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Fighting Amphibs: The LCS(L) in World War II
by Donald L. Ball
Mill Neck Publications, 1997, 322 pages

During the Battle of Okinawa, LCS(L) (Landing Craft, Support (Large)) ships played a crucial role in battles against attacking kamikaze planes. Although much smaller than destroyers they accompanied at radar picket stations around Okinawa, the heavily armed small ships shot down many kamikaze planes. When kamikaze planes crashed into destroyers or other ships, LCS(L)s fought fires, pumped flooded areas, and picked up survivors. Fighting Amphibs: The LCS(L) in World War II, written by a veteran of LCS(L) 85 who later became an English professor at The College of William and Mary, tells the complete history of the 130 LCS(L)s that participated in Pacific War battles from January to August 1945 and provided postwar support into 1946.

The first four chapters describe the ships' capabilities, crew training, and movement into the Pacific war zone. The author includes many interesting personal stories from veterans throughout the book, although he only briefly mentions his own experiences aboard LCS(L) 85. Chapters 5 to 8 relate LCS(L) battle activities in the Philippines, Borneo, and Iwo Jima in a generally chronological order based on geographical area. The two longest chapters, 9 and 10, cover the LCS(L)s' distinguished performance in fighting kamikaze attacks at Okinawa and providing assistance to ships hit by Japanese planes from April to July 1945. In the first seven weeks of the Battle of Okinawa, LCS(L)s had the following approximate totals for planes shot down: 80 definites, 6 probables, and 38 assists (p. 221). The final four chapters tell about resting in the Philippines after the battle finished in Okinawa, ferrying liberty parties from larger ships to the Tokyo shore, destroying mines, and other postwar activities.

In the Foreword, Ball explains his thorough research to obtain ship information and individual veteran accounts. The book includes about 50 photographs and a bibliography of book-length sources, and each chapter has comprehensive endnotes of sources for personal accounts. Ten maps assist to determine where LCS(L)s fought in battles, and one of these maps shows the different routes taken to cross the Pacific to get to the war zone. Although the book has an index, it lacks detail on individual LCS(L) ships. LCS(L) veterans and their families, who constitute much of the book's readership, would have found a more comprehensive index to be valuable in order to easily locate information on one of the 130 ships.

Damage after kamikaze plane hit
LCS(L) 122 on June 11, 1945.
Plane wheel can be seen at bottom. 

 

Japanese suicide attacks resulted in the sinking of five LCS(L)s. In April 1945, kamikaze planes hit and sank two ships (numbers 15 and 33) during the Battle of Okinawa. Three ships (numbers 7, 26, and 49) sank when hit by Naval shinyo explosive motorboats at about 3 a.m. on February 16, 1945, at the entrance of Mariveles Harbor in the Philippines. Chapter 5 devotes five pages to these suicide motorboat attacks, including three extended eyewitness accounts. These motorboat attacks killed 76 men and wounded 71 men on the three ships that sank and on the heavily damaged LCS(L) 27. The casualties at Mariveles Harbor made up a large part of the total 163 killed and 267 wounded for all 130 LCS(L) ships in battle action between February and August 1945.

Ball's Fighting Amphibs and Robin Rielly's Mighty Midgets at War (2000) both cover the history of the 130 LCS(L) ships. Each of the two books makes valuable contributions to LCS(L) history. Ball's book features more personal stories, and the author speaks more as an authority since he served aboard an LCS(L). Rielly's book also includes short individual accounts, but his book leans more toward an objective, thoroughly researched history. In contrast to Ball's history that stops in 1946, Rielly devotes a final chapter of about 50 pages to what happened to LCS(L)s after WWII. More than half of the 130 ships served in navies of foreign countries such as Vietnam. Rielly's book also has an index that includes entries for individual ships. Fighting Amphibs presents a much more detailed description of the sinking of three LCS(L)s by explosive motorboats than the account in Rielly's book, which mainly consists of brief quoted material from an official naval history. Ball's book also includes a very interesting chapter about the 15 missions of two LCS(L)s, 9 and 10, that supplied guerrillas in the Philippines from February to July 1945, whereas Rielly only briefly mentions the activities of these two ships.

A history of 130 ships, each with a number and no name, naturally becomes hard to follow at certain points. The first three chapters read easily with general descriptions of the ships and crew training, but later on the huge number of ships, especially at Okinawa and Iwo Jima, make the reading difficult as the short accounts switch rapidly between different ships. Many ships distinguished themselves in battle, with three ships (31, 51, and 57) earning the Presidential Unit Citation and eight other ships receiving the Navy Unit Commendation. For example, LCS(L) 122 won the Navy Unit Commendation for her actions over two days. On June 10, 1945, the ship rescued 99 men from the destroyer USS William D. Porter (DD-579), which sank after being hit by a kamikaze. Porter lost no men as LCS(L) 122 and three sister ships picked up all men after the kamikaze strike. On the following day, June 11, a kamikaze plane hit the base of LCS(L) 122's conning tower and caused losses of 11 killed and 29 wounded. Captain Richard McCool received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions after the hit. Despite being wounded by shrapnel, he led the crew to save the ship and went to several compartments to bring out men trapped by flames.

Fighting Amphibs succeeds in the author's goal to write a complete history of the 130 LCS(L) ships and to include veterans' comments and battle description from as many ships as possible. Even though many Pacific War books overlook the LCS(L) ships, this book summarizes the many accomplishments of these small fighting ships nicknamed mighty midgets.


Three LCS(L)s near destroyer William D. Porter
as she sinks below water on June 10, 1945