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DUKW - WW2 Amphibious Truck

The GMC DUKW is one of the key vehicles of WW2


Certainly the world’s most iconic amphibious vehicle, the DUKW or Duck was one of the vital vehicles of WW2.

Almost written of as laughable during its earliest demonstrations by senior US Army officers, the smug smiles were soon wiped off their faces when the prototype DUKW answered a distress call in very rough seas right in front of them and safely landed the crew of a coastguard cutter on the beach. Suddenly the top brass realised the potential of the DUKW and a contract for production was signed.

Undoubtedly D Day and the days after were heavily influenced by the DUKW which allowed men, materials and supplies to be landed ashore before a port was taken, in pretty unpleasant seas.

Built around the Banjo axle GMC 6x6 chassis, the DUKW has the same GMC 270 cubic inch engine and transmission.
It has a very low seaboard but can handle some surprisingly rough seas.

Even 60 years on, DUKW’s continue to operate in civilian life, most notably for River Tours in major cities such as London, Boston and Dublin, where tourists marvel at the chance to be driven and ferried around the city in the same vehicle.

For the collector, the appeal has to be that you can swim it. But there are downsides.
The DUKW requires maintenance each time its swum and of course in salt water corrosion shows no mercy. It’s a vehicle that’s fun to own and operate but needs help and it’s not something you can do on a tight budget. If you have a DUKW, you will always have plenty of friends who want to go in the water with you, but who are likely to be less enthusiastic at the “after swimming” clean up and maintenance stage. However several DUKW’s have been successfully owned by groups of like minded enthusiasts. There is a huge following for the DUKW with an annual amphibious rally in a different European country – in 1994 the “amis des amphibes” swam the English Channel en route to the Normandy anniversary.

With every D Day anniversary, the DUKW enthusiasts are omnipresent and 2009 will be no exception, playing an important part in the beach head commemorative events.

Swimming in the sea shouldn’t be taken lightly as there is a lot more to it than just driving into the water, engaging the propeller and away you go. Safety is paramount and some concessions to modern equipment make a lot of sense. Many DUKWS have more reliable diesel engines and supplementary bilge pumps plus the obligatory safety equipment.

Restoration projects are really dependant on the state of the hull – with very few hulls not needing either major repair or total replacement. This can cost up to £15,000 for a professional replacement.
Depending on condition expect to pay between £25,000 and £30,000 for a fully operational and restored DUKW. You need somewhere to park it undercover and to maintain it – just covering a DUKW with a sheet isn’t enough to beat the corrosion as the salt gets in everywhere – especially the top hat sections on the hull, which then corrode the sheet metal.
You can drive it on a normal driving licence but may need some degree of marine certification and insurance for some waterways in UK and Europe. Prospective owners wishing to swim in the sea should check the maritime regulations before embarking on a purchase.

The specialist for DUKW and the all important spare parts, backed up with an immense technical knowledge of working on and operating these fabulous amphibians is Rex Ward, Tel 01189 306300.

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Photos by John Blackman



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