1944 Landing Vehicle Tracked MkIII (LVT-3) ‘Bushmaster’
• The LVT-3 Bushmaster was developed by Borg-Warner, and became the amphibious tractor (amtrac) for the USMC from 1944 thru the late 1950s.
• A total of 2,963 of them were built between 1943 and 1945 by Ingersoll and Graham Paige. It was produced in time for the WW II invasion of Okinawa and was used to land marines at Inchon, Korea.
• With a three-person crew, it is able to transport 30 or more marines to the beach and beyond. They also carried jeeps and other equipment.
• They could travel about 16 miles per hour maximum on land and seven mph in the water.
• This vehicle was launched from an LST (Landing Ship, Tank), several miles from the invasion beach. After the beachhead was established it would continue bringing supplies to shore and removing the wounded to hospital ships awaiting offshore.
• While a handful of these vehicles still exist, There is only one that is operational, and it is in Great Bend.
• This LVT-3 was restored by a group of volunteers in Great Bend who dedicated to those American servicemen that “Hit the beach” and “overcame tremendous difficulties to insure the continued liberty of their families back home.”
• This vehicle has attended several re-unions of WW II and Korean War era vets and will participate later this year in the U.S. Marine Corps celebration at Ypsilanti, Mich.
In the waning days World War II, the Japanese remained well entrenched in the rugged islands of the South Pacific, forcing American Marines to dig, blast and burn them out one rock at a time.
That was 67 years ago.
There was no rockets’ red glare nor bombs bursting in air Sunday afternoon, save a few early Fourth of July fireworks, but a piece of that historic and brutal island-hopping campaign roared to life again at Nelson Stone’s Great Bend sand pit.
In preparation for a massive air show and celebration marking the centennial of Navy/Marine aviation July 22-24 in Ypsilanti, Mich., Kevin Lockwood and a local group of WW II enthusiasts/reenactors tested their Bushmaster amphibious landing vehicle. Sunday marked only the second time since it was decommissioned in the 1950s that it saw water.
“We need to get the bugs worked out,” Lockwood said. Despite some trouble starting one of the engines, getting the huge green camouflage steel beasts stuck on a sandbar once and a minor water leak, the operation went smoothly.
“This was state of the art for the time,” Lockwood said of the Landing Vehicle Tracked MkIII (LVT-3).
The Bushmaster had a very specific mission, Lockwood said. Coral reefs encircled the islands, prohibiting traditional flat-bottomed landing craft from reaching the beaches. This forced the heavily equipped Marines to wade ashore under a hail of gunfire.
The amphibious tractor (or amtrac) would transport the soldiers from ship to shore, and were introduced in the fall and winter of 1944, in time for the invasion of Okinawa. They would also remove the wounded and return with supplies.
“The Marines still use the same basic concept,” Lockwood said. The type used today are MkVIIs.
The Bushmasters went from the isles of the Pacific to the Korean Peninsula. They saw use through the Korean Conflict before being retired.
Lockwood said nearly 3,000 of the amtracs were built. However, one still works.
“At this point, we have the only one in the world that is operational,” he said. When the volunteers got it running, they posted their accomplishment on the Internet, thinking they would hear about other functional LVT-3s. They haven’t heard from anyone.
As they tested their baby Sunday, the volunteers gave rides to family and friends. The craft crept along, its scoop-shaped tracks clawing at the loose sandy beaches.
Then, Lockwood just drove it off the shore and it plunged, nearly nose first, into the water. Once afloat, the tracks then slowly propelled it through the waves.
One of those riding was WW II Pacific Theater Navy veteran Art Cravens.
“We didn’t know how things were going to turn out back then,” he said of the war’s uncertainty. “But things came out OK.”
“We want to thank you for serving,” Lockwood told Cravens.
A local effort
“This was restored locally by several people,” Lockwood said. The project has been years in the making.
The Great Bend Bushmaster is actually the composite of two non-functional LVT-3s. The pair was “surplused” from a Naval Seabee unit, winding up in Wichita.
A McPherson farmer, whose ground bordered a lake, purchased the vehicles and he used them for irrigation work. However, they have long been parked – one relegated to use as a duck blind and the other a hamburger/hotdog stand.
“We bought them eight years ago,” Lockwood said. After about four years of research, the restoration started.
“We had to find as many of the missing parts as we could before making a stab at it,” he said. “We did a lot of cannibalizing” to make one out of the two.
Pieces were difficult to come by for the antiquated war machine. “We really had to reach out,” Lockwood said, adding they found what they needed in Britain, Belgium and elsewhere.
After five years of work, they were ready to roll and float. “We swam it for the first time September of last year.”
That was for an hour. It spent two hours in the water Sunday afternoon.
“We wanted to make sure it was seaworthy,” he said. They checked out all the operating systems on the huge, lumbering green vehicle, and looked for leaks.
“They contacted us,” Lockwood said of the organizers of the Thunder Over Michigan 2011 at Willow Run airport in Ypslanti, near Detroit. It is one of several celebrations honoring the 100th anniversary of Navy/Marine aviation.
Among the events will be the reenactment of an island assault at a nearby lake. This is the role Lockwood and his team will play. They will hit the beach with soldiers armed with rifles, machine guns and flame throwers. There will be a mock dogfight in the skies above.
According to Lockwood, the vehicle requires permits for wide load and will be hauled to and from the this event by a commercial carrier.
The centennial is being observed through a series of special events at air shows across the country. It started in February in San Diego, Calif., and ends in December in Washington, D.C.