In the midst of World War II, allied commanders preparing to invade occupied Europe faced a great challenge. With most of the continent’s harbor facilities in ruins, there was no way to deliver vital troops and supplies from ship to shore. A smaller craft was needed — one that could transport payload quickly and efficiently while navigating ocean waves and maneuvering around obstacles on the beach. 

The answer came in the form of the DUKW, an amphibious truck that leapt off the drawing board in 1942. The new craft was equipped with six wheels for maximum traction on land and a propeller for water operation. Soldiers nicknamed the new amphibian “the duck” — and it quickly proved its worth in wartime. 

The duck made its debut during the invasion of Sicily. Despite rough surf, the ducks surpassed expectations. As a result, some 2,000 ducks were used in the D-Day landings on the Normandy coast, and thousands more were employed in the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific. Over 21,000 ducks were built during World War II, and were so successful that some still saw active military duty till the end of the Korean War.   


The military did not name their amphibious truck “DUKW” because it resembled the word “duck.” Here’s what the code letters actually stood for:

D = 1942, the year the first DUKW was built

U = Utility vehicle

K = Front wheel drive

W = Rear wheel drive