Friday, September 25, 2015

Should DUKWs be Banned From Commercial Operations?

With the tragic accident between a charter bus and a former DUKW in Seattle September 4th, it certainly looks as if, at the very least, be banned from public roads. 

  • 02 May 1999 A DUKW sank in 51 feet of water on Lake Hamilton, south of Hot Springs, Arkansas. 13 passengers died while scrambling for life preservers
  • 07 Jul 2010 Tug Caribbean Sea and barge struck DUKW 34, which had anchored in main shipping channel of the Delaware River
  • 11 Oct 2011 A DUKW in downtown Seattle ran over motorcyclist Austin Porter, who survived  
  • 15 Jun 2013 Duck Cleopatra caught fire on Thames River in London UK which caused 28 passengers and 2 crewmembers to jump overboard
  • 29 Sep 2013 Wacker Quacker 1 sank at Salthouse Dock in Liverpool UK. Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) chief inspector Steve Clinch said it was “extremely fortunate” nobody died
  • 24 Sep 2015 A “Ride The Ducks” vehicle crashed head on into a tour bus on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle that was carrying foreign students to the Seattle Zoo. KING TV reports dead were Claudia Derschmidt, 49, from Austria. Privaudo Putradauto, 18, from Indonesia, Mami Sato, 37, from Japan and a 17-year-old girl from China whose name was not released

 A brief history of the DUKW in US Army use:
US Army Transportation Museum Banner

DUKW Amphibious 2-1/2 ton 

DUKW on land
Delivering cargo directly to/from the beaches.

The DUKW was an amphibious version of the 2-1/2 ton General Motors cargo truck. It was developed by the U. S. Army during World War II as a means to deliver cargo from ships at sea, directly to shore.      


In early 1942, 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.

 Seep in water transporting and towing Soldiers
Above, a Seep with trailer in calm waters. In significant waves, the Seep capsized easily.       Developing a new landing craft:

The government assigned the task of developing this new type of landing craft to the 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 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 (NDRC) 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.

“Build me a truck that can swim!”

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.
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.    

top and side views of DUKW

D = built in 1942
U = amphibious 2-1/2 ton truck
K = front wheel drive
W = rear wheel drive

Length: 31 ft.
Width: 8 ft. 2 in
Height: 8 ft. 10 in
Weight, net: 14,880 lbs.
Payload: 5,175 lbs.
Gross: 20,055 lbs.
Armament:  Provision for M36 truck mount machine guns


The US Navy, responsible for the operation of all boats and ships, simply did not have enough men to train and operate all the various landing craft rolling off assembly lines.

In early 1942, the Navy requested that the Army train and man some landing craft and all of the DUKWs. Initially, this mission was assigned to the Corps of Engineers. The First Engineer Amphibian Command was established early in the summer of 1942.

training with DUKW in Pacific
Above, Army training took place at an Aquatic Park near the San Francisco Port of Embarkation in California. This photo shows joint training with Army stevedores 10 March 1944.
There was not a training model to follow and little time. The Engineer Amphibian Command was required to recruit, procure equipment, and develop a training program almost simultaneously.
A Boat Training Center was established at Camp Edwards, MA. Local civilian boat and yacht companies taught boat maintenance courses.

 instruction on powertrain of DUKW
Above, an enlisted instructor demonstrates the power train of the DUKW to a group of Reserve Officers.       

maintenance course for DUKW
Above, soldiers in a maintenance course for the DUKW.
The initial course of instruction was 3 weeks, but the need for lengthening the course was evident. Even after two months of training, soldiers were still not prepared to operate this complex new vehicle under wartime conditions.
Instructors and maintenance officers were sent to General Motors Corporation's War Products School in the fall of 1943.Various civilian companies taught 1,065 instructors about marine diesel engines, harbor operations, and offloading procedures.

 2 combined photos -- DUKW training in Europe/Pacific
Above, DUKWs training in the Pacific and Europe, as depicted in Life Magazine, November 1942.

DUKW instructions
Above, lashing instructions for shipment of a DUKW.

using a boom to raise/lower a DUKW
Above, before a sufficient number of landing ships were in service, it was necessary to use booms to transport vessels for setting the DUKWs into the water. This procedure was lengthy and difficult.

DUKW training exercise
Training exercise practicing the approach to a ship.

learning to tie knots
Above, at the Charleston, South Carolina Port of Embarkation, mariners work on the Knot Obstacle Course. They had to demonstrate working knowledge of all mariner's knots and procedures.


DUKW at Saipan

The 2nd Brigade, 87th Engineer Battalion was trained and issued DUKWs and other equipment. At the request of General Douglas MacArthur, they embarked for the Pacific in mid-January 1943.
The first training exercise for the DUKW came in March 1943 when the 2nd Brigade landed troops on Noumea, New Caledonia. The land was small and involved only a few DUKWs and other landing craft, but it was successful.
The amphibian engineers and the DUKW had proven their merit.
Eventually, the number of DUKW companies grew and the Transportation Corps established 15 Amphibious Truck Battalions and Headquarters Detachments, in order to assemble DUKW companies all under one command.
In just a few short months, the Army had come a long way in perfecting amphibious landing techniques and what was needed to put troops ashore.
The DUKW proved invaluable during the invasion of Salerno, Italy.
Between 9 September and 1 October 1943, 90 landing craft and 150 DUKWs moved 190,000 troops, 30,000 vehicles and 12,000 tons of supplies across the invasion beaches to Salerno.

DUKWs in assembly area North AFrica        
Above, a motor park and assembly area in North Africa.

Mighty DUKWs ready for inspection
Above, DUKWs assembled and ready for inspection, North Africa.

DUKW landing in Sicily 
A DUKW full of troops makes a beach landing, Italy.

DUKW passing disabled German tank in Italy
Above, a DUKW with .50 caliber ring mount passing a German Tiger tank on a beach road, Italy.           

DUKWs landing in Sicily
Operation Blue Jay used DUKWs for beaching operations in Sicily.


Early lessons by the Engineer Special Brigades were integrated into DUKW use during the Normandy Invasion in 1944.
Nineteen companies were allocated to the invasion:  12 assigned to Omaha Beach, and 7 to Utah Beach. All were loaded with ammunition and other cargo, which would be crucial during the early stages of the invasion.
The 453rd, 458th and 459th Transportation Corps Amphibious Truck Companies were assigned to the initial assault. Their mission was to deliver their cargo, then shuttle between the beach and the ships, offloading supplies and establishing supply and ammunition dumps.

DUKWs preparing to land at Normandy
France, 1944

The DUKWs embarked on LSTs in Weymouth, England on 5 June 1944, and moved across the channel for the invasion. LSTs off-loaded DUKWs 14 miles offshore shortly before the attack began. The DUKWs formed two columns and headed for shore.     

DUKW at Normandy, D-Day plus 6, w/GENS Eisenhower, Marshal and ADM King
Visiting the Normandy beachhead are General Marshall, General Eisenhower, and Admiral King (all holding the rail in the DUKW), 12 June 1944.

cargo from DUKW to trucks
Net cargo transfer from DUKWs to trucks, Le Verdon, France.

SLAPTON SANDS, ENGLAND – The Assault Exercises for D-Day

In the fall of 1943, an area on the southwest coast of England at Slapton Sands was ordered evacuated of all civilians. About 3,000 people, livestock, equipment and personal belongings were to be totally evacuated by 20 December 1943. They were sworn to secrecy as to the reason for their movement.
Slapton Sands covered about 30,000 acres. The area along the beach had similar characteristics of beach and tide as Utah Beach - the proposed invasion and landing area in Normandy, France.
Slapton Sands was used for numerous training and assault exercises. It accustomed the assault troops to the kind of terrain they would be encountering, tested and prepared the equipment with waterproofing, and procedures in demolition of obstacles.
Landing craft were assigned from various bases along the south Devon coast, including several DUKW companies, to carry troops and equipment on a sea journey of the same length and time as it would take to cross the English Channel to Normandy, France. Soldiers practiced landing on the beach and loading and unloading supplies.
These rehearsals for the most part were very successful, and lessons in coordination were learned, which were applied to the actual invasion.

color photo of Slapton Sands - today
Above, modern day Slapton Sands, looking much like it did in 1943. Note the similarity in the beach to that of Normandy beaches.    

Slapton Sands WWII loading gerry cans into DUKW
Training at Slapton Sands, practicing net loading of gas cans.

From June 6-7, 1944, the three companies lost 41 DUKWs while delivering supplies from ships to supply dumps established just behind the front lines.

cross section diagram of Omaha Beach not to scale
Omaha Beach - Typical Cross Section (not to scale)

The ability to move vital supplies directly to the front lines, and the courage of the crews under enemy fire made the DUKW a vital, integral part of the Normandy Invasion.

moving supplies from ship to shore w/DUKWs
After D-Day, the DUKW became indispensable in unloading vessels. Until port facilities could be rebuilt, they were crucial for moving supplies.   

Between June 6 1944 and May 8 1945, DUKWs moved 5,050,000 tons of the 15,750,000 tons unloaded by the allies in Europe during the war.

using a captured tank to refuel a dukw
DUKWs refueling on a farm in France. The source of their fuel is a captured German tank 1945.
The DUKWs were used for one last amphibious operation in Europe -- the famous Rhine River crossing in Germany, at the end of March 1945. During this operation, 370 DUKWs were used to move men and supplies.
During the early hours of the morning of 26 March 1945, under cloudy skies and protected by clouds of artificial fog, troops of the US 7th Army under General Patch crossed the Rhine River in Germany.

refuelilng a DUKW w/jerry cans
A DUKW of the 7th US Army is being loaded with gasoline jerrycans for a quick transfer across the Rhine in 1945.

DUKW on the steep bank of the Rhein
Above, a DUKW leaves the steep west bank of the Rhine River carrying an M2 105mm howitzer.


While the DUKWs were busy in Europe, their numbers were increased and their duties expanded in the Pacific Theater.
Thirteen full companies were in the invasion of the Philippines.
At Tacloban (the capital city of Leyte) in April 1945, 20 DUKWs from the 813th Amphibian Truck Company moved 1,847 tons of supplies in a 24-hour period. This required a 9-1/2 mile round trip from the ships, to a supply dump, and back again with each vehicle averaging over 92-tons of cargo.
By the end of World War II, a total of 21, 147 DUKWs had been built. The Army had organized 70 Amphibious Truck Companies and assigned over 12,829 soldiers to operate and maintain them.
DUKWs were invaluable during the capture of Manila. Although the Japanese had filled the harbor with sunken wreckage, the Army captured the city and supplied the troops using the DUKW.
In the final battle on Okinawa, the DUKW was indispensable in moving artillery pieces and ammunition directly to the troops fighting against the Shuri Line, near Naha.

casualties loaded on DUKW for evacuation
Casualties being loaded on DUKWs for evacuations

DUKWs at Manilla
General view of docking and incoming ships at Base X port area, Manila, September 1945.

Mighty DUKWs at Leyte
The shoreline of Leyte Island at the invasion point, seen from an incoming LCVP, 20 October 1944. The smoke is from the naval bombardment.

DUKWs landing at Guam
Above, the landing on Guam, 23 July 1944.

Supplying and developing the beachhead had, by Landing plus 3, made substantial progress. Supply ships were run in to the reef's edge, where they unloaded into trucks or DUKWs.


Fort Story, VA, just north of Virginia Beach, was the location for some of the earliest training on amphibious vehicles. As early as June 1942, load capability tests were performed there.

training with DUKWs at Ft Storey
Training with DUKWs at Ft Storey

DUKW training loading with break bulk and nets
Training with a Port Company to unload break bulk cargo in nets.

DUKW training loading a howitzer

DUKW training loading a howitzer
Port Company, loading a 105mm howitzer onto a DUKW.

DUKW at beach
Above, bringing the howitzer onto the beach.

The 1st Training Replacement Training Group (TRTG) was activated for training at Fort Story for training for the Korean conflict.

DUKW on display with crew and equipment
Based on World War II experience, the TRTG established standards for DUKW personnel and equipment (above).

DUKWs in KOREA, 1950-1954

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 at Pusan
Above, Army DUKWs from the 3rd Amphibious Truck Company, 2nd Logistical Command, are unloaded after bringing supplies from merchant ships docked in Pusan Harbor, Korea. 15 June 1951.

maintaining DUKWs
Above, the 558th Amphibious Truck Company performs maintenance at Inchon, Korea, 1952.

DUKWs were instrumental in getting cargo to shore at Pusan, Korea, and later at Inchon, Korea.

loading a DUKW from a ship with net cargo (C rations)
Above, soldiers from the 558th Amphibious Truck Company guide a load being lowered into a DUKW from a ship. 

loading rail cars from a DUKW
Above, cargo from ships anchored out in the Korean harbor is loaded directly onto railroad cars from the DUKW that brought it to shore. 5 November 1951

DUKW loading in Korea
Above, Korean stevedores loading cargo onto a DUKW, 1951.

maintenance ashore before duty day
Above, DUKWs pulling maintenance on shore before beginning their daily missions.

DUKW named 'Sue'
Above, DUKW No. 19 named "Sue" by PFC Dispenziere, with a note to his sweetheart back home.

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