The GMC Army Duck

Compiled by Donald E. Meyer, GMC Truck Historian
(First published in American Truck Historical Society, Motor City Chapter News Letter, 2/07)

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One of the most unique tactical military vehicles developed during World War II was the "Duck" amphibious truck. In April, 1942, the U.S. Army ordered a prototype of an amphibious vehicle that could transport men and materiel on land and in water to use in invasions from ships up onto shore and across rivers. Naval architects Sparkman and Stevens in conjunction with GMC Truck Engineering designed and built such a prototype and delivered it to the Army 43 days after receipt of the contract. After it passed the Army’s acceptance tests, they ordered 2,000 production units. GMC started building them in Pontiac in November, 1942. By the end of WW II, 21,147 Ducks had been built.

Officially called model DUKW353, 2-1/2 ton 6x6, Amphibious Troop/Cargo Carrier, it was rated to carry 25 men with equipment or 5,000 lbs. on land or 50 men or 10,000 lbs. in water. It was basically a steel boat hull mounted on a GMC CCKW353, 2-1/2 ton 6x6 truck chassis. Powered by the 102 hp GMC 270 inline 6 gas engine, it had a 5-speed manual transmission and a 2-speed transfer case driving all 3 axles. Special equipment included a propeller and rudder under the stern (rear end to you truckers), 3 bilge pumps, an anchor and a rear-mounted winch. A major advantage was that no special preparation was required before entering the water. In 1943, central tire inflation became available to allow the driver to lower tire pressure for better traction on sand or soft soil, using instrument panel mounted controls.

Ducks were first deployed in an amphibious landing on the island of Noumea in the South Pacific in March, 1943. The public first learned of their existence then when photos were published showing them plunging through 15 ft. high surf to reach the beach. Thereafter, Ducks were used in every amphibious operation in both the European and Pacific theaters. The majority of early built Ducks went to North Africa and from there 100 of them invaded Italy. Many were used in the Normandy invasion in June, 1944, and, in March, 1944, 370 helped to move several Allied armies across the Rhine River into Germany after the Germans destroyed the bridges.

In peace time, war surplus Ducks were used by many police and fire agencies around the world for water rescues and fire fighting. Currently there are several fleets of them that take people for land/water tours in the U.S. and Europe. For example, the Original Wisconsin Dells Ducks have 45 of them in service in and out of the Wisconsin River and many more in reserve or to provide parts. General Motors now has a typical Army DUKW353 for display in the GM Heritage Center.




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