The Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) was an amphibious vehicle used by the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Army since World War II. It was widely known as amphtrack, amtrak, amtrac etc., a variant of "amphibious tractor."
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 greatly 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. After more improvements to meet requirements of the Navy, the vehicle was adopted as Landing Vehicle Tracked, or LVT. The order 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. Eventually the company became a prominent defense contractor, United Defense (now part of BAE Systems Land and Armaments).
Watch the LVTP-5 being unloadedat the museum March 21, 2009
The LVT were used for logistic support at Guadalcanal, but their first real test was in the assault on Tarawa. Of 125 vehicles used, only 35 remained operational by the end of the day. Still, the amtracs proved their worth by successfully ferrying men across the coral reef and through the shallows to the beach. Marines who arrived in LCVP Higgins boats, on the other hand, could not cross the reef and had to wade through chest-deep or higher water while being raked by Japanese machine guns; casualties were horrific and many who did make it to the beach alive had lost their rifles and other essential gear. The "alligator" was clearly a good idea that worked, but improvements such as added armor were needed to make it more effective.
As a result of Tarawa experience, standardized armor kits were provided for the LVTs employed in contested landings, and gun-armed "amtanks" LVT(A)-1 and LVT(A)-4 were developed to provide fire support. Armed with a 75 mm howitzer, the latter was especially effective in this role, however its turret was open-topped; it also used bigger turret ring which led to the removal of rear-mounted machine guns; as a result, the vehicle was vulnerable to Japanese infantry attacks. To solve the problem, more machine guns were added in late production vehicles. Although usually used during landings only, in the Mariana's "amtanks" were employed inland, much like regular tanks.
The largest use of the LVTs was in the Leyte landing, with nine amtrac and two amtank battalions deployed. As there was no fighting on the beaches, this is also one of the least famous LVTs' operations. Over 1000 LVTs took part in the Battle of Okinawa.
Although usually associated with the Pacific theatre, toward the end of the war LVTs were employed in Europe as well. The US, British and Canadian Army used the Buffalo in the Battle of the Scheldt, during the Operation Plunder, along the Po River, across the river Elbe and in a number of other river crossing operations.
Some LVT-3Cs and modified LVT(A)-5s saw action in the Korean War. French Army used the US-supplied LVT-4s and LVT(A)-4s in the Indochina War and in the Suez Crisis.
The first LVTs could hold 24 men or 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg) of cargo. Originally intended to carry replenishments from ships ashore, they lacked armor protection and their tracks and suspension were unreliable when used on hard terrain. However, the Marines soon recognized the potential of the LVT as assault vehicle. Armored versions were introduced as well as fire support versions, dubbed amtanks, which were fitted with turrets from Stuart series light tanks (LVT(A)-1) and M8 HMCs (LVT(A)-4). Among other upgrades were a new power pack, also borrowed from the Stuarts, and a torsilastic suspension which significantly improved land performance.
Production continued throughout the war, resulting in 18,621 LVTs delivered. In late 1940s a series of prototypes were built and tested, but none reached production stage due to lack of funding. Realizing that acquisition of new vehicles was unlikely, the Marines modernized some of the LVT-3s and LVT(A)-5s and kept them in service until late 1950s.
The first military model. Traveling at a respectable six knots in the water and twelve mph on land, it could deliver 24 fully-equipped assault troops to the beach, and supply supporting fire from two .30 cal. machine guns, 1,225 units produced.
LVT-2 Water Buffalo, British designation Buffalo II (1942). Featured new power train (taken from the M3A1 light tank) and torsilastic suspension. Hard terrain performance was much better compared to the LVT-1. 2,962 units produced.
LVT(A)-1 (1942, "A" stands for armored)
LVT(A)-2 Water Buffalo (1943)
Armored version of the LVT-2. Capacity 18 troops. 450 units produced.
LVT-4 Water Buffalo, British designation Buffalo IV (1943). It was by far the most numerous version of the LVT, with 8,351 units delivered. Many of the British LVT versions were armed with a Polsten 20 mm cannon and 2 x .30 cal Browning MGs.
LVT-4(F) Sea Serpent - British version armed with flamethrowers.
LVT(A)-3 Armored version of the LVT-4, never approved for production.
LVT-3 Bushmaster (1944). Developed by the Borg Warner Corporation, this vehicle had engines moved to sponsons and a ramp installed in the rear similarly to the LVT-4. Some received armor kits. First used in Okinawa in April 1945. 2,964 units produced.
LVT(A)-4 (1944). Another fire support version, with 75 mm Howitzer Motor Carriage M8 turret armed with a 75 mm howitzer, in some cases replaced with the Canadian Ronson flamethrower. A single .50 cal machine gun was installed on the ring mount above the turret rear. In the late production vehicles the heavy machine gun was replaced with two M1919A4 .30 MGs on pintle mounts and one more in the bow mount. 1,890 units produced.
LVT(A)-5 (1945) LVT(A)-4 with powered turret and a gyrostabilizer for the howitzer. Some were upgraded in late 1940s by changing armor configuration. 269 units produced.
LVT-3C (1949) Modified LVT-3. Armored roof was fitted and the bow was extended to improve buoyancy. Armament included .30 MG in a turret and .30 bow MG in ball mount. 1200 LVT3s were converted.
*Amphibian, tracked, 4-ton GS (1944/45)
** A British vehicle based on the LVT-4. Only a handful were completed.
**Sea Lion - recovery version.
**Turtle - workshop version.
In 1950s LVTs still in service were replaced by the LVTP-5 family vehicles, which in turn were followed by the LVT-7 family, eventually re-designated AAV. Incidentally, the AAV is manufactured by BAE Systems Land and Armaments, which was the first company to produce the LVT (as FMC).
Currently, many of the world's militaries employ more modern versions of the amphtrack. One of the latest is the United States Marine Corps EFV, slated to replace the AAV in 2008.