The DUKW was used in landings in the Mediterranean, Pacific, on the D-Day beaches of Operation Husky, Normandy, but also during the Battle of the Scheldt, Operation Veritable and Operation Plunder. Its principal use was to ferry supplies from ship to shore, but it was used for other tasks, such as transporting wounded combatants to hospital ships or operations in flooded (polder) landscape.
A ‘paddling’ of DUKWs
The amphibious truck that became universally known as the ‘Duck’ first appeared in 1942, and was a version of the standard CMC 6×6 truck fitted with a boat-like hull to provide buoyancy. It derived its name from the GMC model designation system – D showed that it was a 1942 model, U that it was amphibious, K indicated that it was an all-wheel-drive model, and W denoted twin rear axles. From this came DUKW, and this was soon shortened to ‘Duck.
The Duck was produced in large numbers. By the time the war ended 21,147 had been built, and the type was used not only by the US Army but also by the British army and many other Allied armed forces. Being based on a widely-used truck chassis it was a fairly simple amphibious vehicle to maintain and drive, and its performance was such that it could be driven over most types of country, In the water the Duck was moved by a single propeller at the rear driven from the main engine, and steering was carried out using a rudder behind the propeller; extra steering control could be achieved by using the front wheels. The driver was seated in front of the main cargo compartment, which was quite spacious and could just about carry loads such as light artillery weapons – it was even possible to fire some weapons such as the 25-pdr field guns during the ‘run in’ to a beach. The driver was seated behind a folding windscreen and a canvas cover could be erected over the cargo area. For driving over soft areas such as sand beaches the six wheels used a central tyre pressure-control system.
The Duck was meant for carrying supplies from ships over beaches, but it was used for many other purposes. One advantage was that it did not always have to unload its supplies directly on the beach: on many occasions it was able to drive its load well forward to where the freight was needed and then return. Many were used as troop transports and the number of special-purpose versions were legion. Some were fitted with special weapons, such as the 114.3-mm(4.5-in) rocket-firing version used in the Pacific and known as the Scorpion. Mention has been made of field guns firing from the cargo area, and some Ducks were armed with heavy machine-guns for self-defence or antiaircraft use. A tow hook was fitted at the rear and some vehicles also had a self-recovery winch. Twin bilge pumps were fitted as standard.
Many Ducks were sent to the USSR, and the type so impressed the Soviet army that the USSR produced its own copy, known as the BAV-485. This differed from the original by having a small loading ramp at the rear of the cargo area. Many of these BAV-485s are still in use by the Warsaw Pact nations, and the DUKW still serves on with a few Western armed forces. The British army did not pension off its Ducks until the late 1970s.
The Duck has been described as one of the war-winners for the Allies and certainly gave good service wherever it was used. It had some limitations in that the load-carrying capacity was rather light and performance in rough water left something to be desired, but the Duck was a good sturdy vehicle that was well-liked by all who used it.