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The motorcycle became part of the arsenal of the German war machine. It was an important component in their tactics of blitzkrieg. France and later Russia suffered at the hands of the Germans in this type of war. The motorcycle made a significant impact in these campaigns, at least in the early stages of the German offensive.
The Motorcycle as a Weapon of War
Motorcycles were used by armies ever since they were invented. The American Harley-Davidson and Indian; British Triumph, BSA Matchless, and Norton; Italian Moto Guzzi and Gilera; French Terot and Gnome-Rhone; Belgian FN and Gillet were adapted for use by the armies.
The German military perfected the use of the motorcycle. They employed the largest number of bikes for their operations. When the German armies under Von Kluge, Rommel, and other generals swept across Western Europe they made good use of the motorcycle in their surge. During this phase of the war, they also captured hundreds of British, French, and Belgian machines. These machines were painted in the colors of the German army and put to military use.
It is interesting to note that the German military used the motorcycle troops as couriers or for scouting, and also as part of teams of tank hunters. They also supported the divisions of rifle troops. The Military police and the Gestapo used it as standard equipment.
The bikes had other uses that included patrolling, intelligence gathering, and police duties in occupied Europe. They were incorporated as part of German infantry as well as the armored regiments. Many types of bikes were used. The German industry produced an array of bikes for use by the German army. By 1938 some 200,000 motorcycles were produced in Germany and occupied territories. The principal bikes included BMW, DKW, NSU, Triumph, Victoria, and Zundapp.
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BMW was one of the significant producers of bikes for the German army. Their mainstay was the R-12. They mass-produced this bike and nearly 25000 bikes were handed over to the German Army. The German army also formed special motorcycle troop sections which used this R-12. They made some innovations and equipped the bike with a sidecar.
Refinement of the Motorbike With Sidecar
This sidecar was mounted with a machine gun. This made the bike a very effective weapon. The roar of the bike with a soldier handling the machine gun terrorized the villages of occupied Europe. The R-12 was also put to other uses like the evacuation of sick and injured soldiers, for DR duties as well as reconnaissance. BMW also made the R-75 and KS-750. On June 22, 1941, Germany launched its invasion of Russia. The summer months of the campaign were the heyday of use of the bikes that were very effective for delivering dispatches, even hot meals, as scouting patrols, and also as tank destroyers. The Russian winter however and the massive mud and drift had a salutary effect and the efficacy of the bike was greatly reduced. The bikes failed in the Russian winter and became more of a liability and tens of motorcycle troops froze to death in the subzero temperature as their bikes could not move forward.
The motorcycle which proved its worth in the flat plains of Europe was also found wanting in the harsh sand dunes of the North African deserts in Libya and Tunisia. German engineers set to work and replaced the vertical V -twin engines with the flat protruding twin engine.BMW must take the credit for this. They manufactured the R 71 with a side valve and this bike was a runaway success in the North African deserts. This success had a profound effect and the US Army specially requested Harley Davidson for a similar machine. Harley reverse engineered the R71 and produced the 750cc Harley Davidson XA.
Uncap also supplied an array of bikes to the German Army. This firm with a record of manufacture from 1917 made the KS 750. Zundapp supplied nearly 18000 of these versatile machines to the German army. This bike could touch a top speed of 70mph and when equipped with a sidecar with a machine gun became a lethal weapon in the arsenal of the German Army. Other models manufactured by this company were the 800 and K500W. Their production was however on a lower key.
NSU and DKW were two other companies in the fray to supply bikes to the German armed forces.NSU had the distinction of making nearly 9 models for use by the German army. They made the V twin bike which was a resounding success. The Danish company was also in the field with two models for the German army the RT 125 and NZ 350. Another company was Victoria, which marketed the K6 and KR 35. The company folded up at the end of the war in the late fifties.
The bike as an instrument of war is a closed page of military history. The German armed forces must be credited for greater use of the motorcycle for their war effort than the allies. The Wehrmacht perfected to a degree the use of the motorcycle as a weapon for war. Overall it brought mixed results: while the motorbike was a tremendous success in the plains of Europe, it floundered in the mud and grime of Russia. In the Russian winter also it failed. Towards the end of the war, the motorbike troops became a liability, even in Europe, where they were sitting ducks for the allied fighters as the Luftwaffe had lost control of the sky.