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Higgins Built the Boats to Win the War

The banner hung from above, one part encouragement, one part patriotic threat.

“THE GUY WHO RELAXES IS HELPING THE AXIS!”

Factory workers beneath it framed, hammered, stripped. They transformed wooden carcasses into formidable shells. When they were finished, the boats traveled from Louisiana river docks into enemy waters.

These were the landing crafts that would become synonymous with D-Day, and they were the brainchild of New Orleans boatman Andrew Higgins.

Until World War II, Higgins ran a comparatively small operation. His company, Higgins Industries, built vessels for the bayou, capable of navigating shallow waters and unseen obstacles.

His Eureka boat, developed in 1926, was first sold to local trappers and oilmen. In 1938, it would help secure Higgins’ place in military history. The Navy wanted it. With a few tweaks, the Eureka became the LCVP, a landing craft or, as it became known, the Higgins boat. Orders poured in.

Over the course of the war, Higgins Industries was hired to make gun turrets, torpedo tubes, PT boats, landing crafts. The company grew to accommodate demand.

By 1943, one Higgins Industries factory ballooned into seven. When they ran out of room, they built in the streets.

The landscape of NOLA changed. Loading cranes stretched into the sky. LCVPs cluttered the Bayou St. John like a parking lot. Beachmasters tore through Louisiana swamps. PT Boats churned the water of Lake Pontchartrain.

World War II was being fought across the world, but for New Orleans, it was always right in their backyard.

By the end of the war, Higgins Industries had hired 25,000 of Louisiana’s own to produce tens of thousands of warcraft–none more important, or integral, than the LCVP.

Photo by: Zack Smith

On June 6, 1944, an armada of vessels made passage through the English Channel to make the most ambitious amphibious landings in history. Thousands of Allied soldiers were deployed on the shores of France using Higgins’ landing crafts. It changed the game.

The Allies’ success at Normandy led to the crumbling of German resistance. D-Day was the beginning of the end for Hitler, enabled in no small part by the LCVPs.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower later said it best himself:

“Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.”

Today, a seven-block stretch between Lee Circle and Convention Center Drive bears the industrialist’s name. Nearby, at the National WWII Museum, a replica of his famed landing craft sits.

The lone Higgins boat lives permanently docked in an airy hall, its ramp lowered open, a reminder of the brave soldiers who disembarked there, and of one man’s invaluable contribution to the war.

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

Jenny is a writer of culture both high and low. Her work has appeared in V Magazine, Lenny Letter, and TIME, to name a few. She first fell in love with New Orleans over buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves. She’s been a NOLA regular ever since.

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