Appendices - Hirohito's War
OIL, RAW MATERIALS, AND LOGISTICS: ‘JUST START SWINGING’
Attack Cargo Ships, LSTs, and the Higgins: As the Pacific War developed it became clear that the nature of the campaign would ideally require the United States to develop capabilities beyond conventional cargo ships. The amphibious landing, of which there were hundreds during the course of the Pacific War, required specialist equipment. At Guadalcanal where landing were fortunately unopposed, US marines had to clamber down rope netting flung over the side of their troop transports and fling themselves into bobbing boats that had to be lowered into the water - no easy task when carrying 80lbs of food and ammunition.
Thereafter the US Navy moved rapidly to produce equipment appropriate for the unique challenges of the Asia Pacific War. In 1943, as a first stage the Navy converted 16 regular AK cargo ships into ‘Attack Cargo Ships’ that would eventually become known as AKAs. There followed the purpose-built Andromeda Class that was fabricated by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Kearny, New Jersey and by the Moore Dry Dock Company in Oakland, California. At 6,771 tons it was a medium size ship capable of launching landing craft and combat ready equipment and supplies. After landing troops they would return with subsequent cargoes of back-up military equipment and supplies. The 459ft ship was also armed with a 5-inch gun as well as 4 double-mount 40mm anti aircraft guns and 16 single-mount 20mm anti-aircraft guns. Thirty of these vessels were built from 1943 to 1945.
A smaller 4,087-ton cargo attack ship, the Artemis Class, was also designed and the first ships launched in 1944 by the Walsh-Kaiser Co., Inc., of Providence Rhode Island. At the same time North Carolina Shipbuilding Company of Wilmington was starting to build a behemoth cargo-attack ship of the Toland Class, weighing some 13,910 tons. 32 of each of these two classes of cargo-attack ships would be completed.
In addition to the cargo attack vessels, at the initial request of the British government the US Bureau of Ships began work on the design of a vessel capable of loading and disgorging tanks and troops onto beaches. These ‘landing craft’ would need to be able to be large enough to cross the Atlantic and were originally labeled Atlantic Tank Landing Craft; eventually they became known as LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank), after the Liberty Ship, perhaps the most ubiquitous of vessel of World War II. Weighing 4,800 tons, the LST 2 had a shallow draft that enabled it to surge directly onto a beach; the LST’s bow would cleave in two and fold backwards. Then a double-hinged ramp would fall on to the beach revealing a cavernous bowel from which 18 30-ton tanks or 33 3-ton trucks could disgorge. In addition there were berths for 217 troops. Armament included one twin mounted 40mm unit and 6 20mm anti-aircraft guns. During the course of the Pacific War, LSTs became the logistical umbilical cord linking the vast armadas of US Navy assets afloat on the Pacific Ocean and the boots on the beaches of countless islands in the Pacific. Numbers of variants would be produced including landing craft repair ships that were essentially floating mechanical workshops; others became troop transport ships built with billets for 40 officers above decks with an additional 196 berths for troops below decks. These so called ‘mother ships’ would add bakeries, refrigeration and additional cooking facilities. Some 35 LSTs were also converted to short haul hospital ships. In a few cases LSTs were provided with landing capability for reconnaissance and observation aircraft. In total about 1,151 LSTs were built of which 113 were supplied to Britain under the terms of Lend Lease.
Designed to stay afloat even if the tank decks flooded on beaching, the LSTs did not live up to their naval sobriquet, Large Slow Target. They proved remarkably robust workhorses of the Pacific War after their first run out in the Solomon Islands campaign in June 1943. Only 26 LSTs were sunk in action with a further 13 lost to storms.
In spite of the ever-present LSTs at every amphibious landing in the Pacific from mid-1943 onwards, it is the Higgins Boat or LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicles, Personnel) that most accurately captures the essence of the famous Marine Corps actions of Nimitz’s Central Pacific thrust. Andrew Higgins, whose lumber business had failed in the 1930s slump, fell back on boat building to support himself. Thrown out of his prep school in Omaha, Nebraska for brawling, Higgins was a rough-hewn autodidact who became a compulsive boat inventor. Having supposedly ‘stayed afloat’ by building boats to run liquor during Prohibition, in 1941 Higgins spotted an opportunity after seeing photographs of Japanese Daihatsu Class landing boats used by the Japanese Army for the invasion of China in 1937. He excitedly called his chief engineer by telephone and verbally sketched out a design. It was ready for him to inspect when he returned to New Orleans a month later.
Having tested a prototype on Lake Pontchartrain in southern Louisiana, Higgins pressed ahead with further versions which moved the fixed twin .30 caliber machine guns to the back of the boat and provided a full width ramp. In its final production iteration the 36ft long Higgins boat could accommodate a platoon of 36 troops or two jeeps or one jeep and 18 troops. It was a design of genius. Shorter, lighter and faster than the Daihatsu Class, the Higgins performed with exception reliability throughout the war. With a steel platform and ramp but with sides and rear made of plywood, the Higgins Boat was a death trap if caught in heavy enemy fire but they were the workhorse that made the Allied amphibious landings of World War II possible.
Higgins Industries and other manufacturers built more than 20,000 units. General Eisenhower would later say that ‘Andrew Higgins... is the man who won the war for us... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed on an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.’22
Eisenhower’s claim that Higgins won the war was patently absurd as someone else would surely have come up with a design for the much-needed landing craft. However it was the entrepreneurial Higgins who out-performed the flat-footed efforts of the bureaucratic US Bureau of Ships. In one rumbustious meeting with the Navy, Higgins told Admiral ‘Mike’ Robinson, ‘there are no officers, whether present in this room or otherwise in the Navy who know a goddamn thing about small boat design, construction or operation - but, by God, I do.’23 Nevertheless Andrew Higgins’ contribution to the war effort, rewarded by a post-war investigation by the IRS (Inland Revenue Service), did not deserve to be forgotten after his death in 1952 at the age of sixty-six. Today however, a memorial statue of Higgins stands in Columbus, Nebraska, the place of his birth. In many respects Higgins symbolized the energy and flair of a generation of entrepreneurial shipbuilders who seized the opportunity for profit as well as national service to construct the ships that made America’s global mission to defeat totalitarianism possible.