LC Landing Craft
In the wake of World War I, the Marine Corps and the Navy studied the feasibility of designing amphibious landing craft that might be useful in future conflicts. Those efforts ultimately led them to acquire a thing called the Higgins Boat, making it possible to land tens of thousands of US troops on the shores of Normandy and begin the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe. In the 1920s, when this idea was first contemplated, no one would have envisioned the type of world war -- the type of world that would really await that new generation of warfighters. Long after World War II had ended, Dwight Eisenhower named the man he believed to have won the war for America, and it wasn't a famous general, but a naval engineer named Andrew Higgins. Eisenhower said if Higgins had not designed and built those boats, the whole strategy of the war would have had to be different.
The landing of troops and equipment on beaches in "combined operations" has been performed throughout history using craft of all kinds, but not until 1924, when a Landing Craft Committee - a military inter-service body - was formed, was there any probability of specialized landing craft being constructed. This led to an experimental ship, forty feet long, of sixteen tons and with a winched bow ramp, being constructed by j. Samuel White and Company, of Cowes, Isle of Wight. It was capable of carrying one hundred troops and, itself, had to be carried on a troopship before being lowered to the water. More experimental landing craft were built by J. I. Thornycroft and Company.
Shortly after the end of World War I the Marines induced the US Navy to undertake design studies on two landing craft, one for personnel and one for materiel. Troop Barge A, as tile first of these types was called, was tried out at Culebra in the winter of 1923-24. A shallow draft, twin-engined, 50-foot craft with a rated speed of about 12 knots and a carrying capacity of 110 fully equipped Marines, it had good beaching qualities and could retract from the beach with aid of a stern anchor. Three years lmter the second type, a 45-foot artillery lighter, was built and tested. Equipped with two parallel hinged ramps in the stern, it could be beached successfully stern-to and 155mm guns and other pieces of heavy Marine equipment unloaded. It lacked a power plant, however, and had to be towed by another craft.
After a good deal of attention Thornvcroft's were asked to build an LCM (Mark I )-Landing Craft, Mechanised - which completed trials in August, 1939, a few days before the outbreak of war. This craft was similar to the earlier experimental vessel but was fitted with petrol engines driving twin screws for 7' 2 knots, instead of the waterjet propulsion of the earlier craft.
While the number of "big" amphibious ships, transports and cargo vessels, slowly grew in number in the 1930s, the small boat Navy of amphibious landing craft similarly evolved and increased. They were vital to the success of landing operations, a means to get assault troops ashore swiftly and surely. For most Marines of the era, there were memories of ships' launches, lighters, and experimental boats of all sorts that brought them to the beach, or at least to the first sandbar or reef offshore. Rolling over the side of a boat and wading through the surf was a common experience.
One future Commandant, then a lieutenant, recalled making a practice landing on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands as his unit returned from expeditionary duty in China in 1938. He described the landing as "one of those old timers" made in "these damned motor launches, you know, with a "row and everything - never made for a landing." The result, he said in colorful memory, was "you grounded out somewhere 50 yards from the beach and jumped in. Sometimes your hat floated and sometimes you made it."
The landing craft that changed this picture was the Higgins boat, named after its inventor, Andrew Higgins, who developed a boat of shallow draft that could reach the beach in three to four feet of water, land an infantry platoon, and then retract to return for another load. Andrew Jackson Higgins - born on 28 August 1886 in Columbus, Nebraska - left his native town in 1906 to enter the lumber business in Mobile, Ala. Four years later, Higgins became manager of a German-owned lumber-importing firm in New Orleans. In 1922, he formed his own company, the Higgins Lumber and Export Co., importing hardwood from the Philip-pines, Central America, and Africa and exporting cypress and southern pine. In pursuing these ends he acquired a fleet of sailing ships-said to have been the largest under American registry at that time. To service this fleet, he established his own shipyard which built and repaired his cargomen as well as the tugs and barges needed to support them.
In 1926, four years after founding the Higgins Lumber and Export Co., the industrialist and shipbuilder designed the Eureka boat, a shallow-draft craft for use by oil drillers and trappers in operations along the Gulf coast and in lower Mississippi River. With a propeller recessed into a semi-tunnel in the hull, the boat could be operated in shallow waters where flotsam and submerged obstacles would render more usual types of propellers almost useless. Higgins also designed a "spoonbill" bow for his craft, allowing it to be run up onto riverbanks and then to back off with ease. His boats proved to be record-beaters; and, within a decade, he had so perfected the design that they could attain high speed in shallow water and turn practically in their own length. They were perfect for working in the Gulf of Mexico and in the reeds and rushes on the Mississippi River for bootlegging, bringing in liquor and landing it on the beaches at night.
Stiff competition, declining world trade, and the employment of tramp steamers to carry lumber cargoes combined to put Higgins' Lumber and Export Co. out of business. Nevertheless, the indefatigable Higgins - who laughed at adversity and whose vocabulary did not include the word "impossible" - kept his boatbuilding firm (established in 1930 as Higgins Industries) in business, constructing motorboats, tugs and barges, not only for private firms and individuals but also for the Coast Guard.
The Marine Corps - always interested in finding better ways to get men across a beach in an amphibious landing and frustrated that the Bureau of Construction and Repair could not meet its requirements - began to express interest in Higgins' boat. First used on an experimental basis in FLEX 5 (1938) at Culebra, it won its way over rivals. When tested in 1938 by the Navy and Marine Corps, Higgins' Eureka boat surpassed the performance of the Navy-design 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 a combat situation. The Higgins boat was adopted as the standard personnel landing craft by 1940.
In its initial hundreds the Higgins boat had a sloping bow that required of its passengers an over-the-side agility after it grounded. In 1941, a version, most familiar to World War II veterans, was introduced which had a bow ramp which allowed men and vehicles to exit onto a beach or at least into knee-high, not neck-high water. This was the 36-foot Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) which was fitted to the boat davits on every amphibious transport and cargo vessel. The hinged bow ramp idea had originated in 1926. The Japanese had been using ramp-bowed landing boats in the Sino Japanese War since the summer of 1937 - boats that had come under intense scrutiny by the Navy and Marine Corps observers at Shanghai in particular. When shown a picture of one of those craft, Higgins soon thereafter got in touch with his chief engineer, and, after describing the Japanese design over the telephone, told the engineer to have a mock-up built for his inspection upon his return to New Orleans. Within one month, tests of the ramp-bow Eureka boat in Lake Ponchartrain showed conclusively that successful operation of such a boat was feasible.
From these humble beginnings came what became known as the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel), or simply, the "Higgins Boat." The Higgins boat gave the greatest promise, for it could push itself aground on the beach and then retract. In fact this boat was the ancestor of the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel) that played an important part in the amphibious operations of World War II." Because of its rather fragile hull, however, the Higgins boat could not negotiate the reefs offshore of many of the island targets in the Pacific, whereupon another Marine Corps-sponsored and -developed item, the amphibian tractor, orginally conceived for employment in logistical support, was fully utilized as a tactical weapon.
A larger version of the Higgins boat, originally classified as a "tank lighter" came on its heels, the precursor of the LCM (landing craft, mechanized). Innovations in amphibious shipping and landing craft in the late 30s and early 40s were not solely based on American concepts. With the exception of the LVT, most amphibious craft developments and certainly amphibious shipping developments were influenced by British concepts, requirements, and experience. The Landing Craft Mechanized [LCM] was initially a British design. The first prototype, Motor Landing Craft, came out in 1938. The first trials for the LCM Mk1 took place in February 1940. It was 45 feet long and was designed to transport a 16-ton tank.
The LCVP's companion boat, the 50-foot, ramped Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM), also a development of Andrew Higgins, provided the means for landing tanks, artillery, and heavy vehicles. In the United States, Higgins experimented with modifications to the bow and built the LCM Mk3. The US Army bought the LCM 6 (also referred to as the Mk4) which had a 6-foot section added so it could transport the 30-ton Sherman tank.
The Navy favored the BuShips tank lighter; the Army favored the Higgins tank lighter in the next size, 50 feet long. The difference between the two was that in the Higgins tank lighter the metacenter was lower; in other words, the center of gravity afloat was lower in the water. The Navy had a few for tests, but BuShips, because they weren't invented by them, didn't like them. The main difference between the lighters which any layman can understand is that the deck of the Bureau tank lighter was above the normal water level when loaded. They had a bilge pump. This raised the center of gravity, or the metacenter, of the whole thing to a higher point than existed on the Higgins, and this adversely affected it seaworthiness. This was not a problem on the smaller 36-foot landing craft. The advantage of the Higgins lighter was that the treads of the tank, when loaded down, were below,the water line, but there had to be confidence that if there was leakage the bilge pump could handle it. The Navy didn't have confidence in their bilge pump. If a bilge pump doesn't handle the problem, the craft can sink no matter where the metacenter is.
This led to a very interesting test in June 1942. The military ran two tests down at Little Creek and at Norfolk. One of them was the test on the Bureau tank lighter versus the Higgins tank lighter. The result in that test was that the Bureau tank lighter almost floundered with the tank aboard because of the high metacenter. It couldn't stand the coastal currents, while the Higgins tank lighter looked beautiful, even in the tough crosscurrents and high seas at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
The variety of landing craft that eventually evolved, and the tasks to which they were put, was limited only by the ingenuity of those who planned their uses and the seamanship of the sailors who manned them. But for most prewar Marines, the memories of practice landings featured the rampless Higgins boat, various tank lighters which made each beach approach an adventure, and all sorts of "make do" craft of earlier years which were ill suited for surf or heavy seas.
The 105-foot tank lighter could carry trucks or about 200 tons of cargo. It was also interesting because one of the smart things they did was to power this ship with three General Motors Diesel engines; the same engines with the same parts that the LCM tank lighter has two of and the 36-foot landing craft had one. This was wonderful for standardization.
During World War II, Higgins' industrial plants turned out a variety of equipment for the Navy: landing craft, motor torpedo boats (PT), torpedo tubes, gun turrets, and smoke generators. Higgins Industries Inc. produced 8,865 landing craft [other sources claim 12,000 or 20,000 in all], approximately 92 percent of the Navy's World War II combat motorboat fleet. The inventor and holder of some 30 patents pertinent to amphibious landing craft and vehicles, Andrew J. Higgins died in New Orleans on 01 August 1952.
As expected, many landing-craft and amphibious-vehicle casualties were due to enemy action, but many were related to problems with waves and currents causing capsizing, swamping, broaching, getting stuck on bars and, when the ramps were down, filling with water and sand. Another major problem was beach trafficability. Vehicles were frequently stuck in the sand. A trafficability study of beach sand characteristics, beach slope, water level, and vehicle type was made. It was observed that saturated sand near the water's edge would liquefy due to vibrations produced by the vehicular traffic. Several full-scale amphibious assault-training exercises were observed in detail and reports prepared on the observations and findings.
During the 25 October 1949 exercise across three west coast beaches at the Waianae-Pokai Bay region of Oahu, Hawaii, long-period waves surging up the steep beach face caused substantial landing craft casualties on two of the beaches. Many of the craft broached and were shoved onto the steep beach by the surging breakers (see Figure I-3-15). Of the 20 landing craft sent ashore in 3 "waves" in the first 15 minutes of the amphibious exercise, 7 retracted and 8 were lost, some filling with water and sand when the ramps were lowered. The exercise was quickly halted and five of the craft later salvaged. Because of the problems experienced moving personnel, equipment and supplies through the surf and over the beach, the Department of Defense began the development of helicopters, and later air cushion vehicles.
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