Friday, December 7, 2012

The Bike that Won the War

Seventy-one years ago today, US personnel at Pearl Harbor Naval Base were attacked by Japanese forces, pulling the US into World War II.  My Grandfather was stationed at Pearl Harbor, but as luck would have it his ship, the USS Indianapolis, had left port on December 6th, just one day before the attack.  This was just the beginning of a lucky streak that saw my Grandfather through the war unharmed.  By wars end, he had joined the submarine fleet and was present for the Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay.

As part of the US build up to war, Harley-Davidson was contracted to build motorcycles for military use.  These bikes were designed around the civilian WL model, which was powered by a 45-ci side-valve motor nicknamed the flathead.  The flathead motor was a low reving, low compression engine that was well suited for convoy work.  Besides obvious changes to the civilian color scheme, the WLA (A for Army) included skid plates, skirtless fenders, heavy duty rear rack, gun scabbard and black out lighting.  More than 88,000 motorcycles were produced, a third of which were sent to US Allies over in Europe.  Surprisingly, 30,000 of these motorcycles went to the Soviet Union, with much lower numbers going to Britain, France and China.  Another model was made for the Canadians, called the WLC.  Harley-Davidson produced approximately 18,000 of the WLC's which were similar in appearance to the WLA's, but had many differences including a left hand throttle.  Although the WLA was designed for non-combat use, it was nicknamed the "Liberator" as it could often be seen leading the convoys that liberated much of Europe.

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