(T-AO-190: dp. 39,400 (f.); 1. 668.5'; b. 93.5'; dr. 35' (f.); s. 20 k.; cpl. 116; cl. Henry J. Kaiser)
Andrew Jackson Higgins, born on 28 August 1886 in Columbus, Nebraska, left his native town in 1906 to enter the lumber business in Mobile, Ala. Four years later, Higgins became manager of a German-owned lumber-importing firm in New Orleans. In 1922, he formed his own company, the Higgins Lumber and Export Co., importing hardwood from the Philippines, Central America, and Africa and exporting cypress and southern pine. In pursuing these ends he acquired a fleet of sailing ships, said to have been the largest under American registry at that time. To service this fleet, he established his own shipyard which built and repaired his cargomen as well as the tugs and barges needed to support them.
In 1926, four years after founding the Higgins Lumber and Export Co., the industrialist and shipbuilder designed the Eureka boat, a shallow-draft craft for use by oil drillers and trappers in operations along the Gulf coast and in lower Mississippi River. With a propeller recessed into a semi-tunnel in the hull, the boat could be operated in shallow waters where flotsam and submerged obstacles would render more usual types of propellers almost useless. Higgins also designed a "spoonbill" bow for his craft, allowing it to be run up onto riverbanks and then to back off with ease. His boats proved to be record-beaters; and, within a decade, he had so perfected the design that they could attain high speed in shallow water and turn practically in their own length.
Stiff competition, declining world trade, and the employment of tramp steamers to carry lumber cargoes combined to put Higgins' Lumber and Export Co. out of business. Nevertheless, the indefatigable Higgins, who laughed at adversity and whose vocabulary did not include the word "impossible," kept his boatbuilding firm (established in 1930 as Higgins Industries) in business, constructing motorboats, tugs and barges, not only for private firms and individuals but also for the Coast Guard.
Fortuitously, the Marine Corps, always interested in finding better ways to get men across a beach in an amphibious landing and frustrated that the Bureau of Construction and Repair could not meet its requirements, began to express interest in Higgins' boat. When tested in 1938 by the Navy and Marine Corps, Higgins' Eureka boat surpassed the performance of the Navy-design boat and was tested by the services during fleet landing exercises in February 1939. Satisfactory in most respects, the boat's major drawback appeared to be that equipment had to be unloaded, and men disembarked, over the sides, thus exposing them to enemy fire in a combat situation.
The Japanese, however, had been using ramp-bowed landing boats in the Sino Japanese War since the summer of 1937, boats that had come under intense scrutiny by the Navy and Marine Corps observers at Shanghai in particular. When shown a picture of one of those craft, Higgins soon thereafter got in touch with his chief engineer, and, after describing the Japanese design over the telephone, told the engineer to have a mock-up built for his inspection upon his return to New Orleans.
Within one month, tests of the ramp-bow Eureka boat in Lake Ponchartrain showed conclusively that successful operation of such a boat was feasible. From these humble beginnings came what became known as the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel), or simply, the "Higgins Boat." A larger version, originally classified as a "tank lighter" came on its heels, the precursor of the LCM (landing craft, mechanized).
During World War II, Higgins' industrial plants turned out a variety of equipment for the Navy: landing craft, motor torpedo boats (PT), torpedo tubes, gun turrets, and smoke generators.
The inventor and holder of some 30 patents pertinent to amphibious landing craft and vehicles, Andrew J. Higgins died in New Orleans on 1 August 1952.
Andrew J. Higgins (T-AO-190) was laid down on 21 November 1985 at New Orleans, La., by the Avondale Shipyards, Inc.; launched on 17 January 1987; sponsored by Mrs. Andree Higgins Stefferud; and delivered to the Navy on 22 October 1987.
Placed in service with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) soon thereafter, the oiler was assigned to MSC's Pacific Ocean contingent.