Military, WW2

CCKW 2 1/2-ton Truck – The Allies’ Backbone of WWII

The CCKW is symbolic of many things, whether it’s the Allies’ victory of their enemies during the Second World War, or the United States’ incredible manufacturing might. Almost 600,000 CCKWs were built during the war, and they served in every theatre in a massive range of roles.

Today, it is popular among collectors for being relatively cheap, easy to work on, and fun to drive. Plus, they still retain the marvellous practicality that made them so successful in the first place!



The inception of the GMC CCKW can be traced back to the opening of the Second World War, a period marked by rapid changes, and equally rapid advancements. One area that had seen huge change was the mechanisation of armies. Since the First World War, mechanisation had become a serious priority for militaries around the world.

For thousands of years before, man relied on human and animal power to supply armies and move equipment. The internal combustion engine and automobile suddenly enabled the transportation of much more supplies at much faster rates.

The United States Army heavily invested in this, creating a system of trucks with various cargo capacities to fill different roles. Their pre-existing, well developed automobile industry enabled them to achieve this far more effectively than anyone else.

MilitaryHistoria's own Jeep.
The Jeep was a 1/4-ton truck.

One important vehicle needed was a capable truck within the 2 1/2-ton class. 2 1/2-ton refers to the cargo capacity, not the weight of the truck itself. This vehicle needed to be a general purpose truck that could not only carry supplies, men and tow equipment, but needed to be adaptable into other roles, such as a fire engine, a fuel tanker or a maintenance truck.

It also had to be rugged, reliable, easy to repair, capable off road, and built in huge numbers.

In response, General Motors, already an established automobile manufacturer, leveraged its expertise to develop the CCKW, a truck that would become the cornerstone of Allied logistical efforts.

GMC had recently designed a 6×6 truck for France known as the 1939 ACKWX. Rather than start from the ground up for the US Army, they updated the ACKWX and made it slightly larger, resulting in the famous CCKW.

1939 ACKWX.
The 1939 ACKWX, predecessor to the CCKW.

The model name “CCKW” derives from GMC’s internal vehicle identification system, indicating the truck’s design year (1941), configuration (Conventional cab, all-wheel drive, dual rear axles), and its intended role.

The development of the CCKW was guided by the principles of simplicity, reliability, and adaptability, ensuring that it could be produced quickly and efficiently, operate in diverse environments, and perform a wide range of functions.

Despite a large number of variants being built from the CCKW, they were built upon two main types: the long wheelbase (LWB) 353, and the short wheelbase (SWB) 352.

GMC 353.
A GMC CCKW 353 with a closed cab and winch.

Design of the CCKW

The GMC CCKW was a simple machine, with a cargo bed at the rear, a cab in the middle, and the engine at the front. All of this sat on a ladder frame, to which the three axles were also attached.

At the heart of the CCKW was the GMC 270 engine, a 4.4-liter inline six-cylinder gasoline engine that delivered 91 horsepower. This was originally a civilian engine, but it offered a balance of power and reliability that was suitable even for long-haul military logistics.

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Behind the engine was a five speed transmission, which sent power to all three axles for 6×6 drive. In addition, it had a set low range gears in the transfer case.

GMC 270 engine.
GI mechanics install the motor in a U.S. army vehicle as it passes along an ad-hoc assembly line at a depot in Normandy, France. September 16, 1944.

The CCKW 353 weighed 4.4 tons (4 tonnes) empty and measured 22 ft 6 in (6.8 m) in length. Its top speed was 45 mph.

The truck’s 6×6 configuration, featuring all-wheel drive and dual rear axles, provided good mobility across challenging terrains, from North African deserts to European mud and snow. This capability was further enhanced by its high ground clearance and robust leaf spring suspension system, allowing the CCKW to operate over uneven ground.

One of the key aspects of the CCKW’s design was its incredibly adaptable basis, enabling the production of various body types and features to fulfill different roles.

Compressor truck.
CCKW compressor truck. This variant could provide portable power for air tools.

CCKWs came with either open or closed cabs. Closed cab was the initial type, but later the open cab took over production as it was easier to make and transport.

On the open top cabs, the entire windscreen frame could be folded down and the canvas rolled back for a completely open top. Slots on the passenger side of the cab were present for a gun ring if needed.

A significant quantity of CCKWs came with a 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) winch, driven by a power take off from the engine.

Fuel tanker truck GMC.
CCKW fuel tanker. This could hold up to 750 gallons of fuel.

The rear half of the truck was dominated by the cargo bed. The sides of the bed were lined with wooden seats, which could be folded out of the way when they weren’t needed to make more space for cargo.

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The CCKW’s bed could be sheltered from the elements with a canvas that was supported by a series of wooden bows along the bed’s length.

In the bed, 2.5 tons of equipment or up to 25 soldiers could be carried.

CCKW cargo bed.
Troops in the rear bed of this CCKW.

Outside of these more generic types, there were many variations of the CCKW. These include a mobile workshop, fuel tanker, ambulance, fire truck, dental van, and a bomb truck, just to name a few. Some also had a fifth wheel for hauling trailers.

Probably the most famous, and dramatically different example of a CCKW variant is the DUKW. This was an amphibious version of the truck, with a boat-shaped body and propeller at the rear for movement in water.

Its ability to be adapted to meet the specific needs of the armed forces is one of the CCKW’s defining characteristics.

DUKW driving onto land from water.
The DUKW was built on the CCKW’s chassis and was an extremely useful tool.

CCKW Service History

First deployed in 1941, the CCKW quickly became a ubiquitous presence in all major theaters of World War II, playing a crucial role in the logistics and supply chains that sustained Allied military efforts. From the beaches of Normandy to the Pacific islands, the CCKW was instrumental in transporting troops, ammunition, fuel, and rations, often under harsh conditions and enemy fire.

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The truck’s most notable contribution was perhaps during the Normandy invasion and subsequent European campaign, where it was absolutely critical in establishing and maintaining the vital supply lines that enabled the rapid advance of Allied forces.

CCKW Red Ball Express.
CCKWs during the Red Ball Express. Trucks involved were marked with red circles, and received priority over other vehicles.

The CCKW was largely responsible for the success of the famous Red Ball Express, which saw Allied trucks maintain a continuous supply chain to forces in Europe after the Normandy landings. The bulk of the trucks involved in the operation were CCKWs.

Between 1941 and 1945, almost 600,000 CCKWs of all types were built. This staggering number was made possible by the immense importance of the truck itself, the massive scale of US industry, and the truck’s simple, manufacture-friendly design.

While the CCKW offered fantastic service, it did have some limitations. Namely, it did not share many parts with other trucks, and had room for improvement regarding its off roading abilities.

CCKWs Normandy.
A transfer point on a Normandy beachhead where the cargoes of Ducks are unloaded onto CCKWs and other trucks, that then distribute the cargo to various supply and ammunition dumps in France.

As future wars were expected to have paved supply routes quickly knocked out by newer generations of accurate weapons, the US wanted a replacement 2 1/2-ton truck that was also extremely capable off road.

This resulted in a few failed attempts, such as the Chrysler T-23. In the end though, the GMC CCKW wouldn’t be replaced until the 1950s by the M35 2 1/2-ton truck.

Beyond World War II, the CCKW continued to serve in various capacities during the Korean War and in numerous post-war military roles around the globe. The US sold many to its allies who then used them for many years after.

T-23 truck.
The T-23, a proposed replacement for the CCKW.

The truck remained in service with the US until the 1960s.

Its rugged design and adaptability made it suitable for a wide range of civilian applications, from agricultural and construction work to firefighting and disaster relief efforts. Large numbers found themselves on civilian markets.

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Today, the CCKW is a popular vehicle among private collectors. Its size has meant prices have remained lower than other vehicles from the period, such as the Willys Jeep, while it still remains fun to drive, and easy to work on.