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Harley-Davidson WLA


Military Motorcycle


United States | 1942



"Communications during World War 2 and Korea hinged on robust machines like the Harley Davidson WLA military motorcycle series."



Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited: 10/09/2017 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
The Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company started selling bikes in 1904 and, by 1920, it had become the largest motorcycle company in the world. The United States Army was buying some Harley motorcycles in 1940, a military version featuring the company's 45 cubic inch (740 cc) engine and designated the WL model. Motorcycles improved mechanized forces by provided for fast travel of reconnaissance elements and messenger units. When World War 2 broke out, the Army contacted the Harley Company with a list of specifications for an upgraded military-minded motorcycle.

The Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company always used a series of letters to designate all of the motorcycle models they produced and assigned this new military model the letters "WLA". The "W" stood for the 45 cubic inch side valve engine designed in 1937 while the "L" covered its high compression the "A" signified the customer - the US Army. Other bikes assigned to the United States Navy and Marines were only slightly different in form. The new WLA motorcycle model design by Harley was in production from 1942 to 1945 and 70,000 units were produced while these were supplemented by spare parts to essentially cover another full 30,000 bikes produced.

The bikes were utilized for messenger duty between commands when paper correspondence was necessary. The systems also proved useful for Military Police Units for general security and motor convoy escort duties. Their slim profiles allowed operators access to areas or roads where full-sized vehicles could not trek. Under Lend-Lease, thousands were issued to allied forces in Great Britain to the Soviet Union, the latter never truly admitting they received any assistance from the West. Later, a separate production run in 1943 was made for the Canadian Army with these bikes aptly designated as "WLC". This line was different from the WLA design prior in having heavier frame components and "blackout" lights.

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Most all bikes built during the war were equipped with blackout lights at their front and rear. The fenders were large to minimize clogging of vital parts from dirt and mud - these being the faceless "enemies" encountered on the battlefield. On the rear fender was a flat luggage rack which could transport two radios or an ammunition box. On the front tire by the handle bars there was fitted a scabbard to house a M1 Thompson submachine gun for basic defense. Some models were completed with a high windscreen to protect the driver from oncoming wind, rain, road debris and insects. Leg protectors were installed as standard and served to deflect low-lying brush or other obstacles that the bike could side swipe. A skid plate was needed for high rock on road / off road and a heavy duty air cleaner was fitted for dusty or sandy environments.

The WLC was capable of fording up to 16 inches of water and the front forks sported a Springer-based suspension system. The rear of the bike was not suspended, leading its many operators to refer to these bikes as having a "hard tail". The motorcycle could travel out to 120 miles on base fuel while hitting speeds of up to 65 mph on paved roads. The bike weighed 550lbs without any extras being carried, a tough machine to pick up after a spill to say the least. The 45 cid flat-head, side valve, gasoline-fueled engine was robust and reliable and proved generally easy to work on when in-the-field.

Allied mechanics called their Harley Davidson products the "42WLA" while the Canadian model was referred to as the "43WLC", each based on the starting production year. The Harley Davidson Company was awarded two "E" awards for excellence in their production of these war-winning systems, the first in 1943 and the second in 1945. After the war, the remaining production orders were cancelled only to resume during the upcoming Korean War (1950 - 1953) - these being produced from 1949 to 1952. Such high production rates ultimately meant that many of these bikes would survive their given wars and fall into the capable hands of modern-day collectors over the world. Interestingly, many available spare parts today come from the bikes that were provided to the Soviet Union via Lend-Lease during World War 2.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one land system design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Harley-Davidson WLA Military Motorcycle.
1 x Air-cooled 45 V2, 4-stroke, 739cc gasoline-fueled engine coupled with 3-speed gear box.
Installed Power
65 mph
104 kph
Road Speed
120 miles
193 km
Range
Structure
The physical qualities of the Harley-Davidson WLA Military Motorcycle.
1
(MANNED)
Crew
7.3 ft
2.235 meters
O/A Length
3.1 ft
0.94 meters
O/A Width
3.3 ft
1.016 meters
O/A Height
549 lb
249 kg | 0.0 tons
Weight
Armament & Ammunition
Available supported armament, ammunition, and special-mission equipment featured in the design of the Harley-Davidson WLA Military Motorcycle.
OPTIONAL (Personal Weapons):
1 x .45 Caliber Pistol
1 x .45 Caliber M1 Thompson submachine gun
AMMUNITION:
Dependent on mission requirements.
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:
Nightvision - NONE.
Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Protection (CBRN) - NONE.
Variants
Notable series variants as part of the Harley-Davidson WLA family line.
WLA - Designation for examples produced for the United States Army.
WLC - Designation for examples produced for the Canadian Army.
42WLA - Mechanic designation for Allies machines produced in 1942.
43WLA - Mechanic designation for Allied machines produced in 1943.
Operators
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Harley-Davidson WLA. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national land systems listing.

Total Production: 90,000 Units

Contractor(s): Harley Davidson - USA
National flag of Canada National flag of South Africa National flag of the Soviet Union National flag of the United Kingdom National flag of the United States

[ Canada; Soviet Union; South Africa; United Kingdom; United States ]
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Design Qualities
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to battlefield requirements.
Recognition
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Harley-Davidson WLA Military Motorcycle appears in the following collections:
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