The Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) is an amphibious warfare vehicle and amphibious landing craft, introduced by the United States Navy. The United States Marine Corps, United States Army, and Canadian and British armies used several LVT models during World War II.
Originally intended solely as cargo carriers for ship to shore operations, they evolved into assault troop and fire support vehicles. The types were known as amphtrack, “amtrak”, “amtrac”, “alligator” or “gator.”
The LVT had its origins in a civilian rescue vehicle called the Alligator. Developed by Donald Roebling in 1935, the Alligator was intended to operate in swampy areas, inaccessible to both traditional cars and boats. Two years later, Roebling built a redesigned vehicle with improved water speed. The United States Marine Corps, which had been developing amphibious warfare doctrine based on the ideas of Lt. Col Earl Hancock “Pete” Ellis and others, became interested in the machine after learning about it through an article in Life magazine and convinced Roebling to design a more seaworthy model for military use.
The contract to build the first 200 LVTs was awarded to the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC), a manufacturer of insecticide spray pumps and other farm equipment, which built some parts for the Alligators. The initial 200 LVTs were built at FMC’s Dunedin, Florida factory, where most of the improvement work had been done as well. The first production LVT rolled out of the plant in July, 1941. Later, wartime LVT production was expanded by FMC and the Navy to four factories, including the initial facility in Dunedin; the new facilities were located in Lakeland, Florida, Riverside, California, and San Jose, California.
The Marines soon recognized the potential of the LVT as an assault vehicle. The LVTs saw their first operational use in Guadalcanal (part of the Gilbert Islands), where they were used exclusively for landing supplies. The American invasion force to the Gilberts was the largest yet assembled for a single operation in the Pacific. On board the transports was the 2nd Marine Division and a part of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division, for a total of about 35,000 troops.
The 37 mm gun of the LVT(A)-1 was inadequate for fire support version so the turret of the 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 – armed with a 75 mm howitzer – was used to produce the LVT (A)-4. In some cases, the 75 mm was replaced with the Canadian Ronson flamethrower. A single .50 cal machine gun was installed on the ring mount above the turret rear.
In the amphibious assault on Tarawa in late 1943, the LVTs were first used for amphibious assault in order to negotiate the barrier reef and arrive to the most heavily defended beaches the Americans ever met in the Pacific. The supporting naval bombardment lifted and the Marines started their attack from the lagoon at 0900, thirty minutes later than expected, but found the tide had not risen enough to allow their shallow draft Higgins boats to clear the reef. Only the tracked LVTswere able to get across. 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion LVTs took part in the first, second, and third waves of landings and carried the continuous supply of ammunition, reinforcements, and ferrying back of the wounded. Of 125 vehicles used (50 new LVT-2s and 75 LVT-1s), only 35 remained operational by the end of the first day, continuing to ferry men and supplies across the coral reef and through the shallows to the beach. By the end of the first day, of the 5,000 Marines put ashore, 1,500 were casualties, either dead or wounded. In March, 2019 a mass grave of Marines, reportedly from the 6th Marine Regiment, was discovered on Tarawa. The remains of 22 Marines recovered from the mass grave arrived at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on July 17, 2019.
Amazingly, the LVT(A)-4 at the American Heritage Musuem is the only one on public display in the US.