A Brief History of the Marque
Lieutenant Colonel John Dolphin 1 was the commander of a secret British military research facility, Station IX based at The Frythe in Hertordshire near the village of Welwyn for use by SOE (Special Operations Executive - 1940 to 1946).
The miniscule folding motorcycle was designed to fit into a 130 cm long, 35 cm high and 30 cm wide standard airdrop container. Prototypes were built in 1942 in Scotland, and it seems likely that it was the first motorcycle to be tested by dropping it from an aeroplane.
Once identified by its green parachute and the cunning codeword "Motor Cycle" printed large on the container, assembly of the machine could be achieved in 11 seconds. (There may be some poetic licence used in the original description, but certainly time taken from landing to rideable was very short).
Production was carried out by Excelsior, and it was used in combat first in Italy and then in Normandy during Operation Overlord, and possibly at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden. Photographs exist of them being carried ashore at Normandy from the landing barges.
The machine proved largely unsuitable for combat use, however, as it was barely capable of carrying an average soldier without kit, let alone a fully equipped commando, and the tiny wheels became quickly clogged if off-road use was attempted. It did prove very useful for airfield transport.
The Welbike weighed 32 kg and could travel at speeds up to 45 km/h, with a range of 100km. The engine was a modified single-speed 98cc Villiers Junior Deluxe (JD).
Post-war, John Dolphin developed Welbike as a production mini-bike, the Corgi, which was built and marketed by Brockhouse. Another of his secret wartime inventions, a miniature submarine, did not find a place in the austere market conditions following the war. He went on to become a leading figure in atomic energy research and was awarded the CBE in 1956.
In recent years the marque has been revived with replicas being built in the Midlands, UK - see wellbikeuk.com (2018).
1. At least one source implies that the name John Dolphin was a furphy to fool the darstardly hun. They may have heard that on Fox News.
Sources: welbike.net, Wikipedia EN et al
Thorsten Voggi Vogelsang writes: "finally they threw them out of the plane and left them where they landed. For example Operation Market Garden. They kicked them out of the planes an 75% of them drowned in the flooded area around. Under Fire, there were not much time do assemble them and get them running. The Welbikes/Corgis had one major problem when dropped. They were premounted and filled with gasoline, so the carburettor soaked and refused to work. The French used the ACMA TAP Vespa (armed with an Anti Tank Gun and several rounds), they also got the same Problem in den Indochina war 1956. Another big problem was the lack of ground clearance. Stupid construction but hey...they brought us the Motor Scooters. I've been asked by the German VFV (head organization of vintage vehicle clubs) to hold a presentation about how did it come to Motorscooter and the welbike was one key object in this"
If you have a query about vintage British machines, please contact us