(popularly pronounced "duck"
) is a six-wheel-drive amphibious truck
that was designed by General Motors Corporation during World War II
for transporting goods and troops over land and water and for use approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious
The DUKW was designed by Rod Stephens Jr. of Sparkman & Stephens
Inc. yacht designers, Dennis Puleston
, a British deep water sailor, and Frank W. Speir, an ROTC
Lieutenant out of MIT
. Developed by the National Defense Research Committee
and the Office of Scientific Research and Development
, it was initially rejected by the armed services. When a United States Coast Guard
patrol craft ran aground on a sandbar 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 the military opposition melted. The DUKW would later prove its seaworthiness by crossing the English Channel
The DUKW prototype was built around the cab over engine (COE) six-wheel-drive military truck GMC ACKWX (a COE version of the GMC CCKW), with the addition of a watertight hull and a propeller. The final production design was based on the CCKW. The vehicle was built by the GMC division of General Motors (called Yellow Truck and Coach at the beginning of the war). It was powered by a GMC Straight-6 engine of 270 in³ (4.416 L). The DUKW weighed 7.5 tons and operated at 6.4 mph (10 km/h) on water and 50-55 mph (80 km/h) on land. It was 31 feet (9.3 m) long, 8.25 feet (2.4 m) wide, and 8.8 feet (2.6 m) high with the folding-canvas top up. More than 21,000 were manufactured. It was not an armored vehicle, being plated with sheet steel between 1/16" and 1/8" thick to minimize weight. A high capacity bilge pump system kept the DUKW afloat if the thin hull was breached by holes up to 2" in diameter.
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 the DUKW's great versatility as an amphibious vehicle. This feature is now standard on many military vehicles.
The designation of DUKW
is not a military pun
- the name comes from the model naming terminology used by GMC; the D
indicates a vehicle designed in 1942
, the U
meant "utility (amphibious)", the K
indicated all-wheel drive
and the W
indicated two powered rear axles.
Although technically a misnomer, DUKWs are often referred to as duck boats. Another popular nickname was old magoo or simply magoo. Though the origin of this term is unknown, it probably refers to the odd shape of the vehicle.
The DUKW was used in landings in the Mediterranean, Pacific
, on the D-Day
beaches of Normandy
, OP. Husky, and during Operation Plunder
In the latter 1940s and throughout the 1950s, while Speir, now Project Engineer for the Army's Amphibious Warfare Program, worked on 'bigger and better' amphibious vehicles such as the 'Super Duck,' the 'Drake' and the mammoth BARC
(Barge, Amphibious, Resupply, Cargo), a good many DUKWs were made surplus and put to use as amphibious rescue vehicles by fire departments and even, coming full circle, by Coast Guard stations.
Several were used by abalone fishermen of San Luis Obispo County California to take their catch right off the boats and directly to market, neatly combining the two steps of off-loading onto smaller craft, and then transferring to trucks once they reached the beach.
Britain's Royal Marines still use a small number of these vehicles for training purposes in Scotland.
In the 1950's the USSR copied the DUKW and the Zavod Imeni Likhacheva factory started producing the BAV 485. Production was stopped in 1962.
Whenever a natural disaster or an emergency situation occurs, DUKWs are well equipped for the land and water rescue efforts. One particular duck built in 1945 was loaned to a fire department during the Great Flood of 1993 and in 2005, the vehicle spent 10 days rescuing survivors from Hurricane Katrina. The DUKW maneuvered through flood waters, transporting victims from their rooftops to helicopter pads set up throughout New Orleans.
Although DUKWs were used predominantly for the military, many were used by civilian organizations such as police departments, fire stations and rescue units. Some such as the "Moby Duck" have been adapted as props by local groups such as Seattle's Seafair Pirates to be used in parades and events.
DUKWs are still in use, as well as purpose-built amphibious tour buses, primarily as tourist
transport in harbor and river cities, including but not limited to: Seattle
; Branson, Missouri
; Grapevine, Texas
; Dublin, Ireland
; Rotorua, New Zealand
; The Netherlands
; Washington, D.C.
; and Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
. One well-established tour operator in the United States is Ride the Ducks
DUKWs in Fiction
Two DUKWs, Gert and Daisy, are central to Ron Dawson
's novel, The Last Viking: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Heist
. The novel tells the story of a group of a modern day Viking raid by a group of Birmingham gangsters who capture and loot the island of Guernsey on the tenth anniversary of D Day with disastrous consequences. The novel is probably unique in featuring two DUKWs in a post WW2 adventure.
A DUKW is also central to the 2000 AD story Disaster 1990, in which the lead character, London hardman Bill Savage liberates one from a war museum to survive a futuristic flooded Britain.
A DUKW named Scrooge is featured in the 2006 novel Red Lightning by John Varley. Scrooge is used by the main characters to enter a devastated Florida after a tsunami triggered by an object stiking the earth.