What Vehicles Were Critical For The Allied Landing At D-Day

A replica Higgins boat plies the water near New Orleans.

What Vehicles Were Critical For The Allied Landing At D-Day

I believe there are four vehicles that were critical to the success of the D-Day landings: the Liberty Ship; the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP); the Sherman Tank; and the P-51 Mustang Airplane. They all share a common theme — they were simple, easy to build, and the United States was able to build a lot of them during the war.

Liberty Ships

Day 24 : Ship ready for launching
Ship ready for launching
United States. Office of War Information. Overseas Picture Division. Washington Division; 1944

The Liberty Ship was a cargo ship that was designed and built during World War II to support the Allied war effort. The Liberty Ship’s technical advantage was its mass production — eighteen American shipyards built 2,710 Liberty Ships between 1941 and 1945. The ship was designed to be simple, quick, and easy to build, with standardized parts and construction techniques. At its peak, a Liberty Ship was built in as little as two weeks. This mass production made it possible to transport large quantities of cargo and supplies across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

Aerial photograph of the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown outbound from the United States carrying a large deck cargo after her conversion to a “Limited Capacity Troopship.” It probably was taken in the summer of 1943 during her second voyage.

The Liberty Ship was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide, and it had a deadweight capacity of approximately 10,800 tons. The ship’s hull was made of welded steel plates, which made it sturdy and able to withstand rough seas. The Liberty Ship was powered by a rugged, reciprocating compound steam engine (this was an obsolete design but could be built by 18 different companies), which provided a top speed of about 11 knots. The crew consisted of 44 officers and men, who were responsible for operating and maintaining the vessel.

Liberty Ship, WW2
A Liberty Ship

The Liberty Ship was also equipped with a variety of technical features that made it a versatile cargo ship. It had five cargo holds, which could be used to transport a variety of goods, including tanks, ammunition, food, and fuel. The ship’s deck had a crane and winches that loaded and unloaded cargo. The Liberty Ship was also equipped with a ballast system, which allowed it to adjust its weight and balance in response to changing cargo loads and seas.

Liberty Ship, Cutaway

For the D-Day invasion fleet, 194 out of the 6,939 ships, boats, and amphibious craft were Liberty Ships. Carrying approximately 480 men and about 120 army vehicles to Normandy, each Liberty ship would dock at the Mulberry artificial harbor and quickly unload.

Overall, the Liberty Ship was an important cargo ship during World War II due to its mass production and standardized design.

Landing Craft

USS Darke (APA-159)’s LCVP 18, possibly with army troops as reinforcements at Okinawa, circa 9 to 14 April 1945.

During an interview in 1964, General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.” The Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force further explained by saying, “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel), we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” And as Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret) said, “The Higgins boats broke the gridlock on the ship-to-shore movement. It is impossible to overstate the tactical advantages this craft gave U.S. amphibious commanders in World War II.”

The Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or Higgins boat, was 36 feet long, 10 feet wide, and could carry up to 36 fully equipped soldiers or one vehicle. A bottom and shallow draft allowed it to land on beaches and in shallow waters, and its bow (front) ramp could become lowered to allow troops and vehicles to quickly disembark. The LCVP was simple and easy to build, with standardized parts and construction techniques — this allowed shipyards to produce 23,398 LCVPs during the war.

Men disembarking from an LCVP

The LCVP became powered by a Gray Marine diesel engine or a Hall-Scott gasoline engine which produced a top speed of 9 knots. The boat had a crew of three: a coxswain who operated the boat, an engineer who maintained the engine, and a gunner who manned a .50 caliber machine gun for defensive purposes. The boat’s construction materials varied throughout its production, with early models being made of plywood and later models made of steel.


The boat’s bow ramp was a crucial technical feature that allowed troops and vehicles to quickly disembark in the face of enemy fire. The ramp was operated hydraulically and could be lowered and raised quickly, allowing troops to disembark in a matter of seconds.


For the D-Day Invasion fleet, 839 out of the 6,939 ships, boats, and amphibious craft were LCVPs, or about 12% of the fleet. The LCVPs became used to shuttle Allied soldiers from the invasion transports to the Normandy beaches. 81 were lost on D-Day or shortly afterwards, including 55 at Omaha Beach alone.

A replica Higgins boat plies the water near New Orleans.

Overall, the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), or Higgins boat, was a highly effective landing craft during World War II due to its flat bottom, shallow draft, bow ramp, and speed.

Sherman Tanks

The M4 Sherman Tank ended up as the most widely used medium tank by the United States during World War II. It was named after the American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman and was designed to be a reliable, easy-to-produce tank for mass production — 49,324 were produced during the war. Incidentally, the M4 Sherman was one of the main stars of the movie, Fury.

M4 Sherman Cutaway
M4 Sherman Tank Cutaway

The M4 Sherman tank had a crew of five: a driver, a bow gunner, a loader, a gunner, and a tank commander. Armed with a 75mm main gun, which was effective against most German tanks at the time. The tank also had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the turret and a .30 caliber machine gun in the hull. Its maximum speed was about 30 miles per hour and it had an operational range of approximately 120 miles.

The Sherman’s technical advantages were its reliability, ease of maintenance, and standardized parts among the variants. The Sherman tank was armored with rolled steel plates and had a sloping front hull and turret, which provided some protection against enemy fire. It had a relatively low silhouette and a wide track system that allowed it to easily navigate through rough terrain and across bridges. However, the tank was not as heavily armored as some of its late-war German counterparts, such as the Panther and the Tiger tanks.

For the D-Day invasion, the assault wave used Duplex Drive Sherman tanks. Modified Shermans with two propellers, a seal on the lower hull, and an erectable canvas screen around the tank to keep it from getting swamped. 8 tank battalions became equipped with 56 M4 Sherman tanks (448 total tanks) in the first wave at D-Day. The Shermans did well on Utah, Gold, Sword, and Juno beaches. However they struggled to reach the beach at Omaha.

A DD Sherman Tank

Like the Liberty Ship and LCVP, the Sherman tank’s technical advantage was its ease of production and maintenance, which allowed the United States to produce large numbers of tanks quickly.


The final piece of equipment that was critical to D-Day was the P-51 Mustang airplane. The Mustang story began in 1940 when the British contacted North American Aviation with a request to build fighters for the Royal Air Force (RAF). North American Aviation (NAA) was willing, and they offered to design and build a new fighter that would meet British requirements, especially being easy to mass produce. In only 100 days NAA rolled out the first prototype Mustang. By November 1941 the first of over 600 aircraft produced under British contract became delivered to the RAF.

NAA’s initial Mustang was not a great fighter — the P-51 and P-51A were underpowered, underarmed, and had poor high-altitude performance. When NAA replaced the initial engine with a Merlin engine V-12 engine, the plane became a much better fighter — the P-51B and C models had a strengthened airframe, re-designed radiator, improved ailerons, and racks for long-range drop tanks or bombs under the wings. With a top speed of 445 m.p.h. and a range of 2,200 miles, the P-51B or C was a high-altitude fighter ideal for bomber escort missions.

P-51 Mustang with drop tank

NAA continued to innovate with the Mustang — the arrival of the P-51D model in 1944 brought many improvements, including the famous “tear drop” canopy for better all-around vision, a more powerful 1,790 hp. version of the Packard/Merlin engine, and increased armament of 6-.50 caliber wing machine guns. The P-51D’s success in escorting heavy bombers to their targets in Germany resulted in a decrease in Eighth Air Force bomber losses and an increase in Luftwaffe fighter losses. All-in-all, there became 14,855 Mustangs produced during World War II, of which 7,956 were P-51Ds.

World War II aircraft sit on the tarmac after arriving for The Great Texas Airshow Apr. 21, 2022. At Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. 

The P-51 scored 4,239 air-to-air victories. Many top ETO aces flew the P-51 Mustang — Captain Don Gentile (35 victories), Captain John Godfrey (31 victories), Colonel Eagleston (23 victories), Major James Howard (the only American ace in both theaters of the war–6 victories in China flying P-40’s and 6 victories in Europe flying P-51’s), Chuck Yeager (who later became the first man to break the sound barrier) and Colonel Donald Blakeslee (15 victories and commander of the famous 4th Fighter Group). The 4th Fighter Group, armed with the P-51, destroyed over 1,000 German aircraft, more than any other American fighter group in WW II.

In all, an estimated 13,000 Allied aircraft participated in the D-Day operations. It remains the single largest aerial operation in history. The Mustang, of course, played a pivotal role in eliminating the German Air Force threat to the beaches, as well as enabling the bombers to knock out the railroad and road network into Normandy.

David Fivecoat
Colonel David Fivecoat

The last five blog posts on leaders and leadership from the World War II European Theater of Operations are:

Walter Beedle Smith, Chief of Staff

Ike’s Flaws

Ike and Team Building

General George C. Marshall

Admiral William Leahy

Interested in bringing your team to a Leadership Experience (Corporate Staff Ride) that uses historic case studies to help enhance your team’s leadership today? TFCG offers the D-Day, Market-Garden, and Battle of the Bulge Leadership Experiences in Europe and the Eisenhower, the War in the Pacific Museum, and Pearl Harbor Leadership Experiences in the United States. Send me an email and we can start the discussion today about building better leaders in your organization using a Leadership Experience (Corporate Staff Ride).

In the meantime, go on the offensive and use your better understanding of D-Day ships, tanks and planes to carry the day.

How Omaha Beach looked during the afternoon of 6 June 1944

World War 2

What Vehicles Were Critical For The Allied Landing At D-Day