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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Ship History: Beachmasters

Amphibious landings against a hostile force require many things but key among them is the ability to organize the landing area and establish a coherent flow of men and equipment onto the beachhead and beyond.

Someone has to take charge of the beach, turn it into a "port" and decide what goes where and when. Or, as set out here:
Beach Battalions were a product of World War II. After Dunkirk, Crete and Corregidor, when it was determined that territory lost to the enemy could be regained only by storming the coasts of Europe and Africa, and the island beaches of the Pacific, concepts of modern warfare changed dramatically. High level planners concluded that they could put assault troops ashore from ships and planes, and that, landed in sufficient force, the infantry could fight its way inland. To stay there however, the infantry had to be supplied with food, weapons, clothing, ammunition, artillery, and tank support. Someone had to control the gigantic flow of material across the beaches while and after they had been assaulted, and to that end the concept of Naval Beach Battalions was born. Shore Parties were nothing new to the Navy. They had been around for years. Most were composed of members of the ship's company, picked to go ashore to put down revolts, fight fires, give aid in time of disaster, etc., but, during a conflict such as the sea-to-land assaults of World War I, ship's captains simply could not spare men from the crew for such duties. Accordingly, separate organizations, skilled in jobs related to amphibious warfare, were needed.
Well, that's partially right. The need for "beachmasters" had been foreseen by planners before WW II, but time worked against having an organization in place before the U.S. was involved in the war. In the original planning for amphibious operations, it was the Marines who led the way. More specifically, it was a Marine thinker named Earl Ellis who had a vision of what might be needed to defend far flung interest across the Pacific Ocean:
This all but exclusive concern for the defense of bases was clearly borne out by the writing of Major Earl H. Ellis. Ellis, one of the most brilliant young Marine staff officers, was among the farsighted military thinkers who saw the prospect of war between the United States and Japan prior to World War I. Around 1913, he directed attention to the problems of a future Pacific conflict. To bring military force to bear against Japan, Ellis pointed out, the United States would have to project its fleet across the Pacific. To support these operations so far from home would require a system of outlying bases. Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines, which were the most important of these, we already possessed. Their defense would be of utmost importance and would constitute the primary mission of the Marine advanced base force. Ellis discussed in considerable detail the troops which would be required and the tactics they should employ.

In addition to the bases already in the possession of the United States, Ellis foresaw the need of acquiring others held by Japan. To the Marine Corps would fall the job of assaulting the enemy-held territory. Although he did not discuss the problems involved nor take up the tactics to be employed, Ellis foreshadowed the amphibious assault which was to be the primary mission of the Marine Corps in World War II.
Today, we tend to forget that the Germans had extensive holding in the Pacific before World War I. But the division of these possessions following the war led literally led to world changing events:
Nothing seemed changed, but delegates of the Great Powers, meeting at Versailles to write the peace treaty ending World War I, had already taken an action which was to have far-reaching consequences for a future generation of Marines. In the general distribution of spoils, the former German island possessions in the central Pacific had been mandated to the Japanese. At one stroke the strategic balance in the Pacific was shifted radically in favor of Japan. That country now possessed a deep zone of island outposts. Fortified and supported by the Japanese fleet, they would constitute a serious obstacle to the advance of the United States Fleet across the Pacific.

Earl Ellis was one of the first to recognize the significance of this strategic shift. In 1921 he modified his earlier ideas and submitted them in the form of Operations Plan 712, "Advanced Base Operations in Micronesia." In this plan Ellis stressed the necessity for seizing by assault the bases needed to project the Fleet across the Pacific. He envisioned the seizure of specific islands in the Marshall, Caroline, and Palau groups, some of which were actually taken by Marines in World War II. He went so far as to designate the size and type of units that would be necessary, the kind of landing craft they should use, the best time of day to effect the landing, and other details needed to insure the success of the plan. Twenty years later Marine Corps action was to bear the imprint of this thinking:
To effect [an amphibious landing] in the face of enemy resistance requires careful training and preparation, to say the least; and this along Marine lines. It is not enough that the troops be skilled infantry men or artillery men of high morale; they must be skilled water men and jungle men who know it can be done--Marines with Marine training.
The Commandant, Major General John A. Lejeune, and other high ranking Marines shared Ellis' views. "The seizure and occupation or destruction of enemy bases is another important function of the expeditionary force," he stated in a lecture before the Naval War College in 1923. "On both flanks of a fleet crossing the Pacific are numerous islands suitable for submarine and air bases. All should be mopped up as progress is made. ... The maintenance, equipping and training of its expeditionary force so that it will be in instant readiness to support the Fleet in the event of war," he concluded, " deem to be the most important Marine Corps duty in time of peace."
This, in turn, led to fleet experiments and exercises and to the development of doctrine, in the form of the 1938 "Landings Operations Doctrine," which detailed the role of the "Shore Party:"
Shore Party
One of the most serious problems encountered in early landing exercises was congestion on the beaches as men and supplies piled ashore. To keep such a situation reasonably in hand requires a high degree of control; control difficult to achieve under such circumstances, even when the enemy remains only simulated. Assault troops must push inland with all speed not only to expand the beachhead, but also to make room for following units and equipment to land and to provide space in which personnel assigned strictly beach functions can operate.

To solve this problem the Tentative Landing Operations Manual provided for a beach party, commanded by a naval officer called a beachmaster, and a shore party, a special task organization, commanded by an officer of the landing force. The beach party was assigned primarily naval functions, e.g., reconnaissance and marking of beaches, marking of hazards to navigation, control of boats, evacuation of casualties, and, in addition, the unloading of material of the landing force from the boats. The shore party was assigned such functions as control of stragglers and prisoners, selecting and marking of routes inland, movement of supplies and equipment off the beaches, and assignment of storage and bivouac areas in the vicinity of the beach. The composition and strength of the shore party were not set forth except for a statement that it would contain detachments from some or all of the following landing force units: medical, supply, working details, engineers, military police, communications, and chemical. The beach party and the shore party were independent of each other, but the Tentative Landing Operations Manual enjoined that the fullest cooperation be observed between the beachmaster and the shore party commander, and the personnel of their respective parties.

It was not indicated from what source "working details" for the shore party would come, but in practice, since there was no other source, the policy of assigning units in reserve the responsibility for furnishing the labor details quickly developed. This in effect, however, temporarily deprived the commander of his reserve.

No realistic test of the shore and beach party doctrine took place during the early fleet landing exercises. Although some material was landed on the beach, it generally consisted of rations and small quantities of ammunition and gasoline. Not until 1941 were adequate supplies available and the maneuvers on a large enough scale to provide a test of logistic procedures. The results were not encouraging. "In January of 1941 ... the shore party for a brigade size landing ... consisted of one elderly major and two small piles of ammunition boxes," wrote a Marine officer who "suffered" through those years. "The ship-to-shore movement of fuel was a nightmare. We had no force level transportation, [no] engineers and no supporting maintenance capability worthy of the name. In short, the combination of the parsimonious years and our own apathy had left us next to helpless where logistics were concerned."

Major General H.M. Smith, the landing force commander at the New River exercise in the summer of 1941, reported that "considerable delay in the debarkation of troops and supplies was caused by lack of personnel in the Shore and Beach Parties. ... Roughly, the supplies except for subsistence it was possible to land ... were insufficient to sustain the forces engaged for more than three days."

General Smith, who had a deep respect for logistics, was determined to correct these deficiencies. "It is evident," he reported to Rear Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, "that special service troops (labor) must be provided for these duties in order to prevent reduction of the fighting strength of battalion combat teams. ... The present doctrine results in divided authority between shore party commanders." He recommended that "the beach and shore party commanders be consolidated into one unit, a Shore Party, under control of the landing force."31

Solution to the problem of divided authority came from a joint board of Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard officers appointed by Admiral King. Its recommendations closely followed those of General Smith and were accepted in toto and published on 1 August 1942 and Change 2 to FTP 167. The principal changes were: (1) joining together of the beach and shore parties under the title Shore Party, as a component of the landing force; (2) designating the beach party commander as the assistant to the shore party commander and his advisor on naval matters; and (3) transferring the responsibility for unloading boats at the beach from the naval element to the landing force element of the shore party.

Marine Corps Headquarters solved the labor force problem by adding a pioneer (shore party) battalion of 34 officers and 669 enlisted men to the marine division. This change occurred on 10 January 1942, too late for the personnel concerned to gain practical experience in large-scale exercises in the techniques of handling vast quantities of supplies or to test the adequacy of the strength and organization provided. At Guadalcanal this lack came close to having serious consequences.

General Smith was not content merely to submit his shore party recommendations to Admiral King. At his direction, the logistics staff of the Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet prepared a detailed Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) covering all phases of logistics. Issued as Force General Order No. 7-42, SOP for Supply and Evacuation, it served as the basic guide to combat loading and shore party operations during the Guadalcanal operation.
Landing Operations Doctrine (1938):
212. Shore Party-

1. The shore party is a special task organization formed for the purpose of facilitating the landing and movement off the beach of troops and material. It comprises elements of both the naval forces and the landing force, and is commanded by an officer of the landing force known as the shore party commander. Each shore party commander is responsible to the senior troop commander operating in the zone which his shore party serves. He exercises control of all activities in the immediate beach area delimited by the senior troop commander in that zone. The beachmaster is the naval officer in charge of the naval section of the shore party. He will act as assistant to the shore party commander and will be his advisor on naval matters.

The tasks of the shore party are as follows:

1. Mark hazards to navigation in the vicinity of the beach and determine most suitable landing points.

2. Effect emergency boat repairs.

3. Evacuate casualties to ships in accordance with Naval Attack Force and Landing Force Medical Plans.

4. Control boat traffic in the vicinity of the beach.

5. Direct landing, retraction, and salvage of boats.

6. Mark landing beach limits.

7. Establish and mark unloading points on landing beaches.

8. Unload the material of the Landing Force from small craft.

9. Remove underwater and beach obstructions.

10. Evacuate prisoners of war to ships in accordance with Landing Force Instructions.

11. Construct landing facilities when required.

12. Maintain liaison with senior troop commander within the zone served by that particular shore party; and in the case of the Senior Shore Party Commander, with the senior command of the landing force ashore.

13. Maintain order and direct traffic on and in the vicinity of the beach.

14. Provide bivouac, parking, and storage areas on and in the vicinity of the beach for various elements using that beach.

15. Insure rapid movement of equipment and supplies landed on the beach, in accordance with requirements of the units which the Shore Party is serving.

16. Maintain a record showing organizations, matériel, and supplies by appropriate categories, which have been landed on the beach.

17. Construct and maintain beach exit routes.

18. Provide for decontamination of gassed areas on the beach.

19. Maintain a situation map for information of landing units.

20. Operate emergency motor maintenance service to assist vehicles damaged in landing.

21. Provide local security for beach area.

22. Perform such other functions as are assigned.

23. Establish communication with adjacent shore parties.

24. Maintain communications with naval vessels and forces ashore as necessary.
This would make for some busy men.

Some of the organization of "Shore Parties" or "Beach Battalions" that came to be was made up on the fly:
Subsequent to, and to some extent during the North African landings, sailors ordered to Beach Battalion duty were normally assigned to one of four duty classifications; communications, hydrographics, boat repair, or medical. When a beach battalion went into action, it was organized along the lines of an Army battalion - three companies, with each company divided into three platoons whose interlocking duties embraced every phase of the battalion's task. Company and Battalion Headquarters personnel, as noted, brought the battalion, at full strength, to 450 officers and men.

Headed by a Beachmaster and his Assistant, each platoon of a Beach Battalion was assigned signalmen, radiomen, medical personnel, hydrographic specialists, and boat repair experts. In a typical beach assault, the personnel of the beach battalion went ashore in one or more of the first three or four assault waves, scattering their equipment over the beach so that a single bomb or artillery shell would not destroy all of it. Digging their own slit trenches and foxholes on the beach, the men prepared as best they could for possible enemy counterattack while still setting up the beach as a simulated port for the onslaught of supplies, equipment and men soon to be landed in support of the initial assault troops already headed inland to their assigned objectives.

Scheduled to be the first into action during a beach assault were the medical personnel, administering to assault troops cut down during the first waves, and evacuating casualties to naval ships lying to off the beaches. Emergency treatment was given, and a casualty section was augmented by hydrographic and boat repair personnel pressed into service as stretcher-bearers. Meanwhile, the Beachmaster and the men trained in hydrographic duties were locating the various beach sites, surveying the approaches and beach exits, locating and charting underwater obstacles, and determining the best passages for the armada of landing craft soon to come. Enemy gunfire and strafing runs were usually ignored in the early stages of beach operation. There was no place to go. Navy underwater demolition teams and army engineering personnel were called in when required to clear approach lanes and to blow beach and underwater obstacles. Boat repairmen, when released from stretcher-bearing duties, turned their attention to the problem of landing craft that had been damaged or broached in landing, in an attempt to get them back into service and returned to their parent ships.

Beach communications often decided the turn of a battle, and so the communications elements of the Beach Battalion were rapidly deployed and established, (normally in the first assault wave), to link the Beachmaster up with the fleet and the assault troops. Radios, signal lights, and the gyrating arms of battalion signalmen were put to immediate and effective use in the establishment of the overall beach operations.
These units took various forms were used depending on the theater of operations:
In the Central Pacific, the Shore Party was an integral part of a combat division and was organized around a Marine Pioneer Group or Army Combat Engineer Group. In both services, Army and Marine, the Shore Party formed the nucleus to which the various elements were assigned for an operation. The Naval elements included the Underwater Demolition Team, a Naval Pontoon Unit, and a Boat Pool. The Attack Transport ships (APAs) supplied the Beach Party elements of the Shore Party by providing a Beach Party Team of approximately two officers and thirty men to support the battalion landing of troops. The Beach Party Team would land at the objective area and take charge of the beach in a manner similar to that of the present, but they were normally withdrawn with the parent ship. The concept was that the Shore Party was an instrument of the assault and would be relieved promptly by garrison elements, including a garrison beach party, to unload follow–up shipping.
Probably because of the lack of experience with Beachmaster Units (however designated) things did not always go smoothly on the actual invasion beaches. For example, some criticism of shore parties here. And, a tale from Guadalcanal
Logistical difficulties were worse. movements of supplies from the landing craft to the beaches and then to supply dumps soon began to snarl. Admiral Turner blamed this on the Marines' failure to understand the number of troops required for such work, failure to extend the beach limits promptly enough and, to some extent, a lack of control and direction over troops in the beach area. But the trouble and its causes were neither as clear-cut nor a damning as that. Marine planners had foreseen a dangerous shortage of manpower at this critical point, but under the uncertain circumstances on this hostile beach they felt they could allot no more men to the job than the 500 from Colonel George R. Rowan's 1st Pioneer Battalion. Vandegrift did not want working parties to cut the strength of his fighting units to a level which might risk getting them defeated.

Hindsight now makes it clear that the supplies mounting up as a juicy beach target jeopardized the operation more than a call for additional working parties would have done. There were hardly enough Japanese fighting men ashore on the island to bother the Vandegrift forces, but if enemy planes from Rabaul had concentrated on hitting the congested beach they would have played havoc with this whole venture. Marines were aware of this risk, but they also expected to run into a sizable Japanese force somewhere in the thickening jungle. The people in the shore party would just have to work harder.

Sailors joined the pioneers but the beach remained cluttered in spite of this help. Needed, division officers reported later, were "additional personnel in the proportion of at least 100 men for each vessel discharging cargo across the beach."5 It was not that this problem had never been thought out and planned for in fleet exercises over the years. It was just that this was "Operation Shoestring." The situation became so bad during the night of 7-8 August that the landing force had to ask the ships to stop unloading. There had been air attacks that afternoon, and more were expected on the 8th. The exhausted workers needed time to clear the beaches and spread out the gear so it would be less of a target.
With practice, things got better in the Pacific.

Things, again due to inexperience, did not start any better on the European front, with the "Sailors in Army Uniforms" not being as effective as hoped in actual invasions, despite their undoubted bravery. The price of getting experience is high.

From the lessons learned file:
Human frailty was a problem in the key area of the management and control of men and materials onto and off the beaches. This unenviable and arduous job was that of Beachmaster. 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 the delay in supplies reaching the front lines! Pilfering was rife. 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;
* "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)
An oral history concerning Beachmasters at Normandy here. And the tale of
Carusis Thieves speaks of the bravery of the D-Day beachmasters and their losses, which were about 41%:
The specific mission of a Beach Battalion was to sit at the very heart of this incredibly complex effort and direct the traffic coming in - men and munitions, tanks and trucks, self-propelled weapons, whole field hospitals. These would have to come in to the right places on schedule, or the confusion might lead to unimaginable slaughter, or even failure of the assault.

With thousands of small craft scheduled to hit the beach, the loading of this or that boat by as little as one gun was planned to achieve maximum efficiency; schedules were timed by seconds to anticipate every possible contingency.
Looking around that beach it was plain that everything had gone wrong! Nobody seemed to be where they should have been according to plan, and that included us. All up and down the beach tanks were sitting in the surf line knocked out, impotent and burning. Heavy smoke and mist covered everything; usual signals were absolutely no good - and worst of all, equipment of every conceivable sort was piling up in huge hills at the waterline. The time schedule as well as the schedule of priority objectives had jumped the track, the great ships lying offshore were pumping men and munitions toward the beaches with which they had no communication, and if ever disaster threatened the whole gigantic undertaking it was at that moment.
Much more on the Beach Battalions here.

After the war, changes were made:
After studying post-WWII battle analyses and organization, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps reviewed the requirements for Shore Party operations and established new organizations. Today’s Landing Force Support Party (LFSP) within the Marine Corps replaces the WWII Shore Party. The LFSP provides the landing force with initial combat support and combat service support during the ship-to-shore movement. (The Engineer Amphibious Brigade is the Army’s counterpoint to the Marine’s LFSP.) The post-war analysis also led to the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO) decision to commission naval beach groups as afloat commands assigned to the two Amphibious Forces.
The revised Beachmaster Units are very active. Current Beachmaster Unit mission
Beachmaster Unit Two is assigned the mission of providing tactical components in support of Amphibious Operations. BMU-TWO provides Naval Beach Party Teams (BPTs) for deployment in conjunction with Expeditionary Forces in order to provide beach and surf zone salvage and to facilitate the landing and movement over the beach of troops, equipment, supplies, and the evacuation of casualties, prisoners-of-war, and non-combatants.

A Beach Party Team consists of Traffic Control and Salvage, and Communications. The Traffic Control Section, provided by Beachmaster Unit TWO, is tasked with controlling the boat traffic in the surf zone, controlling the beaching and retracting the landing craft, and directing the smooth and efficient flow of personnel and material over the beach. The Communications Section establishes visual and radio communications with the Primary Control Ship and enters prescribed radio nets.
Beachmaster Unit One info here. In addition to participating in any number of ship to shore missions, the Beachmasters participate in exercises:
Queensland, Australia (June 19, 2005) - A beachmaster from Assault Craft Unit Five (ACU-5), embarked aboard USS Boxer (LHD 4), gives guidance to a Landing Craft, Air Cushion, (LCAC) vehicle during Exercise Talisman Saber 2005. Talisman Saber is an exercise jointly sponsored by the U.S. Pacific Command and Australian Defense Force Joint Operations Command, and designed to train the U.S. 7th Fleet commander's staff and Australian Joint Operations staff as a designated Combined Task Force (CTF) headquarters. The exercise focuses on crises action planning and execution of contingency response operations. U.S. Pacific Command units and Australian forces will conduct land, sea and air training throughout the training area. More than 11,000 U.S. and 6,000 Australian personnel will participate. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Paul Polach
As well as supporting domestic emergencies like Hurricane Katrina.
A resident of Biloxi, Miss., whose shore-side home was leveled by Hurricane Katrina, watches as a U.S. Navy sailor from Beachmaster Unit 2 clears rubble from his land with a bulldozer on Sept. 15, 2005. Department of Defense units are mobilized as part of Joint Task Force Katrina to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster-relief efforts in the Gulf Coast areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Gethings
Top painting: Shore party art
A signalman semaphores a message from an operations center on the shores of Lingayen Gulf during the battle of Luzon. In the background a landing ship unloads.
Note that in the exercise in Australia, some things have remained the same.

Give a salute to the Beachmasters - whose job is to bring some order to the chaos of war.

UPDATE: Okinawa beach operations described here:
Control of operations on the beaches, initially in the battalion landing teams, passed step by step through the echelons of command until Tenth Army, acting through the Island Command and the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, assumed responsibility on 9 April. Navy beachmasters maintained liaison with the ships and scheduled the beaching of landing ships and the assignment of lighterage. General unloading began on 3 April. It was soon apparent that the limiting factor was the availability of transport from the beaches to the dumps. The shortage of service units and equipment due to space limitations was immediately felt, especially in the Army zone; the problem was eased for the Marines by the use of 5,000 replacements landed with the Marine divisions. The rapidity of the advance and the immediate uncovering of Yontan and Kadena airfields required a rearrangement of supply priorities. The difficulties in initiating so intricate an undertaking near the enemy's homeland were prodigious, and it required time and the process of trial and error to overcome them. Suicide planes and suicide boats were a constant menace, and on the afternoon of 4 April the weather came to the aid of the enemy. A storm, bringing with it from 6- to 10-foot surf on the Hagushi beaches, lasted through the night and the following day. All unloading ceased, and some landing craft hit against the reef and were damaged. Again on 10 April surf backed by a high wind brought work to a standstill, and on 11 April conditions were but slightly improved. Rain accompanying these storms made quagmires of the roads and further complicated the supply problems. Despite these handicaps, the assault shipping was 80 percent unloaded by 16 April, and 577,000 measurement tons had crossed the Hagushi beaches, a larger amount than had been anticipated in the plans.

Interesting photo showing the part of the awesome force needed to support troops ashore. Photo caption:
SUPPLYING AND DEVELOPING THE BEACHHEAD had by L plus 3 made substantial progress. Supply ships were run in to the reef's edge, where they unloaded into trucks or amphibian vehicles. Indentation in shore line is Bishi River mouth, with Yontan airfield on horizon beyond

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