When Great Things Happen

When Great Things Happen
When Great Things Happen
Two heroes and a visit to the World War II beaches of Normandy recall a moment in history.

By Capt. Ken Kreisler — June 2001

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Growing up on the tough streets of Chicago, Tom Scanlon was a scrappy Irish youth, just out of his teens when the Army seemed a good alternative to his oil company job. On April 14, 1941 at age 22 he enlisted. Three years and 52 days later he was looking at the inside of the ramp of a Higgins landing boat along with other members of the U.S. 12th Infantry as they approached the coast of Normandy, France. It was June 6, 1944, and Tech 5th Grade Combat Medic Scanlon was about to step out into history.

Fifty-six years later, I am standing with Scanlon on that beach, on that same spot where he landed. "It's a lot different today than when I was coming in on one of them Higgins boats," he says. "Now that guy was a hero. Weren't for him, you and me most likely be speaking German," he adds wryly.

Andrew Jackson Higgins, the rough and tumble Irishman who Eisenhower said "won the war for us," founded Higgins Industries in New Orleans in 1930 as a lumber importer and exporter. By 1939 and into 1940, he had begun experimenting with a prototype for a workboat/landing craft in back of his facility on St. Charles Avenue. With a tough, street-wise attitude often fueled by his taste for good bourbon, Higgins bulled his way into the market by introducing the Eureka. This shallow-draft 36-footer could operate in 18 inches of water and, thanks to its solid-pine bow, run through almost any obstacle. To prove that it could, Higgins often ran one up onto the sea wall at Lake Ponchartrain.

But what made the Eureka special was her hull design. In his book Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II, Jerry Straham offers the following description: "A deep vee forward led to a reverse-curve section amidships and two flat planing sections aft, flanking a semi-tunnel that protected the propeller and shaft. Aerated water flowing under the forefoot created less friction when the boat was moving and allowed for more speed and maneuverability. Because of the reverse curve, objects in the water could be pushed away at a point between the bow and amidships. This allowed continuous high-speed running and cut down on damage to the propeller, as floating objects seldom came near it. The flat sections aft...actually had a catamaran/planing effect, which added to the hull speed."

By 1941 Higgins Industries was swept up in the vortex of the wartime economy. The government began ordering the Eureka modified for military purposes, specifically for landing men and equipment on beaches. Ironically, the bow-ramp design came from a boat used in 1937 by Japan during its war with China. That design would be brutally tested on the Japanese during the battles for Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other islands whose beaches would be stormed using the Higgins LCVP (landing craft vehicle, personnel).

The Higgins LCVP was made of oak, pine, and mahogany and displaced 15,000 pounds. Its beam measured 10'10" and it drew 3'0" aft and 2'2" forward. Powered by a single 225-hp Graymarine diesel, an LCVP had a top speed of 12 knots. Two .30 caliber machine guns were mounted aft. The crew of three included a coxswain, engineer, and deck hand. An LCVP could carry 36 armed soldiers, a 6,000-pound vehicle, or 8,100 pounds of cargo.

Next page > Great Things continued > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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