|Primary research by Dan Fong,
Photo credits & captions are further below.
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The Spearhead Harley-Davidsons
||In WWII the 3AD had more Harley-Davidson
motorcycles than Sherman tanks and could easily have been called
the "3rd Hell's Angels Division." The Model WLA was
the most recognized version of the U.S. military's WWII-era bikes,
and the 3AD during the combat of 1944-45 had in excess of 300
of them, plus a much lesser amount of other versions, such as
the side-car model and a shaft-drive bike. Of the Division's
300 (+) Harley WLA's, over 100 were destroyed by enemy fire or
land mines, and some by accidents, in the span of ten months.
(Article continues below after photo captions)
||Photo Credits & Captions:
Top: A Harley bike and armored car
from 83rd Recon rolls by the Rothchild Estate, Rommel's former
headquarters, outside of Pontcarre, France, on Aug. 27, 1944.
(Photo by Marvin Mischnick, 3AD Hq, G-2 section)
Next: An unidentified 3AD rider and his heavily laden
Harley WLA somewhere in France. The stowage is covering the fender-mounted
blackout light, headlight, and horn. The lettering on the front
fender indicates it's Hq bike #22 of either the 32nd or 33rd
Armor. The lettering has been partly obscured (in a half-hearted
way) by a censor's grease pencil so the photo could be released
to the press. (Army Signal Corps photo).
Next: A mid-production WLA is shown in this stateside
factory photo. The bike changed during the course of the war,
creating the 40-WLA, 41-WLA, and 42 WLA models, each slightly
different. Notice in this mid-production model the leg shields
mounted just behind the crash bars. (US Army photo)
Bottom: James B. Howard of Ennis, Texas, of Hq Co, 3rd
Bn, 32nd Armored Regiment is shown on a muddy WLA at an unknown
location. The photo was taken by an unknown Bn comrade and sent
to us in 2006 by Howard's step-son, William R. Gordon of Harrisburg,
Continuation of article at top of page:
These of course were replaced with new bikes
that were constantly being shipped from the U.S. via England.
Both Harley-Davidson and its competitor Indian produced numerous
models for military use, but apparently the 3AD was a Harley-only
unit. According to Division WWII veteran and military vehicle
expert Belton Cooper in 2006, Indians were not in the 3AD inventory.
He also was quoted as saying that, if a Harley was knocked out
or otherwise inoperable, it was normally just dumped off the
road, as there was no time for bike repairs. Unfortunately very
few photos of 3AD Harley's and their riders are known to exist
today, and stories of those often daring riders have never been
told. Harley had built bikes for the military since WWI, and
the WLA was simply a militarized version of the civilian 45-size
WL. Military lighting and lack of chrome are two of the most
important changes. The WLA served the US and its allies (including
the Soviets) well through WWII and beyond, and many continue
to be ridden today in both restored military configuration, as
well as in "civilized" form.