The Higgins Boat
Higgins Boat, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) or Higgins boat was a landing craft used extensively in amphibious landings in World War II. The craft was designed by Andrew Higgins based on boats made for operating in swamps and marshes. More than 23,358 were built, by Higgins Industries and licensees.
Typically constructed from plywood, this shallow-draft, the barge-like boat could ferry a roughly platoon-sized complement of 36 men to shore at 9 knots (17 km/h). Men generally entered the boat by climbing down a cargo net hung from the side of their troop transport; they exited by charging down the boat’s lowered bow ramp. Taking the last letter of the LCVP designation, sailors often nick-named the Higgins Boat the “Papa Boat” or “Peter Boat” to differentiate it from other landing craft such as the LCU and the LCM, with the LCM being called the “Mike Boat.”
Andrew Higgins started out in the lumber business, but gradually moved into boat building, which became his sole operation after the lumber transport company he was running entered bankruptcy in 1930. Many sources say his boats were intended for use by trappers and oil-drillers; occasionally, some sources imply or even say that Higgins intended to sell the boats to individuals intending to smuggle illegal liquor into the United States.
Higgins’ financial difficulties, and his association with the U.S. military, occurred around the time Prohibition was repealed, which would have ruined his market in the rum-running sector; the U.S. Navy’s interest in the boats was, in any case, providential, though Higgins proved unable to manage his company’s good fortune.
Fortunately for Higgins, the United States Marine Corps, always interested in finding better ways to get men across a beach in an amphibious landing, and frustrated that the Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair could not meet its requirements, began to express interest in Higgins’ boat. When tested in 1938 by the Navy and Marine Corps, Higgins’ Eureka boat surpassed the performance of a Navy-designed boat and was tested by the services during fleet landing exercises in February 1939. Satisfactory in most respects, the boat’s major drawback appeared to be that equipment had to be unloaded, and men disembarked, over the sides, thus exposing them to enemy fire in combat situations and making unloading time consuming and complex. However that was the best available boat design and it was put into production and service as the landing craft, personnel (large), abbreviated as LCP(L). The LCP(L) had two machine gun positions at the bow.
The LCP(L), commonly called the “U-boat” or the “Higgins” boat, was supplied to the British (from October 1940), to whom it was initially known as the “R-boat” and used for commando raids.
The Japanese had been using ramp-bowed landing boats like Daihatsu-class landing craft in the Second Sino-Japanese War since the summer of 1937 — boats that had come under intense scrutiny by Navy and Marine Corps observers at the Battle of Shanghai in particular, including from future general, Victor H. Krulak. When Krulak showed Higgins a picture and suggested that Higgins develop a version of the ramped craft for the Navy, Higgins, at his own expense, started his designers working on adapting the idea to the boat design. He then had three of the craft built, again at his own expense.
Armor was a problem, but also other problems found later were that the boat could not go through shallow water and reefs. Other vehicles were created to meet those drawbacks in amphibious operations.
The Higgins boat was built in New Orleans and all workers, white, black, male, female, were paid the same wage based on their job position.
The legacy of the Higgins boat
The Supreme Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, declared the Higgins boat to have been crucial to the Allied victory on the European Western Front and the previous fighting in North Africa and Italy.
Only a few Higgins boats have survived, often with substantial modifications for post-War use. A remarkably preserved Higgins boat, with the original Higgins motor, was discovered in a boatyard in Valdez, Alaska, and moved to the Museum of World War II just outside Boston in 2000. It had been used as a fishing boat in very shallow areas but, except for an easily removed addition to the cockpit, had not been altered; all of the armor plate was complete, as were gauges and equipment. The only restoration was a repainting to the original color.
An original Higgins boat discovered in Normandy has been professionally restored by the North Carolina Maritime Museum for the First Division Museum at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois. This Higgins boat was located in Vierville-Sur-Mer, Normandy, by Overlord Research, LLC, a West Virginia company formed in 2002 for the purpose of locating, preserving, and returning WWII artifacts to the United States. Overlord purchased the vessel from its French owners and then transported the Higgins boat to Hughes Marine Service in Chidham, England, for initial evaluation and restoration. During this evaluation, the First Division Museum acquired the Higgins boat from Overlord Research, LLC, and moved the vessel to Beaufort, North Carolina, for extensive restoration.
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