|The Man Who Won World War II
(And the City That Helped Him)
|World War II buffs, perhaps a few New Orleanians, maybe residents of Mr. Higgins'
birthplace in Nebraska...today, these are the only folks who know about Andrew Jackson
Higgins. It's a shame that his name isn't more widely known, because, in the words
of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mr. Higgins "is the man who won the war for us."
|In fact, in his full comments that Thanksgiving day in 1944, then-Gen. Eisenhower went
on to include the New Orleans workers of Higgins Industries: "Let us thank God for
Higgins Industries, management and labor, which has given us the landing boats with
which to conduct our campaign."
|The man who won WWII, Andrew Jackson Higgins.
|To give you an idea of the impact of Higgins Industries in WWII, here's a number that will
probably amaze you: By the end of the war, ninety-two per cent (92%!) of the Navy's
active vessels had been designed by Higgins Industries. And the modest plant in New
Orleans was responsible for building more than 20,000 of these craft.
|It was Mr. Higgins, capitalzing on his experience with producing boats amenable to the
swamps and marshes of Louisiana, who created the all-important LVCP, without which,
beach assaults such as Normandy and Iwo Jima would simply not have been possible.
And Higgins designed and produced PT boats and other vital types of craft, as well.
|The photos in the section below were taken at Higgins Industries
and on Lake Pontchartrain, in New Orleans, during WWII.
|Above, a boat rests on the Lake Pontchartrain
seawall after a test run. Right, Higgins
Industries, City Park plant.
|Andrew Higgins was an innovative boat designer with a colorful personality - some might say a brash
man, given to hard-swearing, hard-drinking and hard-working. He had no patience with bureaucratic
red tape and even less patience with authority. From Jerry Strahan's excellent book,
Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats that Won WWII:
|"Andrew Higgins dedicated himself to providing Allied soldiers with the finest landing craft in the world and
he had to fight the Bureau of Ships, the Washington bureaucracy and the powerful eastern shipyards to
succeed. ... Scholars are just discovering Higgins, but every soldier who hit the beach at Guadalcanal,
Normandy, Sicily, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and hundreds of lesser known places understands the importance
of his accomplishments. Their successful assaults were testimony to Higgins' imaginative genius."
|The photos in the section below were taken at the Andrew Higgins
Memorial, located at his birthplace in Columbus, Nebraska.
|On D-Day, Higgins' boats transported 34,000 soldiers to Omaha Beach;
24 hours after the invasion began, Higgins' boats had helped transport
175,000 soldiers and 50,000 vehicles to the Normandy beaches.
|Andrew Higgins with Pres. Harry Truman, 1945
|On a personal note, Andrew Higgins' home was located a few blocks from the house
where my family lived when I was a teenager. Mr. Higgins had died many years
previous to that, but members of his family still lived there for awhile after we moved
into the neighborhood. My father never passed the house without making the
proud proclamation, "That was Mr. Higgins' house. His boats won World War II."
I hope what I learned from my dad when I was a teenager will be learned by many,
many people in years to come: Andrew Higgins was a hero of World War II. And so
were the New Orleanians who worked endless hours at Higgins Industries, week after
week and month after month, until victory had been achieved - shattering production
records previously held by the largest ship builders in the country.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans displays a reproduction of a Higgins
LCVP in its Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. This boat was made from Higgins' original plans
and was built by volunteers, several of whom worked at Higgins Industries during WWII.
~ ~ ~
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Whispers - Home
|I'd heard of Higgins' New Orleans "sidewalk shipyard," but this is the first time I've
run across an illustration of it. This was part of a vintage Shell Oil advertisement and I
was very pleased to find it. Below is the portion of the ad that describes this
remarkable event of World War II, carried out on a residential street in New Orleans.
Can you imagine living in one of these houses at the time and having a front
row seat to history in the making?
Higgins Industries turned a city street into a factory for tank landing boats.
The job: To build a large number of still-undesigned wood landing boats and steel tank
lighters for the U.S. Navy - in just two weeks and without a factory site available! But A. J.
Higgins proved it could be done. By special permission of the mayor, he threw up a
double assembly line right on a New Orleans street!
"Production Miracle" and "Higgins" are synonomous. Only two weeks later, the complete
order of our "ugliest but fastest" tank landing boats was delivered to the Navy yard at
Norfolk - astonishing both high-ranking Naval officers and the residents of Polymnia
Street! From the thousands of fast and ferocious shallow draft landing barges Higgins
Industries has since turned out, American troops and motorized equipment have
ploughed ashore on the Solomons, Italy, France, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Guadalcanal.