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By land and by sea

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 07:00
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DUKW in World War II action. Photo supplied by Jim Gilmore. Courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps

If there ever was a vehicle that deserved a little love, it would be DUKW, or more affectionately named “Duck.” This amphibious wonder of war has gained little recognition from anyone beyond those who saw it in action, but many people have seen and possibly even ridden in a DUKW. Unbeknownst to them, they were witness to a vehicle that helped to shape the outcome of a World War.

Jim Gilmore, a military vehicle historian, restoration expert and member of the Redball Military Transport Club, recently spoke with Motor Age about this amazing vehicle. He owns 18 restored military vehicles ranging from armored cars to Jeeps, and has served as director and Judging Chairman of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.

“The DUKW was one of those U.S. military innovations that helped to win World War II,” he confirms. Gilmore explains that Armies have always struggled to land an infantry on a beachhead, and vessels made to do so prior to the war were inadequate. While trucks travelled well over land, and boats navigated the sea, there was no true amphibious vehicle that could bridge the gap between the two.

This proved true during the World War I Allied invasion of the German-influenced Ottoman Empire, in the Turkish peninsula at Gallipoli in 1915. Initial attacks were strictly naval in nature. The first naval attack included 12 British and French ships, which attempted to dislodge forward batteries. Met with light resistance, the Allies deemed the attack a moderate success.  Subsequent naval attacks, however, were met with stronger resistance as mines were laid in the peninsula. The final attack was defeated when five Allied ships struck mines, sinking four ships.

It became obvious after the naval attacks that the Allies needed to deploy ground troops. Thinking that they had softened the resistance with naval bombardments, the Allies deployed rowing boats to carry troops ashore. The boats were woefully inadequate for shore landing, and nonstop Turkish attacks inflicted massive Allied casualties.

It was apparent that precious time was lost disembarking boats and wading to shore. More than anything, this battle proved that more suitable craft was needed to expedite the landing of soldiers and supplies.

“The military really needed a craft that could come right out of the water and keep going,” Gilmore says.

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