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By land and by sea

Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 06:00
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The Seep alongside its Jeep cousin. Photo supplied by Jim Gilmore. Courtesy: U.S. Army

The DUKW would also be used in landings up to and including D-Day, where nearly 2,000 of the amphibious craft were deployed. Because most ports had been destroyed or still held with token resistance, the DUKW was used to unload supplies on and after D-Day. The last time the vehicle was used in Europe was during Operation Plunder in March 1945, when more than 350 DUKWs were used to move soldiers and supplies across the Rhine River in Germany.

The DUKW saw action in virtually every Pacific assault, including Guadalcanal and the attack on Iwo Jima. The thin hull prevented the vehicle from being used in serious, first-wave combat action, so it was mostly relegated to carrying supplies and transporting wounded troops back to hospital ships. The Japanese were convinced that the barrier reefs would protect against a sustained amphibious attack, but the DUKWs were able to drive over barrier reefs and onto islands with ease. Thirteen companies of DUKWs were used in the invasion of the Philippines.

Seep and Super Duck

As the war progressed in Europe, the Allies consistently witnessed bridges being destroyed — and the idea of an amphibious version of the Jeep arose. Once again, yacht designer Rod Stephens was called upon to design such a vehicle.

Still wanting to take advantage of Ford Motor Co.’s mass-production capabilities, the military contracted with Ford to collaborate with Stephens and military vehicle experts Marmon Harrington to build an amphibious vehicle around the GPW Jeep. Called the “Seep,” which stood for Seagoing Jeep, its underpinnings were essentially the same as the DUKW, only smaller. Not surprisingly, it looked just like a miniature version of the Duck. (Editor’s Note: For the full history of the Jeep, see our Drivability story.)

The Seep was said to have limitations. While it proved to be capable when crossing small rivers and streams, it could be overcome in choppy water and was more difficult than a Jeep to maneuver on land. The U.S., however, used the vehicle with some success during the landing in Sicily.

“This was one of those times when expectations outweighed reality. The GPA was expected to have the same seaworthiness as the Duck, along with the same maneuverability as a Jeep on land,” says Gilmore. It may have been impossible to overcome this perception — and fewer than 13,000 were built by the time production was halted in 1943.

The DUKW, however, kept going on. After the war, the United States, Great Britain, France and Australia kept limited numbers of Ducks in service. The U.S. reactivated and deployed several hundred for use in the Korean War, shuttling supplies ashore during the Battle of Pusan Perimeter and later at Inchon.

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