The History of the Harley Davidson WL in WWII: The Little Motorcycle that Did
The Harley Davidson WL has been accredited by many to have been a vital piece of the Allied victory pie from World War II. Due to the reliable nature of Harley´s, they were a natural choice to receive the government´s contract to assist the take-down of Hitler and his forces.
Also known as ¨The Liberator,¨ the Harley WL could access places and make clandestine moves quickly and proficiently. This gave Britain, America, and other Allies the upper hand needed to help turn the tables and take control over war-torn parts of the world, allowing us to win back the freedom we were fighting so desperately to maintain.
Though several Harley´s have played significant, impressive efforts in war since the Mexican/American War, no other Harley was as important an asset as the WL for multiple reasons.
The WL Reporting for Duty - Even Before America
Several years before America´s official entry into WWII, in 1939, Harley sent its initial prototype to the frontline to see how it worked for troops and what modifications would be necessary to make the motorcycle ready to take on the Nazi forces.
It turns out it worked like a charm.
¨A¨ Stands for…
When this bike is referred to, it is typically called the WLA, and the ¨A¨ is a reference to it being an Army vehicle. However, maybe the ¨A¨ refers to it being willing and ¨able¨ to do what was required of it?
Let´s Speak Pre-War Specks
Generally speaking, there was nothing that stood out initially about this Harley. It was the maker´s lower-end model and did not come with much by way of bells and whistles. Though the first versions of the WL hit the front line around ´37, Harley had been working its magic on a new war-effort motorcycle since the late 20s.
It was equipped with a small, 750 CC side-valve engine and no rear suspension system. By the end of the 30s, Harley had made significant improvements on the bikes, giving them a new oil circulating system that helped the machines run cooler and more efficiently, making them more durable.
Additionally, by the time the WL went headlong into action, they added improvements to the cooling system by introducing aluminum cylinder heads. Pretty much all the kinks were worked out, and the Harley Davidson WL was ready to roll.
The WL´s Differences from its Civilian Counterpart
Several features made the WL different from the model sold to the general public, making it even more effective as a war machine. Some of those differences included:
Increased ground clearance thanks to longer forks.
Aluminum heads, as previously mentioned.
A lower compression ratio.
A skid plate.
Could reach speeds up 65 mph.
An air system to aid with its use in significantly dusty conditions.
While a few were equipped with machine guns, they were seldom used in battle.
While these improvements were notable and significant, the Army still felt there were areas that the Harley WL could benefit from with a few other modifications similar to that of the BMW and Indian models that were also being used in the war at the time.
Move, Jeep! Get Out the Way!
As the war progressed, the army employed a new vehicle, almost completely making the use of motorcycles obsolete: the Jeep.
While many Jeeps were used in war-torn areas, the reliability of the Harley WL kept it in service and used by Army personnel on the Allies´ side.
Not only was the WL light and nimble, much more so than other bikes used during WWII at the time, it also proved its worth because it was capable of carrying a soldier and his gear without issue. It was still able to do its job while being quick and efficient.
The WL: Huh! Good Gawd! What Was it Good for?
As previously stated, these bikes were not often used directly in battle or gunfire. For the most part, they were used as transport vehicles that needed to quickly deliver currier messages or required to get into a tight area with precision and speed.
For the most part, the WLs were used by the military police and dispatch riders. They were often used to traverse traffic jams and to make deliveries that were not too large or bulky. They gave the Allies just enough of an advantage over the Nazi forces that they continued to be an asset to troops until the war´s conclusion.
Used and Tossed Aside
Much like a loyal servant who was put out to pasture after their purpose was served, many of the WLs sent to Europe wound up in dumps and abandoned upon the war´s conclusion.
Today, however, many of the bikes have found their way home to America and have become quite the restorer´s dream.
The History of the Harley Davidson WL in WWII: Old Reliable
As the Harley Davidson WL proved itself to be a reliable motorcycle in the WWII efforts for the Allies, it remains part of automotive history.
Reliable, able to get a soldier where he needed to be how he needed to get there, the WL will remain in the annals of essential advantages that helped the Allies win the war and allow freedom to continue to ring.