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DUKW Amphibian Truck

The DUKW was an amphibious version of the 2-1/2 ton General Motors cargo truck. It was developed by the US Army during World War II as a means to deliver cargo from ships at sea, directly to shore. The DUKW was the result of the Army's need for a vehicle that could travel on both land and sea. Ships sat waiting to discharge cargo at foreign ports, sometimes for months, due to lack of port facilities. Ships waited for barges, barges waited for trucks, and trucks waited for trains. Smaller landing craft were being built by the hundreds as quickly as possible to accomplish this mission. Planners soon found the need to deliver high priority cargo, such as ammunition and water, directly to troops fighting inland off the invasion beaches.

In June of 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the National Defense Research Committee "to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare." Much of this work was done under the strictest secrecy. In June of 1941 The Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) superseded the committee structure. OSRD projects gave the United States and Allied troops more powerful and more accurate bombs, more reliable detonators, lighter and more accurate weapons, safer and more effective medical treatments, and more versatile vehicles.

Of all of the scientific and technical projects undertaken by the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development, the story of the DUKW is perhaps the most interesting example of the resistance to new technologies. Its introduction and deployment required an uphill battle by civilian scientists but demonstrated the stunning successes achieved when the military finally listened.

Scientists planned DUKW as an Army truck that could also cross rivers and carry men and material ashore across beaches. Initially the Army wanted no part of this silly civilian truck. Even after the completion of a prototype DUKW the Army took no interest until engineers used the prototype to save the lives of seven Coast Guardsmen grounded in a storm on the back shore of Cape Cod. Suddenly the Army was interested. Ultimately DUKW was a vital factor in landings in the Pacific, in Africa, and on the beaches of Normandy.

The Duck's original design began in 1940 at the request of the commanding general of supply services, National Defense Research Committee (NDRC). Composed of engineers, designers, technicians and entrepreneurs, the first mission of this group was to develop an amphibious version of the 1/4-ton Jeep. The first amphibious vehicle was the "Seep," built to the design of the 1/4-ton Ford GPA. It was intended to ferry soldiers to and from ships off-shore. But they were too small, difficult to maneuver, and in any significant waves, the Seep capsized easily and sank. The 1/4-ton Seep was shipped in small quantities to Europe and the islands of the South Pacific, working well in shallow waters and along narrow roads. It was not capable, however, of its assigned mission - ship to shore supply of cargo.

The National Defense Research Committee was headed by Palmer C. Putnam, who was in charge of a team with an impossible mission - design an amphibious vehicle large than the Seep that could move supplies directly from the ship to shore. The vehicle was required to perform as well on land as other vehicles of its size and type. It was to have sufficient sea-going capabilities: handle rough sea swells, high surf and have the ability to drive over reefs and sandbars.

Putnam's ideal solution was to simply convert the standard truck - the GMC 353 series 2-1.2 ton. These GMCs were already in production, so design drawings were prepared in record times and four prototypes quickly built. Prototypes were designed by Sparkman and Stephens of New York and built by the Yellow Truck and Coach Division of General Motors.

Colonel Frank Speir was one of the fathers of the Army's DUKW, along with Rod Stephens, Jr. of Sparkman and Stephens. Sparkman & Stephens, Inc. was established in 1929 to engage in the practice of Naval Architecture and to conduct the business of Yacht Brokerage and Insurance. Two brothers, Olin J. Stephens and Roderick Stephens, Jr., began their careers as self-taught sailors on Barnstable Bay, Massachusetts. Since the establishment of Sparkman & Stephens, the firm has successfully completed over 2600 designs and related assignments in the pleasure, commercial and military sectors. In 1933 Rod Stephens, Jr. joined the yacht design firm of Sparkman and Stephens which had been co-founded by his brother Olin. As a member of the firm Roderick Stephens oversaw domestic and foreign construction of all Sparkman and Stephens boats, and later became president. For his work on the "Duck" project, Rod Stephens was awarded the Medal Of Freedom - the highest award given to a civilian in a time of war. Roderick Stephens later aided in the design and sailing of the America's Cup defenders, RANGER in 1937; COLUMBIA in 1958, and CONSTELLATION in 1964.

One seriously garbled account claims that the DUKW hull was designed by the renowned naval architects, Sparkmans sic and Stevens sic, for which Ron Stevens received the Medal of Honor. Another account relates that the DUKW was conceived by Rod Stevens sic, a yacht designer, and Dick Kerr, transportation specialist for Arabian-American Oil Company.

Based upon the Army's General Motors Corporation 2 1/2 ton truck, the first prototype DUKW was delivered in June 1942. Tests were performed in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean and off-road tests at Fort Belvoir, VA and loading capability tests at Fort Eustis. By July 1942, a well-attended demonstration at Fort Story, VA ensured the final acceptance of the DUKW.

An order was placed for 2,000 of the DUKW-353 series. GM eventually produced 21,147 of them from 1943 to 1945 in Pontiac, Michigan. The Army had organized 70 Amphibious Truck Companies and assigned over 12,829 soldiers to operate and maintain them.

After World War II, the United States, Britain, France and Australia kept a reduced number of DUKWs in service. When the conflict in Korea began, the U.S. reactivated and deployed DUKW units. The 1st Transportation Replacement Training Group at Fort Story, VA, provided necessary training for DUKW crewman, and insured that DUKW units at the front were adequately staffed. DUKWs were instrumental in getting cargo to shore at Pusan, Korea, and later at Inchon, Korea.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:42:48 ZULU