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European Motorcycles

Military Motorcycles

Armed Forces of the Great War, Spanish Civil War, Interwar Period, Second World War, Postwar Era

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BSA M20 HISTORY

Viewed as a near failure in the eyes of the War Office in 1936, this model was ultimately to evolve into perhaps the most illustrious and longest serving model in the history of British military motorcycling, not to mention becoming the most numerous type produced for the War Office itself.

The vast majority of BSA M20 models delivered were employed by the War Department (Army), although smaller quantities were also used by both the Admiralty (Navy) and the Air Ministry (RAF). The RAF was issued with quantities of Swallow sidecar combinations, and many of of the smaller M20 model contracts throughout the Second World War specified sidecar-lugs for the frame, generally removed from all the larger contracts, which were specifically solo only.

Although intended as a general-purpose motorcycle for convoy escort and long-distance communications duties, due to the sheer number supplied the model was employed ultimately in every theatre of war and for every imaginable purpose, whether suitable or not. It is perhaps for this reason that the model is the one best remembered by and familiar to most ex-servicemen.

Desert colours: khaki brown was used on most North African theatre machines

  • BSA M20 Military History and Specifications
  • James ML 125 - Winston Churchill's Bike

    The James ML saw action on many fronts during WWII. One of these robust Villiers-engined machines, having served on the Home Front in 1943 and in Normandy during the invasion, was given to Winston Churchill who said of it "This was a true gift in every sense, a truly historic example of England's finest motorcycles. I am proud to ride this motorcycle as the brave and noble men before me did."

    There is an unverified account that Churchill rode this bike frequently until shortly before his death. What is known, however, is that the machine was subsequently sold to a British newspaper publisher, and then in 1972 was donated to a museum in Suffolk which closed the following year.

    Churchill's James ML then travelled to New Zealand where it was owned and ridden by Kenneth Magory, who died in 1986. The James remained in a shed on the property, now in a fairly sorry state, until 1999 when it was recovered and meticulously restored to its former glory. Subsequently it has been displayed at many prestigious museums and events including the British War Museum opening and a Military Motorcycles Convention in Canada. Bibliography The Vincent in the Barn Tom Cotter

    Italian models used in WWII


      Motocarro Benelli 500
      Motocarro portamitraglia Guzzi "TriAlce" 500cc
      Motocarrozzetta Gilera "Marte" 500cc
      Motocarrozzetta Guzzi "Alce"
      Motocicletta Benelli 37 250cc
      Motocicletta Benelli 40 500cc
      Motocicletta Bianchi 500M
      Motocicletta Frera 250cc
      Motocicletta Gilera "Saturno" 500cc
      Motocicletta Gilera LTE 500
      Motocicletta Guzzi "Alce" 500cc
      Motocicletta Sertum 250cc
      Motocicletta Sertum 500cc


      Volugrafo Paratrooper

    Frera circa 1915 Military

    One of the countless Frera motorcycles equipped with mitragliatrice supplied to the Royal Italian Army.

    Frera was the largest supplier of motorcycles in the First World War.

    Una delle innumerevoli motociclette Frera dotata di mitragliatrice di cui il Regio Esercito Italiano disponeva. Infatti, la Frera e stata il maggiore fornitore di motociclette del REI nella Prima Guerra Mondiale.


    Gilera LTE 500


    Production years: 1937-1945
    Power: 12 CV a 3800 rpm
    Capacity: 498cc
    Engine: single-cylinder, four stroke, side valve
    Transmission: chain drive, four speed gearbox.
    Maximum speed: 85 km/h
    Weight: 202 Kg approx.

    Moto Guzzi GT 17

    Manufactured: 1932-1939
    Production: 4810 Units
    Engine: Single cylinder horizontal OHV, unit construction, bore and stroke 88 x 82 mm, 498.4cc
    Transmission: Three-speed gearbox, multi-disc clutch, primary and final drive by chain.
    Tyres: front and rear 3.50 x 19
    Length: 1520 mm

    The GT17 was the first military motorcycle built at Mandello del Lario. It was produced in single seat and two seater versions, the latter having the fuel tank situated further forwards and higher to allow the rider saddle to be moved forwards allowing room for the pillion and a better centre of gravity.

    Used by Italian companies during the Spanish Civil War, some of these machines were equipped with a Breda machine gun operated by the rider of the solo machines. It was also employed by the Milizia della Strada (military traffic police) and saw service in Africa during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936).

    Moto Guzzi Airone 250cc Militare

    In addition to the olive green model for the Carabinieri, there was a delightful blue one for the air force, the Aereonautica Militare.

    Specifications:
    Ignition: Magneti Marelli type MCR 4-G with automatic advance
    Bevel Gear ratios 3.46: 1 (13-45).
    Dry Weight 150 kg

    Moto Guzzi Superalce


    Superalce italiano


    Bersaglieri italiano

    Sevitame

    Marcel Violet and Achille Vincent designed an amphibious motorcycle for the French Military.

    In 1938 tests were carried out in Normandy where the motorcycle crossed muddy potholes as deep as 40 cm, navigated without difficulty a course which included craters and ditches designed for testing tanks and other tracked vehicles, and towed a disabled automobile.

    The Simca factory in Nanterre was commissioned to build 3,000 motorcycles.

    The Sevitame had a 314cc two-stroke engine (62 x 52 mm),  and was an inverted in-line twin (with the crankshaft above the cylinders in similar fashion to the Tiger Moth), cooled by eight litres of oil, and with 4 speed transmission via clutch to a cardan shaft driving crown and pinion gears. The assembly could be dismantled in a few minutes by withdrawing only four bolts. The engine could be used as an outboard engine by attaching a propeller to the PTO.

    Cardan

    Shaft Drive

    Examples include BMW, Zundapp and Velocette LE Cardan drive eliminates chain and associated mess and maintenance. Often referred to as a "diff", the final drive unit consists of bevel crown and pinion gears.

    Sevitame Military Motorcycles

    Zundapp


    Zündapp KS750 Sidecar Combination

    Arguably the best motorcycle in use during the Second World War, this powerful machine sported a four-speed gearbox driven by a horizontally opposed twin 'boxer' engine. It was designed as a sidecar machine and quickly became the German army's preferred choice.

    HO Twin

    Horizontally Opposed Twin

    Examples include BMW, Zundapp and Douglas HO Twins have conrods running on a common crank, with one on the exhaust stroke and the other on inlet.

    Armament typically consisted of an MG 34 machine gun affixed to the sidecar, but it was often seen with other weaponry.

    It had remarkable performance cross-country and on unmade (and often ruined) roads, as it could climb a slope of 45 degrees and could cross streams up to 44cm (17in) deep - though there are plenty of photos of them in merde a lot deeper than that.

    The remarkably sophisticated war machine was fitted with hydraulic brakes on the rear and sidecar wheel, and the sidecar wheel was driven. In addition to the four forward speeds, the gearbox had a reverse gear. The differential to the sidecar drive could be locked for heavy going, or left in free-wheel.

    The Germany army used the bike on all fronts, from North Africa to Northern Italy, Eastern Europe to Sebastopol and the frozen wastes to Russia and Finland, where it was employed by both sides during the Lapland conflict.

    Specification:
    Power: 26 HP
    Capacity: 750 c.c.
    Engine: Twin cylinder boxer
    Transmission: Cardan, 4 speed gearbox with reverse.

    Cardan

    Shaft Drive

    Examples include BMW, Zundapp and Velocette LE Cardan drive eliminates chain and associated mess and maintenance. Often referred to as a "diff", the final drive unit consists of bevel crown and pinion gears.

    Maximum speed: 95 Km/h
    Weight: 420 Kg with sidecar

    Zündapp K800


    Production years: 1933-1938
    Power: 22 hp at 4,300rpm
    Capacity: 800cc
    Engine: Horizontally opposed four cylinder, four stroke,
    Transmission: 4-speed, hand-shift
    Maximum speed: 70mph
    Weight: 171 Kg (without sidecar)

    The Zundapp K800 was announced in 1933, as were the factory's other K-series motorcycles which ranged in engine sizes from 200cc to 800cc. The K800 displays innovative features including a unit construction horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine with shaft drive.

    Many of these Zundapp motorcycles saw service during World War II, often as sidecar combinations, and were the only four cylinder machines to be employed by the German military.

    Zündapp K500 & K500W


    Production years: 1933-1940 (K500W - 1934-1939)
    Power: 16hp (civilian - 12.5hp) @4800rpm, opposite SV 2-cyl, 4-stroke 498cc
    Capacity: 498 c.c.
    Engine: SV, four stroke, bore/stroke: 69 x 66.6mm
    Transmission: 4speed, Cardan
    Crown & pinion ratios: Solo - 5.57 (7:39), Sidecar - 6.33 (6:38)
    Weight: 188 kg
    Max speed: 105 km/h (K500W solo 100 km/h, with sidecar 85 km/h)
    Tyres: 3.50 or 4.00 x 19 inches
    Fuel tank capacity: 12.5 Litres

    Sources:



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