DUKW – A Brief History

Tuesday 6, September 2016

The DUKW more affectionately known as ‘Ducks’ were US military vehicles that were born due to necessity. As you can imagine it was very hard for the US to re-supply their troops. Their large supply ships unable to get close to the shore it became an arduous task to load the s2 DUKW on road and water - Origianla use of the Rotorua Duck Tours amphibious Boatupplies onto smaller boats, taking them into shore and then unloading them again onto trucks to take to the troops.

To solve this the military Generals approached an America’s Cup yacht designer named Rod Stevens and a talented and well known engineer named Palmer Putnam. These two men were tasked with transforming a US army truck known as a GMC deuce and a half into something that could leave the supply ships and easily take supplies all the way to the troops.

Something interesting about the ducks is that it did not take very long for Rod and Palmer to design, build and present the first DUKW to the US military. Amazingly this whole process took a mere 38 days! This is where things got interesting for Rod and Palmer beacuse the US Generals took one look at the vehicle that was presented to them and they HATED it. They decided that because the vehicle was made out of 2mm thick steel plates and weighed around 7 tonnes that the vehicle would not be fast enough or float very well, they had already decided that it was an awful idea.

A dejected Rod and Palmer, sure of the quality of their vehicle, managed to persuade the US generals to put the DUKW’s through some sea trials in order to prove their worth. While it was a reluctant agreement to trial the Ducks it was progress for Rod and Palmer.

This is where the DDUKW going into water full with all the crew on board - amphibious boat still in use with Rotorua Duck ToursUKW history takes an interesting turn. The vehicles were never actually put through the sea trials! This was due to a large storm that occurred off the coast of Boston in Massachusetts. During this storm a local coastguard boat became stranded on a sandbank with 7 crew members on board. Thankfully Rod and Palmer had produced a few more DUKW’s in the time before this storm and had them on display around the country to try and gain some support for their idea, one of which was in Boston at the time. Two local army men jumped on board the DUKW, went out and rescued the stranded Coastguard boat cutting through huge swells with ease!

The media were all over this recuse and it manged to find its way to the military generals who suddenly decided that the Ducks were not such a bad idea anymore (funny how that works right?) They got to work and produced 2000 Ducks in 1942 in a specially designed factory in Branson, Missouri. They produced a further 19,000 in 1944 making the total roughly 21,000 Ducks ever made.

The Ducks did amazing work during the war shipping over 1 million tonnes of mixed supplies into the troops on the front lines like no military had ever seen before. The Ducks were used extensively in the Pacific and even later in the war were used for landings including the DDUKW on water - The original use of the amphibious boat that Rotorua Duck Tours now use to transport customers from rotorua to the lakes-Day and Normandy landings among others.

For a full history check out the many videos on YouTube. I could talk for hours about these amazing machines but check it out for yourself, it’s one of the engineering marvels of the world!

Come for a ride on one of these amazing machines. Check out our tour pages to find out more!