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Available as a Download
on the Honey Fitz I ran into a couple of interesting wooden boats. These were both built by the same man- Andrew
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.
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
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."
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:
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
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
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
(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.
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
tools, any other book in this series will bring you up to speed on tools.
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
sheet (3x24) 1/32 mahogany
Small pieces and parts
as we go
Keel and Frames (Ribs)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the original schematics I created a master set of fore- and
aft rib sets (above).
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.
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:
So let's move on to the stringers.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
been building right along, the hull should begin to look a lot like the shell in the factory photo.
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.)
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:
In terms of the details, these sections will be helpful:
And putting these together, here is the master that I'm using
to build the bow:
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.
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.
assembly is almost as simple and rugged. This is a cropped section of the transom schematic:
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.
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.
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:
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:
Righting the completed skeleton
and truing it to the schematic, this is where we are:
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.
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.
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
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:
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:
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:
I have fitted the original drawing to my scale:
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.
what appeared to be a small piece of 300-series stainless in the form of a taping knife at a local hardware store:
After some creative destruction I overlaid a bow ramp template on the steel
And with a little help from the straight metal shears created a stainless bow ramp plate:
(I wasn't sure that the taping knife material was stainless until
I'd cut it and smoothed the edges with a metal file.)
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
To get the treads right I’ve
created a template that is taped top and bottom:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
After some filing, drilling and bending,
this is my version:
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.
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
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,
The critical drive and control elements of the LCVP
are taken from this excerpt from drawing # 3040, dated 4-17-45:
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:
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.
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
The blank for the gudgeon was sheared from the
roof flashing and lightly peined to fit the skeg:
After some cutting and shaping with
a rotary tool, and folding, the blank looks like this:
I’ll complete this assembly
when I fit the rudder.
The boat had a main rudder and what I believe is a diverter rudder,
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.
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.
fixture at this point is a discarded powdered drink container:
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
the roof flashing piece is a goner anyway, I’ve laid out a tank pattern on what’s left:
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
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.
any final finishing, this is my version of a fuel tank:
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:
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.
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 1/8” from the apron (keelson).
The strips that I’m using were dragged through a puddle of white glue and smoothed on.
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
I’m about to get back to work topsides, so here is where I’m leaving the
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
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
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:
off, Mr. Higgins.
Early September 2014