Over the side. Hit the nets!

The bane of O-courses for generations, the unsung cargo net was a vital step in what these days we would call the sea–to-shore connector during World War II.

With the Navy pressing whole classes of old flush-deck destroyers as well as newer destroyer escorts into use as “Green Dragons,” a modification that saw some topside weapon systems (torpedo tubes) as well as below-deck equipment (one of the boiler rooms) deleted, these tin cans could carry a reinforced company/light battalion’s worth of Marines to earshot of a far-off Japanese-held atoll where they would load up in a series of Higgins-made plywood LCVRs to head ashore.

The easiest way to get said Marines from the tin can to the waiting fiddlestick express below? A debarkation net deployed over the side.

Troops boarding the converted destroyer USS WARD (APD-16) from an LCP(R) landing craft at Maffin Bay, New Guinea, en route to the Cape Sansapor Landings, 30 July 1944. The low freeboard of the converted “four-stacker” is a boon to amphibious operations since there is less danger of the men being pitched off the cargo nets in the short descent to rocking landing boats. 80-G-255402

Nets were also a facet of transferring troops to landing craft from attack transport (APA) ships, which were fundamentally just converted freighters or passenger liners designs with davits filled with LCVPs.

Photo of landing rehearsals in June 1943 by USS McCawley (APA-4), note the nets #80-G-254933.

The tactic was iconic enough to be captured in the maritime art of the era and was used hundreds of times.

“Amphibious Troop Movement” Painting, Oil on Canvas; by James Turnbull; 1945. “Burdened with full combat packs, assault troops clamber down a landing net into the landing craft which will debark them on the shores of Lingayen Gulf to open the battle for Luzon.” NHHC Accession #: 67-190-B

As LPDs, LSDs, LPHs (which in turn were replaced by LHAs), and LHDs phased out the old Green Dragons and APAs during the Cold War, the cargo net basically was just retained for use in swim calls and in areas with poor harbor facilities.

Now, with the concept of smaller groups of Marines operating from non-standard amphibious warfare vessels in a future warm/hot war in the Pacific, it seems the staple of 1943 could be making something of a comeback.

As noted by the 31st MEU, a recent exercise in Guam has brought the net back into play:

Marines with Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, completed the debarkation net rehearsal from the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam, harkening back to a historic method of personnel movement with a focus on safety, according to Master Sgt. Daniel Scull with Weapons Company, BLT 1/5, safety officer-in-charge for the event.

200220-N-DB724-1125 SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 20, 2020) Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct cargo net training in the hangar bay of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). America, the flagship of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, 31st MEU team, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jomark A. Almazan)

“This capability greatly enhances the 31st MEU’s ability to conduct increasingly dynamic tactical actions and operations across the Pacific,” said Scull. “Under the cover of darkness, specially-equipped Marine elements can debark onto a landing craft and insert uncontested onto small islands in the Pacific”.

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