The projection of sea-based ground forces onto land. Amphibious warfare was more widely conducted in World War II than in any previous conflict and on a greater scale than ever before or since.
Involving all aspects of naval and military operations— from mine warfare to air and ground combat—amphibious operations are the most complex and risky of all military endeavors. The basic principles had been established in World War I and the postwar period, but the lessons were largely ignored by most military leaders except those in the Soviet Union, the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), and Germany’s Landungspionieren (Landing Pioneers). The Royal Navy concluded that the British Gallipoli operation had demonstrated a successful amphibious assault was impossible in modern war.
Soviet landings and most Allied commando raids were tactical-level operations against limited objectives, although some had a strategic impact (capturing German codes, radars, and so on).
Amphibious operations also fall into four types: raids, assaults, evacuations, and administrative (noncombat) landings. The first of these is the most dangerous since it generally occurs in an area of enemy superiority and involves elements of both an assault and an evacuation. An administrative landing is the safest, being conducted in a benign environment with no enemy ground, air, or naval forces present. Assaults and evacuations face varying levels of risk, depending on the defender’s strength and support.
The phases of amphibious operations evolved as the war progressed. In 1939 the German army was the only service to recognize the need to rehearse landings and procedures for a specific landing. By 1943, every major military leader realized the necessity to practice for a specific landing. Then, as today, amphibious operations were broken down into five phases: (1) planning, (2) embarkation, (3) rehearsal, (4) movement to the objective area, and (5) the assault. Soviet doctrine added a sixth phase, the landing of the follow-on army forces.
The Soviet Union had a specialized amphibious force of naval infantry at war’s start, but they lacked equipment and training. They were expected to land on the beach using ships’ boats or other improvised transport. Soviet doctrine called for naval infantry to conduct amphibious raids and support the army’s landing by seizing and holding the beachhead while conventional forces disembarked behind them. Although this approach economized on the number of troops requiring specialized amphibious assault training, it proved costly in combat, as any delays in the follow-on landing left the naval infantry dangerously exposed to counterattack. As a result, Soviet naval infantry suffered heavy casualties in their amphibious assaults but one can argue they led the Allied way in these operations. On 23 September 1941, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet conducted the Allies’ first amphibious assault, when Captain Sergei Gorshkov landed a naval infantry regiment against the coastal flanks of the Romanian army besieging Odessa. The action eliminated the Romanian threat to the city’s harbor. In fact, amphibious raids and assaults figured prominently in Soviet naval operations along Germany’s Black and Arctic Sea flanks, with the Soviets conducting more than 150 amphibious raids and assaults during the war.
amphibious operations were critical to the Allied war effort. They enabled the Soviets to threaten the Axis powers’ extreme flanks throughout the Eastern Campaign. Thus the Soviets were able to divert Axis forces away from the front and facilitate Soviet offensive efforts in the war’s final two years.
References Achkasov, V. I., and N. B. Pavlovich. Soviet Naval Operations in the Great Patriotic War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981. Ruge, Friedrich. The Soviets as Naval Opponents, 1941–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1979.