I assume this beach scenario was typical on D-Day. (Graphic violence)

It shows a landing craft reaching the shore, where it lowers a hatch on the front of the craft, exposing the invading soldiers to a hail of bullets. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. The ones who survive seem to do so by hopping over the side of the boat into the water.

So why on Earth did the boats open at the front?

  • 15
    Have you ever tried running in water? Men landing by a side (or the back) would have to run through the length of the landing vehicle while exposed to enemy fire, and slowed down in the water. And, while opening the landing vehicle in front of a MG was bad, if you were not directly in front of one then the landing craft did effectively provide cover.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 21, 2016 at 20:50
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    Also, the Omaha beach was by far the worse the Allied facied: defenses were strong and the pre-landing bombing failed. It amounted for almost half the dead in all the landings. And even in that case, the landing succeeded (even if it was delayed) and there were about 3,000 casualties out of 43.000 soldiers...
    – SJuan76
    Aug 21, 2016 at 20:56
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    Where would you open the boat?
    – MCW
    Aug 22, 2016 at 8:25
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    Designers attempted to place the doors on the back, which caused the troops to bunch up as they swam around, increasing casualties. Doors on the side had the same effect (plus the ship rolled over on the debarking troops). Doors on the top resulted in reduced construction costs until people realized that the top was normally open. Doors on the bottom resulted in rapid deployment, but the ships were only one use. </wan attempt at humor>
    – MCW
    Aug 22, 2016 at 13:32
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    I would like to add (after visiting the D Day landing sites) that the gun emplacements did NOT directly face down onto the beach. When the landing craft opened their doors, no machine gun could directly fire into the disembarking soldiers. The gun emplacements were at a 45 degree angle so they could a) cover their neighbor b) be protected from fire from ships, and c) a bullet travelling the length of a beach is much more likely to hit something than one travelling the width. Aug 23, 2016 at 7:43

2 Answers 2


They still do it that way:

enter image description here

LCU Replacement in Preliminary Design, Anticipating 2022 Fleet Debut

If the beaches are heavily defended, the Navy is supposed to bombard them prior to the landing. Occasionally the military and naval planners have been known to make deadly mistakes.

As pointed out in the comments, the debouching troops and equipment hit the beach much more quickly when going out the front. If there is too much fire from that direction, they may leave the "door" shut, and may go over the protected side. But this slows down the process, and reduces the equipment load.

Amphibious warfare provides a list of amphibious operations for modern wars. My father came ashore this way at Anzio.

enter image description here Image: Into the Jaws of Death: Troops from the U.S. 1st Division landing on Omaha beach as part of the Allied military campaign to free France from the stranglehold of Nazi Germany

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    Not just Normandy either but all landings period in WW2. The Marine Corps did then and still does have armored vehicles that move on the surface of the water directly to the beachheads too. They now have over the horizon aircraft as well to establish positions well inland as well. None of these elements have been used in combat since the Korean War...and in that War only one time at I think Inchon. Aug 21, 2016 at 23:43
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    The Marines made an amphibious landing at Da Nang, South Vietnam, in March of 1965; it was not under fire, but the method was the same; (marines.mil/Portals/59/Publications/…), p. 10. They brought all there stuff with them, too. Aug 22, 2016 at 0:30
  • Landing craft like this will deliver a lot of material and men very quickly, but advancements in shore defenses and anti-ship missiles caused the Marines to go with helicopter assault ships in/around the 1970s. This would allow their ships to stay further away from shore and provide a faster inbound assault. However, the helicopter was and still is a very vulnerable aircraft that doesn't like to get shot at, and so landing craft are still preferred. The CV-22 is an attempt to enhance the helicopter assault method, but the vulnerability are still there.
    – Smith
    Aug 22, 2016 at 13:49
  • @Smith: my older brother was in the 7th Cavalry Regiment, airmobile infantry in Vietnam. He spent a lot of time riding around in a Huey, and getting shot at. We lost over 5,000 helicopters in Vietnam; see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aircraft_losses_of_the_Vietnam_War. Of course, helicopters are used for more than coming ashore! Aug 22, 2016 at 14:02
  • @PeterDiehr. Yes. I rode in choppers in Afghanistan. They are great for getting around, but in a Normandy- or Tarawa-type situation where you are going in against a well-equipped, determined and professional opponent, it would not end well. At least in a Normandy-type situation the helicopters could seek unprotected paths inland for their LZ. For Tarawa, the islands are too small to find unprotected LZs and so helicopters would have few safe options. So landing craft it is...
    – Smith
    Aug 22, 2016 at 16:14

The LCVP or Higgins boat was designed with one primary goal: to land a large number of troops quickly. Therefore it was important that:

  • Troops can disembark as quickly as possible
  • LCVPs can land right next to each other, maximising the total amount of troops disembarking
  • After disembarkation, the craft can then reverse and return for more troops, evacuating the area for more LCVPs to land more troops

Given this, the solution, inspired by observations of Japan's Daihatsu-class, was to install a large bow ramp so the passengers (which could be jeeps) quickly disembarked from the front into shallow water, but the rest of the craft was still in deep enough water to be able to drive back out.

So why not use rear exits, especially since it's a common feature of modern IFVs like BMP, Merkava or Bradley? The difference is that the LCVP isn't amphibious; disembarking from its rear means troops could end up in deep water and potentially drown in full combat load which made them sink, while not giving them a great firing position and also blocking the LCVP's return trip. With amphibious landers like the BMP, the vehicle can drive onto dry land giving its disembarking passengers great cover.

It's debatable whether having rear exits and forcing troops to swim to the front is better than being able to land more troops simultaneously and overwhelm defenders, but what happened at Omaha beach is the result of multiple failures, and a situation where the LCVP's design simply wouldn't have made much difference either way.

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    having the craft be forced to stay in the LZ longer would probably have made things worse as they were no real protection against heavy MG fire, let alone mortars and field guns, which were also targeting them. Not only would the troops in them be exposed to fire for longer, they'd also have been fewer in numbers after disembarking because the flow of troops onto the beachhead would have been impeded.
    – jwenting
    Aug 22, 2016 at 7:08
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    ...and you'd clog the beachhead with hulks of landing craft, affecting futher landings (continuing from @jwenting)
    – Chris H
    Aug 22, 2016 at 8:19
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    Actually the Higgins boat was designed to smuggle liquor! But the same feature that made it good for smuggling liquor during the Prohibition was the same feature that made the boat good* for landing troops on enemy shores. (* For generous values of the word good).
    – dotancohen
    Aug 22, 2016 at 13:08
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    Upvoted this over the accepted answer, as it mentions one important point: Water depth. A soldier in full gear cannot swim, and depending on the beach, anything other but the front of the craft might be in water too deep for the soldier to make it out in time.
    – DevSolar
    Jan 15, 2019 at 8:35

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