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: 28 Sep 1943 More than 9000 Japanese troops escape from Central Solomons to southern Bougainville in a well-organized evacuation effort [28 Sep-3 Oct].   

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
Transmission 3 fwd
Power transfer Chain drive
Fuel capacity 3.375 gal
Cruising range 120 mi
Max speed 65 mph
Brakes Drum actuated by cable/lever
Fording depth 16 in
Net weight 562 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.

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