Landing Vehicle Tracked

The Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) was an amphibious vehicle used by the United States Navy, Marine Corps and Army during World War II. It was widely known as amphtrack, amtrak, amtrac etc., a portmanteau of amphibious tractor.


In the assault on Tarawa the LVTs proved their worth by successfully ferrying men across the coral reef and through the shallows to the beach. Marines who arrived in LCVP Higgins boats, on the other hand, could not cross the reef and had to wade through chest-deep or higher water while being raked by Japanese machine guns; casualties were horrific and many who did make it to the beach alive had lost their rifles and other essential gear. Of 125 vehicles used in the assault, only 35 remained operational by the end of the day.

For the Rhine crossing on the 23rd March 1945 the 21st Army Group had some 600 Buffalos available and most of these would be used to land the assault infantry. Because the muddy going was expected to hamper the DD tanks, some of these LVTs were armed with a light cannon and two machine guns to act as substitute tanks until bridges could be constructed across the river. The ‘Specials’ of the 79th Armoured (The Black Bull) Division also provided Buffalos fitted with ‘Bobbin’ carpets to create temporary roadways over the mud. The 7th Black Watch and 1st Commando Brigade were among the first troops to make the crossing in Buffalos, and these were soon followed by others carrying more infantry and heavy equipment for the bridgehead.


Landing Vehicle Tracked, Mark 1 (LVT-1)

The Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT) owed its existence to a 1930s project by a retired engineer, Donald Roebling to build an amphibious vehicle that could be used in the Florida Evergrades. His finished prototype, which he named Alligator, soon aroused the interest of the US Marine Corps when an article about it appeared in a US magazine. The Marines had been looking for just such a vehicle that could carry troops ashore and operate with them on land. After requesting a few modifications to the Roebling design, the Marines placed an order for 300 production machines in 1940 intending initially to employ them as supply vehicles in amphibious landings.

Powered by a 146 bhp 6,621cc Hercules WXLC3 six-cylinder petrol engine, mounted in a housing in the rear cargo hold, the LVT-1 was propelled on both land and water by tracks which were fitted with Roebling patented oblique shoes that gave good grip on land as well as good drive in the water. Apart of the forward Driver’s compartment the bulk of the unarmoured steel hull was given over to a 4,500 lb payload cargo hold which was divided into several watertight compartments. A bilge pump was provided for clearing any water that might enter the hold. If required machine guns could be mounted on a skate rail that encircled the cargo area. A major irritation, however, was the unsprung suspension which gave a rather rough ride on land, and the steering and braking systems which could cause problems to inexperienced crews.

1,225 LVT-1s were built at several US Plants. LVT-1 had a maximum speed of 12 mph on land or 6.1 mph in water; and a range of 210 miles on land or 60 miles in water.

Landing Vehicle Tracked (Armoured), Mark 1 (LVT(A)-1)

In spite of the nomenclature the LVT(A)-1 was not a modified LVT-1, but was in fact a totally different model. Introduced in 1942 LVT(A)-1 was an amphibious tank based on the specifications for the LVT-2 but with the turret and 37mm M6 gun (or occasionally a flame-thrower in lieu) of the M3A1 Tank situated behind the driver’s cab. Three .30 machine guns (one M1919A5 Coaxial and two M1919A4 mounted in man-holes behind the turret to protect the flanks and rear) completed the armament available to the six man crew. These vehicles were intended to provide fire support to the assaulting Marines in the early stages of establishing a beachhead. It was common, however, for the LVT(A)s to commence firing whilst still in the water, which, considering the amount of naval gunfire which usually accompanied a landing, was something of a waste of ammunition. Combat experience soon revealed that the 37mm gun provided too light a punch and by mid 1944 the Amphibious Tractor Battalions commence reequipping with the better 75mm gun armed LVT(A)-4 (see below).

The vehicles Hull was covered in 6-12mm of armour plate, and the vehicle was powered by a 262 bhp 10,932 cc Continental W670-9A seven-cylinder air-cooled petrol engine.

Despite the limitations imposed by the turret the LVT(A)-1 could still carry a limited payload of 1,000 lbs of cargo and had a quite respectable speed of 25mph or land and 6.5 mph in water, and an operational range of 125 miles on land or 75 miles in water. A total of 509 LVT (A)-1s would be built.

Landing Vehicle Tracked, Mark 2 (LVT-2 & LVT(A)-2)

The primary defect which the US Marines experienced with the LVT-1 had been the rigid suspension and track system, which led to frequent breakdowns and poor ride on land. The LVT-2, which entered service in 1943, was of a general similar layout to the LVT-1, but incorporated a number of improvements including a new design of track with W-shaped shoes, which could be quickly replaced when they wore down. It also featured a form of sprung suspension that greatly improved the ride quality. To save time and to simplify production the 262 bhp Continental W-670-9A 10,932cc seven-cylinder radial air-cooled petrol engine and major transmission components of the M3 light tank were also incorporated in the design.

Service in the South Pacific soon indicated more protection was needed, giving rise to the armoured LVT(A)-2. This version had the driver’s cab protected by 1.25 cm of armour plate, and the rest of the hull with 65mm armour plate. Surprisingly the extra weight (27,000-lb total weight compared to the 24,250-lbs weight of the unarmoured LVT-2) had no effect of the craft’s performance and only increased the craft drawing some 5 cm more water when afloat.

With a maximum speed of 20mph on Land (or 7.5 mph on water) and an operational range of miles on land (or 50 miles on water) the LVT-2 could carry a payload of 6,950-lb.

Total production of the LVT-2 amounted to 3,413 machines.

Landing Vehicle Tracked, Mark 3 (LVT-3)

Introduced in 1945, the Borg-Warner Corporation improved on the earlier Landing Vehicle Tracked models by moving the engine compartment forward in order to allow for the provision of a rear mounted bottom-hinged loading ramp at the rear of the hull. This model, the LVT-3 was made slightly wider than previously, to provide room for a Jeep to be carried in the cargo hold.

Powered by the same twin 148bhp 5.670cc Cadillac V-8 petrol engines and transmission of the M5 light tank, the LVT-3 could carry a payload of 9,000lbs or 30 fully armed soldiers. Overall weight of the craft was 26,600 lbs, and the maximum speed was 17mph on land (or 6 mph on water), and the operational range was 150 miles on land (or 75 miles on water).

First employed at Okinawa in April 1945, 2,962 LVT-3s were eventually built with many remaining in US service until 1955 when they were finally superseded by the LVTP-5.

Landing Vehicle Tracked, Mark 4 (LVT-4 & LVT(A)-4)

Developed by FMC of San Jose, California, the LVT-4 followed largely the same concept of the LVT-3 in that the engine was moved forward to allow for a rear ramp door to provide easier and quicker loading and unloading. Since no major changes were made to the engine and transmission of the LVT-2 (upon which it was based) the new vehicle was completed much quicker than the LVT-3, with the first such machines going into action at Saipon in June 1944. The LVT-4 was in fact the largest produced version of the range of World War II Landing Vehicle Tracked amphibious vehicles with over 8,438 LVT-4 and 1,890 LVT(A)-4s being eventually built (almost four times as many as the LVT-2) and continued in service until 1955.

A modified version, the LVT(A)-4 was, like the earlier LVT(A)-1, virtually an amphibious tank with a crew of five. The cargo hold was covered, armour plating fitted around the hull, and the open-topped turret of the 75mm M8 Howitzer Motor Carriage installed with the M3 howitzer and turret-top HB-M2 machine gun. These were used to provide close support during for USMC landings and proved highly effective. Like the LVT-4 they were first saw action at Saipon, and after the war most were improved by having their turrets removed and replaced by that of the 75mm M24 light tank.

Whilst LVT(A)-4 was considerably heavier than the LVT-4 (39,460-lbs as opposed to 27,400-lbs of the latter) this does not appear to have aversely affected performance. Both version having a maximum speed of 20 mph on land (or 7.5mph on water) and an operational range of 150 miles on land (or 75miles on water). One serious fault with this type, however, was that the flotation chambers gave the vehicle a high silhouette that made it an easier target for enemy gunners.

The British Army received a number of LVTs, designating them as 'Amphibians, Tracked 2 or 2.5 ton' (LVT-1 and LVT(A)-1) or Buffalo II (LVT-2 and LVT(A)-2) or Buffalo IV (LVT-4), and these were used for river-crossings in the final stages of the war in Europe-Most notably in the crossing of the Rhine (during which Buffalos of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment would carry amongst their cargo the actual flag that their predecessor, The 17th Tank Battlalion, had carried across the same river in 1918)

See Also


  • Armoured Fighting Vehicles (Philip Trewhitt, Dempsey Parr, 1999)
  • First Offensive-The Marine Campaign for Guadacanal (Henry J. Shaw Jr, Marine Corps Historical Center, 1992)
  • Tanks and other Armoured Vehicles 1942-45 (B.T.White, Blandford Press, 1975)
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles (Ian V Hogg and John Weeks, Hamlyn, 1980)
  • US Marine Corps 1941-45 (Gordon Rottman, Osprey Military, 1995)
  • Rhine Crossing 1945 (William Moore, War Monthly Article)
  • History of the British Army (Charles Messenger)

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