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The Higgins Boat

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HigginsBoat/55.Complete.JPG

                                      By    Dean A Beeman
                                                Copyright 2014        All Rights Reserved

Available as a Download


                                    

                                      Preface


Working on the Honey Fitz I ran into a couple of interesting wooden boats. These were both built by the same man- Andrew Jackson Higgins.


Obviously, a patrol torpedo boat would be an interesting project. Most were built by the Electric Launch Company (Elco), some early designs trace to Sparkman and Stevens, and Higgins Industries built about half (199)  of them.


I spent some time on this candidate, mainly because it's a very popular concept and there are many online images available. Museums seem to prefer this boat, probably because it's exciting. Let's face it- the PT boat deserves all of the attention that the literature has given it.


But in terms of significance, history, and hands-on (or, more accurately, boots-on) experience, the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel) and its variants saved a lot of American lives and  played a far more important role in defining amphibious warfare.


In the Pacific, if there ever were such things as wedding rings between the Marine Corps and the Navy, this boat is one of them. The Hospital Corps is the other.


Much like the other models, this is not really a model at all. It is more a statement of beliefs that now include those of the sailors, soldiers and other everyday citizens who saw this country through a number of wars beginning with World War II.


Unlike the other books, this one won't contain a lot of that history. Simply because this boat has been named many thousands of times by authors, including me, who mention a "landing craft" as if it were a sidewalk that somebody built for people to walk on.


And like the whaleboat, and for the same reasons, these boats have disappeared. Vanished.


But for this boat I can rely on documentation instead of speculation. That's good. What's not so good is that once you depart from US Navy blueprints you'll find yourself adrift in a sea of misinformation.


 

That aside, I'm building a model of and for what it was- a very important part of an important lesson. That lesson included killing hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who should not have died. Paying attention to today's news will bring you up to speed on how much we've learned.


Unless noted otherwise, my reference text for Higgins Industries and Mr. Higgins are drawn from "Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II", Jerry E. Strahan, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, C.1994.


Most of the narrative and unit volume devoted to Higgins Industries in the text revolves around wooden boats- PT boats ( 199 boats, displacing 50 tons apiece) and LCVP's  (9,000 boats, 9 tons apiece)-all delivered to the Navy, over a 5 year period during World War II.  Most of the raw material tonnage can be accounted for by studying production volumes for steel boats and ships ( LCM(3)'s Navy), and coastal freighters and barges (Army). Details are available from other sources.


Along the way I also looked at a Linberg model ( in production since the 1970's) that, (at least on the outside of the box), promises to be an exciting model of LCVP KA-16-17, making it boat 17 on the USS Aquarius (AKA-16). So far so good.


Unfortunately, the model tries to combine battle scenes that couldn't happen with details that didn't happen. I own one of those kits, but I decided that the plastic model, like a number of  photo captions and historical texts, is not quite right.


The references for my schematics and all aspects of this build are from various blueprint rolls preserved in the Higgins Industries Collection,  Louisiana and Special Collections Department, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans (UNO). Many thanks to James Lien, Library Associate, for helping me track down the original drawings and fabrication notes. It might take awhile online, but once you've located Series VII you're into the chronology and actuality of the Higgins Boat. And many of the drawings contain mini-histories of their own.

           


The Higgins Boat


The Higgins Boat does not need apostrophes. It was and still is that well known.


Dwight Eisenhower once said this:


"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 over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different."

                                                                                                -Wikipedia


Let me add that he was referring to beaches on just about every continent. (And I believe that Ike was the perfect man for his roles in American history.)


There were many design iterations of this boat.


The first was really a series of prototypes that started with a work boat ( the Eureka type) that combined a planing forward hull with a flat center hull and a prop tunnel. Combine those design elements with light, indestructible wood (mahogany) and oversized fasteners, and you'll have a very fast boat that is perfect for navigating shallow, treacherous  bayous. Or, in the 21st century, a boat that can exploit the benefits of a jet drive.


The raw material for all of Higgins' wooden designs was a Philippine mahogany laminate that is referred to as "Eurekawood", (a 3-7 ply marine plywood). Other important woods were oak, spruce, loblolly yellow (or Southern) pine and dimension mahogany. Most of the structural supports and fasteners were galvanized iron or bronze, and most mating wooden surfaces were sealed with bedding compound (dolphinite). The best characteristics of these materials were combined in the LCVP, as we shall see.


A series of designs evolved over time from the original Eureka series. Some writers reference the 1942, 1943 and 1952 designs, but that is not totally correct. In addition to the US Navy, there were British, US Army (J-boats) and even a Department of the Interior design. These are all obvious in the differences between the various rolls (complete sets of a single design), resident in the UNO library.


The rolls contained in "Series VII : Plans and Drawings:Landing Craft Plans", ( the library's title heading), trace the evolution of the boat back to 1936 ( the "Wonderboat"). The first reference to a "36 foot Landing Boat" is dated 11/15/1940. This was presumably the boat that the Marine Corps wanted, but the Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair (BCR) didn't. It was part of a prototype competition that Higgins won, according to the Chief of Naval Operations, but lost according to the BCR. (It took a while, but the Navy eventually cleaned house at the BCR, only to discover during the Korean War that arm-chair captains always survive.)


Within that single reference heading there are over 1,500 individual drawings, most devoted to the LCVP and variants of the boat we're going to build.


And from that reference heading, here are the design iterations of the LCVP as designed and built by Higgins Industries:

HigginsBoat/BoatDesignhsByDate.jpg

Sets of individual manufacturing drawings ( Roll #69 and Roll #9) are available as a single library under the Downloads tab.

 

I have chosen the Tables of Offsets as the most definitive description of a particular design. There are many other drawing titles that do not map to that heading, including a 1952 drawing that is dated after Higgins' death (8/15/1952), and was not built.


According to the drawing notes, the first 20 boats and the next 580 ( with modifications), were designed to the blueprints contained in Roll #69. The drawings that made up most of the wartime production are probably contained in Roll #'s 69, 54, 22 and 9. (The drawing dates have little or nothing to do with the design or production dates- they're a handy reference, but they're the dates of the last revision, not the first.)


So the LCVP, like the PT boat, evolved to match battle realities. The hull sides became flatter (thus easier to build and plate with armor), the coxswain position (helm) moved from the center of the rear deck forward to a lower position next to the engine compartment, and light machine gun turrets were added to the rear (aft) deck. (I have some thoughts on the model and caliber of those machine guns that we'll eventually deal with.) Since the Pacific theater involved many landings (and evacuations of wounded men) on shallow beaches, the skeg (rubbing, or false part of the keel that protected the prop and rudder) was made longer and more substantial, and the entire lifting design was simplified.


There are a number of diagrams for these boats available online, but very few of them carry a design date or footnote and some of them mix and match various design iterations on the same page. The last LCVP manufactured by Higgins was boat #20,094 that came off the assembly line in 1945, right after V-J Day. Strictly speaking, any boat built or modified after the final blueprint date is an LCVP but is not a Higgins Boat.


On another reference note, you can look up the real Aquarius  on the Navy's DANFS (Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships). The Aquarius and the other attack cargo ships (troop carriers) are interesting all by themselves since they were forward combat ships and all won battle stars. You should look her up, along with her sisters.  She is also unique in that she was manned by the US Coast Guard.


As a matter of fact, stop where you are.  Go to Wikipedia and look up the biography of Douglas Albert Munro, Signalman First Class, USCG.  Battle stars are just one part of the story in the Pacific.


This may be the place to point out that the crewmembers on these boats all volunteered for duty and had to undergo extensive classroom and hands-on training on every aspect of the boat. This is not a minor point- before one of these boats was launched the crew knew the best ways to accept soldiers, jeeps and the wounded, how to land the boat on a hostile beach, and how to repair their boat under combat conditions.


After the Japanese Navy was defeated at sea, the Japanese Army knew that one clear way to avoid defeat on their occupied islands was to destroy these plywood boats. And most of these boats were not armed or armored, placing the coxswain and crew in harm's way on each of many runs to the beach.


Finally, this was an enlisted man's boat. By that I mean that it was not under the command of a commissioned officer. This may explain why President Eisenhower and Admiral Morison are at such odds when it comes to the boat's strategic importance.


A kinder explanation may be that the Navy's Bureau of Ships had developed a number of landing craft that were consistently in opposition to the Marine Corps, the Army and the concepts of logic and seaworthiness.


Mr. Strahan devotes many words to this last conundrum. In case you think that point is trivial, consider the fact that 14 American soldiers were drowned off St. Marks, Florida debarking from a boat that Higgins refused to build.


With all of that out of the way I'm going to start this build where each boat started- the factory floor in New Orleans.

 

Construction Overview


The next  photograph is very important to this build because it shows (in a slight blur)  Higgins boats in the early stages of hull construction.


This photo was taken inside the second floor of the City Park Avenue plant, at 5 million square feet the largest boat-building facility in the world. It isn't obvious, but these boats are being built on what has been described as a movable assembly line. (Based on this photo I believe "movable" to be a careful choice of words) At the end of the process a completed boat was lowered by elevator onto a flatbed railroad car and sent to Bayou St. John for testing and acceptance. ( Dry production is common today, but at the time most boat builders conducted product testing in whatever body of water was outside the back door.)


As a final note on this factory, most of the narrative and unit volume devoted to Higgins Industries revolves around wooden boats- PT boats ( 199 boats, displacing 50 tons apiece) and LCVP's  (9,000 boats, 9 tons apiece)-all Navy, over a 5 year period, most built here. Most of the raw material tonnage ( including 100 FS/FP coastal freighters (Army, 575 tons), another 300 barges(Army) and all 50- foot LCM(3)'s ) would have been steel, and built in other plants.


The story of how and why the Army Corps of Engineers assembled operational LCM(3)'s 10,000 miles away from where these boats were fabricated is a pretty amazing diversion that you should take while your glue dries.


In the meantime let's get on with the LCVP.

HigginsBoat/HigginsFactory.jpg

 

(If this version is too small, do a search and pick the largest version of this photo you can find. There are dozens available at various pixel counts.)

A partially-built hull is at lower left- dead center. That boat shows the holding frames, a transom assembly ready to be fitted, and the notches that will accept the keel and apron (keelson).. To the left of that boat is a boat with the transom frame and keel assembly fitted.

We're going to spend a lot of time to get the model to the same stage of production, or what amounts to intermediate assembly.


I've had to remind myself that Higgins had over 12 years of experience with marine-grade lumber and boat construction to get to this point. And behind this scene are other complete manufacturing facilities that produced marine plywood and finished dimension lumber from raw logs. These finished materials were then cut, drilled, and formed into parts. So the photo captures what I believe is a minor part of Higgins' intellectual and practical investment. And hides a lot of hard work.


                                    Tools and Materials


For tools, any other book in this series will bring you up to speed on tools.


For materials:


            1 large sheet (12x 18) sheet of 1/64th (aircraft) plywood

            2 sheets ( 3x24) 1/32  basswood

            1 sheet (3x24) 1/16 basswood

          1 sheet 3x24) 1/16 mahogany
            1 sheet (3x24) 1/32 mahogany
            Small pieces and parts as we go


                                    Keel and Frames (Ribs)


I'm going to try to adapt my set of original schematics as best I can to web images. If you've struggled through this process with any of the other models you have a head start on enlarging, fitting and printing these images. If you started with something simple like the whaleboat, you're probably in good shape. If not you're not.


As usual, what I ‘m calling the first step is 90% of the hard work. And, as usual,  it has to be done carefully or the model will be a shambles.

Let's begin with a paper mockup. This gave me a chance to totally screw up the subtleties of Higgins' design without wasting a lot of expensive wood. The photos of my mockups are actually versions 3 and 4 because the earliest mockups were very close to the schematics, but not exact.

HigginsBoat/1StringersandPlan.jpg

 

The scale that I'm using is 1:32- 1 foot of model is equal to 32 feet of actual. Scale up the image to whatever scale you choose.

 

This is probably the best time to point out that this is a 15-degree boat. You can save a lot of time by creating a 15-degree template ( wood or card stock), for the simple reason that every angle that is not plumb or straight is 15 degrees offset from one or the other.


The heart of the boat and the model are the inner and outer stringers. The inner is outlined in blue and the outer in red- one set port and starboard. The thwartwise spacings are pretty clear on the plan ( left-hand image). On the as-built drawings you will note that the bottom frames (futtocks) were through-bolted to the stringers using ¼" and 5/16" galvanized carriage bolts (over 200 of these), along with through-bolted gussets and the bolted-in keel assembly.


The stringers were 1 5/8" fir and spruce, and the frames (ribs) were mostly 5/4 solid mahogany (1 1/8" actual). A collection of these bolted sets could easily lift your family car.


To create the stringers ( and later the deck frames), I created a basswood-plywood sandwich using a whole sheet of basswood and a corresponding piece of plywood glued together using spray-on contact cement. This creates a very smooth finished piece that will take the abuse of multiple dado cuts as we create a solid stringer-rib assembly.


The next step is the keel/keelson assembly ( noted in the original schematics as the keel/apron assembly). This piece is critical because it provides a quick test for all of the hull shapes that emerge from a mockup or actual hull assembly.

HigginsBoat/2KeelMold.JPG

 

The keel ( 1/8 x 1/16) and the keelson (1/4 x 1/16) were seriously steamed and then pegged to one of my workboards on top of a paper cutout from the first drawing. Asian toothpicks are used as the fulcrums. After the first steaming and bending, these were steamed again, glued together with wood glue and placed back into the bending frame with the keel centered on the keelson.


Also on the workboard is a paper mockup of alternating rib sets- let's get to those right now.

HigginsBoat/3AManyHulls.jpg

 

From the original schematics I created a master set of fore- and aft rib sets (above).


HigginsBoat/3BribSections.jpg

 

These sets precisely follow the cross-sections from the originals (above).


I know it would be helpful if the printing were more legible, but that's the limitation of web page resolution. With a little creativity, guesswork and cursing you should be able to create a working mockup without having to purchase a download.

To create my mockups I printed the multiple-rib schematic on card stock, centered each rib, cut out each rib and then folded and re-cut each paper rib on that center line to create a symmetrical mockup. I pasted a copy of the elevation to a piece of foam-core, cut it on the outline and then the rib centers, and slid each paper rib into place. The keel assembly was a very handy guide to the overall sweep of the collective rib sets.

HigginsBoat/3HullMaster.jpg

 

All of this was based on the original table of offsets, so the above drawing may be helpful as you put yours together. When they're all cut out, your set should look something like this:


HigginsBoat/4HullFrameTemplates.JPG

So let's move on to the stringers.

HigginsBoat/5.Stringerlayout.JPG

 

In the next photo I've pasted (glue-stick), an inner stringer to the sandwich I mentioned earlier. You'll need 2 sets ( port and starboard) sets).


And you'll also need a set of deck blanks. This set is constructed the same way using mirror sets from the plan and leftover blank material. This is another important set because it is the basis for the chines, and will serve to hold the side frames to the bottom frames as we build a complete set of ribs.

HigginsBoat/6.ChineandDeckLayout.JPG

HigginsBoat/7.RibTools.JPG

 

I'm going to jump ahead a bit to point out that the side frames of the ribs were constructed using 1 1/8" spruce and oak. These were created from 5 ½" x 63" blanks that were then tapered to achieve a 4" -5 ½ " profile. I'm going to create that profile the same way, so to simplify matters I created a couple of cutting templates above) so I could taper 1/8" strips of basswood to that same set of dimensions- roughly 28 sets. (The 4" edge on my scale works out to 3/32nd- you can probably not worry about the taper, but if you do, that's how I did it.)

HigginsBoat/8.HullHoldingFrame.JPG

 

Finally, let's get back to the factory floor. At this point I've redone to mockup holding frame using two pieces of foam-core. (This frame doesn't work any better than the original single frame, so stick with the original.)


I've created mirror images of the original plan and pasted both halves ( showing all of the rib sets) to a working sheet of foam core. I also created three sets of holding assemblies that I've glued on top of  that. These can be made any way you see fit, but the distance from the top edge of the finished deck to the lowest point of the keel should match up to the original schematic. The stringers should fit into grooves cut into these fixtures to exactly match those dimensions.


Using a thin hacksaw blade I have cut grooves into the basswood side of the chine/deck assembly to correspond to each frame (rib). These grooves go completely through the basswood, so as the frames are placed they will line up with the plywood that eventually becomes the deck. The grooves were cut before I cut the entire assembly into two identical halves. Both halves have been glue-stick pasted on top of the overall plan. These halves will be lifted off the underlying plan when the ribs are all in place, so use any glue sparingly.

HigginsBoat/9.StringerInFrame.JPG


 

Cut the corresponding grooves into the stringers. I clamped both the inner and outer stringer sets together and cut these 28 grooves to the depth of the lower frames using a small hacksaw blade.. The dimensions are pretty clear on the schematic, and should be cut fairly precisely to avoid a lot of truing-up.

HigginsBoat/10.Stringers.JPG

 

I also cut away the outside of the holding fixture arms because I spent a lot of time removing and replacing the stringers so that these steps made some logical sense- you probably can leave the arms more-or-less solid.

HigginsBoat/11.BottomRibs.JPG

 

Using the paper ribs, trace and cut the bottom frames. These dimensions should track closely with the dimensions shown on the schematic.


While I was cutting the notches in the stringers I also cut the deck frames on the same centers using the same hacksaw blade. The depth of these slots is about 2/3 of the way through the basswood- any deeper and the deck will disintegrate when the aircraft plywood gets removed. Trust me on this.



Cut the side frames to the stock height (5'3" actual, about 1 ¾" to scale). On the actual these were joined to the bottom frames by ¼" fir plywood gussets that were through-bolted with 1/4" galvanized carriage bolts.


I cut the tapered edge to the standard 15-degree angle and used dots of CA gel to fit the side frames to the bottom frames and the slots in the deck. When these were done I trimmed off the excess using a large nail clipper.

HigginsBoat/15.HullOffFrame.JPG

 

If you've been building right along, the hull should begin to look a lot like the shell in the factory photo.


                                                Bow Structure


Each of the models in this series has had a unique bow stem- each to solve a different problem. When it comes to the Higgins boat the problem was addressed by sheer strength of mass. The head log, or main support was just that- a heart section of loblolly pine trunk that was molded from a 12x12 blank down to an 11 ¼" x 10 ¾" x 7'7' structure. ( In perspective, a mainline railroad tie is a mere 7" x 9" hunk of whatever wood is available.)


At our scale that works out to be a 5/16th blank. Choose basswood or balsa if you want, but I'm cutting mine from a 5-gallon paint paddle (pine) that was due for retirement anyway.


First, here is a reduced copy of the bow from the original schematics:


HigginsBoat/16.BowSection.jpg

In terms of the details, these sections will be helpful:

HigginsBoat/17.BowHalfPlan.jpg

 

And putting these together, here is the master that I'm using to build the bow:

HigginsBoat/18.HeadLogs.jpg


After scaling the views on the left I pasted them to our old friend a  paint paddle, cut them square, whittled and sanded the angles,  mortised a slot for the keelson, and used CA gel to attach the bow log to the stringers and keel.

HigginsBoat/19.HeadLogInPlace.JPG

 

Note that at this point I've peeled off the plywood portion of the main deck, and sticking with the dimensions on the schematics I completed the bow assembly using ¼ x 1/8 basswood strips.


                                                            Transom


The transom assembly is almost as simple and rugged. This is a cropped section of the transom schematic:

HigginsBoat/20.Transom.jpg

 

Since we don't have the fixtures that Higgins used to create this assembly, I created a holding frame that is dimensionally correct, but isn't exactly the same as the stern frames in the drawings.


On a scrap of card stock I laid out the angles, and roughed-in the ribs using 1/8th basswood. The ribs were attached to the paper using a school glue stick, and then each half of that assembly was glued to the holding assembly.

HigginsBoat/21.TransomRibs.JPG

 

I then pealed off the paper and trimmed the ribs to fit the shape of the prop tunnel and to capture the camber of the rear deck.

HigginsBoat/22.TransomAssembly.JPG

 

That camber in the aft deck is important. To capture it I cut a cross-grain profile of the deck from a sheet of 1/16th basswood, steamed it, and, as usual, clamped it to a workboard with a 1/8 dowel scrap as the fulcrum:

HigginsBoat/23.AftDeck.JPG


It took a couple of steaming/drying sessions to get the deck to behave, but when it was stable I cut and fitted the transom assembly to the stringers and keel.


At this point I had already peeled off the aircraft plywood decking using a knife tip and a lot of caution. This allowed me to now fit one inch of the rear deck flush to the main deck. I also cut out one section of the main deck to capture the essence of the bulkhead between ribs 21 and 22.


To straighten and reinforce the now-weakened deck I overlaid 1/16th mahogany planks. This is not a dramatic departure from the original, since the original deck was mahogany plywood.


The chine is pretty simple if you've been building right along. I used the toenail clipper to cut rabbets into the gusset area on each frame (rib), and the knife to cut these same areas into the bow logs and transom frame. Dots of CA gel on the ribs and a few cut out/replaced ribs result in this:

HigginsBoat/25Chine.JPG

Righting the completed skeleton and truing it to the schematic, this is where we are:

HigginsBoat/26.Upright.JPG

 

And I believe that right here is the soul of both Mr. Higgins and the LCVP (or at least as close as I could come to capturing them).


And since I'm a firm believer in God's gift of irony I'm now going to add the steel bow ramp because that critical element of the LCVP came directly from a Japanese Army design.

 

                                                 Bow Ramp


A little research into the Daihatsu-class landing craft might be helpful if you ever plan to discuss your model. Or the ironies of war, if you get that far.


The beginning of this bow ramp build is the coaming that defines the forward (cargo) area of the boat. This was essentially disposable trim, constructed of 5/8" fir plywood.  What appear to be a series of bolts or rivets on its sides were actually oversized lashing hooks for its shipboard canvas cover.


That canvas cover may not seem important unless you've ever owned a boat (in other words a sailboat) that can't be easily drained. The whaleboat was self-draining, as we've seen, but monsoon-quantities of rainwater would have created a fatal condition on this boat, since it was capable of holding over 12 tons of water.


I've developed a few ideas on how I want to finish the boat, so I've constructed the coaming strips out of 1/16th mahogany. I'm using .7x8mm brass planking nails (.028x5/32), as a practical hook alternative, 21 to a side, spaced on 9mm centers.


On the original there were 32 galvanized lashing hooks per side (P&S)- 20 on the coaming, and 6 each on the rear deck and machine gun turrets, according to the drawings, but 58 total according to the Materials List.


If anyone ever points out that 21 isn't a good number I have proof that if you survive a storm at sea, any number is a good number.

We've pretty well exhausted the ways to drill multiple holes on equal centers, so I'm leaving the lashing hooks up to you.


Another important element of the coaming is the series of galvanized iron support brackets that are shown on Drawing 3040-2E. That drawing is one of a half-dozen that are missing from Roll #9, but are included on Roll #69.


If you can find a way to scale down 9-gauge galvanized steel to 33 gauge (.01"), have at it. In my case I purchased a piece of galvanized roofing flashing ($ .48).


This minor detail, like most others, is going to tax your patience and creativity. The brackets can be made of wood (1/64th plywood or 1/32nd basswood), in which case they will fall apart before you've completed the bracket arm ( the 45-degree hypotenuse that gives the bracket its strength). Unless you have a way to weld or braze a tiny galvanized arm to a galvanized bracket, there isn't enough real estate to hold the assembly together with any conventional adhesive. ( Including CA, Water-Weld, 2-part epoxy or bondo. Been there.)


I've had to call up some non-model tools to create these brackets:

HigginsBoat/29A.CoamingBrackets.JPG

 

Even with a straight metal shear (upper right), the sheet stock will create useless shaved pigtails unless it is pretty severely scored with a utility knife. (Kiss one blade goodbye.)


The 1/8 x 5/8th strips have been bent in half, hammered to a sharp right angle, and corner-trimmed. The 1/32 x 1/16 basswood strip was spray-painted (twice) a bright silver, then cut to fit using the template that you can barely see at the upper-right of the card stock scrap.


Dip both ends of the arm into CA gel, place it, and the bond will hold. (The cat batted these around and none of them broke, so this process is a go.)


To hold the shell upright I've added a temporary basswood skeg and some holding scraps. After placing the brackets this is where we are:

HigginsBoat/29B.CoamingBrackets.JPG

 

Mr. Strahan goes to great lengths to explain that Mr. Higgins' sources of steel, particularly stainless and tool (M-grade) steels at the height of WWII, were more or less legal. Creativity is its own reward.


Here is the bow ramp materials list for each of over 9,000 LCVP's:

HigginsBoat/28.BowRampMaterials.jpg

I have fitted the original drawing to my scale:

HigginsBoat/27.BowRamp.jpg

 

¼-inch steel stock (.25) works out to be about .008 at my scale, or about 35-gauge stainless steel.  Since I'm not interested in purchasing $20 worth of .01 steel and spending twice that on cutting tools, the rest of the bow ramp construction is how I chose to go. Your decision is obviously yours.


I located what appeared to be a small piece of 300-series stainless in the form of a taping knife at a local hardware store:


HigginsBoat/29.TapingKnife.JPG

After some creative destruction I overlaid a bow ramp template on the steel face: 

HigginsBoat/30.BowTemplate.JPG


 

And with a little help from the straight metal shears created a stainless bow ramp plate:

HigginsBoat/31.BowRampPlate.JPG

 

(I wasn't sure that the taping knife material was stainless until I'd cut it and smoothed the edges with a metal file.)


As you can see from the materials list and the schematic, the bow ramp is a substantial and complicated piece of work. Between the plate, supports, braces, gussets, hinges and treads there are over 75 piece-parts that went into what appears to be a simple assembly. Most of these were cut and formed from ¼" stock, and then welded and/or brazed to form an assembly that was fitted (and bent) to the bow log with carriage bolts and angle irons.


While these boats may not have survived, the bow ramps will (or should) outlive me and you.

 

And I'm heading down a side road. Following me will involve a knowing diversion from the Roll #9 schematic.


If you study the photographic record of the LCVP starting in Normandy and ending with a January 1945 photograph of the USS President Hayes, you'll begin to question the very large and complicated bow ramp window shown on Roll #9.

 

So I'm going with the oval bow ramp window that was the standard for the earlier designs.

Without a doubt the most important feature of the bow ramp is its hinge. I'm reminded of a poem that I once ascribed to Ben Franklin that starts out "For want of a nail...".


If the bow ramp hinge fails, men die.


If you spend a few minutes with the schematics you'll note the various welded gussets that support the welds that hold the hinge sleeves to the main and bow plates. The entire assembly is very similar to a piano hinge (a very substantial piano hinge), and the photographic record, (70 years later) supports the theory that these hinges never failed.


To acknowledge the hinge, I'm departing from the original dimensions and creating the hinge sleeves from (5) 12mm sections of 1/16th OD brass tubing, with a full- length 1/64th steel pin. I'll admit that getting this assembly together without micro-welding equipment took some amount of failure auditing, so my solution is not the best or the most dimensionally-correct, but it is indestructible.


Since the taping knife was obviously not built as a source of raw material, I roughed-off what appeared to be a microscopic coating of some sort, leaving a surface that I recognize as weld-ready stainless steel.


The hinge plate (the section that bolts to the bow log), has been cut from stainless scrap, and center-drilled to accept a 00-90 (1mm) carriage bolt.


The stiffeners are stock 1/8th plastic angle stock, and I've glued a short section to the lower bow plate to create a contact surface. I used a length of 1/32nd basswood on the hinge plate to create a surface on that piece as well. A needle file was used to create a tiny concave groove on each.

I roughed-in the site window using a stock drill bit, and with some micro-filing, cleaned up a credible (and useful) window.


This is the outboard view of the basic assembly.

HigginsBoat/33.BowPlate1.JPG

 

I'm tempted to refer to the lifting/launching assembly as running rigging. As a matter of fact, one complicated traveler. The fact that this rigging was entirely made of steel makes fabrication a bitch but doesn't change the physics.


If you can find working 5mm shrouded steel sheaves then skip this step.


I'm using brass sheaves.

To accept the traveler cable I’ve added a couple of pad-eyes to the ramp plate.

 

The sheave plates are also pretty simple if you’ve been able to shear and drill the bow plate. By carefully noting the schematics, and using some 00-90 carriage bolts, your roughed-in ramp assembly should start to look like this:

HigginsBoat/34.BowRoughin.JPG

To get the treads right I’ve created a template that is taped top and bottom:

HigginsBoat/34a.RampTemplate.JPG

If you’ve endured the process of tiny glue dots, then the fact that I used dots of CA gel to secure each end of the treads is no big deal. After a coat of silver nail polish on 1/32nd basswood strips and following the template, a set of preliminary treads turns out looking like this:

HigginsBoat/34b.RampTreads.JPG

I’m going to trim the middle of these with a single cut of a break-off craft knife blade. For now we can set the ramp aside.

 

We've been building from the schematics contained in Roll#9. Unfortunately, there are a few schematics that are referenced in that roll that are missing. So I'm using the cable layout contained in Roll#69 (9-17-42) as a guide to the cable races and sheave locations. The only difference that I've been able to measure is the location of the manual winch.


I have no doubt that the details of the winch, (its barrel, gearing and locking) changed, as did its location (from the deck to the cockpit). Since I've already made one glaring error with the ramp window, I'm going to make another one and use the earlier cable layout. Here it is:

HigginsBoat/35.RampCable.jpg

I have a theory on where the missing schematics are located. But I’ve visited New Orleans many times and I’ll leave that research exploration to you. In the meantime I’m going to rig the boat.

A shrouded sheave is, more or less, a block with metal cheeks. Like its wooden counterpart, the cheek or shroud prevents line (or in this case cable) jumping. Since I’m using brass sheaves I’m going with brass shrouds, knowing that the originals were a combination of (hardened) tool and stainless steel. And while wooden blocks are very forgiving, the tolerance (error) in steel rigging is close to zero.

 

Here is a collection of brass cheeks that were pre-drilled and sheared from thin brass strip, then bent using a center-marked stainless scrap:

HigginsBoat/36.BrassShrouds.JPG

Since my shears were not built for precise work, each cheek will be edge-filed, and the holes cleaned up with a rattail file. This is admittedly a pretty crude machine shop.

 

I’m using kite string as a centering tool for the ramp cable. This cable was a traveler- tension on any one point on the cable loop equalized the tension at both ends (the ramp). As we’ve seen, this principle was also used by the Egyptians to center and manage their mast and sail, so it isn’t that modern.

The only sheave in this assembly that’s a little tricky is on the port side. This sheave carries the cable angle from the ramp sheaves straight into a cable race that runs through the stringers. The cable emerges on the starboard side, right-angles into a double sheave, loops and then runs to the starboard side of the ramp. This is all laid out on the schematic, but is a little tricky at this scale, thus the kite string. 

Here is my version of the port sheave:

HigginsBoat/37.PortSheave.JPG

You should have a space between hull frames #5 and #7 where bottom frame #6 is missing- port and starboard. That space will be filled by the supports for the cable sheaves.

 

Once the sheaves are in place it’s time for the winch. The placement and design of the winch changed over time, but the components didn’t- it’s a simple barrel winch with a crank and a locking pawl.

I located a reasonable plastic gear in my junk drawer (probably from an old clock) and gave it a coat of silver nail polish. Since the handle is another item that you won’t find online, I’ve flattened a length of 1/16th brass rod. The frame will be bent from a strip of thin brass. This is one of those assemblies that I constructed my way with what I had on hand- it is not a given for your version of a winch. 

Here are the piece-parts:

HigginsBoat/38.WinchParts.JPG

After some filing, drilling and bending, this is my version:

HigginsBoat/39.Winch.JPG

I’ve tested the whole cable assembly without gluing any of the supporting wooden beams, using kite string instead of cable. It all works and lifts and lowers the ramp, so that part of the boat is nominally complete. But since we have to add minor details like an engine, prop train, fuel tanks and machine gun turrets I’m going to leave the final assembly and cabling of the heavy bow ramp until very late in the process.

                                   Drive and Control
 

The drawings reference a Gray Marine diesel,  (64 HN-9). If you’ve followed the Winton/GM/Detroit/Gray history of the engines on the Honey Fitz, you already know that this is a 6-71. Basically indestructible, efficient, noisy and messy. But if you’re planning to stake your life on the dependability of a marine engine, this is my choice.

 

When it comes to simplicity, the basic concepts of forward and reverse are a good place to start.

 

While 21st century marine drivetrains rely on variations of a helical gear, the 6-71 achieved the same effect by simply changing the piston firing order. If your boat is going forward and you stop (neutral) your engine, one of your six pistons is slightly less than halfway up into a compression stroke. If you fire that piston down, your engine is still going forward but now in the opposite direction. You may think that you’re now in reverse, but the engine could care less. ( There’s more to it technically, but not much.)

 

And whether that engine sat idle for 30 seconds or 30 years, if you can crank it, it will fire.

 

(I consider myself to be a casual tree-hugger, so I’m not advocating the return of the 6-71. But, like a sawed-off shotgun, you can’t argue about its effectiveness.)

 

The engine was mounted at a 15-degree angle to the inner stringers. If you want to build a credible 6-71, follow the narrative in the Honey Fitz.

This may be the place to point out that I’m going to build and install what I believe to be the essential elements of the LCVP, but I’m not going to hide them under layers of plywood and paint them haze grey. But then again I’m building my ship model, not yours.

The critical drive and control elements of the LCVP are taken from this excerpt from drawing # 3040, dated 4-17-45:

HigginsBoat/32.ControlComponents.jpg

In terms of difficulty the worst place to start is the machine gun turrets. These were formed and welded in the same metalworking facility that produced all of the other steel boat parts. At the scale that I’ve chosen these can’t be credibly built from components, but if you’re sticking with this scale, a couple of ½” electrical box bushings turn out to be more or less perfect. After a little sanding with a wand, and a first coat of rattle-can silver paint, these are my twin machine gun turrets:

HigginsBoat/40.Turrets.JPG

These will be trimmed (cut down) to match the vertical dimensions shown on the schematic.

 

The O-ring (lower right) is the right size for the boat’s wheel. How to fit spokes and a hub remains to be seen.

  

The prop strut and gudgeon present another major problem: schematics ( #3040-10, 10A,10B) and the associated materials lists are among the missing. In early designs, the gudgeon and strut appear to be one solid casting. The skeg fitted into what appears to be a cast sleeve. This assembly would work fine on smooth sandy beaches, but would become vulnerable to rocks, coral or manmade bottom hazards.

The later schematics show these as separate assemblies that slip over and are bolted to the skeg. These would be slightly flexible and much easier to repair. 

So far in the series I’ve tried to substitute patience for power tools, but since I’m constructing the gudgeon from galvanized steel, a small rotary tool (or rotary tool heads chucked into a an electric drill), makes the job much easier and more accurate.

The blank for the gudgeon was sheared from the roof flashing and lightly peined to fit the skeg:

HigginsBoat/41.SkegBlank.JPG

After some cutting and shaping with a rotary tool, and folding, the blank looks like this:

HigginsBoat/42.GudgeonBlank.JPG

I’ll complete this assembly when I fit the rudder.

 

The boat had a main rudder and what I believe is a diverter rudder, cabled together.

 

In their earliest forms, Higgins’ Eureka boats suffered from cavitation caused by a deep prop tunnel. In this boat, most of the boat’s weight could easily be concentrated on its prop strut. As a matter of fact, the fixed face area of the strut is nearly the same as the movable face of the main rudder, sacrificing maneuverability.  I’ll let a marine engineer explain which of these problems (or a third that I haven’t thought of), was solved by the small diverter rudder.

 

I once spent the better part of a winter building a replacement rudder for a Hunter 22. As it turned out I was actually building two airplane wings which, when put together, equaled one rudder. None of the boats in the series needed a credible rudder, but this one does, so let’s build one.

 

I’m obviously starting with the above schematic, but I’m building out from the center of the rudder shaft.

I started by sketching that portion of the rudder profile onto a scrap of galvanized steel and roughly cut a first approximation. After some filing I used CA gel to tack the rudder blank to a leftover scrap of 1/16th brass tubing. If you don’t have a pretty steady hand, find a volunteer to hold the blank centered on the tubing. The strength of the joint doesn’t matter, so long as it holds.

 

My holding fixture at this point is a discarded powdered drink container:

HigginsBoat/43.RudderBlank.JPG

I placed the toothpick in the photo to convey a sense of what has to be held, and to back into the fact that I’m probably not going to build an even tinier diverter rudder.

 

To capture the casting and weld the blank to the tubing I’m using a 2-part steel epoxy that I’ve used on various metal repairs. I’m familiar with its mixing and setting properties, but any cheap, somewhat-stiff epoxy should work just as well. After troweling a first coat, letting it drip-dry in the fixture, and some scuffing with a wand, the blank looks like this:

HigginsBoat/44.RudderBlank.JPG

On the next coat I’ll tip the rudder blade up and create what should be a more substantial pool around the shaft/tube. That probably isn’t necessary- I tried to break this assembly and it is very strong.

 

I placed the turret assembly in the background. The turrets are now encased in a mahogany/plywood sandwich that will become part of the aft deck.

On to the prop strut and prop.

The prop strut, also a cast piece, is pretty typical, with a sleeved lower frame to accept the skeg, a bearing tunnel to accept the prop shaft, and a top plate that was bolted through the keel and apron. At this scale I’m not going to try to create the sleeve or the top plate, but the blank for the strut is made from 1/8th basswood. The bearing tunnel was created by cutting a 1/8th dowel in half and tapering it at both ends on the strut. The dimensions are pretty clear on the schematic- the fit to the skeg should be very tight, so some sanding and fitting are required.

 

I’ve bored a 1/16th hole at the angle shown on the schematic into the engine compartment and used a 1/6th rod as a centering tool for the strut bearing. After giving the strut a coat of silver nail polish it was glued in place.

 

I’m waiting on the right prop, so that photo will have to wait.

 

Going back topside, the fuel tanks on the boat are another interesting part of its construction. These were each fabricated from 18-guage (3/64th) galvanized iron plates- ignoring the attaching frames and bolts, each tank was built up using 36 separate pieces. The formed pieces were riveted together on 1 ½ inch centers, and then soldered (sealed) with 50/50 (tin-lead) solder.

 

While the tanks on the Honey Fitz were probably not that remarkable, the 150-gallon tanks on this boat consisted of an internal honeycomb of vertical and horizontal baffles, explaining the piece-count. And 18-guage iron or steel is a substantial tank wall with or without all those rivets.

 

In other words these are tanks that you probably wouldn’t expect to find on a 32-foot boat.

So, like a lot of other interesting aspects, I’m going to build a typical tank. Call it a talking point on my model, so the tank(s) are obviously optional on yours. 

Since the roof flashing piece is a goner anyway, I’ve laid out a tank pattern on what’s left:

HigginsBoat/45.FuelTankBlank.JPG

After shearing the tank, and after some scoring with a utility knife, the seams shown on the piece will fold up into 5 of the six sides, leaving the top open.

 

The plates on the actual tank were offset ¼” from the edge sides to allow for more-than healthy solder beads. I’m going to ignore that shelf, along with what I calculate to be over 400 rivets. But I am going to use the same epoxy to solder the interior baffles.

 

Before any final finishing, this is my version of a fuel tank:

HigginsBoat/46.FuelTank.JPG

That pretty much completes the fabrication of piece-parts. I’m now going to plank the hull. (or at least those parts of the hull that I’m going to plank.)

 

If you go back to the factory floor and look lower left, a worker is apparently smoothing the plywood sections that have been screwed into the canvas/dolphinite bedding that is obvious in the boat directly above it. These panels have been laid flat to the keel and flush to the chine, (even though some sanding still is needed at the chine toward the port bow, and at the panel joints.)

This is the inner bottom planking (1/4” fir plywood). As you move across the bottom of the photo, this plywood sheathing will be covered in canvas, then the garboard planks (3/4” mahogany) will be laid, and moving up in the photo, the remaining bottom planks are being laid. 

I’m going to lay my panels the same way, but trim them all flush to chine after they’ve been laid.

 

And even though I’ve given the bottom a spay coat of clear gloss the plywood edges on the bottom frames  are still going to absorb some CA, so I’m saturating the glued surfaces with brush-on CA before I lay in each panel.

At this point the chine looks pretty ratty, but the panels are so far looking a lot like their factory counterparts:

HigginsBoat/47.BottomPlanking.JPG

Getting back to the prop strut and rudder, here is the port side of the bottom, fully sheathed, with the strut, rudder and prop in place.

HigginsBoat/48.PropStrut.JPG

The analogy for the canvas will be leftover model sailcloth. As we’ve seen, this material has a very tight weave that absorbs craft glue. I’m going to lay on a strip that’s about 1/2” wide, starting about 1/8from the apron (keelson). The strips that I’m using were dragged through a puddle of white glue and smoothed on.

 

Since I’m using 1/32x1/8 mahogany strips for the bottom planking the garboard (first mahogany plank, or rubbing bottom) does not have to be trimmed to compensate for the compound curves. I’m also leaving some of the canvas exposed. I may add more strips when it comes to mounting the model.

 

In any case the rubbing bottom should fit into and fill up the rabbet where the keel meets the apron to create a smooth fore-aft/port-starboard surface This is obvious in the photo. It also appears in the photo that a final layer of canvas has been applied over the finished planking. I may or may not lay on another layer of canvas.

 

If you plan includes planking the complete hull you can probably skip the underlying layer of canvas and just go with the top coat. But the bottom still should be smooth to the skeg.

 

I’m about to get back to work topsides, so here is where I’m leaving the untrimmed bottom:

HigginsBoat/49.BottomFinished.JPG

The topsides of the Higgins boat were all business. The main (cargo) deck was a honey-combed set of 15 panels. In the forward area these were ¾” fir plywood, with ½” panels aft. These were supported by 320’ sections of 1 1/8” (5/4) x 2 ¾ “ spruce frames,(labeled walking flat bearers). Looking at the schematic, the frames were spaced to match to the ribs and bottom frames.

 

The deck included a series of hatches that allowed access to the cables and the main bilge. In line with the gate, fifty one (51) 2” wide treads (nominally)  were routed into the plywood deck on 3 ¾” centers.

 

All of this is laid out on the schematics.

 

My calculations are that each honeycomb cell left about one square foot of plywood open, or 6” on-center spacing. Unable to find a reference for that kind of spacing of ¾” plywood, my best guess is around 500 pounds per square foot, giving the deck an overall live load maximum bearing capacity of around 64,000 pounds. In other words, enough to support an M4 Sherman tank (if it could fit onboard, which it couldn’t because of its dimensions).

 

The easiest place to start is the helm/engine compartment section. I’m going to build this as one unit so the entire section can be removed if I ever want to work on the engine or the steering mechanism ( both of which I plan to ignore for now).

 

The components come straight off the schematics. I’ve built the frame using scrap from the stringers, and trimmed the top hatch and helm with 1/32 scrap.

 

While a combination throttle and gear are common on most modern small power boats, they weren’t common in 1941 unless you were powered by a diesel. Early outboards could change the firing order to achieve reverse, but this usually required shutting down the engine every time you wanted to change prop direction. As we’ve seen, the 6-71 didn’t require the shutdown, so the throttle hammer was a single lever.
My throttle was made from 1/32nd brass rod, bent after some hammering to flatten the hand-hold. The wheel was originally a brass 15mm 8-spoke that was intended for an 18th century square-rigger. After a little customizing it is now a 4-spoke 20th century wheel.

HigginsBoat/50a.EngineHelm.JPG

I’m constructing the fore (rib #16) and aft (rib#23) bulkheads using 1/16th mahogany scraps. The forward bulkhead rises flush to the helm, and the aft bulkhead rises flush to the turrets. These were originally constructed from ½” mahogany plywood with oak stiffeners and spruce knees. 

The deck planking that ran from bow to stern was ½” fir plywood (#51 on the schematic). Since I’ve gone with mahogany so far, I’m going to complete the aft deck using 1/32nd mahogany plank.

 

Both hatches to the rear (fuel) hold were constructed flush to the deck. I’m obviously going to leave one of the hatches open (off). I’ve traced the other hatch cutout with the knife- I may or may not cut it through.

 

The tow (samson or king) post with its norman pin was constructed using 4 ¾” x 5 ½” loblolly pine, with a ¾” x 12” galvanized iron pin. At our scale that works out to 5/32  x 3/16”, and since I have a supply of one-gallon paint paddles that are exactly 5/32nd’s thick, that’s my source. The pin works out to 1/32nd, and mine is scrap brass rod. The post was not part of the earlier design.

 

Before I start to button things up, here is the aft deck:

HigginsBoat/50a.AftDeck.JPG

At the beginning of this project I purchased a large sheet of aircraft plywood. My thought at the time was that I was building a plywood boat. As it turned out I was building a Higgins boat, and the plywood was much like the canvas on a vintage Old Town canoe- it made things waterproof but that wasn’t the point.

 

So the next step is to moor the model to a red oak base and get on with the rigging.

 

The original was rigged with ¼” galvanized (aircraft) wire rope (cable). That rope typically has a breaking strength of around 7,000 pounds. I estimate that about 3,000 pounds would have ripped the winch out of its base or simply destroyed the mechanism.

 

That rigging cable became a serious dilemma. I had some 30-pound test stranded stainless wire leader in my saltwater fishing bucket, and that seemed to fit the sheaves pretty well. It’s still fine for fishing, but doesn’t lay well over a series of curves. Stranded brass wire lays well, but won’t straighten-just the opposite of the stainless/nylon leader. Any tension on stranded .6mm galvanized steel wire- a tiny version of the original-will tear out the sheaves and wreck the winch. This is a long way of saying that I’ve been experimenting with various available cables since I started the model.

It finally came down to stranded nylon kite string saturated with silver nail polish. There is probably a more elegant method than shoving a 3 foot coil of string into a nail polish bottle and wiping it clean on its way out, but that worked just fine for me. 

The crimped sleeves that I’m using are pretty much what you’ll find on any sailboat or any other cable rigging. Mine are made from a single loop of bronze or copper wire crushed into the cable at the eyes.

I think I’ve discussed red oak. It stinks when you cut it and is usually full of black and red streaks, cracks and worm holes. Don’t ever try to break it.  I like analogies, and also how pleasant it is to rout and finish into a workable base. In this case there won’t be any mounting posts or other display hardware. Just the base and a couple of screws.

 

So mounted on what will be its final base, and with the bow ramp fully rigged, here’s where we are:

HigginsBoat/52.RampRigging.JPG

I tried to capture the entire rig in one photograph, but the winch doesn’t show very well. But just like the entire thing, the winch works. The ramp lifts and the cable doesn’t jump the sheaves.

 

To clarify the cable routing, here is a better view of the winch detail:

HigginsBoat/52a.WinchCable.JPG

If you want to add some decorating touches, what was labeled a magnesyn compass (mounted in the aft deck) probably wasn’t a compass. The real compass was located on the forward edge of the helm. I believe that what was labeled a compass was actually an early radio-direction finder (RDF) that probably transmitted a very basic Morse code identifier. I’m open to other theories.

The twin machine guns were M1919 Brownings. Various photographs are labeled with everything up to anti-aircraft cannons, but the basic function of these guns was light-caliber covering fire using M1 (30-06) ammunition. If you’ve ever seen anything hit with one of those rounds, you know that light-caliber is a relative term. 

We’ve been through the Danforth anchor on the Honey Fitz. You can add one by following those instructions.

In terms of PFD’s (personal flotation devices), the boat was equipped with life jacket racks, so a preserver ring can be added, but was probably never used.

The boat was equipped with a shafted emergency tiller that fitted into a keyhole on the aft deck. This was one of the many backups (like towing hooks, bilge pump,etc.) that were essential if the boat was badly damaged and operating alone.

 

The boat also had the normal array of venting fixtures for the fuel area and the engine, fuel filler pipe hatches and bulkhead doors.

 

Contrary to some opinions, this boat was not a disposable element of war. Every detail speaks to a design that did its best to insure that the boat, its crew and its passengers survived.

 

In opening the narrative of the Higgins Boat I used the word “variants”. If you study the design elements of an entire genus of landing craft, you will discover that they were all designed and built around the core concepts of this boat. And while historians and others devote their time and words to a series of successful battles, those historic events, as Eisenhower made clear, could not have happened without this boat.

In other words, a boat that deserves a ton of respect all by itself.
 

My version of that respect is not to cover it with plywood and paint it haze grey. So before I put it in its case, here is my version of the Higgins Boat:


HigginsBoat/55.Complete.JPG

My hat’s off, Mr. Higgins.

Early September 2014