Italeri 1/35 DUKW Amphibious Truck

 

Model, Text and Photos by: Scott Taylor

 

The DUKW, probably the most successful amphibious vehicle in history, has long been at or near the top of most published wants lists (plus my own) for many years. I was thrilled when Skybow and Italeri both announced 1/35 scale DUKW kits in late 2001 (after a persistent rumour that Tamiya was going to do one). Skybow, unfortunately, dropped their plans soon thereafter, leaving Italeri with the only DUKW in the water. I have to say that I had mixed emotions about this; what I had seen of Skybow kits left me in no doubt that they would have produced an amazing kit of this vehicle, and Italeri's quality of late has been rather spotty. Still, better an Italeri DUKW than none, right?

Upon opening the box, I was greeted by several large sprues moulded in a medium olive plastic reminiscent of a Skybow kit or the Tamiya Dragon Wagon. The plastic is not as brittle as most Italeri kits I have come into contact with, which is a good thing. Like any self-respecting modeler, I immediately tore off the shrink-wrap and perused the kit. I was quite impressed with what I saw. The kit is moulded in an olive plastic reminiscent of a Skybow kit or the Tamiya Dragon Wagon. The plastic is not as brittle as most Italeri kits I have come into contact with, which is a good thing. Fortunately, it is also much thicker in key places. Sinkholes, a bugaboo in Italeri kits I have dealt with, were basically non-existent. As well, the four major hull pieces (top, bottom/front/rear, and sides) were quite rigid, and had a good heft to them - not what I would have expected from Italeri. I also thought that the wheels looked quite good, with nice hubs and a good-looking tread. I understand that the cross-section is not rounded enough, but also that none of the three aftermarket sets of resin tires have anything close to the real thing. I can live with the kit tires, and I did.

Much has been made of the drain slots moulded into the hull sides. Some have argued that these are postwar modifications, and that hence the Italeri kit is wrong for a wartime vehicle. Others have contended that they may have been fitted to wartime vehicles, and that there is no need to fill them for a later production DUKW. Thanks to Kurt Laughlin over on Tracklink, this debate was finally put to rest; he found a technical order for adding the slots to DUKWs, dated November 1949! So if you want a WWII DUKW, fill in those slots. It didn't matter to me, since I had already made up my mind. After looking at dozens of wartime photos and not seeing slots in any of DUKWs, I decided to fill mine with Tamiya putty. My rationale was that, even if DUKWs with slotted sides existed during the Big One, they didn't seem to have been common. And I had decided to build a typical DUKW, not a specific vehicle.

The kit does depict a mid to late production DUKW, after the windshield was changed from a vertical one (much like that fitted to standard soft-cab GMC Deuce and a Halfs) to the angled one with side windows. The spare tire stowage is on the right rear deck, whereas early vehicles had it on the left, but the central tire inflation system is not included. I believe that there are some differences in the shape of the bow, but I am no expert on the modifications introduced during DUKW production, so I cannot comment on that.

What else is in the box? Well, not much. The kit is, shall we say, spartan. While all of the basic components of the vehicle are included, there are no options to speak of at all. There is nothing at all to put in the cargo bed, although I know that this would have meant a lot of extra plastic (approximately 100 jerry cans to fill the rear, for instance!). More seriously, perhaps, are the fact that the forward splash guard can only be posed in the up position without modification (obviously, I modified mine), and the same goes for the windshield. One DUKW in four was fitted with an M36 machine gun ring mount (I remember fitting that to my old Airfix DUKW). Neither the ring mount itself nor the mounting points (which should be present on all DUKWs) were included in the kit. I should have added the mount brackets to my model, but chose not to, since they are in a relatively inaccessible part of the driver's compartment. No canvas cover for either the driver's compartment or the cargo bay are included, nor are the bows. Admittedly, these parts are typically not done well in plastic, so Italeri may have decided better not to take a stab at them than to do them poorly and get roundly criticized. Probably the most serious and visible omissions, however, are the covers for the wheel wells. All DUKWs were delivered with these covers, although they were often removed in the field (I have to admit, I was planning on leaving them off any DUKW I built, even before I knew the kit had omitted them). The forthcoming DUKW with 105mm howitzer from Italeri will include those covers, it appears, so anybody afraid of some very simple scratchbuilding work could just wait until the new kit is out, build it as a standard DUKW, and keep the 105 for another project.

Fit on this kit was surprisingly good, especially with the four large hull pieces. The only place where I had any difficulty was in the well for the winch at the back. I took the lazy route and used 10 thou plastic sheet to line the winch well, thus avoiding the need to clean up those nasty seams. The winch itself, although made up of only two pieces, looked remarkably good once assembled and painted. I added a tow line from string, but nothing beyond that.

The one aspect of the kit that I was definitely not happy with were the bumpers that go on the hull corners. As soon as I started looking seriously at the kit and references, I showed my wife the kit parts and some photos of the real deal and asked her whether she had any ideas on how to replace them. Within a couple of hours, I had six beautiful woven bumpers, ready to attach to the model. It's nice having that kind of talent in the house. Once woven, the bumpers were left to sit in Soya sauce for several minutes to discolour them.

Attaching the bumpers to the vehicle was a real joy, since I had to thread the bumpers onto the loops after the vehicle and loops were painted, then attach the loops with CA glue. I wish I had three hands with very tiny fingers when I was doing that! The end result is, I think, worth it, though.

I opted to make this a generic DUKW from Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France, with only stars and serial numbers and overall olive drab camouflage. I used one of the fabulous Archer Dry Transfer stars on the hull rear; this was my first experience with Archer products, but certainly not my last. They are the finest dry transfers I have ever used, and will pick up more of their US armour sheets as soon as I see them. The other stars are from an old Microscale sheet - beautiful opacity and adherence, but very, very fragile. Finally, the serial numbers are from the kit, and they worked quite well. The "LST 691" written on the hull sides are done with a white pencil crayon, which I find works very well for simulating chalk.

The load was probably more work than the model itself. I had thought about a number of different loads, including a 105mm howitzer and a jeep. I opted against the 105 because I thought that would make the DUKW too belligerent, while I figured a jeep would take too long to build (I was figuring on building this kit in a month or less - almost made it!). Instead, I opted for a mixed cargo load, suited for resupplying an M10 tank destroyer unit; in other words, lots of fuel drums and jerry cans, .50 calibre ammo boxes, 3 inch ammo crates, and K ration boxes. I found that choosing a specific mission for the vehicle helped a lot in choosing the load, as opposed to the "it looks good" method of throwing junk in the back of a vehicle.

The first thing I learned about stowing trucks is that it's a lot more involved than putting some packs on the back of a tank. I had set aside an number of supplies from Tamiya's Allied Vehicles Accessory Set (#35229), including half a dozen 55 gallon fuel drums and some jerry cans. Once I put the fuel drums in the cargo bed, I was in for a rude shock - they only filled less than a quarter of the vehicle! A fully loaded DUKW, it turned out, was going to be a lot of work. After those six fuel drums and 29 jerry cans (a mixture of Tamiya, Italeri, and Academy products), I had had my fill of seams and assembling fiddly bits. The .50 calibre boxes are from the excellent AFV Club set; I opted for the pallets of ammo simply because I did not want to build dozens of ammo boxes (lazy modeler syndrome strikes!). The 3 inch ammo boxes are from an Academy set, while the other boxes are, I believe, from a Tamiya Sherman. The fuel pump is also from Academy. The cargo load ended up being a lot of work, but I am really happy with the visual interest it adds to the vehicle. In the end, though, it might have been easier to have just built that jeep!

Once the kit was painted, decaled, and flatcoated, it was time to add the finishing touches. Mooring lines were added at the bow and stern (soaked in Soya sauce, as the bumpers had been), as well as the anchor at the stern. Not enough armour kits come with an anchor, if you ask me. I also punched foil inserts for the rear view mirrors.

The clear parts for the windshield fit very nicely into the frames, and they were attached using a combination of CA glue and white glue (dipping the clear parts in Future floor polish before assembly removes any chance of the CA glue fogging the windows). As a final touch, I replaced the kit's headlights (which, to Italeri's credit, do come as separate clear lenses) with MV Lenses (I used L149s, with a 3.7mm diameter).

Overall, I am really happy with this model. It built up well, captures the look of the vehicle really well, and was a lot of fun (and pretty quick) to build. I'm happy to see Italeri bring out such a nice kit of a cool subject. Now, I hope that early M24 Chaffee is up to snuff …

References:

Allied-Axis #2 (great coverage of the DUKW, with tech manual images, wartime photos, and detail shots of a restored vehicle).

Zaloga, Steve. US Amphibious Vehicles of World War II. Concord, 2002.

KMK Scaleworld's DUKW reference page

There is a Squadron/Signal title on the DUKW, but I was not able to get a hold of it during the compressed timeframe that I completed this kit in.

The DUKW is very large - over 11 inches (28 cm) long in 1/35

The DUKW is very large - over 11 inches (28 cm) long in 1/35

 


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I'm sorry, but since the review has been published that product appears to have gone out of production.