Iron Horses of World War II

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    Nov 04, 2012
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Say “World War II Motorcycles” and most people will picture Steve McQueen on a Triumph trying to outrace the Germans. What most people don’t realize is how high motorcycle usage in WWII was on both sides. Here, we’ll cover British and German usage with a quick stop in Japan.

British motorcycle usage in WWII was primarily BSA, Norton, Royal Enfield and of course, Triumph. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) began the war with six motorcycle/sidecar battalions. The Model G sidecar would generally have mounted a Lewis machine gun. At the evacuation of Dunkirk, two battalions worth of motorcycles and other equipment had to be abandoned. The remaining BEF motorcycle battalions were kept in England for the remainder of the war except for several raids into France in 1941. That’s not to say that motorcycles stayed out of the war however. Other units made exceptional use of them in Africa and what was then Palestine. The BSA’s M20, with a 500cc engine, was the most produced British motorcycle of the war. With over 125,000 built, many are still on the road today.

German motorcycle usage in WWII consisted of models from BMW, DKW, NSU and Zundapp. In addition to liaison, signal, and reconnaissance duty, motorcycle units were also assigned to every tank division, engineer and anti-tank battalion, making Germany the most extensive user of motorcycles in the war. Despite the sheer number of motorcycles produced by Zundapp and BMW, it was DKW’s RT125, a reconnaissance motorcycle with a two-stroke engine and three speed transmission that was heavily copied by Yamaha, BSA and even Harley-Davidson after the war ended.

Finally, the Japanese military used a motorcycle that was licensed by the Sankyo Company from Harley-Davidson before the war. This motorcycle was produced by the Kurogane Company in several models between 1000 and 1500cc, but the Model 97 was the workhorse. Like the British counterparts at the beginning of the war, it had a light machine gun that could be mounted on a sidecar. However, the 97 was primarily used for reconnaissance and by dispatch riders. Copies of these motorcycles are still used and modified today by riders in the Japanese motor vehicle sub-culture Bosozoku.

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George is an avid traveller that loves writing on all topics for Interesting Articles.

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