World War II: The Motorbike as an Instument of War with Sidecar and Machine Gun
The Motorcycle is one of the great inventions of man. It has been put to various uses and was not just a commuter vehicle as it is now in India. Most motorbikes used in the west are of 500 cc capacity or more, while in India the norm is 100-125cc bikes. The bigger bikes were a great use to the Wehrmacht in the war in Europe and gave the German army mobility and firepower. The German engineers however improvised the bike as an instrument of war by using the sidecar, fitted with a revolving machine gun. One soldier sat in the sidecar and operated the machine gun , while another drove the bike. It was a wonderful invention and was a great success on the plains of Europe, where the countryside is flat and undulating with small hills and good roads. To have a sidecar the machine must be powerful, thus the Germans used the BMW R7 and the Zundapp bikes with a capacity of 1000cc. it is on record that the German army used more than 100,000 such motorbikes fitted with machine guns.
While studying the military campaigns of the OKW and the Wehrmacht at Staff College, the fact emerged that the maximum use of the bikes was by the German army and the Allies rarely used such a contraption. The Russians copied the BMW R 7 and had their own Ural bike. The motorbikes with machine guns gave great mobility to the German infantry, especially in occupied Europe where these machines swept across the countryside and the villages of Europe searching for partisan fighters and anti -German men and women. Many a time these bikes would enter a village square with bursts of machine gun fire, to signal their arrival.
The success of these bikes was however not duplicated in the other war theatres. The bikes failed in Russia, where the winter snow, sub zero temperatures and resultant mud, with no roads simply froze the bikes or bogged them down. They were thus a sitting duck for the Russian Partisans. Hundreds of bike crew were thus shot dead or simply vanished in the vast Russian countryside. Photographs of these bikes in Russia and their crew make sad pictures.
The Americans copied the BMW bike in their version of the Harley Davidson and used it for a short time in North Africa, but gave up with the arrival of the Jeep. The German army persisted with these machines till the end of the war, but with no air cover, allied fighters picked off these Bikes and crew with air strafing causing heavy casualties.
The end of the war saw the demise of the motorbike as an instrument of war and in the modern age no army uses such contraptions. But its a great romance and a thrill to read and study the operations of the motorcycle squads of the German army.
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