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Army motorcycles. 75 years after WWII

army motorcycles
ER Classics Desktop 2022

The Second World War is over 75 years. But is still 'alive'. There has never been so much re-enactment done as now. And whether that is a tribute or just playing a soldier? Pretending is taken quite a bit. Because a lot of army motorcycles that have to pass for German sidecar combinations? Those are just pimped Russian machines. If those are M72s, it is almost impossible to see. The - early - M72s were 99,7% BMW R71 replicas from the factory. But use Ural or Dnepr OHVs as Wehrmachtsspann? That's a bit too easy.

Then we immediately come to the BMW R75 and the Zündapp KS 750

These are far from normal sidecar combinations. They are not even normal motorcycles anymore. They are specially developed terrain-worthy all-rounders on three wheels. They are technically complicated, very rare and very expensive. They therefore do not meet the 'army motorcycle idea' at all.


The Second World War was the first truly mechanized war

And when thinking about mechanization, army motorcycles fitted as quickly, effectively and aggressively. The machines would be especially useful for reconnaissance work and to quickly transfer messages and documents from one place to another.

Also interesting: Army vehicles from after WWII

In view of the expected working conditions, those machines did not have to be too heavy, but fast enough and simple. The pre-war offer from motorcycle manufacturers from all countries gave plenty of choice in that context. It was the time when side valves still glorified in all their simplicity and 350 cc respectively 500 or even 600 cc were quite impressive enough. A side valve was already well on its way to a new, exciting future after a brush of army green. Those side valves had proven themselves in all their simplicity for decades. The OHVs that came into the picture as army motorcycles were usually provided with a lower compression due to the use of lower-quality gasolines in wartime.

On 'our' side, most of the army motorcycles came from England: They were Norton, BSAs, Ariels and Matchlessons. Shiploads of Harley-Davidson WL models arrived from America, the 750cc side-flaps that became famous here as 'Liberators' but were in fact too long, too low and too heavy to do really wild things on the devastated European road network. They were used for (military) police work and as ordonans motorcycles.

Lots of DKWs

So on the German side there were the technically superior BMWs and Zündapps, but the Germans also used many two-stroke DKWs. When the Second World War broke out, DKW was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The NZ350 two-stroke DKW was a success in the war. Compared to the four-stroke army motorcycles, the DKW was light, fast and quite off-road. When all the aluminum was needed for the German aircraft manufacturers in 1944, these DKWs were given cast-iron blocks.

The Russians massively copied BMW R71s and called them M72

Those sidecar combinations could just as well be called 'Liberator' (or let it be 'освободитель'). They have clearly had a lot more experience on the front than the Harleys with that proud pet name. They are actually actively engaged in combat. After all, on the 'option list' of the M72 was a machine gun support. And a machine gun. The Russian sidecar combinations even come with a 130mm rocket launcher.

The time when army motorcycles from the Second World War were important for the reconstruction of liberated Europe is long gone.

The time when those pieces of history were worth nothing (in 1961 the father of a friend paid 110 guilders for a good Liberator). But army motorcycles from WWII have remained more affordable than things like Sherman tanks and Jeeps. A restored Jeep can now raise more than 30.000 euros. The Jeeps heralded the end of the military motorcycle as a fast all-rounder. Jeeps were just as fast, but could do a lot more.

The range of ex WWII engines with allied roots is quite impressive

And the parts provision for it is often still surprisingly good. For German army motorcycles that is a bit different. There are fewer survivors and it has been 'not done' to occupy yourself with former German war equipment for a long time. In the meantime that is different. During re-enactment activities you will even see people again in Waffen SS uniform. And driving as BMW disguised Russian boxers are also bravely roaming around, just like in the Indiana Jones films by the way.

All those veterans, including very rare items from Italy, France and Belgium, for example, are now completely museum-worthy

But in practice it is often just as useful. And where the column rate for cars in the Second World War was around 40 km / h, the army motorcycles were roaming freely. That is why a Chevrolet truck with splash lubrication is no longer a real road user. But former army motorcycles from WWII? You can take it seriously on quieter roads.

And that a journey of 350 kilometers from Utrecht to Mariembourg takes 10 hours? Let's just say that the drivers of these types of machines had less time for terrace stops than we have now.

For more beautiful veterans, check out motorworld by v.sheyanov / мотомир в.шеянова. Vyacheslav Sheyanov made his living by launching satellites from floating platforms. And he has spent his money very well!

A lovingly restored Russian at Ural and Dnepr specialist Richard Busweiler
A Gillet Herstal from the Vyacheslav Sheyanov collection
A BSA M20 visiting Potomac Classics in Terborg
A second life as a civilian bicycle

3 Comments

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  1. In your story you conveniently forget that the Russians 'only' had a mere 10000 IMZ (Ural) engines, and got almost 3 times as many WLAs “loaned-leased”.
    Just like the IMZ, these were fitted with an M72 sidecar and bravely turned along in the front line.
    Many also received 19 ″ IMZ rims, so that only one tire type had to be stocked in the field.

    The Germans also drove a lot on Zündapp's Derbi (DB200) two-strokes, and very light RTs.

    • With the German two-stroke engines I miss the 'Wustenfuchs', the 250 cc twin-piston TWN with rotating inlet. In addition to the double piston system and the rotating inlet, the double operation of the gearbox (at that time already a kind of cassette system) is striking: left foot control and right hand operated. A passenger from a sidecar, if fitted, could also operate the box.

  2. Yet again beautiful that the two or three-wheeled material from the miserable period of 75 years ago can still look forward to much attention. The fact that the WLA Harley's turned out to be a well-known bicycle for use after the war was a good thing. At least for me then. It would be the first motorcycle on which I ever rode my first kilometers. With 16 years, that again. The foot clutch took some getting used to. The front brake was astonishing, after which the emergency kick on the rear brake immediately let the rear tire smoke.
    Well, that was my first introduction to a motorcycle.
    A wonderful memory, if I say so myself.

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