Review: Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats That Won World War II

5 Star, Biography & Memoirs, Change & Innovation, Force Structure (Military)

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5.0 out of 5 stars Heroic Citizens Beat Petty Bureaucrats–A Cautionary Tale,

October 13, 2000
Jerry E. Strahan

I wish every doctoral dissertation were this useful. Under the guidance of Stephen E. Ambrose, well known for his books on the citizen-soldiers of World War II, the author has produced a very readable and moving book about one brilliant caustic citizen’s forgotten contributions to World War II. Two aspects of this book jump out at the reader: the first is that Americans are capable of anything when motivated. Andrew Jackson Higgins and his employees, most trained overnight for jobs they never thought to have, was able to create an assembly line producing one ship a day. He was able to design, build and test gun boats and landing craft on an overnight basis. He is remembered by Marines, and especially General Victor Krulak, for having given America the one missing ingredient necessary for successful amphibious landings-in this way, he may well have changed the course of the war and the history of our Nation. The second aspect that jumps out at the reader is that of bureaucratic pettiness to the point of selfishly undermining the war effort within the Department of the Navy and the Bureau of Boats. In careful and measured detail, the author lays out the history of competition between trained naval architects with closed minds, and the relatively under-trained Higgins team with new ideas, and shows how the bureaucracy often conspired to block and demean Higgins at the expense of the Marines and the sailors on the front line. There is less of that sort of thing these days, but it is still with us, as we contemplate the need for a 450-ship Navy that is fully capable for Operations Other Than War (OOTW). This book should be included on the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Naval Operations lists of recommended professional readings, and it should be studied by anyone contemplating the hidden dangers of bureaucratic interests that often override the public interest and undermine our national security.

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