Motorcycle: Work and War - The First World War
Date: Sunday, October 31 @ 23:14:41 UTC
Topic: Motorcycle, Motorcycles, Motor Cycle
The First World War
By the time the United States entered the First World War in 1917, H-D machines had already seen action in skirmishes against the forces of Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary. Under General "Black Jack" Pershing, machine-gun-toting Harley-Davidsons proved themselves ideal for border patrols in rough terrain.
In the process, Juneau Avenue proved itself adept at meeting military demands. An order for additional machines was placed by a War Department telegraph on 16 March 1916. A dozen motorcycles equipped with William Harley's design for a sidecar gun carriage duly arrived at the border - more than 1,000 miles (1,610km) distant - two days later. Nine days later still, a second order for six machines reached Milwaukee. This one was filled in just 33 hours. Needless to say, the factory was not slow to advertise its efficiency in meeting "Uncle Sam's Choice".
Harley was just as quick to recognize the contribution it might make to the war in Europe. Within four months of the United States' entry into the war, Arthur Davidson was telling a sales meeting where the country's -and perhaps the company's — destiny lay: "The time is coming when no man can be in the middle of the road. He must be either for America or against America, and the sooner we get together on this question, the better able we will be to win the war."
During the first year of America's war, roughly half of all motorcycle production went to military service. By the end of the conflict, every motorcycle Milwaukee made was built for Uncle Sam. Along the way, William Harley, a member of the Motorcycle War Service Board, was instrumental in giving motorcycles a "B-4" classification, which gave them essential production status with priority for raw materials. Some 312 Harley-Davidson employees also enlisted, of whom all but three survived the experience.
As to hardware, in all some 20,000 motorcycles became American "conscripts" in the First World War, the vast majority of which were Harley-Davidsons. This success finally leap-frogged Harley ahead of its main rival, Indian, a position it was never to relinquish. Military Harley s were mainly 61-inch (989cc) twins of conventional F-head design, producing almost nine horsepower. They were employed mainly for dispatch and scout duty. One became a cause celebre.
Its rider was Corporal Roy Holtz of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, little more than 200 miles (320 km) from downtown Milwaukee. On 8 November 1918, with the German army in chaotic retreat, Holtz was assigned to take his company captain on a reconnaissance mission. At night and in foul weather, the captain became disorientated and, over Holtz's objections, directed him across enemy lines where the duo eventually stumbled across a German field headquarters at which Holtz was instructed to ask directions. They were taken prisoner but released with the Armistice three days later. Holtz — and his Harley V-twin — thus became the first American serviceman on German soil.
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