“She’s not very fast, but she’s better in water than any truck and she’ll beat any boat on a highway!” – Roderic Stephens, Jr., a naval architect of Sparkman and Stephens, Inc.
The DUKW (or as we like to call them ‘Ducks’) is an amphibious landing craft developed by the United States Army during World War II. It was designed to deliver cargo from ships at sea directly to the shore. The DUKW (D-built in 1942, U-amphibious 2-ton truck, K-front wheel drive, W-rear wheel drive) was equipped with a hull pump that could move 260 gallons of water a minute! It also came with a hand pump that could move 50 gallons a minute. It could climb a 60% grade and broach an 18-inch high obstacle. It had a range of 220 miles on land and 50 miles in water. It could carry a cargo load of 5,350 lbs., and hold 25 fully equipped troops.
It was shortly after the German blitzkrieg of Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, France and the air attack on Britain that the United States realized it would have to make an amphibious invasion of Europe from England. America realized it would need thousands of landing crafts and hundreds of cargo and transport ships.
DUKWs were designed to maneuver with great agility. They could fight their way through choppy oceans, huge breakers, and exit the water onto soft sand without losing traction. They had specially designed ‘windshield surf boards’ to avoid taking on too much water and flooding out the driver.
The DUKWs first battle was the assault on Sicily during WWII. The DUKWs performed yeoman services such as deliverying emergency supplies to the troops, as well as evacuating wounded soldiers. At the end of the DUKWs first battle, many naval officers expressed their belief that the assault may have failed had it not been for the DUKWs.
The DUKWs were used again during the invasion of Salerno on September 9, 1943. It was estimated that over 400 DUKWs would be needed to make the invasion a success. Between September 9 and October 1, an average of 90 landing craft and 150 DUKWs moved 190,000 troops, 30,000 vehicles, and 120,000 tons of supplies across the beaches of Salerno. Just three weeks after the invasion, the Allies captured the port of Naples.
A fleet of 600 DUKWs assembled in the port of Naples. This enabled the Allies to unload 3,500 tons of supplies each day! In fact, between June 6, 1944 and May 8, 1945, the DUKWs moved 3,050,000 tons of the 15,750,000 tons unloaded by the Allies in Europe during the war!
The last amphibious operation of the DUKWs during WWII was the famous Rhine River crossing at the end of March, 1945. 370 DUKWs were used to move men and supplies across.
In addition to the European allies’ use of the DUKWs, they were also put to good use in the southwestern Pacific. DUKWs were used in New Guinea and Bougainville in 1943. They played a prominent role in the invasion of the Phillipines. They were also invaluable in the capture of Manila. They supported the landing on Iwo Jima, as well as participating in the final battle on Okinawa.
After their success in WWII, the DUKWs were deactivated, only to be re-activated and sent to Korea as soon as the war there began. In 1956, the DUKW evolved into a more developed version that was bigger and better. It was named the DRAKE. However, due to their high cost of production, they were never authorized for production. The DUKWs continued serving the United States Army until the mid-1960s.
Although DUKWs were used predominantly for the military, many were used by civilians: Police departments, fire stations and rescue units, just to name a few. Not to mention our wonderful Emerald City attraction: Ride the Ducks of Seattle!