Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, when American and Allied forces stormed the beaches in Normandy, France, signaling the beginning of our battle to put an end to World War II.
Practically every film clip shown on the news channels of this amphibious assault shows those small boats coming through the surf, dropping that bow ramp and unloading soldiers and Marines who went running up the beach.
I’m very familiar with those boats, the Navy’s LCVP, which stood for “Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel.”
Aboard my ship we referred to them as “papa boats” because of the phonetic “P” in the name. To war historians, they are more familiarly known as Higgins boats, named for the man who invented and eventually built 20,000 of them in his New Orleans plant, Andrew Higgins.
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The craft were only 36 feet long and just over 11 feet wide. They were made of plywood but sported a steel ramp at the bow. These boats could hold 36 men, a single jeep or 8,000 pounds of cargo. They could float in three feet of water aft and only two feet in the front. They were operated by a young sailor, the “coxswain” who would run them up on the beach, drop the ramp, and then back out and return to the ship for more men and equipment.
They were loaded with the troops climbing down rope cargo nets. It was often difficult to know when to let go of the net as you got to the bottom because the small craft was usually bouncing up and down as it was being loaded. I’ve climbed down the net to get into the boat carrying only a camera. The troops were in full combat gear and carrying weapons.
The little boats were slow, moving toward the beach at about 10 knots.
You never knew how much water was out there for you to get through when the ramp was dropped. It could be less than one foot of water. I took a picture of a young man driving a jeep out of one of our craft and he was in water up to the steering wheel.
All these memories came flooding back recently after a military collector asked me if I could build him a model of a Higgins boat. I had just finished building a scale model of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and a troop attack transport.
General Dwight Eisenhower said the war could not have been won without the LCVP.
The “papa” boat will be a fun project for me. The lines are simple. It’s almost like building a shoebox with a bow ramp on one end.
And if I have trouble remembering details, there is a full-sized Higgins boat now on display at the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles.
Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.