Motorbikes have a number of advantages, including their versatility. They’ve been used in a civilian and sports capacity for decades. They’ve also proven invaluable in the military, helping soldiers navigate difficult terrains. British motorbikes have played a big role in the army, so we’re looking into the connection between motorcycles and the military.
Motorbikes were deployed on a large scale during WW1, fulfilling numerous roles. Infantry units rode across battle-ravaged plains to deploy machine gun crews. Medical units used motorbikes to evacuate wounded soldiers in sidecars. Motorcycles were also used to return medical supplies and deliver ammunition to the front line. Scouts used the machines for reconnaissance missions as well.
However, motorbikes were best used for delivering messages. Electronic communication wasn’t secure, so despatch riders were used. The riders delivered reports, orders and maps between units. It wasn’t an easy job because many riders had to navigate through artillery fire and get behind enemy lines.
British Army Captain W.H.L Watson wrote a book called Adventures of a Despatch Rider and here is an excerpt. “Then came two and a half miles of winding country lanes. They were covered with grease. Every corner was blind. A particularly sharp turn to the right and the despatch rider rode a couple of hundred yards in front of a battery in action that the Germans were trying to find. A “hairpin” corner round a house followed. This he would take with remarkable skill and alacrity, because at this corner he was always sniped. Into the final straight the despatch rider rode for all he was worth.”
A common British motorbike to use was the Triumph Model H. This single-cylinder machine came with an air-cooled 499 cc engine and proved to be reliable on the battlefield. Many Triumph Model Hs were outfitted with sidecars and machine guns. 30,000 Model Hs were estimated to be on the front lines by the end of the war.
Motorbikes played a pivotal role during WW2, with them being popular messenger vehicles. Royal Enfield were commissioned to develop several motorbikes for the British Army. The most memorable had to be the Royal Enfield WD/RE.
Known to British troops as the Flying Flea, the WD was a lightweight, 125 cc machine. It was designed to be dropped into war zones by parachutes, making it a favourite among British paratroopers. The Flying Flea was a nimble motorbike that could navigate tight spaces.
After WW2, motorbike deployment slowed to a crawl. Motorbikes became obsolete because communication technology developed rapidly, eliminating the need to use them in field.