Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 6/7/2016):
Mr. Higgins began operations through his Higgins Lumber and Export Company in 1922. Years later, Higgins designed and developed a shallow draught boat intended for service in Gulf waters with some pseudo-amphibious capabilities built into the craft. The vessel could operate effectively in just 18 inches of water and could land its bow ashore and remove itself to water as needed. However, the economic woes of the 1920s doomed Higgins Lumber for good prompting Higgins to begin Higgins Industries in 1930 where he could continue production of various watercraft - one of his customers eventually becoming the United States Coast Guard which, in turn, helped to establish a foothold with the American military - which would serve him well in the upcoming world war.
Within time, the United States Marine Corps came looking for an amphibious watercraft to fulfill a requirement that the United States Navy was unable to. Higgins' shallow-draught boat design struck a favorable cord and formal evaluations by the USMC were underway in 1938 as a shadow of war grew over Europe. The initial design, the LCP(L) (Landing Craft Personnel (Large)) was adequate but required cargo to be unloaded over the sides, a tactical nightmare considering the nature of war. A pair of machine gun positions were situated at the front of the design to provide suppression fire as needed. Borrowing a design element from the Japanese Navy, Higgins reworked the LCPL in 1941 to include a slim front loading ramp to allow for unloading from the bow. This then produced the LCP(R) (Landing Craft, Personnel (Ramped) which was successfully evaluated. The machine gun positions were still notably set to the front of the craft which, now with the unloading process relocated to the bow, created a rather dangerous bottleneck of sorts for the disembarking troops. With that said, the front ramp was reworked to become the full width of the craft, this forcing the machine gun cockpits towards the rear of the boat, away from the disembarking troops. Not only could the craft now carry a full complement of combat-ready infantry and supplies, it could now transport a full-size vehicle (JEEP) into the fray (along with 12 troops) - considerably expanding the tactical reach of American amphibious operations. This produced the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) which became the classic "Higgins Boat" that we know today.
Design of the finalized Higgins Boat was a rather basic, utilitarian affair. The concept essentially revolved around the use of a boxy boat-like hull with a hollowed bow and midsection area. The engine (seated in an upwards diagonal mounting) was contained in the center-rear portion of the craft with a propeller shaft running under the floor to the stern. A rudder was set just aft of the propeller itself for maneuvering. The steering position was set to the left side of the craft, aft of center, with a simple steering wheel and applicable engine system gauges present. To the rear of the driver position were two machine gun cockpit positions intended to supply suppressing fire upon approach (via 2 x 7.62mm machine guns). Fuel was stored in compartments held at the extreme aft corners of the boat. The open cargo area measured over 17 feet long with a width of 7.9 feet. A 7 foot tall door/ramp was affixed to the bow. Once landed, the door was dropped and the crew/cargo could be vacated. Propulsion was via a Gray Marine diesel engine of 225 horsepower or a Hall-Scott gasoline-fueled engine of 250 horsepower. This supplied the craft with a top speed of 12 knots in ideal conditions - though the Higgins Boat operated rather poorly in heavy, churning seas. Total hauling capacity was 8,100lbs of cargo while the craft displaced at 15,000lbs unloaded. A canvas covering could be erected over the open-air cargo hold, though this only sheltered the troops situated along the sides of the boat. Construction was largely of wood, consisting of oak, pine and mahogany.