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By land and by sea

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 06:00
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Proving itself

In the Pacific, two DUKWs are used to transport a Lockheed P-38 Lightning nicknamed by German pilots the “Fork Tailed Devil.” Photo supplied by Jim Gilmore. Courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps

The DUKW performed well on land and at sea during testing, but skeptic military officials considered the vehicle a compromise, being neither a good truck nor a good boat. Surely its ungainly looks would not help its cause, either. Stephens still managed to convince the military to allow him to perform a series of sea demonstrations just off the New England coast.

A few days before testing, a Coast Guard patrol craft ran aground in a sandbar just offshore. Strong wind and heavy rain prevented a traditional rescue. The DUKW was deployed and was successful in rescuing the crew, performing where other craft could not. As word spread of the endeavor, opposition began to dissipate. Soon, the DUKW would be touted as “the last word in mechanized equipment.”

Mass production began in June 1942, with all production versions built around GMC’s CCKW “deuce-and-a-half” 2.5-ton 6-wheel-drive truck, which the military had already been using with great success. This ensured that parts were never in short supply.

More than 20,000 DUKWs were built and distributed to the U.S. Marine Corps and Allied forces. Two thousand were supplied to Britain and more than 500 each to Australia and Russia. According to Gilmore, “Even though it was approved for production, the military was slow to utilize the Duck. Once it became popular, though, demand outweighed supply — and there were never really enough Ducks to satisfy the military need.”

Training was crucial

Because the DUKW was land and seaworthy, it required thoroughly trained operators. It was necessary to equally combine the experience of a truck driver, seaman and maintenance man to handle the vehicle. Relying on one experience over the other could lead to operator error and possible disaster.

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