Until World War Two amphibious operations basically used standard merchant shipping with few modifications. During the long course of the war huge changes occurred in the arena of the ships and tactics of amphibious warfare. This evolution included the introduction of all sorts of new ships that were designed specifically for amphibious warfare missions. One area among many that was crucial to the success of an amphibious assault was fire support for the landing forces. It was recognized that fire support solely from the standard warships would be insufficient. Some specialized amphibious fire support ship was needed.
This need was identified well before World War Two. In 1929 eight different designs were prepared by the USN for provision of close fire support for the Marines. These plans revolved around arming 250 foot cargo ships with six 155mm howitzers on naval mounts. Nothing came of this but with the advent of World War Two Great Britain took the lead in development of a gamut of specialized amphibious warfare ships and craft. These designs were freely shared with the USN, which tinkered with the designs for their own requirements. One design was for the Landing Craft, Support, Small LCS(S). The first 100 of this design were ordered in August 1942. The design was for an armored craft with an open personnel cockpit. On the sides two .50 and three .30 machine guns were mounted. The staff of the Atlantic Fleet tinkered with this design by removing one of the .50 and two of the .30 machine guns to free weight that could be used for another fire support weapon. This weapon was the rocket.
The use of rockets in warfare was not new. Armies in ancient China were the first to use them. Part of the American national anthem refers to the use of rockets by the British Army against the Americans. During the Napoleonic wars in Europe and in the War of 1812 in the United States, the British Army had Congreave rocket units. During the assault on Fort McHenry, guarding the harbor at Baltimore, these rockets, along with heavy mortars, which fired explosive shells called bombs, were used to bombard the fort. Francis Scott Key recorded their use of the phrase "by the rocket’s red glare". In 1942 the USN adopted the use of rockets as a method of providing fire support. Rockets as a weapon had many characteristics to commend their adoption for close fire support. There was no recoil with rockets, as found in a standard gun mount, so they could be mounted small, light, frail amphibious craft. They could provide a huge level of fire support for a short period of time.
The Atlantic Fleet variation of the LCS(S) mounted two rocket racks, which carried a total of 56 short range 4.5-inch rockets. These were used in action for the first time during Operation Torch in November 1942. Later in amphibious operations against Sicily and Italy, they became even more appreciated. After action reports flowed in, which praised the fire support capability of the rocket equipped craft. The USN designers went back to the drawing boards to find even more designs that could incorporate rockets to provide fire support. By 1944 some Landing Craft, Infantry (LCI) were being converted to rocket equipped support craft. In September 1944 USN designers applied rocket mounts to the Landing Ship, Medium (LSM) and in October the Pacific Fleet asked for twelve of the rocket ships. This created the largest of the rocket equipped fire support ships to appear in the war, the Landing Ship, Medium, Rocket LSM(R).
Twelve of the ships, numbered 188 to 199 were ordered. A standard LSM was converted into the new fire support ship. The standard LSM came with a large, open well. The well was decked over to provide three ammunition-handling rooms, each with two magazines. Rocket engines and warheads were stored separately and were assembled in the handling rooms. The assembled 5-Inch rockets were then passed by hand to the deck for loading. On deck an extensive series of rocket launch rails covered most open area. There were 75 four rail Mk 36 rocket launchers and 30 six rail Mk 30 launchers. This total of 480 5-inch rockets could be launched within 30 seconds to provide area saturation bombardment. The ships were also equipped with one 5-inch/38 gun in an enclosed mount, two single 40mm guns and three 20mm Oerlikons.
The range of the fin-stabilized rocket was 4,000 yards. Since the rocket was completely unguided, the USN relied on overwhelming quantity rather than accuracy for support. The target area and ballistic trajectory of the rocket was used to determine from where the rockets would be launched. The LSM(R) would anchor in the required spot necessary to achieve support coverage, by aiming the ship. Although the ship could provide a huge volume of fire almost instantaneously, there was a weakness. Since all 480 launchers were hand loaded, it took 2 ˝ hours to reload the launchers. The last four ships, numbers 196-199, were modified to provide 85 Mk 51 automatic rocket launchers that fired spin stabilized rockets with a range of 5,250 yards. Each launcher held 12 rockets for a total of 1,020, which could be fired in a span of one minute. The rails were no longer in a fixed position and could be trained at different angles and elevations. Reload time with this system dropped to 45 minutes for the first reload and then subsequent reloads every 1 ˝ to 2 hours.
The LSM(R) was first used during the Okinawa campaign. From the start they proved very successful as they suppressed Japanese troops prior to landings, fire support during the landings, as well as some other assorted missions. Along with other craft and small ships, the LSM(R)s were marked for air attack and on March 28, 1945. LSM(R)-188 was hit and suffered 15 killed and 32 wounded. They were tasked to patrol against suicide boats. In this mission they of course used their gun mounts, as rockets were incapable of hitting a moving target. The Japanese had over 250 of these 18-foot one-man suicide boats, which used two 250-lb depth charges as their weapon against the US ships. They were camouflaged and hidden in coves and caves on the islands surrounding Okinawa. On the morning of March 29, 1945 three of the suicide boats attacked LSM(R)-189. Gunfire from the ship disposed of all three. The next day LSM(R)-190, along with destroyers Irwin, Hall and Tolman were attacked by Japanese motor torpedo boats but no damage was suffered.
With the shock and losses caused by the extensive Japanese use of the kamikaze at Okinawa, LSM(R)s were pressed into duty to provide support to the line of picket destroyers in April. It was thought that barrages of rockets could deal with the kamikazes but this didn’t work out. In fact the LSM(R)s suffered extensive losses in this mission. Even with these losses and the failure of the rockets to stop the suicide planes, the LSM(R)s still provided other support on the picket line. On April 12, 1945 the first rocket powered Oka (Baka) suicide aircraft/bomb appeared. The destroyer Mannert L. Abele was targeted and took two Oka hits, plus a suicide Zeke. The destroyer broke in two and LSM(R)s moved in to rescue the crew. "Fortunately, that picket station was also manned by two LSM(R)s – ‘worth their weight in gold as support vessels,’ Abele’s skipper said. As they closed to pick up survivors they shot down two planes which were strafing men in the water. A third plane crashed LSM(R)-189 abaft her conning tower, smashing things up and wounding four men, but she continued her work of rescue, as did LSM(R)-190." (History of United States Naval Operations of World War II, Vol. XIV, Victory in the Pacific, 1954, Samuel Eliot Morison, at page 224)
On May 3 LSM(R)-195 was going to assist damaged Aaron Ward and rescue crew of the sunken Little on No. 10 picket station, when a kamikaze hit the ship. The crash ignited the rocket load on the deck rails. With all pumps knocked out, the ship was abandoned. After being ripped apart with explosions LSM(R)-195 sank with losses of 8 dead and 16 wounded. On May 4 another huge wave of kamikazes hit the picket line, LSM(R)-190 was hit at 08:08 and sank with 13 killed and 18 wounded and LSM(R)-194 was lost at 08:50 with 13 killed and 23 wounded. Three LSM(R)s were sunk and a fourth damaged on this ill advised attempt to stop the kamikazes.
In their primary mission of close fire support, these first improvised LSM(R) were entirely successful and served as the basis for post war development of specialized rocket support ship designs. (History from History of United States Naval Operations of World War II, Vol. XIV, Victory in the Pacific, 1954, Samuel Eliot Morison; U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft, 2002, Norman Friedman)
Rocket Man’s Rocket Ship
The Loose Cannon LSM(R) is not a big model but it is a complex one. The hull is 3 ˝-inches (90mm) in length overall. However, although the model might be small in size, Hugh has packed it with detail. The model’s resin parts, including the hull, come attached to a resin casting sheet. Of course, they will need to be removed from the sheet and cleaned at the attachment points. For the photographs of the hull in this review, the part was removed from the casting sheet but the attachment point at the waterline was not cleaned or sanded. Both sides of the hull have prominent horizontal hull-strengthening strakes. These strakes might be a little too large but work very well with a model of this small size. The port side of the hull also features to be an anchor well at the bow and anchors are included in the brass photo-etch parts.
The overwhelming bulk of the hull detail comes on the deck. At the bow on a small raised forecastle is the forward single 40mm tub. Aft of this position, the forecastle immediately drops down to the main deck that runs the rest of the length of the hull. Most noticeable is the series of plates that cover the well area of the open well of the standard LSM design. These resemble cargo loading hatches but probably were placed there for protection from the blast of the ignition of the rocket motors, as the great bulk of the rocket launching railings are attached on these plates. Under the magnification of macro-photography, you can see that the plates are not perfectly squared-off but this is not really noticeable to the unaided eye and in fact are covered by the brass launching rails. Also found at the port bow of the main deck are the windlass and cast on anchor chain running to a hawse located above the port side anchor well. An access hatch is found on the second plate and there are twin and single cable bitts found on each side of the deck. Amidships the line of deck plates continue but are offset to port at the location where the LSM(R) superstructure is attached to the starboard side of the hull. There is no location outline for the superstructure on the deck so double-check drawings before attaching this part to get proper placement. This asymmetrical deck arrangement is one of the charms of this miniature gem. On the port side amidships is located the half circle splinter shield for the first of the three Oerlikon positions and on the starboard side, aft of the superstructure is the ship’s stowed boat. There is also an abundance of more deck access hatches and assorted deck fittings found here. At the stern are the splinter shields for the other two Oerlikon positions and a slightly raised plate and turntable for the centerline 5-inch/38 enclosed gun mount. More twin bitt fittings are found on each side and an odd platform with supports that extends beyond the stern on the port side for an aft anchor. With bow and stern anchors the ship could be anchored at both ends and the anchor cables tightened to provide for the correct firing alignment.
For the smaller resin pieces Loose Cannon includes the conning tower, 5-inch/38 mount, two single 40mm guns, Mk 51 AA director, two large and one small gun tubs and five carley rafts. Most of the smaller parts have good detail, with access doors to the 5-inch gun house, portholes for the conning tower, carley side and bottom detail, and very complete details for the open 40mm mounts. The splinter shielding for the gun tubs is a trifle thick but not overly so. You will only need to use one of the large tubs provided, for the second 40mm position, which is on top of a slanting photo-etch lattice tower located on the starboard side in front of the conning tower. You can use the second separate tub as a replacement for the cast on bow 40mm position if there was any damage to it. The small resin tub is for the Mk 51 director, which is placed on a second photo-etch lattice tower on centerline just forward of the 5-inch position.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The fret contains two lattice towers. The largest but lowest (P6) is for the 40mm gun tub found in front of the superstructure on the starboard side and the tall smaller tower (P7) is for the small tub that contains the Mk 51 AA director. The Oerlikon guns come in two pieces. There is a folding triangular base with the gun barrel attached and a separate gun shield with folding shoulder rests that is attached to the base/barrel assembly. You only need three of these 20mm gun assemblies but Loose Cannon provides five bases and six shields on the fret. Other brass parts include two anchors. One (P10) goes into the anchor well and the other (P9) goes on the platform that overhangs the stern on the port side. There is a frame (P8) underneath this stern platform. Among the smaller brass parts are the combined mast/yards (P11) for the superstructure, boat davits (P4), inclined ladders for the superstructure levels (P3) and leading from the main deck to forecastle (P2), six closed clocks for the deck edges, various runs of rails (P1 forward and P5 aft with a third unlettered type to enclose the stern) and 14 crew figures. The only brass items for which I could not find a location in the instructions were a series of large and small open circles. Since they were part of the fret in the area with the Oerlikon parts, I assume these are the training wheels and sights for those guns.