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Meet the DUKW

There are few vehicles in history that have been so successful or long-lived as the DUKW; perhaps it is a matter of genes.

The DUKW was the product of two very impressive parents, the General Motors Corporation - GMC - who provided the automotive components and the celebrated New York City yacht designers Sparkman & Stephens who gave the new vehicle its sea-going capabilities.

Click to enlarge DUKW diagram
Click on diagram for a larger version(55Kb)

What does DUKW stand for?

DUKW is a manufacturer's code used by the General Motors Corporation to identify the different vehicles in their range. In this case it works as follows;
D = Date 1942 - the first year of manufacture.
U = Amphibian.
K = Drive to all wheels.
W= Dual rear axles.
The similarity with Duck is purely fortuitous.

Strangely at first it was not greeted with any enthusiasm by the US Army, until fate intervened. It is now part of the DUKW legend that, when a US Coastguard ship was wrecked off Provincetown, Massachusetts it was a DUKW that braved high seas and sixty knot winds to bring the crew of seven to safety. With publicity like that its future was secure.

Tank Museum photo No. 0450/F/3
Tank Museum photo No. 0450/F/3

Tank Museum photo No. 0073/E/4
Tank Museum photo No. 0073/E/4

The DUKW also proved to be extremely versatile. Here two of them, linked by a platform of ramps, have been used as a ferry to carry a truck ashore. And by fortunate coincidence the truck is a GMC CCKW-353 from which the DUKW itself was derived. Notice also that the truck is carrying that other American classic, the Jeep.

Tank Museum photo No. 0999/E/4Tank Museum photo No. 0999/E/4

They were also popular for their adaptability and sheer utility but few roles were more unusual than this. Some DUKWs were fitted with extended escape ladders normally fitted to fire engines and supplied by the London Fire Brigade. The plan was to assist the US Rangers in their assault on the Pointe du Hoc on D-Day but, after training long and hard on similar cliffs at West Bay in Dorset the scheme was abandoned because the vehicles could not get close enough to the base of the French cliffs.

Tank Museum photo No. 2769/C/4
Tank Museum photo No. 2769/C/4

Sixty years on and still nothing has appeared to replace the DUKW entirely. Many are retained in preservation by enthusiasts and in cities such as London and Washington, DUKWs are operating as tourist attractions. The British Army, and subsequently the Royal Marines operate DUKWs in North Devon, albeit now powered by diesel engines.

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