Harley Davidson WLA: Motorcycle the US Military Relied Upon in Times of War


Just about anyone driving the city streets today can see there is no dearth of awesome motorcycles on the road. For generations, people have been in awe of one brand producing great motorcycles with incredible designs and sound. Ask anyone which is the most American of motorcycles, and the likelihood you will hear the name Harley Davidson first.

There is a huge community of riders with notable attitude and all seem to be riding Harleys.

Harley-Davidson has become a synonym to motorcycles with every cyclist somewhere, relating themselves to their bike's simple looks, style and riding experience. What many aren’t aware of is Its’ contribution to American history as well as being one of the only two motorcycle manufacturers that survived the great depression and came away unscathed.

Harley-Davidson's Association and the United States Military

Harley-Davidson has a long history of responding to the country's needs during the time of war. The first notable contribution to American history was when they provided motorcycles with machine guns mounted in the sidecars for the U.S. army, pitted against the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa along the US-Mexican border.

Then, when the US entered the World War I Harley Davidson ramped up production. Between 1917 through 1918, one-third of the motorcycles produced were purchased by the US military to be used in the war. The FUS and LUS models with its trademark high, flat fenders were particularly well suited for muddy conditions. In fact, on November 12, 1918, one day after signing the armistice, the first American set foot in Germany while riding a Harley-Davidson. During this same period, the motor company also gave rise to the birth of "Quartermasters School" - now known as Harley-Davidson University - to train army mechanics. By the time the war ended, some 20,000 motorcycles were used by the U.S. Military.

The astonishing numbers didn't just stop there. During the World War II Harley-Davidson produced 60,000 WLA motorcycles. Almost one-third of them went to the allied forces in the UK and Russia as part of the Lend-Lease Act of 1941. The rest went almost entirely to the U.S. Military. The other models produced by the motor company included WLC (for the Canadian military), XA, a shaft driven motorcycle (particularly for desert warfare), and military G model Servi-Cars.

With the war continuing, Harley-Davidson started producing the rarer XLA models (military Sportster) and more WLA models. More recently, they have produced the MT-350 and MT-500 military motorcycles in collaboration with the Rotax company. In 1998 Harley-Davidson stopped producing military motorcycles with the discontinuation of MT models.

Harley Davidson WLA: The One that Survived the Test of Time

The US Army has used WLA H-D motorcycles as the ideal transport for messengers, reconnaissance and traffic control purposes during the World War II. These were leased out to the allied forces through Lend and Lease Agreements. In 1937, H-D introduced the W-series models with a 45 cubic inch engine, which came to be known as "The Liberators." The most notable feature of these motorcycles was the recirculating oil system, which significantly reduced maintenance. Then in 1937, the US Army purchased the 39 WL model and shipped two prototype 39WL(A) models to the Mechanized Cavalry Board at Fort Knox, Kentucky. This prototype was completely adapted from the civilian Model which retained the I-beam type front forks.

In September 1939, the US Army at Fort Knox began an extensive testing program on the WLA models. The US Army ordered more than 400 40 WLA Models between January and March 1940. These were the first type of motorcycles delivered with the term 'WLA' in the Engine Number. They went on to become the 'Father' of the 41 WLA and later the 'Grandfather' of 42WLA model. By the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, WLAs were common sights in the Armed Forces barracks. With war imminent, Harley Davidson geared up for massive war production, which soon evolved into the 42WLA. Thousands of these were manufactured between 1941 and 1945.

Harley Davidson WLA models were recognized as a sturdy and reliable vehicle. Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company received the Army-Navy "E" Award on May 12th, 1943 for their excellence in production during the time of war.

Post War Evolution

After the World War II had ended, many ex-servicemen sought out their wartime Harley machines in showrooms all over the nation. Reminiscing about their fond memories, often the first thing these returning veterans did was to customize their ride. Chopping off front fenders, crash bars and clunky seats gave birth to the iconic Harley-Davidson "chopper."

Now, Harley-Davidson is among the best motorcycle brands in the world. Currently featured on the Forbes top 500 companies list, at 28th position, Harley Davidson's motorcycles are a blend of beautiful bodywork and outstanding engineering.

The WLA model is considered as being the motorcycle that helped America and the allies to win World War II. It's rich war history makes it an excellent collectible piece that is still used and enjoyed. This bike has many stories attached to it of its past life, with still a great future ahead of it.

Following the American bike enthusiast's obsession with customizing motorcycles, especially Harley Davidson bikes, A&G Customs has also stepped in to customizing and rebuilding Harley Davidson motorcycles. You can contact us for any type of custom work and paint job for your motorcycle, along with the finest auto repair and restoration work.