• Ducks landing on beach


The eye-opening history of the amphibious boat: Invented for WW2

In my opinion, the DUKW or ‘Duck’ is one of the most fascinating vehicles ever created. The Ducks technology was well ahead of it’s time, so much so that if it was invented today people would think it was modern technology! Used in WW2 the Ducks played a pivotal role in the success of the war for the allied troops. I wanted to take the time to fill you in on some of the more important aspects of it’s history including it’s creation and some of the key battles that the Ducks were involved in.

The DUKW was an adaptation of the two and a half tonne CCKW military truck that was mass built and used extensively during WW2. The military trusted these trucks and had them in abundance so they decided to use that model to create the DUKW. They approached a well known yacht building company Sparkman and Stephens. They tasked a young man Rod Stephens Jr with designing a CCKW that could go from land (or ship) to sea. Rod worked alongside Dennis Puleston, a deep water sailor from the US and Frank W. Speir from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After approval of their design the final production was perfected by engineers at GMC. The DUKW was then built at the GMC Truck Assembly Plant in St Louis, Missouri. 21,147 were manufactured before production ended in 1945.

We are so proud at Rotorua Duck Tours to own the only operational WW2 landing crafts in New Zealand. It gives us a chance to keep the history alive. We provide tours around Rotorua and a lot of the questions that we receive on our tours are about the vehicles and their history. This shows that almost 80 years since their creation people still find amazement in the Ducks! The most common question we get asked is; ‘Why is it called a Duck?’ It’s actually a military acronym DUKW. D = The year it was built, 1942 the 4th year of WW2. U = Utility vehicle, amphibian used to supply troops. K = 6 wheel drive (not sure why they used K here). W = 2 axles in the rear. But in the modern day it has what looks like a big yellow bill on the front, goes on the land and the water so it’s a DUCK!

The Ducks have a long and colourful history. Their stats are seriously impressive! I have written in more detail about what the Ducks have managed to achieve over their history in my blog – The colourful history of the Ducks from WW2 to now. It’s well worth a read, I think you’ll be amazed what these vehicles have achieved from a ‘built for purpose’ vehicle into something much more! The Ducks are still used extensively today, mostly for tourism but at Rotorua Duck Tours we also proved that these vehicles can still serve the community when we saved people from their homes when a riverbank burst here in Rotorua. You can see the footage of this here.

The Ducks were involved in several key battles during WW2. The main purpose of the Ducks was to supply troops with first aid, ammunition and whatever else was needed on the battlefield. In the later parts of the war the Ducks also took up to 25 soldiers and their equipment from ship to shore. I have written a more detailed blog about the key battles the Ducks were involved – Key WW2 battles the Duck assisted with from Sicily to Germany. The opinion of many is that the Ducks were an integral part in the success of the war and when you look at the roles they played it’s pretty hard to argue!


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