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The LCVP (better known as the Higgins boat) was a favorite of coastal rumrunners but came into its own as a World War II landing craft on beachheads from Normandy to Guadalcanal. (Illustration by Gregory Proch)

The backbone of American amphibious warfare in World War II began as a shallow-draft wooden boat designed for Louisiana trappers and oil drillers by lumberman Andrew Jackson Higgins, who gradually turned his boatbuilding sideline into his primary business. His 36-foot-long Eureka boat could reach 20 knots or faster and became a craft of choice for Prohibition-era rumrunners and the Coast Guard crews who hunted them.

As war loomed, the U.S. Marine Corps, aware the Japanese were using similar landing craft with retractable bow ramps in China, fought for years to adopt Higgins’ Eureka boat against the protests of a Navy that insisted on designing its own craft. Higgins built his prototype of pine, oak and mahogany, with ¼-inch steel plating on the front and sides. With his addition of a bow ramp in 1941, the Navy conceded the superiority of Higgins’ boat, and that June the first LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) entered the U.S. naval arsenal. Just six months later the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into history’s most protracted amphibious war.

Between 1942 and ’45 Higgins and licensees built more than 23,000 LCVPs. The Higgins boat, as it became popularly known, saw use on every front from Sicily to Normandy, Guadalcanal to Okinawa, landing more troops than all other craft combined.