Motorcycles That Had A Significant Impact In World War II

After the conclusion of World War II, when it came to the use of motorcycles in the military, it was a case of the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

The Iron Curtain had been raised and the threat of communism was on every one’s minds.

The Korean War also kicked off and once again conflict continued as new boundaries were being drawn up in the post WWII era.

Motorcycles Usage In Vietnam Conflict

The use of the motorcycle in the Korean War really didn’t change that much from the previous Global punch up.

Harley-Davidson and Indian were still on the bestseller list for the Americans.

Reprising their role as couriers and the Military Police outriding ahead of transport columns, while surviving British mounts such as BSA, Enfield and Triumph looked after the Aussies and other Commonwealth countries.

I say surviving British mounts mainly as soon as the good guys put the Nazis and marauding Japanese hordes back in their box, a few war time marques hit the wall without the military coin to back them anymore.

It seemed that only a few years had passed when Southeast Asia flared up in Vietnam and a different kind of war was to follow.

The Vietnam conflict did see limited use of motorcycles in the clandestine styled combat required, mainly as part of Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LLRP’s) and other high speed Allied sneaky-peeky recon units.

However as both the Japanese and Allies found out in the thick jungles of the Pacific two decades earlier.

Motorcycles were better suited to more administrative movements than trying to shift commando style fire teams quietly through the dense jungle.

The Viet Cong however managed to utilise smaller postie bike model type machines to allow mobility through the thin jungle paths and trails.

Laden with everything from ammunition to impossible loads of rice and guns, the VC managed to ferry supplies up and down narrow jungle corridors to feed and arm their troops.

They would have quickly realised however that the trade-off of mobility wouldn’t have been very stealth as tyre tracks and the smell of two stroke fuel and smoke left hanging in the heavy tropical jungle air would have been a dead giveaway for patrolling Aussie and American soldiers.

Research on the Vietnam conflict tells us that motorcycles were rarely used by the forerunners compared to today’s Special Forces.

They were mostly used to get small unit patrols to a particular staging area, where they would dismount and commence the patrolling activities.


Motorcycles In Warfare Were Beginning To Be Regarded In A Different Light

By the conclusion of the Vietnam War, motorcycles in general had certainly taken on a new look and feel.

There were some lessons learnt in the pairing of bikes with armed small man patrols that returned with both the Australian and USA troops.

The ways in which motorcycles in combat were viewed began to take on a whole new consideration.

Continuing on from last month’s theme, and mankind’s propensity to wage war.

I will not be going over every conflict and every single battle that motorcycles made a special guest appearance, however there were some odd bobs worth a look.

Like the Vespa

Obviously it’s not the sort of motorcycle I imagine grizzled war dogs riding into battle.

But the French decided to hang some balls on this mincing two wheeled handbag and strapped a massive vehicle destroying anti-armour cannon with a side order of ammo.

To be honest, my greatest fear would be having to write an ‘After Action Report’ to your commander telling him that your truck had been taken out by a Vespa.


Motorcycle Model Armstrong MT 500 from Rotax Engine

Although the Pommies missed Vietnam officially, they returned for a crack at The Falklands in the ‘80s.

With them came the Armstrong CCM 500 which was cobbled together in Bolton, UK from the remains of the BSA off-road racing team parts and spares.

As it happens, they acquired the rights to the Rotax engine from the Italians and developed the Armstrong MT 500.

They later sold it to Harley-Davidson who refined the MT model further for military use.

In case you were wondering, the MT stands for ‘Military Transport’.

Packing a 500cc Rotax engine, long range tanks, document panniers and gun holsters to take automatic rifles.

The MT hung around until the end of the ‘80s when Japanese models such as the KLR650 and here in Australia, the XT 600 and XR models started to make their appearance.

With the modern battle space changing and conflict zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan demanding different techniques to deal with the enemy.

New skill sets and attention to equipment being used in the field require constant review, and the motorcycle was no different.

Skill sets required and training was upgraded to handle the more modern, faster and lighter bikes in the field, all with war fighting capabilities at the centre of the training drills.


Soldiers With Motorcycles To Make Some Noise

Moving into the ‘90s and 2000’s, it was the Special Forces that really took great delight in saddling up and going out into the desert sands of Iraq and Afghanistan to cause some serious havoc.

Back home in Australia, the Defence Force even called on none other than Mr Motocross, one Stephen Gall to conduct training at Puckapunyal.

Yep, ‘Gally’ had our Diggers learning how to deal with all manner of snotty terrain aboard XT 600’s fitted with desert tanks.

On the back of this development, the American, British and Australian Special forces all started strapping upgraded trail bikes to the rear of their patrol vehicles to further lengthen their tactical capability in the field.

Not everyone was as keen on the XT600 as the Aussie Defence Force though, with US Marine units opting for the Diesel powered KLR 650 as an alternative, as well as specially modified XR and DR models on duty.

The use of the motorcycle was always an added bonus, as not only were they ideal for getting soldiers into difficult positions without giving themselves away.

They were also much easier to hide than a Patrol Vehicle, with a small patrol of motorcycles able to be hidden from view with a simple desert-camo patterned tarpaulin pulled over the top.

A friend of mine (who trained our SF troops in Afghanistan in the art of desert riding) told me that teaching the guys how to handle the bikes was easy.

Teaching them not to totally fuck the bikes was another matter altogether.

They would break almost every bike they were given through the sheer abuse they put the machines through.


The Future Of Battle On Motorcycles

Now the idea of sending patrol units out on motorcycles is nothing new, but what if you could literally air freight a whole bunch of two wheeled hate and discontent aboard a chopper or an Osprey and point them out into the desert to kill bad guys aboard silent machines.

Seems the BRD Redshift caught the US Militaries’ eye as just the ticket.

These little babies can run on all sorts of fuel, then as you approach the target area, switch to electric mode which they claim, ‘The only thing you will hear is the sound of the tires crunching on gravel’.

Yep, the future of combat on two wheels is here!

As mentioned in the first part of this feature last issue, there are so many other bikes that haven’t been included like the Welbike, The Flying Flea or The Rokon just to mention a few.

To cover them all I’d need to write a book, so instead I’m hoping this article will serve as a starting point and encourage you to look further into what is truly an interesting subject.

Check out our LiveToRide magazines for even more enthralling information to keep your riding love alive.

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