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Odd DUKW

On land and in the water, World War II's amphibian workhorse showed the skeptics a thing or two now it shows tourists the sights

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He invited some 90 officers and civilians to a demonstration off Provincetown, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, in the first week of December 1942. The plan called for a covey of DUKWs to unload a ship and carry her cargo inland. Then, on the night of December 1, a storm of near-hurricane force hit Provincetown. As it happened, the Coast Guard yawl Rose, conscripted for wartime, was watching for German U-boats. As the Rose made for port, winds of 60 mph slammed her onto a sandbar, where she began to break up. Wind and waves turned back rescue boats, and a desperate Coast Guard officer, who knew about the gathering of DUKWs, called Stephens.

 

Stephens promptly loaded marine photographer Stanley Rosenfeld and several others onto a DUKW, which then roared down the beach, plunged into the surf and headed for the Rose. Maneuvering the DUKW alongside the foundering craft, Stephens picked up the seven-man crew and returned to shore. Rosenfeld headed for his New York studio, printed the dramatic rescue photos, got on a train to Washington and handed them to a high-ranking Army official. “I suggested he might enjoy showing them to the Secretary of the Navy,” Rosenfeld recalls. “He was most delighted to demonstrate an Army rescue of the Navy [the Coast Guard was then under Navy control] and was sure that President Roosevelt would also enjoy the event, and so he did.”

 

At the Provincetown demonstrations four days later, in ten-foot waves, the DUKWs unloaded cargo and a gun battery from a Liberty ship in record time, and carried howitzers and men through surf and across sand dunes. Army observers were enthusiastic about the demonstration, but higher brass, still unable to fit the amphibians into any tactical plan, remained unconvinced.

 

Somehow, 55 of the still-unloved hybrids wound up in Algeria, where Lt. Gen. George S. “Old Blood-and-Guts” Patton, preparing to invade Sicily, knew exactly what to do with them. He asked for as many as he could get, and when American and British troops stormed ashore beginning July 10, 1943,so did some 1,000 DUKWs. The amphibious vehicles bore men and ammunition onto the beaches—and, in some cases, tied up traffic farther inland in the narrow Sicilian streets. While rough seas stymied Navy landing craft, Army DUKWs plunged in and out of the surf, shuttling supplies and reinforcements ashore.

 

From that operation on, DUKWs participated in nearly every Allied invasion. On D-day, the first of some 2,000 of them began delivering combat and support troops, along with supplies, to Normandy’s beaches, then headed back to offshore ships with the wounded. At Normandy alone, DUKWs carried 18 million tons ashore. And when the American soldiers crossed the Rhine, 370 DUKWs crossed with them.

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