Amphibious Warfare

Amphibious Warfare, military campaigns of combined land and sea forces. Since no military action of any size would be undertaken without also using air power, the word triphibious, meaning use of land, sea, and air forces, has been suggested, but it is not commonly used. A successful amphibious assault against a well-defended beach requires a unified command, control of the air, and an efficient supply system.

A typical amphibious assault begins with air attacks on enemy airfields, defenses, and lines of supply. Under cover of the air bombing, warships move in and open fire on shore batteries and defenses. This phase is called “softening up.” Sometimes swimmers, called underwater demolition teams or frogmen, go in at night to locate or remove underwater obstacles.

After hours, days, or even weeks of aerial and naval bombardment, the amphibious assault is launched from large amphibious warfare ships, which carry landing craft, tanks, helicopters, troops, and supplies. The first troops are brought onto the beaches by helicopters and by landing craft, some of which are equipped with crawler tracks so that they can operate on land as well as water. Sometimes parachutists are dropped and troops are landed inland by helicopters to secure key enemy positions.

Tanks and artillery are brought in soon after the troop landings. The soldiers try to move rapidly inland so that more men, tanks, and supplies can be landed in comparative safety. Some shallow-draft amphibious ships unload right onto the beaches or with the aid of portable causeways, and some unload via landing craft.

As ground is gained inland and the battle has shifted away from the beachhead, the action is no longer amphibious, and specialists in amphibious warfare are relieved by regular troops.


Amphibious warfare has existed since the beginning of warfare. It presented few special problems, however, until comparatively recent times (about the 16th century), when land and sea warfare became complicated and highly specialized arts.

James Wolfe's capture of Quebec in the French and Indian War and the Yorktown campaign of the American Revolution are classic examples of 18th-century amphibious warfare. The British assault at Abukir Bay (1801) against the army Napoleon had abandoned in Egypt displayed the principles and techniques of this kind of warfare to perfection. A high degree of cooperation was developed by General U. S. Grant and Admiral David Dixon Porter in Civil War campaigns along the Mississippi River.

The British Gallipoli campaign in World War I was an amphibious operation that ended in failure. This failure convinced most European nations that a successful assault against a beach defended by modern weapons was impossible. The U.S. Marine Corps, however, felt that the British would have succeeded had they not made many mistakes. Beginning with a thorough study of Gallipoli, the Marines by 1934 had drawn up principles that were applied with great success in World War II.

Amphibious warfare was widely used on all fronts in World War II. The British trained specialists (called Commandos) for quick raids. Similar were the U.S. Army's Rangers. United States Marines were highly trained amphibious specialists, and organizations as large as a corps were built around the Marines. The landings in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France were large-scale amphibious operations. Guadalcanal, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa were notable in the Pacific campaign, which was largely amphibious. The landing at Inchon in 1950, during the Korean War, was a brilliantly successful amphibious action.

In the Falkland Islands War (1982), which began after Argentina seized the Falkland Islands from Great Britain, a wellexecuted nighttime amphibious operation by the British made possible their retaking of the islands.