Portsmouth D-Day commemorations: Restored amphibious DUKW vehicle is hoped to make appearance

A band of volunteers has restored a Second World War amphibious vehicle to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

By Tom Morton
Monday, 6th May 2019, 2:25 pm
Updated Monday, 6th May 2019, 2:33 pm
Graham Smitheringale works to restore a DUKW amphibious Second World War vehicle at a farm in Glinton, Peterborough, which he hopes will take part in the D Day 75 commemorations in Portsmouth Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Farmer Graham Smitheringale, 51, described the six-wheeled DUKW as a 'lorry that swims’ and the ‘backbone of Normandy’.

DUKWs, nicknamed ‘ducks’, were used on D-Day and played a key role in transporting cargo including weapons from ship to shore.

More than 21,000 of them were made in the US and their first use in the Second World War was in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

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The original chassis of a Second World War DUKW amphibious vehicle being restored near Peterborough, which is hoped will take part in the D-Day 75 commemorations in Portsmouth. Picture: Handout/PA Wire

Mr Smitheringale said he first became aware of the vehicles on childhood holidays to Hunstanton seaside in Norfolk where old re-fitted craft were being used for tours.

He bought the ‘rusty wrecks’ of two DUKWs in late 2017, one with most of the base intact and the other with most of a chassis, and has combined them to create one restored vehicle at his farm near Peterborough.

It is not yet water-tight but he hopes to show the vehicle on land at next month's D-Day 75 commemorations in Portsmouth.

He enlisted a band of volunteers including a retired welder, a fitter and a painter to restore the DUKW authentically, sourcing missing parts from around the world including an original steering wheel from the US.

He said the project, which has cost between £30,000 and £40,000 of his own and crowdfunded money, started due to his childhood memories of the craft.

‘I was just amazed that you can get a lorry that swims,’ he said. ‘It's a six-wheel drive lorry with a hull round it and that's amazing. It was the backbone of Normandy.’

But he said it became about paying tribute to those who served.

‘I just think it's our heritage isn't it, and we need to (pay tribute),’ he said. ‘They gave their today for our tomorrow.

‘We wouldn't be where we are today if we hadn't had them pushing the Germans back really on the D-Day landings.’

He said he hoped to show the restored DUKW to D-Day veterans, in time he will get the craft on the water and in future he wants to use it at fundraising events for the Armed Forces.

David Cowcill, who has been researching the vehicle, said markings show it was built in 1944 but they have been unable to establish its service history.

He said that people were initially dismissive when they saw the state of the vehicles they were restoring.

‘We took it to Thorney in June last year as a rusty wreck and people thought we were doolally, you know, these guys are on the weed, and yet when they see it now everybody's reaction is just wow, unbelievable, and that then leads them to say “can I support you?”,’ he said.

DUKWs are 31ft long and 8ft wide, weigh more than six tonnes and can carry more than two tonnes.

The originals could reach 50mph on road and six knots in water.

Mr Smitheringale said details of how the restored vehicle will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 are being finalised.