• Simon Biggs

Amphibious Lessons Learned - Operation Husky 10 July 1943


Lessons Learned (Operation Husky)

The beach organisation was better than 'Torch' but there were still problems caused, mainly by human error. One example was the misuse of the miraculous DUKW, a 2.5 ton American amphibious lorry. Those carrying troops should have deposited them on or near to the landing beaches but chose to deliver their human cargo close to the front line. The congestion in the narrow Sicilian streets and roads was chaotic, at a time when the movement of supplies and weapons was a priority. One DUKW was loaded with 10 tons of ammunition, when the limit was a quarter of this. To the considerable consternation of the driver, his DUKW disappeared below the waves as he left the ramp!

Combined Operations - Beach Organisation Training Film (IWM)

Improved waterproofing of vehicles and recovery measures for stranded or broken down craft, reduced losses to as little as 1.5% on the British beaches. On the more exposed western beaches, losses were around 12%. The small harbour of Licata had a greater ship handling capacity than thought and this relieved pressure on supplies and communications, as well as reducing dependence on Syracuse and Augusta.

Human errors of judgement in the management and control of men and materials, through the landing beaches, caused delays and loss of effectiveness. This unenviable and arduous job was that of Beachmaster. There was critical comment from senior staff about the selection criteria, recruitment and authority of the post holder. However, by the time of the Normandy landings, they had gained in respect and authority. One beachmaster is reputed to have ordered a general to "Get off my bloody beach!"

  • "Beachmasters and assistant beachmasters should be men of personality, experience and adequate seniority, capable of exercising complete control in the dark." (McGrigor).

  • "Naval Beachmasters should be preferably bad tempered and certainly dictatorial by nature." (Henriques).

  • "The Brick (Beach) Commander must be King of the Brick (Beach) area" (Maund).

  • "Some of the American Beachmasters are too junior and too polite to Generals." (General Wedemeyer of Eisenhower's staff).

There were abuses in the deployment of men and materials. One divisional commander re-deployed men engaged on shifting supplies. Within 12 hours, they were on the front line. He later complained about delays in supplies reaching the front lines! Too many senior officers, who should have known better, regarded the Beach Groups as a "God-sent pool of everything." Later reports from different sources criticised this phase of the operation.

Pilfering was rife.

The Americans had a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the landing of men and materials. This required all the men and materials for the first battalion to go ashore, to be carried on one ship. However, there was no ship capable of carrying all the landing craft needed, so other landing craft were drafted in from nearby ships.

This arrangement required a high degree of training and complete immunity from enemy interference. Potentially, as landing craft moved around in the dark, going from one vessel to another, some might get lost and others delayed. Henriques put his concerns to Patton, who seriously considered adopting the British technique but decided that it was too near the operational date to make last-minute changes. In the event, thorough rehearsals by the Americans and the lack of opposition from the enemy,enabled the system to work.

Under the British system, the troops, their equipment and the landing craft they needed to reach the beaches, were distributed amongst a number of ships so that each was self contained and able to independently disembark their cargoes in their own landing craft. Under these arrangements, there was no need to use landing craft from other ships, thus avoiding the inherent difficulties mentioned earlier. Truscott's landings, using the British method, were particularly successful. Principles for amphibious landings honed and developed over years of Combined Operations experience, were put into practice. Henriques attributed his success to;

  • naval simplicity;

  • speed coupled with a due allowance of time for the beach group to develop the beaches uninterrupted,

  • surprise in that a substantial proportion of infantry were ordered to by pass resistance and effect, with utmost speed, a deep penetration into the high ground that commanded the prospective bridgehead and its approaches,

  • the mobilisation and concentration of every possible means of fire support for the initial landings,

  • the provision of specially equipped and specially trained assault troops to fight in the units in which they disembarked,

  • the sacrifice of normal military organisation to this end,

  • the retention of a very powerful floating reserve,

  • adequate and carefully planned rehearsal with a due allowance of time for correction of faults,

  • planning in minute detail which engendered sufficient confidence to confront unforeseen problems with flexibility.

Henriques was also very impressed with US Navy crews. "Their coolness and discipline were quite outstanding and could never be forgotten by any of the soldiers taking part in the operation."

Other lessons were learned from the Americans. Whereas the British basic beach group unit was an infantry battalion, the Americans had an Engineer Shore Unit with a high proportion of technically qualified men. Such skills were invaluable in quickly resolving unforeseen problems in the area of the beachhead. In addition, the Americans had an efficient and effective method of loading store ships, with groups of stores secured together for loading into DUKWs for easier dispatch to the shore.

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