The Higgins boat

The boat that won the war

An LCVP, better known as a Higgins boat, off Okinawa in April 1945 (Photo: U.S. Navy)
An LCVP, better known as a Higgins boat, off Okinawa in April 1945
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

Few World War II vessels have such an instantly recognizable appearance as the brick-like Higgins boat as it runs aground and lowers its ramp to disgorge infantry onto an enemy-held beach. Light, cheap, and extremely adept at what it was designed to do, the boat revolutionized landing operations. Landing craft are often overlooked in favor of hulking carriers, menacing battleships and stealthy submarines; this article will try to remedy that by focusing on the development and service of the humble yet immeasurably useful Higgins boat.

U.S. Navy Seabees ferrying troops from General Patton’s Third Army across the Rhine (Photo: usautoindustryworldwartwo.com)
U.S. Navy Seabees ferrying troops from General Patton’s Third Army across the Rhine
(Photo: usautoindustryworldwartwo.com)

The United States Marine Corps were in dire need of a good landing craft in the early 1940s. With World War II already raging in Europe, American entry into the war was a very real possibility. Traditionally, landings were performed by naval forces first attacking an enemy port or coastal city, then landing troops directly there. Modern firepower was rapidly making such attacks unfeasible, as the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942 would prove (Read our earlier article – The Dieppe Raid). It became necessary to land troops on lightly guarded beaches away from ports, but large transports couldn’t approach the shore without running aground, and the were was no small craft suitable for putting a large number of troops and supplies on the beach quickly and possibly in the face of enemy resistance. The Marine Corps found the available Navy designs unsatisfactory and started looking for a solution among civilian boat designers.
 
Enter Andrew Jackson Higgins (1886-1952), a Nebraska-born businessman and boatbuilder. As a young man, Higgins served in the Nebraska Army National Guard, where he got his first taste of boat building and troop transportation during military maneuvers.

Andrew Jackson Higgins
(Photo: Higgins Industries)

Higgins got into the lumber trade in 1906, and founded his own export-import company in 1922 in New Orleans. His fleet of lumber cargo ships, described by some sources as the largest sailing fleet under U.S. registry at the time, imported hardwood from the Philippines, Africa and Central America. Higgins built his own shipyard to service and build his ships, as well as the barges and tugs servicing them in shallow waters. Higgins’s lumber company eventually went bankrupt in 1930 due to declining demand and competition from steamers, but his boatbuilding firm continued to operate under the name Higgins Industries, selling boats on the private market.

One of the shop floors of Higgins Industries during World War II (Photo: National World War II Museum)
One of the shop floors of Higgins Industries during World War II
(Photo: National World War II Museum)
Higgins specialized in designing and building shallow-draft boats for use in the Gulf and the Mississippi delta. His vessels were mainly used by oil-drillers, trappers, and the Coast Guard hunting rum runners during the Prohibition. Unconfirmed but very widely repeated rumors claim he was also selling his boats to the same rum runners for double the profits.
 
One of Higgins’s designs, the Eureka boat, caught the interest of the Marine Corps. Testing in 1938 and early 1939 proved the boat to be superior to Navy designs, and the vessel was adopted under the name Landing Craft, Personnel (Large) or LCP(L). Higgins expected America to be soon directly involved in the war, and made the boat from plywood with thin metal armor. This not only made the boat light, agile, fast and cheap, but also saved steel for other wartime uses. Acting under his own initiative, he bought the entire 1939 mahogany production of the Philippines and stored it on his own, sure he would need it. The U.S. had not entered the war yet, but LCP(L)s were supplied to Britain, where they were named R-boats and used in commando raids.
British commandos disembarking from an R-boat during a training exercise. At the extreme right, you can see famous British officer “Mad” Jack Churchill wielding a sword. (Photo: Imperial War Museums)
British commandos disembarking from an R-boat during a training exercise. At the extreme right, you can see famous British officer “Mad” Jack Churchill wielding a sword.
(Photo: Imperial War Museums)

The LCP(L) was 36 ft 8 in (11 m) long, was armed with two machine guns, and could transport 25 to 36 troops (depending on whether it was in U.S. or British service) with a crew of 3 or 4. While the usual manner of boarding a small landing craft was to climb into it via a scramble net, the LCP(L) could also be boarded while still hanging from the davits (the ship’s cranes) and then lowered into the water, allowing for faster deployment. Its greatest difference from what eventually became known as the “Higgins boat” was its lack of a bow ramp. This forced soldiers to clamber over the boat’s bow and sides then jump down, which was a dangerous prospect in the face of enemy fire. Similarly, cargo had to be unloaded over the sides, making the process complicated.

U.S. Marines making landfall in an LCP(L) at Guadalcanal. You can see how the lack of a bow ramp made disembarking more difficult.
(Photo: United States Marine Corps)

Unwilling assistance to this problem came from Japan. The Japanese had been already using the ramp-bowed Daihatsu-class landing craft in the Second Sino-Japanese War since 1937, and neutral U.S. Navy and Marine observers took great interest in the design. Higgins was shown photos of the Japanese boat and asked to design something similar; he did so and built three prototypes at his own expense.  

Australian soldiers aboard a captured Japanese Daihatsu-class landing craft (Photo: Australian War Memorial)
Australian soldiers aboard a captured Japanese Daihatsu-class landing craft
(Photo: Australian War Memorial)
This new design was accepted into service after a demonstration on May 26, 1941, where Higgins employees pretended to be troops during boarding and loading operations. This new boat type was designated Landing Craft, Personnel (Ramp) or LCP(R). Early landing operations in North Africa, Sicily, Guadalcanal and Tarawa revealed a new problem. The ramp was narrower than the rest of the boat, and thus acted as a bottleneck, with troops bunching up and getting in each other’s way when trying to charge down it. The definite version of the Higgins boat, the Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel, or LCVP, fixed this with a wider ramp that also allowed the boat to transport vehicles.
U.S. troops coming ashore from a Higgins boat on Omaha Beach on D-Day
(Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)
The LCVP could carry a 36-man platoon, a jeep and 12 men, a truck or 8,000 lbs (3.6 tons) of cargo. Its draft was 2 ft 2 in (66 cm) forward and 3 ft (91 cm) aft, allowing it to maneuver in extremely shallow water and run directly up to the shore before lowering the ramp. The shape of the bow then allowed the empty vehicle to reverse and slide back into the water easily. Its propeller was partially recessed into a semi-tunnel in the hull, which protected it from hitting rocks or hard pieces of flotsam. It was a well-designed landing craft, but still ran into difficulties in the Pacific, where many atoll islands are surrounded by hard coral reefs that acted as an impenetrable barrier to LCVPs without a team of sappers to blow passages through the coral. In such locations, the amphibious Landing Vehicle, Tracked (or “amtrak”) took over, as it could roll over the barrier.
Rear view of a surviving Higgins boat, showing how the propeller was partially protected by its placement (Photo: National Inventors Hall of Fame)
Rear view of a surviving Higgins boat, showing how the propeller was partially protected by its placement
(Photo: National Inventors Hall of Fame)
The ability of the Higgins boat to put men and cargo ashore almost anywhere became a major factor in planning Allied amphibious landings and river crossing. General, later President, Eisenhower once characterized the boats inventor thus: “Andrew Higgins ... is the man who won the war for us. ... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”
 
Over 23,000 Higgins boats were built over the course of the war, roughly 1,500 of which saw action on D-Day, the June 6 landings in Normandy. Some boats, including specimens built after the war, continued to see service in Korea and Vietnam. The French, for example, used LCVPs equipped with a roof and an Oerlikon 20 mm cannon to patrol the Mekong River during the First Indochina War, the conflict that began soon after the end of World War II and eventually led to the Vietnam War.
LCVPs in French use in Indochina (Photo: usautoindustryworldwartwo.com)
LCVPs in French use in Indochina
(Photo: usautoindustryworldwartwo.com)
The popularity of his boats with the military allowed Andrew Higgins to vastly expand his operations. His first boatyard had fewer than 75 employees in 1938. By late 1943, he had seven manufacturing plants with over 25,000 people working in them. A pioneer in establishing a fully integrated workplace, Higgins employed undrafted white men, African Americans, women, the elderly and the disabled, paying everyone in the same job position equal wages. The company’s fortunes took a downturn after the end of the war, when Higgins found himself both facing unionization efforts by his employees and struggling to find new customers for his products once military procurement orders dried up. One of his New Orleans facilities eventually ended up building the first stages of several of the Saturn rockets used by NASA in the space race, and later still the enormous external fuel tanks of Space Shuttles. The LCVP also makes an appearance in several war movies such as Saving Private Ryan and the Longest Day.
American soldiers being massacred while debarking from LCVPs in Saving Private Ryan (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
American soldiers being massacred while debarking from LCVPs in Saving Private Ryan
(Photo: Paramount Pictures)
While Higgins boats are long out of use, you can still see some (as well as some replicas) on some of our tours. All of our Normandy tours visit Utah Beach and its landing museum (Read our earlier article - The Utah Beach Museum), where our passengers can find several LCVP-related monuments and items. Among the memorials on the beach (Read our earlier article - The monuments of Utah Beach), one can find a replica LCVP with soldiers disembarking from the boat and a statue dedicated to Higgins. The monument was donated by the citizens of Columbus, Nebraska, the inventor’s birthplace. The museum also has an original Higgins boat which is said to be the only known original LCVP to have been used on D-Day. This boat was one of the landing craft carried by the USS Bayfield attack transport and had put ashore soldiers and equipment on Utah and Omaha Beaches.
A statue depicting soldiers landing from a replica Higgins boat on Utah Beach  (Photo: Author’s own)
A statue depicting soldiers landing from a replica Higgins boat on Utah Beach 
(Photo: Author’s own)

$500 discount for the 80th anniversary D-Day celebrations and all our tours

D-Day festivities in Normandy
(Photo: Author’s own)
We'll be celebrating the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the historic Allied landings in Normandy, in only two weeks. On this occasion, you will get a discount of $500 on all our tours if you book and pay in full until June 6, 2023. In addition to the discount, this promotion includes also our available D-Day anniversary tours in 2024 (80th anniversary!) and 2025. Don’t miss this opportunity to secure your seat for next year to enjoy the commemorations and festivities with the participation of veterans and reenactors. According to statistics, seats for the main D-Day anniversaries get sold out approximately a year before the event. So, book your tour as soon as possible because the most popular ones will be fully booked very soon. Note that this offer applies only in case of new bookings, and it cannot be combined with other special promotions. If you have any questions related to this promotion or our tours, feel free to contact our travel consultants.
Book now
Facebook Facebook
Instagram Instagram
Website Website
YouTube YouTube
Copyright © *|CURRENT_YEAR|* *|LIST:COMPANY|*, All rights reserved.
*|IFNOT:ARCHIVE_PAGE|* *|LIST:DESCRIPTION|*

Our mailing address is:
*|HTML:LIST_ADDRESS_HTML|* *|END:IF|*

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

*|IF:REWARDS|* *|HTML:REWARDS|* *|END:IF|*
Save
up to30%
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"It was truly amazing, I would definitely recommend BoN"D-Day Anniversary Tour, 2023
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"It was everything I could have hoped for and more"Band of Brothers Tour, 2023
Beaches of Normandy Tours review
"I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in history that changed the world"D-Day Anniversary Tour, 2023
Total:
4.9 - 235 reviews