In several cities around the world, an amphibious vehicle called the “Duck” ferries tourists between attractions on the land and water. The popular big boat-truck hybrids give visitors a tourist bus and harbor cruise experience. But, the “Duck” has done more than battle tourist season congestion. While it is dedicated to tourist leisure today, the Duck amphibious vehicle earned its stripes during World II.
The “Duck” was originally designated as the DUKW Amphibious Truck. According to Chicago DUKWs, a company that restores and maintains these classic military vehicles, the D stands for 1942 the first year of production, the U stands for Utility Truck (amphibious), the K stands for front wheel drive, and the W stands for two rear driving wheels. The DUKW was based on the ubiquitous 2.5 ton GMC “Deuce and Half” cargo truck. According to Weapons of World War II, GMC and the famed boat builder Sparkman & Stevens worked together to design and build 21,000 of these workhorse vehicles.
A DUKW is 31 feet long and weighs 7 1/2 tons. Powered by a 4-liter, 6-cylinder, gasoline engine, a DUKW is capable of 50 to 55 miles per hour on the road and a leisurely 6 mile per hour pace in the water. It could carry just over 5500 pounds of cargo. While the DUKW was unarmed and armored, it did have high speed bilge pumps to help it stay afloat if penetrated by enemy gunfire or an obstacle. According to Ride The Ducks of Seattle, the bilge pump “could move 260 gallons of water a minute!” According to Chicago DUKWs, “the front brake lines are protected in steel conduit with barbed wire cutters on the outside.”
DUKW MILITARY SERVICE
The DUKW’s primary mission was the transportation of troops and supplies from ships to shore in areas where there were no port facilities. In World War 2, it was first used during the Allied invasion of Sicily. Then it was used in the invasion of Salerno, Italy. While these landings were crucial to opening a new front in the war, the DUKW was to prove important in Operation Overlord: the D-Day Landings in Normandy, France. According to the U.S. Army Transportation Museum, “between June 6 1944 and May 8 1945, DUKWs moved 5,050,000 tons of the 15,750,000 tons unloaded by the allies in Europe during the war.” The DUKW helped bring the war to a close when 370 helped the American Army cross the Rhine River in Germany. In the Pacific, the DUKW was vital in the landings on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It also played a vital role in capturing Manila in the Philippines.
CIVILIAN DUKW USE
Since the Duck was a simple design using common parts, it is not surprising that they can serve tourists nearly seven decades after the end of World War II. Today, the DUKW is used tours in all over the world. Cities like Boston, Massachusetts; Branson, Missouri; the District of Columbia; and even Singapore have “duck tours”
Boston Duck Tours
Branson Ride The Ducks
Ludeke, Alexander. Weapons of World War II, Parragon Press, Bath, UK, 2007.
Ride the Ducks of Seattle
U.S. Army Transportation Museum – Fort Eustis