The Amphibians Are Coming!: Emergence of the ‘Gator Navy and its Revolutionary Landing Craft, by William L. McGee
Most of the time, if you saw a book that had the title “The Amphibians Are Coming!” your thoughts would be somewhat alarming. Is this book talking about some sort of strange alien species that happens to dwell at the margins between land and water? In this particular case, though, the titular amphibians are the amphibious craft that the United States built during World War II and that served with glory both on the European and Pacific fronts during that conflict. Although it is not hard to find books that deal with the amphibious warfare of the age , they do not appear to be the sort of books that find ready popularity except among Marines and those who served on such amphibious ships. Even so, this is an enjoyable book if you are fascinated by questions of technical design and logistics and if you are interested in some of the books about some of the more obscure aspects of World War II history. As I must admit I enjoy obscure areas of history and life, and find logistics and the design of technology fascinating, this book was an easy one to enjoy.
At more than 250 pages this book is one of three volumes planned by the authors in a series about the landing craft of World War II. This book focuses its attention on the Pacific front and is immensely worthwhile for its enthusiasm and for its encouragement of sailors on the landing craft to write about their experiences given the paucity of such accounts. Apparently writing about carriers and battleships is far more cool than writing about odd little landing craft to most people, even if successful amphibious warfare depends on those odd little landing craft and the soldiers and machinery and supplies that they bring. No one remembers logistics until they are starving in some forsaken area, it seems. This book has few chapters for its size, namely an introductory chapter that discusses the evolution of amphibious operations, including operations at Guadalcanal and North Africa in late 1942 and the craft and training bases, a chapter on the history and scorecard and operations of the APD Destroyer Transports, a chapter giving a biography of the LCT Flotilla Five, a chapter giving a biography of the LST Flotilla Five, a chapter giving a biography of the LCI Flotilla Five (all three of which served first in Guadalcanal, which gets the focus of the author’s attention in that battle of naval attrition), and then a short final chapter looking ahead to the next book in the series. Given what this book has of interest, if you like human interest stories mixed with a lot of detail about the career of people like officer Austin Volk, who narrowly avoided being killed by a Japanese grenade through some quick acting, this is likely a book that will be worth reading.
This book was sufficiently interesting that I want to know where I can find the other two volumes in its set and obtain them for free. Unfortunately, the aging of many World War II vets makes it unlikely that many more accounts will be released from this period, unless the unpublished manuscripts of elderly people can be found and published. I, for one, would welcome that, and I strongly suspect that the author of this book would want people who served in the less dramatic and notable aspects of the navy, like the landing craft discussed here, to write more about it. This was a worthwhile book, if a bit dry, and it is certainly a subject I would happily revisit as a reader. The fact that I can say I better understand the issues behind similar logistics craft makes this all the more enjoyable of a read.
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