In September of 1943, as the United States 5th Army landed at Salerno, Italy, and General Douglas MacArthur's forces captured Salamaua in New Guinea, the United States Navy amounted to a total of 14,072 craft. Of these vessels, a whopping 92% (12,964, to be exact) had been designed by Higgins Industries, Inc., located in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The company was founded in the Crescent City during the early 1930's by Andrew Jackson Higgins, a brash, beefy Nebraskan native of Irish ancestry with an almost mythical capacity for bourbon (reportedly, he averaged a bottle a day) and hatred of authority and red tape (quite typical character traits for a boatman and defense industry contractor, if you ask me). He became fascinated with boats at an early age, and built his first vessel in the basement of his parents' Omaha home (whereafter he demolished a wall of the household in order to get it out!)
In the wetlands of south Louisiana, shallow draft boats were needed in order to extract hardwood lumber from the precarious swamps and marshes back to more stable ground. Higgins Industries capitalized on this demand rather early with its 'Eureka' model, engineered to work in such an environment. The boat could operate in only eighteen inches of water and tear through vegetation, logs, and other debris without clogging its propeller. Most importantly, keeping in mind the often impossible-to-gauge depth of the bayous, it could run itself aground and extract itself without damage to its hull or motor.
Not long after the Germans steamrolled into Poland and subsequently France with blitzkrieg tactics, Higgins, along with the rest of the world, saw immediately the paramount importance of mobility in modern warfare -- and realized that a new type of craft, not yet conceptualized, was going to be needed to make it possible to quickly deploy mass numbers of soldiers on a hostile beachhead. Going against the prevalent naval philosophy of the time, Higgins believed that that amphibious operations would create an indispensable need for a large number of mass-produced, wooden-hulled landing craft -- rather than a comparatively smaller fleet of steel-clad dreadnoughts. So eager was Higgins to exploit this opportunity, in fact, that they bought out the entire 1939 mahogany crop from the nation of the Phillippines. Higgins engaged more than 30,000 people for their workshops (some just hastily erected tents) throughout the war, integrating men, women, and people of color in the workplace for the first time in New Orleans.
Though the company designed and produced patrol torpedo (PT) boats and other forms of reconaissance craft, Higgins is immortalized for its development of the legendary LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), without which, beach assaults such as Iwo Jima, Anzio, and of course Normandy simply could not have been conducted. Made entirely of wood except for its steel bow ramp (added at the request of the U.S. Marine Corps), the craft could carry an entire platoon of thirty-six men up to shore, unload them in a matter of seconds, then immediately push off.
Higgins Industries' contribution to the war effort was officially acknowledged by General Dwight D. Eisenhower in his 1944 Thanksgiving address, in which he said, "Let us thank God for Higgins Industries, management, and labor which has given us the landing boats with which to conduct our campaign."
Yeah, okay, it's not an outright kudos to the city itself, but let's not split hairs, shall we?
Specifications for the Higgins LCVP are included below (taken from www.higginsboat.org):
Construction Material: Wood (oak, pine and mahogany)
Displacement: 15,000 Pounds (light)
Length: 36-Feet, 3-Inches
Beam: 10-Feet, 10-Inches
Draft: 3-Feet Aft and 2-Feet, 2-Inches Forward
Speed: 12 Knots
Armament: Two .30-Caliber Machine Guns
Crew: Three - Coxswain, Engineer and Crewman
Capacity: 36 Troops with gear and equipment, or
6,000-Pound vehicle, or
8,100-Pounds of Cargo
Power Plant: Gray 225-HP Diesel Engine