Admin moved page What Role did the Motorcycle and Harley-Davidson play in Wartime? to What Role did the Motorcycle and Harley-Davidson play in Wartime
Tanks. Armored troop carriers. Humvees. These are the standard bearers for military vehicles on the battlefield. Motorcycles? Not so much these days. But the early motor bike made the first significant impact by a gasoline-powered machine in modern warfare. And the role of the military motorcycle continues more than a century later.
It was the military that foresaw the importance of the motorcycle in warfare even before the bike manufacturers. With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 the British office of the Ministry of Defence sought out William and Edwin Douglas, brothers in Bristol who had been manufacturing a 2.75 horsepower Barter Fairy Motorcycle since 1907. <ref>''The London Douglas Motorcycle Club'', 2015.</ref> The Douglas brothers initially assumed the order was for 300 of their pedal-assisted machines, total. In fact the War Office was looking for 300 motorbikes each month and the company would eventually provide 70,000 machines for the war effort. <ref>McCrystal,Hayley, ”The Motorbikes of World War One,” ''Motorbike Times'', August 4, 2014</ref>
The United States Army began using motorcycles even before entering World War I in 1917. The previous year General John "Blackjack" Pershing was deployed to the Mexican border to pursue Mexican Revolutionary general Pancho Villa who had engineered a raid on the New Mexico border town of Columbus. Pershing realized that the new motorized technology would be a boon to his pursuit of Villa across inhospitable desert lands and there was one particular motor bike that he favored. It was nimble, durable and easy to use. Pershing’s favorite motorcycle was built by a relatively obscure Wisconsin outfit called the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. <ref>”’H-D Supports the Military,” corporate history, Harley Davidson USA, 2015</ref>
==Who Were Harley and Davidson?==
William Harley and Arthur Davidson grew up in the dying days of the 19th century. Davidson worked as a pattern maker for Ole Evinrude who would soon gain fame for his outboard boat motors and Harley had a job fixing bicycles. The two friends got together to build a motorized bike and by 1903 they had a prototype puttering around the streets of Milwaukee at death-defying speeds of 25 miles per hour. Harley and Davidson painted their bike gloss black and went back to their jobs; it was just a private hobby. <ref>Girdler, Allan and Hackett, Jeff, ''Harley-Davidson Motorcycles'', MBI Publishing Company, 2000, page 10</ref>
But it would take more than a fancy logo to stand out in a motor bike market glutted with small manufacturers. So Walter Davidson was sent to New York to compete in a two-day endurance ride. Fewer than half of the 84 contestants entered rode machines that could handle the gutted country roads of the day and Davidson won the race. Soon Harley-Davidson had a racing team known as "The Wrecking Crew" and sales started to grow. <ref>Girdler, Allan and Hackett, Jeff, ''Harley-Davidson Motorcycles'', MBI Publishing Company, 2000, page 16</ref>
==Harley-Davidson’s Entry into the Military==
Most of the Harley-Davidsons employed in World War II were legendary WLA models, assigned to reconnaissance and courier duty. While German machines were still often equipped with sidecars for gunners and deployed in battle, the Allies no longer sent unarmored cycles into combat as had occasionally happened in World War I. Harleys were so ubiquitous as scout vehicles at the head of military convoys that they were often the first vehicles into towns and villages liberated across Europe by the Allies and came to be known as "Liberators." <ref>Panhead, Jim, “Top 5 Harley-Davidson Prototypes of WWII,” ''Ride Apart'', 2016</ref>
==The Decline of the Motorcycle in the Military==
After the end of World War II many servicemen with fond memories of their wartime Harley machines sought out the motorcycles in stateside showrooms. Often times one of the first things these returning veterans did was to customize their ride by chopping off front fenders and crash bars and clunky seats. Thus was born the iconic Harley-Davidson "chopper."
By the time of the Vietnam War technology had rendered much of the motorcycle's duty in communications and reconnaissance work obsolete. But in the post-Cold War era the motorcycle, with its speed, agility and versatility still has a role to play in the military. Today's machines are often crafted from composite plastics and outfitted with engines that can run on almost any type of fuel, making the motorcycles ideal Special Forces weapons in rugged terrain and isolated actions. And, if the post-apocalyptic world of the Road Warrior movies becomes a reality, the motorcycle will always be with us in war.
[[Category:United States History]][[Category:20th Century History]] [[Category:History of Science and Technology]] [[Category:Military History]][[Category:World War Two History]] [[Category:World War One History]]