The Higgins Boats of World War II May Make A Comeback
The U.S. Navy has big plans.
Key Point: The modern version of these troop carriers may or may not be automated.
From Omaha Beach to Iwo Jima, the great amphibious invasions of World War II were made possible by a humble plywood boat.
Known more prosaically as the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), the Higgins Boat was the nautical donkey of World War II. The brainchild of New Orleans boatmaker Andrew Jackson Higgins, the shallow-draft boats had a bow ramp that lowered to allow a rifle platoon, or a vehicle, to disembark.
That doesn’t sound like a big deal. Except that using regular boats or barges to unload troops on an open beach was a slow, laborious process, unless the invaders could capture a port (which tended to be heavily fortified). The Higgins Boat meant any open beach could serve as a debarkation point for sufficient troops, vehicles and supplies to create a meaningful bridgehead. More than 20,000 were built during World War II.
“If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach,” declared General Dwight Eisenhower. “The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”
Now, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps want to bring back what it calls a “21st century Higgins Boat.” The problem is that amphibious landings have become a dicey proposition: long-range anti-ship missiles fielded by Russia, China and even armed groups like Hezbollah, make it too hazardous for amphibious assault ships to venture closer than 50 or 100 miles to shore. At the same time, the Marine Corps’ attempt to replace its 40-year-old amphibious assault armored vehicles with a new generation have run into snags, such as the vehicles—which can’t swim long distances or in rough waters—having to be ferried close to shore by another vessel.
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