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Harley Davidson Model 50 WLA

The primary manufacturer of motorcycles for the U.S. military during World War II was Harley-Davidson who began producing the WLA in their Milwaukee, WI factory in 1940. During the war, Harley-Davidson produced more than 88,000 WLAs, shipped to U.S. forces as well as to Allies (especially the Soviet Union) under Lend-Lease. The production for the U.S. military were designated 42WLA while the version for Canadian and other Allied forces were 43WLA, loosely related to the year the production specification was adopted.

A first sergeant of an armored unit on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle during war games at Fort Knox, KY, June 1942
A first sergeant of an armored unit on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle during war games at Fort Knox, KY, June 1942.

Today in WW II: 25 Oct 1943 American and New Zealand troops land at Mono and Stirling, Treasury Islands, south of Bougainville [25-27 Oct].  More 
25 Oct 1944 First operation by the Japanese Kamikaze Special Attack Force: 55 kamikazes strike 7 carriers and 40 other ships, sinking six, off Leyte, Philippines.
25 Oct 1944 Battle off Samar [Leyte]: US Admiral Sprague skillfully prevents a loss to the stronger Japanese force under Japanese Admiral Kurita.
25 Oct 1944 Battle off Cape Engaño (Leyte): lopsided naval battle resulting in the loss of most of Japanese Northern Force to US Admiral Halsey's carrier planes and battleships [25-26 Oct].
25 Oct 1944 Soviet Red Army enters Kirkenes, the first town in Norway to be liberated from the Germans.
Visit the Olive-Drab.com World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

Harley Davidson WLA Military Motorcycle

The Harley Davidson Model 50 WLA solo motorcycle provided the U.S. Army with fast, flexible transportation for reconnaissance, messenger service, police operations, and convoy control.

The military WLA was based on the H-D WLD civilian model. Changes included olive drab paint, blued or parkerized metal parts, blackout lights, ammunition boxes, cargo rack, a bracket for a submachine gun scabbard [mounted left and right of the front tire], modified fenders, military style windshield, and saddlebags [straddled over the rear tire]. Metal leg shields were authorized for winter use. An oil bath air cleaner and modified crankcase air breather adapted the WLA to field conditions and fording requirements.

Engine 45 cid flat-head, side-valve
Transmission3 fwd
Power transferChain drive
Fuel capacity3.375 gal
Cruising range120 mi
Max speed65 mph
BrakesDrum actuated by cable/lever
Fording depth16 in
Net weight562 lbs

1941 War Department Photo of Harley Davidson WLA.
1941 War Department Photo of Harley Davidson WLA.

Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle, 45 cu. in. engine
Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle, 45 cu. in. engine.
Owner: Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles
Photo: Courtesy of Bill Jeffers

1941/1942 Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle, 45 cu. in. engine
1941/1942 Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle, 45 cu. in. engine.
Photo: Courtesy of Jan Smith

Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle
Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle.
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Bennett. Rider is Private Joseph L. Bennett, at Fort Lewis, WA, late in 1942. On September 22, 1942, he was selected to be a special motorcycle escort to President F. D. Roosevelt when the President visited Fort Lewis. He later became a Second Lieutenant and was awarded a Bronze Star.

Recommended Book about Military Harley Davidson Motorcycles

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