Michael E. Haskew
From the inception of amphibious warfare strategy and tactics, the Marine Corps sought the most efficient method of moving fighting men from ship to shore. Finding a proper landing craft that could reach the beach and discharge Marines swiftly sometimes seemed an insurmountable problem.
The solution lay with a hard-drinking Irishman from New Orleans, Louisiana, named Andrew Jackson Higgins. During the years before World War II, Higgins worked in the lumber business and then concentrated on the construction of small boats. Marketing all craft to hunters, trappers, and the oil industry. In the late 1930s, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps tested one of Higgins’ early designs, the Eureka Boat. Its performance was superior to a competing design that had originated with the Navy itself. Further tests took place during fleet landing exercises.
With the coming of World War II, Higgins was sure that the U.S. military would need small boats, and lots of them. He gambled with the purchase of the entire 1939 crop of mahogany from the Philippines and stored it for future use. Then insisting that the Navy “doesn’t know one damn thing about small boats!”
The Higgins Boat design that changed the war
The early Higgins boat design was modified to Navy specifications. It included the addition of a frontal ramp, which lowered to allow the troops aboard to exit rapidly. Boats were constructed of both wood and steel and measured 36ft 3in (11m) in length with a beam of 10ft 10in (3.3m). They were armed with a pair of .30-caliber machine guns and carried up to 8000lb (3629kg) of cargo, either infantrymen or equipment.
The Higgins Boat, officially designated the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) by the military. The boat weighed 18,000lb (8165kg) and was capable of a top speed of 12 knots. The most common power-plants were a 225-horsepower Gray Marine diesel engine and a 250-horsepower Hall-Scott gasoline engine. Nearly 24,000 LCVPs, also popularly known as Higgins Boats, were produced by Higgins’ own firm in New Orleans. Although the coral reef at Tarawa laid bare the LCVP’s glaring weaknesses—its inability to traverse obstacles in the water or operate on land the little craft is remembered along with the Jeep, the C-47 aircraft, and the two-and-a-half ton truck as one of the transport systems that powered the Allied victory in World War II.
Michael E. Haskew is the editor of WWII History Magazine and the former editor of World War II Magazine . He is the author of a number of books, including THE MARINES IN WORLD WAR II. The Sniper at War and Order of Battle. Haskew is also the editor of The World War II Desk Reference with the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. He lives in Hixson, Tennessee.