DUKW

The DUKW (colloquially known as Duck) is a six-wheel-drive amphibious modification of the 2-ton capacity CCKW trucks used by the U.S. military in World War II. Designed by a partnership under military auspices of Sparkman & Stephens and General Motors Corporation (GMC), the DUKW was used for the transportation of goods and troops over land and water. Excelling at approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious warfare attacks, it was intended only to last long enough to meet the demands of combat. Surviving DUKWs have since found popularity as tourist craft in marine environments.

DUKW
Class Vehicle
Type Infantry Combat Vehicle
Manufacturer GMC
Production Period 1942 - 1945
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1942
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
United States of America View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
GMC 1942 1945 21147 View

The DUKW was designed by Rod Stephens, Jr. of Sparkman & Stephens, Inc. yacht designers, Dennis Puleston, a British deep-water sailor resident in the U.S., and Frank W. Speir, a Reserve Officers' Training Corps Lieutenant from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Developed by the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development to solve the problem of resupply to units which had just performed an amphibious landing, it was initially rejected by the armed services. When a United States Coast Guard patrol craft ran aground on a sand bar near Provincetown, Massachusetts, an experimental DUKW happened to be in the area for a demonstration. Winds up to 60 knots (110 km/h), rain, and heavy surf prevented conventional craft from rescuing the seven stranded Coast Guardsmen but the DUKW had no trouble, and military opposition to the DUKW melted. The DUKW later proved its seaworthiness by crossing the English Channel.

The DUKW prototype was built around the GMC AFKWX, a cab-over-engine (COE) version of the GMC CCKW six-wheel-drive military truck, with the addition of a watertight hull and a propeller. The final production design was perfected by a few engineers at Yellow Truck & Coach in Pontiac, Michigan. The vehicle was built by the GMC division of General Motors, still called Yellow Truck and Coach at the beginning of the war. It was powered by a 270 in3 (4,425 cc) GMC straight-six engine. It weighed 6.5 tons empty and operated at 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) on road and 5.5 knots (10.2 km/h; 6.3 mph) on water. It was 31 feet (9.4 m) long, 8 feet 2.875 inches (2.51 m) wide, 7 feet 1.375 inches (2.17 m) high with the folding-canvas top down and 8.8 feet (2.6 m) high with the top up. 21,137 were manufactured. It was not an armored vehicle, being plated with sheet steel between 1/16 and 1/8 inches (1.6–3.2 mm) thick to minimize weight. A high capacity bilge pump system kept it afloat if the thin hull was breached by holes up to 2 inches (51 mm) in diameter. A quarter of all DUKWs held a .50-caliber Browning heavy machine gun in a ring mount.

The DUKW was the first vehicle to allow the driver to vary the tire pressure from inside the cab, an accomplishment of Speir's device. The tires could be fully inflated for hard surfaces such as roads and less inflated for softer surfaces, especially beach sand. This added to great versatility as an amphibious vehicle. This feature is now standard on many military vehicles.

The windshields were provided by GM rival Libbey Glass (Ford).

World War II

The DUKW was supplied to the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and Allied forces. 2,000 were supplied to Britain under the Lend-Lease program and 535 were acquired by Australian forces. 586 were supplied to the Soviet Union, which built its own version, the BAV 485, after the war. 

DUKWs were initially sent to the Pacific theatre's Guadalcanal, and were used by an invasion force for the first time during the Sicilian Operation Husky in the Mediterranean. They were used on the D-Day beaches of Normandy and in the Battle of the Scheldt, Operation Veritable and Operation Plunder. Amphibious beachheads were thought to be highly vulnerable to early counterattack as the landing units would deplete their ammunition and the supply system would not yet be established. The principal use was to ferry supplies from ship to shore, and tasks such as transporting wounded combatants to hospital ships or operations in flooded (polder) landscape.

Post-war

After World War II, reduced numbers were kept in service by the United States, Britain, France and Australia, with many stored pending disposal. Australia transferred many to Citizens Military Force units.

The U.S. Army reactivated and deployed several hundred at the outbreak of the Korean War with the 1st Transportation Replacement Training Group providing crew training. DUKWs were used extensively to bring supplies ashore during the Battle of Pusan Perimeter and in the amphibious landings at Incheon.

Ex-U.S. Army DUKWs were transferred to the French military after World War II and were used by the Troupes de marine and naval commandos. Many were used for general utility duties in overseas territories. France deployed DUKWs to French Indochina during the First Indochina War. Some French DUKWs were given new hulls in the 1970s, with the last being retired in 1982.

Britain deployed DUKWs to Malaya during the Malayan Emergency of 1948–60. Many were redeployed to Borneo during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation of 1962–66.

Later military use

The Royal Marines use five of these vehicles for training at 11 (Amphibious Trials and Training) Squadron, 1 Assault Group Royal Marines at Instow, North Devon. Four were manufactured between 1943 and 1945. The fifth is a DUKW hull copy manufactured in 1993 with unused World War II vintage running gear parts. In 1999, a refurbishment programme began to extend their service life to 2014. DUKWs were removed form service in 2012.

The DUKWs were used for safety, allowing all ranks to undertake training drills for boat work for the landing craft ranks, and drivers undertaking wading drills from the Landing Craft Utility.

Type Amphibious transport
Place of origin United States
Production history
Manufacturer GMC
Produced 1942-1945
Number built 21,147
Specifications
Weight 6.5 short tons (5.9 t) empty
Length 31 ft (9.45 m)
Width 8 ft 27/8 in (2.50 m)
Height 7 ft 1.375 in (2.17 m) without ring mount
Crew 1
Armor none
Main
armament
Ring mount for machine gun fitted to all DUKWs, 25% equippped with .50 Browning machine guns
Engine GMC 6-cylinder 269 cid
94 hp
Power/weight 14 hp/tonne
Payload capacity 2.5 short tons (2.3 t) or 12 troops
Suspension Leaf
Operational
range
400 mi (640 km) at 35 mph (56 km/h) on road,
50 nmi (93 km; 58 mi) on water
Speed 50 mph (80 km/h) on road,
5.5 kn (10.2 km/h; 6.3 mph) on water

End notes