US field artillery fired M119 howitzer from landing craft in Operation Gator


The Virginia Army National Guard recently conducted an extremely unusual artillery exercise involving firing a 105mm M119 howitzer from on board a U.S. Army Vietnam-era LCM-8 landing craft, Joseph Trevithick reports on The Drive. The combination effectively provides a mobile fire support system for amphibious operations and during missions in riverine and other littoral environments.


US field artillery fired M119 howitzer from landing craft in Operation Gator 1
M119 howitzer fired from a Landing Craft Mechanized Mk.8 (Picture source: Virginia Army National Guard)


Between Apr. 24 and 25, 2019, elements of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment conducted the waterborne artillery exercise, nicknamed Operation Gator, at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The active duty 11th Transportation Battalion, part of the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, provided a number of Landing Craft Mechanized Mk.8s (LCM-8) for the drill. The 11th is part of what is often described as the “Army’s Navy,” an obscure, but important array of different watercraft.

The units “received and carried out their fire missions from the Intracoastal Waterway running through Camp Lejeune along the Atlantic Ocean,” a statement from the Virginia National Guard public affairs office accompanying a series of photographs from the exercise explained. “It was the first waterborne artillery mission for the 111th since D-Day during World War II, nearly 75 years ago.”

What was then known as the 111th Field Artillery Battalion took part in the historic Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944, landing with other elements of the National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division at Omaha Beach in Normandy. Interestingly, besides towed howitzers fired from landing craft progressing toward landing beaches, M107 Priest self-propelled howitzers and Sherman tanks from the units involved in this historical landing were also led to fire to support the landing units. This technique seems to not have been used again on the European theater of operations in World War 2, at the contrary of what happened in the Pacific where the U.S. Marine Corps and the Army also made use of similar tactics.

The most obvious advantages of emplacing a 105mm howitzer on an LCM-8 are mobility and a reduction in time it takes to get the gun into action, Joseph Trevithick comments. In a more normal concept of operations, the landing craft would bring a truck towing the weapon to a beach. Afterward, the gun’s crew would have to find a suitable position ashore and get the gun ready to fire. This arrangement also means that the landing craft and howitzer could more readily move to another position as friendly forces advance.

Riverine and other littoral environments often consist of marshes and soft sand that prevent supporting an artillery piece. This explains why, during the Vietnam War, the idea of waterborne artillery came back into vogue within the Army in virtually the same way the 111th did just recently at Camp Lejeune.

Another option in the future might be a containerized artillery system that is even easier to install and remove on landing craft as required. Finnish defense contractor Patria already offers just such a system containing a 120mm mortar with an automatic loading system that it has demonstrated mounted on a small landing craft, as already reported on Army Recognition.


US field artillery fired M119 howitzer from landing craft in Operation Gator 2
M119 howitzer fired from a Landing Craft Mechanized Mk.8 (Picture source: Virginia Army National Guard)


 

This website uses cookies to manage authentication, navigation, and other functions. By using our website, you agree that we can place these types of cookies on your device.