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By land and by sea

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 06:00
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Lined up like “ducks in a row” at a government storage depot. Photo supplied by Jim Gilmore. Courtesy: U.S. Marine Corps 

The U.S. Navy could not supply enough trainers for the DUKW, so the Army Corps of Engineers First Engineer Amphibian Command created special training schools. Because there was no training template, the First Engineer Amphibian Command had to quickly develop a training program from scratch.

Training was conducted in an aquatic park near Fort Mason (known then as the San Francisco Port of Embarkation), and civilian boat companies were recruited to conduct maintenance training at the General Motors Corp. War Products School. Initial training lasted three weeks, but was later expanded to five weeks because of the extensive preparation that was required.

At the beginning of training, the soldiers practiced driving on land to get used to the vehicle’s handling characteristics. Driving in sand was particularly challenging. In sand, lower tire pressure would be necessary for better traction. Once the vehicle was on a harder road surface, higher tire pressure would be needed.

Seamanship was most important, however, and the list of tasks to be implemented before deploying to water was lengthy. Among many other tasks, bilge plugs had to be checked, guards had to be in place and tire inflation adjusted to meet the demands of the landing destination. After all checks are made, the propeller was engaged and the DUKW had to enter the water squarely with the surf and maintain wheel operation until obstacles were cleared.

When maneuvering the vessel in water, special attention had to be paid to the rear, or stern of the DUKW. Contrary to the operation of a truck, where the front of the vehicle turns when steering, operators of the DUKW needed to get used to steering the Duck with a rudder in the stern.

Because of the exposure to saltwater, routine maintenance had to be performed at all recommended intervals. The DUKW’s lubrication points had to be checked daily and all waterproof areas inspected. Trainees were also instructed on cargo loading and offloading safety. Five weeks of extensive driver, navigation, cargo and maintenance training prepared crews to enter battle.

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