It is challenging to comprehend that battles were fought primarily on horseback just over a century ago when troops went to war. Today, countries could battle their enemies half a world away virtually with the press of a button, thanks to advances in technology.
Before World War I, technological advancements brought the motorcycle into military service, and it continues to serve in various capacities today. Though it could be argued that battles, if not entire wars, were won on the back of a bike, the motorcycle does not receive the credit it deserves for its loyal military service.
Bordering on Greatness
The motorcycle made its debut on the active military list during the Border War with Mexico, whose outlaw Poncho Villa led its troops. With the military on both sides still on horseback, Villa employed an early model Indian to give him an advantage during his raiding missions.
Taking note, American forces, led by General “Black Jack” Pershing, decided “now is as good a time as any” to give a Harley Davidson a shot at getting them behind the lines. Though motorcycles were not a determining factor in the outcome of this skirmish, the military took note of different possible uses for the motorcycle. They would develop a few advancements for bikes before they were widely used in a large capacity.
The Iron Horse Rides on to the Scene
In WWI, motorcycles become much more prevalent as an alternative to the horse. Often remembered for its “Trench Warfare,” the use of the motorcycle is generally overlooked. However, when you look at the number of units ordered, the number of bikes employed was astounding.
America alone ordered over 80,000 Indians and Harley-Davidsons. They were put to use in a variety of ways. They included:
- Medical units were sent in to evacuate the wounded. For this purpose, bikes with the newly created sidecar were often used.
- Runners were sent to deliver medical supples to medical units and ammunition to soldiers who were actively engaged in battle.
- They were used to deliver machine gun crews to the battlefields quickly.
- They were also used to monitor the parameter and on recon missions.
- They proved most helpful in delivering secure messages
Due to the motorcycle’s ability to quickly and efficiently move soldiers from one position to another, regardless of capacity, proved to be a valuable asset to the military. And this was only the beginning.
Once again, proving it was an asset to Allied forces, the motorcycle was put to work. The need for bikes was not as great in actual battles, but it continued to prove invaluable, once again, for its use in delivering secure messages.
The US relied heavily on the Harley like in the past, but the Germans opted for the German BMW. It appeared that these German bikes were far more advanced than the American-made Harley.
Americans packed up the BMW and shipped it home in a shrewd move. Engineers were tasked with figuring out what made these machines superior and implementing that technology onto American bikes. And so it was. Future military bikes were fitted with similar advancements.
The Rise of the Angels
Following WWII, the military had a surplus of bikes. After returning home, many vets sought the bikes they rode during the war effort. A cataclysmic event occurred when the need to offload the extra Harleys and the want for Harleys from the vets combined: the Hell’s Angels were formed.
When the vets were out cruising on their new choppers, they would find themselves running into others out on a ride, as well. They would meet up and congregate, and the rest is history.
Vietnam and Beyond
Though the motorcycle lived its heyday in WWII, it served in a lesser capacity in Vietnam. The bike’s role was diminished significantly due to technological advances that made the demand to deliver secure messages less necessary. Instead, troops used motorcycles to help scout territories, lead convoys, and on recon missions.
Though there has been a resurgence of using the motorcycle for patrolling areas while on perimeter duty, in more modern wars and skirmishes, bikes retained the uses they had during Vietnam.
Today motorcycles continue to be used by special forces and are employed in other ways. The military continues to explore additional valuable service areas for this ever-loyal soldier.
Carry On, Soldier
From the moment they hit the civilian road, the military took note of the motorcycle and determined how the iron horses could be helpful to US military strategies.
Though no longer considered “cutting edge technology” as they were when they entered the battlefield, motorcycles themselves continue to be updated and fitted with new technology. Those updates help motorcycles maintain their usefulness as essential players for the US armed forces.
As long as the military continues to find reasons for troops to ride bikes, then we will continue to say, “Carry on, Soldiers.”