From requirement to prototype in 38 days, and placed into production with only minor changes throughout the run.
In the very early days of World War II, as the Army grasped that it would be required to conduct major amphibious assaults in virtually every theater it deployed to, it also realized that the real challenge wouldn’t be getting forces ashore, but rather sustaining them with supplies over the assault beaches until port facilities could be captured. The plan was to use the same landing craft that lifted the assault troops to haul supplies. The trouble there was that transferring cargo from beaching craft to trucking ashore was time and manpower intensive. And so, the National Defense Research Council had a flash of brilliance. Why not build an amphibious truck?
The respected yacht designers of Sparkman and Stephens sat down with GMC, and quickly produced a prototype. Taking a variant of the recently introduced CCKW 6×6 2-1/2 ton truck, they added a sealed buoyant hull, a propeller and rudder, and viola! the amphibious truck was born. Under the GMC naming convention of the time, D stood for designed in 1942, U for amphibious, K for all-wheel drive, and W for dual rear axles. Hence, DUKW, which quickly became to the GI tongue, the Duck.
The DUKW was a surprisingly seaworthy truck, and much faster on land than any other boat. About 21,000 were produced by 1945, and served in the US Army and the Marines in just about every theater after North Africa.
Interesting tidbit. The documentary interviews Marines that operated DUKWs. In the Army, most were operated by African American soldiers in segregated units. The invasion of Iwo Jima is pretty much considered an all Marine Corps show, but Army Amphibian Truck Companies including the 476 ATC supported the operation, with its soldiers earning five Silver Stars and seventeen Bronze Stars, as well as the company being awarded a Navy Unit Commendation. That’s a hell of a record for a transportation company.
Over the years, many DUKWs have found their way through surplus sales into civilian hands, and they popular tour boats in places such as the Wisconsin Dells. That hasn’t been without risk. The sinking of a DUKW in Arkansas in 1999 cost 12 lives due to poor safety measures in place.
Still, the DUKW design was remarkably sound, given the time it took to develop, and was an extremely valuable tool in the amphibious operations of the war.