Ford GPA amphibious Jeep in 1943. Photo supplied by Jim Gilmore. Courtesy: U.S. Army
Initially, the DUKW was equipped with a manual tire inflation system. To adjust tire pressure to meet demands, the operator would have to check the specification for the appropriate driving surface, get out of the vehicle with an air hose, and either use the onboard pump to inflate the tires or manually deflate them. This was seen as putting operators in peril and defeating the purpose of having a true amphibious vehicle.
“Later in production, the DUKW was fitted with a central tire inflation system,” Gilmore explains. It was the first of its kind, and consisted of an onboard compressor that fed air to each of the tires through a series of hoses and tubing. This system proved to be invaluable when landing on a beach, Gilmore adds: “Now, the operator could adjust the tire pressure from inside the DUKW according to the driving surface.”
In the unlikely event that it did get stuck, the DUKW was equipped with tools and an onboard winch to help extricate itself from trouble.
The DUKW was involved in both European and Pacific theaters of operation during World War II. It first saw action during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, code named Operation Husky. The Americans and British used approximately 900 DUKWs for the invasions, which contributed to defeating the Axis Powers in Italy. The DUKW delivered most of the cargo to the shore, and its on-road capabilities enabled it to serve as a regular truck, transporting troops and cargo wherever they were needed. British General Sir Harold Alexander wrote later, “It is not too much to say the DUKW revolutionized the problem of beach maintenance.”
A DUKW would also be used to transport as many as 12 wounded troops back to hospital ships. Special wire cables lifted the Duck to the deck of the ship, where the wounded were removed. Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower credited the DUKW as invaluable in helping to capture Sicily, and was so impressed that he recommended its creator for a citation.