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Amphibious Military Vehicles: WWI to Present

For tens of thousands of American men who served in WWII, the boat-on-wheels that carried them to the battle was one of the most ingenious inventions of the war: the Higgins LVCP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel). Yet it’s only one of the many amphibious military vehicles that have distinguished themselves in military history.

Getting Troops to Land

While naval ships can haul enormous amounts of men and material, getting those resources from sea to land has traditionally been a challenge. Friendly docks used in peacetime should be presumed as not a viable option in times of war.

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Prior to WWI, troops would usually move ashore in rowboats or similar light craft. This was no longer feasible once automatic weapons were commonly available. In 1915, the British military introduced the “X Lighter” (below) a predecessor to the landing craft and amphibious vehicles that would find their way into the Second World War.

Amphibious Military Vehicles: WWI to Present

United States efforts to build a similar craft centered on the aforementioned Higgins boat. Designed by Andrew Higgins of Louisiana, his company built more than 20,000 of these vehicles during WW2. At slightly over 36 feet long and almost 11 feet wide, it could carry 36 men or 8,000 lbs. of cargo. The Higgins’ main asset was speed. It could drop off its contents and return for another load in less than five minutes.

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American and British units employed a number of other amphibious craft during the Second World War. The Landing Craft Control (LCC) series was used during the Normandy invasion to find the safest routes to the beach. Equipped only with a handful of troops and a great deal of radar equipment. The US also had the Landing Vehicle Tracked (below), a smaller version of other landing craft. The British had their own counterpart known as the Terrapin.  


These craft were only capable of limited voyages, due to design and engine limitations.  Others, such as the Landing Craft Infantry, Large (LCIL, below), were capable of crossing the English Channel or even island-hopping across large swaths of the Pacific.


The DUKW, or “duck” as it was commonly called, was essentially a standard two-ton truck modified for amphibious use. DUKW wasn’t an acronym. Rather each letter stood for a designation created by its builder, General Motors:


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“D” meant a vehicle designed in 1942, “U” stood for “utility”, “K” referred to the vehicle’s driven front wheels, “W” referred to its powered rear axles.

Modern Amphibious Vehicles

The Marine Corps’ Assault Amphibious Vehicle (AAV) has been around in various versions since 1972. The most common type today is the AAVP-7A1 (below), which can carry 25 combat-ready marines along with a crew of four. It’s armed with a built-in grenade launcher and turret-mounted 50-caliber machine gun.

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The M113 has been used since the 1960s and continues in service to this day. It saw extensive action during the Vietnam War, where it was used to smash through entrenched masses of vegetation. Until recently the military planned to replace it with a new vehicle, but that plan has been shelved for the time being.

Sources:, Chuckhawks, Wikipedia, MilitaryFactory