could disembark via a ramp fixed on its bow.
Flat-bottomed and powered by a single engine, the beetles had many limitations. They could make a speed of only five knots in good conditions. They were also difficult to handle - wind or current would easily turn them broadside to the beach. Picket boats often had to be used to hold their bows on the sand and then help them withdraw.

At Suvla Bay, destroyers towed the beetles into position before being cut loose for their runs to the beach. At Nibruseni Point at the mouth of Suvla Bay, the armored lighters worked well, depositing the first wave ashore and shuttling back and forth to the waiting destroyers to embark additional troops from the assault echelon. Ship-to-shore movement did not go as smoothly inside Suvla Bay - troops went ashore on the wrong beach and the lighters grounded more than 100 yards offshore.

Even with their limitations and the mixed results of their first employment, the beetles represented a vast improvement over open, unprotected boats for ship-to-shore movement. Moreover, they were the forerunners of the more effective landing craft developed later in the 20th century. Indeed, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps built their own 50-foot "beetle boats" in the early 1920s that were derived from the original craft that debuted at Suvla Bay.

Sources:

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth J. Clifford, Progress and Purpose: A Developmental History of the United States Marine Corps, 1900-1970 (Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1973).

Jeter A. Isely and Philip A. Crowl, The U.S. Marines and Amphibious Warfare (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951).

Richard Pelvin, Sea Power at Suvla, August 1915: Naval Aspects of the Suvla Bay Landings and the Genesis of Modern Amphibious Warfare, The Joint Imperial War Museum/Australian War Memorial Battlefield Study Tour to Gallipoli, September 2000.

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