Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Andrew Higgins - the "Irishman" who won World War 2

It was an Irishman – albeit an American-born one – who won the Second World War. You may be surprised to hear that considering that other Irish American, de Valera’s, weasel “neutrality” during the struggle against Nazism in Europe - even as an estimated 130,000 Irish took part in the conflagration.

Amusingly, among their number was a Spitfire ace, Tony Lovell, who felt obliged to attend confession every time he shot down an enemy plane – something he was required to do 21 times.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “D-Day” at the moment, by Stephen E. Ambrose. In it, the author recollects how Eisenhower once asked him had he heard of a certain Andrew Higgins. The author replied he had not, to which Eisenhower responded “That’s too bad. He is the man who won the war for us”.

Higgins designed and built the specialised landing craft that took Allied vehicles and troops onto the fortified beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944.   According to the book, he was a self-taught genius who was in the business of building shallow-draught boats for use in the South Louisiana swamps.

He foresaw there would be a demand from the Military for suitably adapted boats in a coming war and set about badgering them to buy his wares.   The US Military brass, being conservative, took some persuading. They saw Higgins as “a hot-tempered, loud-mouthed Irishman who drank a bottle of whiskey a day”.  They preferred to build their own boats.

For Higgin’s part, he maintained that the Navy didn’t “know a damn thing about boats” and persevered with his design, kept pressurising the Military and eventually was given the tender to produce the LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel).

Higgin’s assembly lines in New Orleans employed 30,000 people at their peak, the first-ever integrated work force of men and women, both black and white, in that city. He paid top wages, regardless of sex or race.

His craft, moreover, won the war in Europe – if no less an authority than Eisenhower is to be believed – thereby sparing the detonation of nuclear bombs on that continent as was to subsequently happen in Japan.  Unfortunately, it did not spare hundreds of thousands of civilians the vindictive slaughter inflicted by Bomber Harris.

It is surprising we have not heard more about Higgins here in Ireland. Maybe some do not consider him a “true” Irishman?  Or even a true Irish-American?  Unlike George De Valero.

You might know him better by the name of Éamon De Valera, though that is not the name on his birth cert.

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Ella said...

So a plastic paddy beat the nazis and we are not bragging about it, how come? When it comes to footie, anybody with a distant granny is claimed as one of our own.

Fascinating stuff indeed GM.

The Gombeen Man said...

Yes. Surprised I'd never heard of the guy and his Irish connections. I think has always been the case, as far as Official Ireland is concerned, of "don't mention the war"!

Gammagoblin said...

Wait, wait.. back it up there a second. De Velera built the boats that won WW2?

I'm being facetious but I really did have to reread that last paragraph to stop me choking on my cupán tae.

As for being an Irishman. He was American. If one wants to dissect people by DNA, they should investigate the Axis side of the war. They were mad on categorising people.

The Gombeen Man said...


I'm just laughing at the fact that one Irish American, Higgins, (according to Ike) is the one that won WW2, is virtually unknown.

Then the other Irish American, our reactionary friend Dev - the father of Irish folkism - helped define the "Irishness" of the emerging State (according to his lights), thought WW2 to be an "Emergency", and is still a hero to some.

I'm also having a pop at Dev's Irishness in the context of the criteria he espoused. A bit like having a laugh at Himmler, as a weedy, rat-faced exponent of the Aryan race.

Gammagoblin said...

De Valera was slime. Any state member that promises neutrality while helping one side should be done for war crimes, no matter what the outcome.

As for Himmler and the Aryan race... Are you aware that Aryanism was about a mindset, an attitude towards community and cultural progression. Physical attributes were only used for reference. It's often portrayed being vice versa. The "Blonde and blue eyed" thing is pure Hollywood.

That idea goes out the window though when "enlightened" Aryans start locking up fellow humans in cages, not fit even for animals. That's the thing about Hitler. He introduced depraved concentration camps for sections of the community while at the same time introducing revolutionary animal rights not seen elsewhere in the world at the time. An odd man.