The Landing Craft, Personnel (Large) (LCP(L)) was the first purpose-build landing craft to be acquired by the US Marine Corps, and was the first in a series of designs that culminated in the LCVP, one of the most important Allied weapons of the Second World War.
The LCP(L) was developed at about the same time as the small LCP, which had been ordered early in 1940 for the Marine Corps. The larger version was originally produced for the British Admiralty, which wanted a vessel capable of carrying a full platoon of infantry, but had at first been rejected by the US Navy because it was too long for their 30ft davits to cope with. During 1940 a number of merchant ships were converted to act as troop carriers, and their davits were capable of carrying the larger 36ft landing craft, so in September 1940 the US Navy ordered its first Landing Craft, Personnel (Large), which was capable of carrying twice as many men as the 30ft long model then in service (some sources suggest that this order was for the shorter 32ft boat, but the Marine Corps' own official history makes it clear that the shorter boat was ordered in very small numbers earlier in the year and the longer boat in September).
Andrew Jackson Higgins had originally developed his Eureka boat in 1926, for use by trappers and oil drillers in the lower Mississippi and Gulf. It was constructed of wood, with a shallow draft and a solid bow that allowed it to be grounded safely. Over the next decade Higgins developed the boat, but in 1935, when the Navy wanted to test a number of small boats for the Marine Corps he refused to take part. Higgins soon came to regret this, for in October 1936, when he attempted to interest the Navy in his boat, the experimental funds for the year had been used up and none were ordered.
In 1937 Commander Ralph S. McDowell, then responsible for the development of landing craft, invited Higgins to visit him next time he was in Washington. Higgins arrived on the next train, and over the next week he and McDowell developed the Eurekainto a viable landing craft. Even then funds were still tight, and the Navy only agreed to buy the prototype when Higgins offered to provide it below cost.
The first boat was delivered thirty days after it was ordered. It was tested in the surf at Hampton Roads in the spring of 1938, and then competed in the Flex 5 manoeuvres of 1939, where it completed against a number of official Bureau of Construction and Repair boats and three fishing boats rejected in 1935. The Marines believed the Higgins boat to be the best they had yet seen, and the CO of 1st Battalion, 5th Marines said 'The Higgins boat gave the best performance under all conditions. It has more speed, more manoeuvrability, handles easier, and lands troops higher on the beach'. He also reported that it was best at backing off the beach.
Unsurprisingly the Bureau didn't agree with this judgement, and recommended the use of one of their own designs. As a result the trials had to be repeated at Flex 6 in 1940. This time the Navy's Atlantic Squadron also favoured the Higgins boat, but only by a narrow margin, and the first order for 64 landing craft was equally split between the 24-man 32ft version of the Higgins boat and the Bureau design.
The LCP(L) constructed entirely of wood, with internal armoured cross bulkheads to protect the crew, engine and fuel tanks. The troops sat on low benches, and disembarked over the sides of the boat. This was its biggest design flaw, and in 1941 production moved on to the Landing Craft, Personnel (Ramp) (LCP(R)).
The LCP(L) could carry 36 fully loaded troops or up to 8,100lb of cargo. It was armed with two .30in machine guns mounted in the bow, and carried a crew of three. A total of 2,140 LCP(L)s were built and they were used during the landings in North Africa and at Guadalcanal, Salerno and Tarawa. A few were still in service during the Normandy landings, but by then both the LCP(L) and LCP(R) had been superseded by the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP).
Length: 36ft 8in
Width: 10ft 10in
Draft when light: 2ft 6in
Draft when loaded: 3ft 6in
Light Displacement: 13,000lb
Loaded Displacement: 18,000lb
Engine: Gray Marine 64HN9 six-cylinder diesel most common
Speed: 8 knots
Endurance: 130 miles
Armament: Two .30in Browning M1919 machine guns in bow