Preparing for a recent trip to Iceland and looking for weird stuff to see, I chanced upon a photo showing the beached wreck of what appeared to be a World War II era “Higgins boat.” It was at the head of Mjóifjörður, a sparsely populated (11 inhabitants) fjord in remote eastern Iceland. I was determined to visit it. Obviously I did, as this is an addition to my occasional shipwrecks posts.

The head of Mjóifjörður, from just under the fog ceiling; the wreck is barely visible at the lower left corner of the fjord (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)

Getting there proved more of an adventure than anticipated. The trek included traversing a mountain pass on what I did not know beforehand is an unpaved gravel road. Many government maintained roads are gravel in Iceland, so this was not a big surprise. In the interior highlands most byways are designated “F-Roads” and legal for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. No problem here, since we had rented a 4×4 and this was not even an F-Road! But Iceland was experiencing its coldest and wettest June in over 40 years,[1] and the precipitation in the mountains manifested itself as snow. Further, as it happened, the pass was heavily fogged in on the only day we could make the visit.

The perilous road to Mjóifjörður (lousy photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)
One of the many waterfalls descending into Mjóifjörður (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)

Nevertheless—against prudence and Felicia’s better judgement—I was determined to press on to the goal. Happily, the road had been somewhat snowplowed and we encountered no other travelers of any kind, eventually emerging from the white-out conditions into an eerily beautiful fjord surrounded by steep defiles with summits obscured by the fog. Numerous waterfalls bore witness to the invisible melting snows above.

And there it was at the head of the fjord; rusting away adjacent to one of Iceland’s ubiquitous picnic tables and a small pull-off for parking. Google Maps does not (at this writing) mark the spot but it appears on OpenStreetMap as an archaeological site![2]

Panorama of Mjóifjörður with waterfalls, wreck, and picnic table (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)

“Higgins Boat” is an unofficial term for small landing craft produced by Higgins Industries during World War II with the ability to beach, unload via an innovative drop ramp, and reverse away from shore unassisted. It most typically designates the LCVP, “Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel,” but is often applied to other Higgins-produced craft with front drop ramps (see endnotes for more info).[3] Many thousands of several types were produced and used in every theater of the war, but most familiarly as the means for transporting the initial waves of troops to the beaches in the D-Day Invasion of 6 June 1944.

The LCM wreck (“Landing Craft, Mechanized”) in Mjóifjörður (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)

Inspection of the boat in question revealed it to be an LCM, “Landing Craft, Mechanized,” confirmed by the explanatory sign affixed to the starboard bow. The LCM is a larger and heavier landing craft than the LCVP, but equally iconic in appearance (I suspect LCMs have appeared in many movies where LCVPs would be more accurate, but I have not done the research to support this hypothesis). In any case, this particular LCM is now in terrible condition, having disintegrated significantly since a few other pictures I have found of it online. I wanted to climb onto the afterdeck and check out the pilot house, but suspected the ladder rungs might give way. I am glad to have seen the boat before it crumbles away.

Looking toward the drop ramp of the LCM; note reinforcing under deck for support of tanks or large vehicles (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)

The explanatory sign[4] indicates this LCM once ferried equipment to a remote US Military radar station in the Westfjords region. Presumably sold as surplus, the boat was then used to transport herring cuttings (heads and guts) from a fish plant in 1965, but proved unsuitable as a barge (the engines had been removed by then) and was abandoned where it remains after running aground in 1966.

The wreck of a World War II era LCM at the head of Mjóifjörður in eastern Iceland (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr, 2021-06-18)

The LCM wreck is thus a small monument to the huge US Military presence on Iceland in World War II. That is a largely untold but significant story, for which I do not have sufficient pictures to justify a separate post. The basics follow:

Iceland, having autonomy from but official connections to Denmark, was officially neutral as the Second World War began in Europe. The invasion of Denmark and Norway by the Nazis strained that status somewhat, just as Iceland’s strategic location for the Battle of the Atlantic was fully realized. In a preemptive move, the British staged an invasion of Iceland in May 1940 to avoid it becoming a German base. Defending it, however, stretched British manpower which was already strained after Dunkirk and the need to fortify the British Isles. So after one year, the UK asked the United States if it would please take over the occupation of Iceland, which the US did even before official entry to the war. The American investment there as a staging point in the North Atlantic was immense and transformed Iceland from the poorest of European nations before WWII to the richest per capita by the war’s end.[5] The US Military is gone now, but made its mark; for example, the international airport at Keflavik (KEF) outside Reykjavik was built by the Americans. Also, hot dogs remain a staple of Icelandic fast food!

I hope this does not come off as unpatriotic to my American readers, but I much prefer fish and chips to hot dogs. It is a sad note that this LCM was not a success at hauling fish guts. The sign on the wreck attributes its awkwardness as a towed barge to the squared-off bow. The Higgins Boat, like that other American innovation—the hot dog—was a brilliant modification of existing parts to fill an important and specific need. Awkward perhaps, in other situations, both the hot dog and Higgins Boat filled their roles fantastically and took the world by storm. The latter did so literally, storming the beaches of occupied shores and becoming the now largely forgotten boat that won the war.[6] Perhaps it is fitting that this LCM will end its existence dominating a beach; a monument to its designed purpose.

[1] Jelena Ćirić, “Mid-June Snow and Weeks of Cold Weather in Iceland,” Iceland Review, 14 June 2021.

[2] Labeled “Pramminn” (meaning “the barge”);

[3] This Navy guide is an excellent resource on the classic “Higgins Boat,” the LCVP, and its larger version, the LCM: Skill in the Surf: A Landing Craft Manual, February 1945, online at I found it fascinating that while the Glossary contains an entry for “Davy Jones’ Locker,” it does not define the term “Higgins Boat,” despite the latter being in widespread use at the time.

[4] The sign is not of the typical government-erected type and has no attribution apart from the note that the information is from a certain Sigfús Vilhjálmsson.

[5] This story, and many other significant bits of Iceland’s international history are admirably told by Egill Bjarnason, How Iceland Changed the World: The Big Story of a Small Island (Penguin, 2021), chapter 5.


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