The DUKW amphibious vehicle is arguably the most phenomenal innovation during World War II. It’s remarkably ingenious and highly versatile, and the timing of its emergence it’s just *chef’s kiss* perfect. Do you need a capable vehicle to transport troops? DUKW. Do you need to transport supplies from a ship to the shores? DUKW. Do you need to ferry wounded soldiers on the ground into hospital ships without having to move them at all? DUKW. The only thing it couldn’t do was fly! DUKW was the perfect transport and support vehicle on the battlefield.

An Ingenious Solution For A Challenging Problem

Amphibious assaults were among the most challenging offensive to pull off, particularly if you’re coming in against a well-defended beachhead. However, despite weeks of thorough planning, things could still array, especially if the execution wasn’t as meticulous as expected. The British Army learned this lesson the hard way during the First World War when troops conducted an offensive on Turkey’s shores. It wasn’t poor planning and execution that led troops to their bloody demise (well, it was one factor) but rather the lack of viable transportation that could safely ferry dozens of its men from their naval warships to the beachhead.

Following the bombings in Pearl Harbor that catapulted the United States into joining the war, the concept of developing an amphibious vehicle became a top priority. At first, military engineers thought of wrapping a huge tarp under a standard Army truck to make it float and propel it using oars, which immediately got thrown out of the window because 1) the idea was obsolete and 2) there was no way it could win in the modern warfare.

Amphibious Vehicle
(Screenshot from History Channel)

So, they returned to the drawing board to develop a more seaworthy design, tapping into the help of the well-respected sailor and naval architect Rod Stephens Jr. of Sparkman & Stephens, Inc.

With a team of four, Stephens converted the two-and-a-half-ton General Motors Corporation (GMC) CCKW military truck, commonly used for transporting ammunition and other supplies, into an amphibian vehicle. The small team worked around the clock and completed the project in a record time of just 38 days.

The new machine rolled into the light of day, and everyone was in awe at the strange-looking vehicle that some GIs began calling the “Duck.” It didn’t really have an official name as it was introduced using the GMC code letters DUKW, which stands for:

D – the 1942 production series
U – for Utility
K – for front-wheel drive, and
W – for rear axles

DUKW Specs
(Image source: Encyclopædia Britannica)

The Duck endearment, however, stuck.