Ships of the Surface Fleet: Dock Landing (LSD) Ships

harpers ferry.jpg
USS Harper Ferry (LSD 49) anchored out at sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes/ Released)

Moving to a new location can be stressful, and we often look to family for support, friends to help with packing, and movers to transport things to the new location. Each person has a different but important job in order to get the task completed. Similarly, the U.S. Navy has different ships for different types of missions, with each platform designed for their own specific purpose. When it comes to moving U.S. Marines to where they need to be, they call their brothers and sisters in the Navy for an assist.

One of the best ships for this task is the Dock Landing Ship, or LSD. Designed to transport amphibious craft with their crews and embarked personnel, the LSD platform can support beach landings via conventional landing craft, helicopters, and Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft. These LCACs are used to carry and transport troops, equipment, and other supplies. They can travel at high speeds, up to 40 knots (about 46 miles per hour), to accommodate rapid beach landings and personnel insertions.

USS Germantown
A Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), attached to Naval Beach Unit (NBU) 7 departs amphibious dock landing ship USS Germantown (LSD 42). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class James Vazquez/Released)

The ability to land Marines on beaches has long been an important part of warfare. During World War II, the U.S. needed a vessel that could carry Navy and Marine Corps personnel, weapons, supplies, and large landing craft across the seas at fast speeds. In 1941, English ship designer, Sir Roland Baker, designed the British Tank Landing Craft (LCT), which inspired the U.S. construction of LSDs.

There are now two classes of LSDs, the Whidbey Island-class and the Harpers Ferry-class. Both classes have well decks that can be flooded to launch and recover LCACs and other similarly-sized landing craft. They have flight decks for the launch and recovery of helicopters and the V-22 Ospreys tilt-rotor aircraft. Both classes can also provide landing craft with space for docking, repair, fueling services and, if needed, LSDs can serve as the primary control ship during an amphibious assault.

Although the two classes may look a lot alike on the outside, they’re actually very different inside. The Whidbey Island-class  ships were specifically designed to operate LCACs and can carry up to four of them – the largest capacity for LCAC transport of any Navy amphibious platform. It can also provide docking and repair services for LCACs as well as for conventional landing craft. While the Harpers Ferry-class ships offer similar capabilities as her sister class, they’ve been modified to accommodate just two LCACs in order to increase their cargo capacity.

Wherever Marines need to go, the Navy’s Dock Landing Ships play a vital role in the process of providing forward power projection and protection around the world.

Please check back for future installments to learn more about the different types of ships that comprise the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet.



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