Photo provided by the St. Clair Shores Historical Commission

Looking Back: St. Clair Shores’ ‘duck’ boat

St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 17, 2019


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Originally designed for the U.S. military, DUKW (pronounced “duck”) boats were a modification of a 2-and-a-half-ton truck. These amphibious vehicles were created to aid U.S., and later Allied, forces in difficult, wet conditions. They saw their first combat use in Europe in 1943, as part of the Sicilian invasion. They were also used in the D-Day landings at Normandy, and in Guam and Saipan in the Pacific theater. The vehicle’s top speed on roads was 50 miles per hour, and just over 3 mph in water.

General Motors built the DUKWs at plants in Pontiac and St. Louis. From 1942 to 1945, 21,147 of them were produced. Meant to be used only in conflict zones, the boats were used again in the Korean War.

By the late 1950s, most of the DUKWs in the U.S. were designated as military surplus, and were frequently repurposed as rescue vehicles by fire departments or for use at Coast Guard stations. This particular vehicle is pictured in front of one of the St. Clair Shores fire stations in about 1958. Norm Goeschel is pictured in the vehicle, which required only one person to operate it.

And the acronym? D stands for: designed in 1942, U: utility, K: all-wheel drive, and W: dual-tandem rear axles, according to GM model nomenclature.

— Heidi Christein, archivist, St. Clair Shores Public Library