THE HISTORY OF
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
MILITARY MOTORCYCLES
You will find two great informative stories here on this page. First, the story of the Marine Corps use of motorcycles in World War II, and then the complete history of the use of motorcycles within the Corps, as Jack had published in the Leatherneck Magazine of November 1982. Enjoy! I wish to Thank Jack for donating his fine work, for the use of his stories and photos within this site.

Semper Fi Jack!

Motorcycle Equipped Marine Corps
Units Of World War II

Copyright 1982, By Jack M. Sands

The U. S. Marine Corps did not use a large number of motorcycles during the Second World War. Some marine veterans don't recall seeing any, other than captured Japanese machines. After extensive research, approximately 125 Harley-Davidsons and Indian motorcycles can be accounted for. There probably weren't more than 200 or so machines in the Corps during the period 1941 - 1946.

The Marine Corps used motorcycles primarily for messenger, convoy and military police duties. Early in the war, the motorcycles was largely replaced by the Jeep. Motorcycle Marines did participate in combat at Pearl Harbo on 7 December 1941. During the attack, a motorcycle sqaud assigned to the 2nd Engineer Battalion at Camp Catlin, Hawaii was pressed into service. Equipped with Model UA Harley-Davidsons sidecar rigs, the Motorcycle Marines delivered machine guns, ammunitions and fisrt aid supplies; transported the wounded; and escorted convoys of ammunition trucks carring 3 inch anti-aircraft shells from the Lualualei Depot.

During the period 1941 - 1946, elements of the following Marine Corps units utilized Harley- Davidsons or Indians to some extent:

  Unit   Location   Year
  1st Defence Bn.   Wake Island   1941
  1st Marine Brigade (Provisional)   Iceland   1941
  1st Provisional Bn.   Londonderry, N. Ireland   1943
  2nd Engineer Bn.   Camp Catlin, Hawaii   1941
  "   Camp Elliott, CA   1942
  2nd Motor Transport Bn.   Camp Elliott, CA   1941
  "   New Zealand   1943
  "   Tarawa   1943
  "   Hawaii   1943
  2nd Scoot Co.   Camp Elliott, CA   1941
  2nd Tank Bn.   Camp Elliott, CA   1941
  "   American Samoa   1942
  3rd Marine Brigade   Western Samoa   1942
  Garrison Marine Corps Recruit Depot   Parris Island, SC   1941
  Garrison Tent Camp #1   New River, NC   1941
  Paratrooper Training Unit   NAS, Lakehurst, NJ   1941
  Provost Marshal   Camp Catlin, Hawaii   1945-46
  Provost Marshal   Camp Pendleton, CA   1945-46
  Provost Marshal   San Diego, CA   1945

No doubt, thee were some other units that utilized motorcycles to some degree. The information contained herein is based on photographic evidence and information received from World War II Marine veterans, including nine who rode the machines during the wartime period.

For those interested in restoring a military motorcycle with USMC colors and markings, the machines were usually painted "Marine Green" ( Marine Corps 34052 lusterless green ). Markings were applied at the local unit level and lacked uniformity. Some motorcycles assigned to elements of the 2nd Marine Division had "2MARDIV" printed in yellow across the front and rear fenders with a two and three digit vehicle number below. They did not, of course, have the white Army star on the gas tanks.

The Motorcycle Marines
Copyright 1982, By Jack M. Sands

Because of it's historical expeditionary force mission to undeveloped countries of the world, in the early 1900's the Corps relied primarily on shoe leather and animals to get Marines from one point to another once they were ashore. It was not until July 199 that the first motor vehile was purchased by the U.S. Marine Corps. A Studebaker "30" automobile, it reportedly set the Corps back $3,635 and was used in Washington, D.C., for transorting the mail and other offical purposes. By March 1917, only 72 motor vehicles, excluding motorcycles, had been purchused, and four of them had been worn out.

One of the early proponents of Marine Corps motor transport was Capt. Frank E. Evans, USMC (Ret'd), who in 1917 was the editor of the Marine Corps Gazette. In the March issue that year, he wrote: "Motor vehicles are practically the only means of transportation which can be used satisfactorily by the Marine Corps, owing to it's dual service on land and sea. It is manifestly impossible to carry animals on men-of-war and Marine Corps transport, as it frequently happens that expeditions remain at sea for two or three months before landing."

Attempts to develop motor driven bicycles had been made at the end of the 19th century, but it was not until about 1902 that strengthened bicycle frames, with engines mounted above the pedaling, became the ancestors of the modern motorcycle.

In 1912, the Hendee Manufacturing Company, of Springfield, Mass., (later known as the Indian Motorcycle Company) had one of the world's largest factories, employing some 3'000 workers on three shifts. By 1916, the Marine Corps had acquired some of these "Indians" and they were being used overseas.

The Marines had been sent to Haitibefore, for brief periods. However, when they were dispatched there in 1915, they they were to remain until 1934. On this occasion, the government of President Theodor was overthrown and a new regine under President Sam had taken office. After only four months in power, the new presidaent fled for his life and took refuge in the French Legation. A mob stormed the compound and dragged President Sam into the street. There his body was cut to pieces. Ships of the U.S. Navy under the command of Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, had been sent to the area and Marines and Navy personnel were ordered ashore. Eventually, a new government was installed and a treaty provided that there would be a police force comprised of Haitians, but "officered" by U.S. Marines. By 1916, Marines in Haiti were using Indian motorcycles in the performance of their constabulary duties. They were light-weight one-cylinder machines.

While the Marines were getting the situation under control in Haiti, a neighboring country was experiencing a revolution. In keeping with the foreign policy of the United States in the Caribbean at the time, Marines were ordered ashore in the Dominican Republic. They would remain there from 1916 until 1924, fighting many skirmished with the bandits, as the revolutionaries were called in those days.

On April 7, 1917, the Guardia National Dominicana (Dominican Constabulary) was formed. Ten Dominican towns were garrisoned, including Santiago, where the motorcycles squad of the Marine's 19th Company served. Their Indian machines had the "Power Plus" engines.

By 1917, the managment of the fleet of 68 automobiles and trucks, plus an unspecified number of motorcycles that the Corps had in service, nessitated the publication of a set of rules for their proper operation and care. In part:

Odometer readings on all motor vehicles will be taken each morning and each evening, and records made of daily milage of each.

Records will be kept of all gasoline, oil, grease, repairs, repair parts, etc., furnished each vehicle. Comparison of consumption of gasoline, oil, etc., with daily mileage will be made in order to as certain whether or not proper results are being obtained.

Each chauffeur will go over his truck or motor car daily, also opertors of motorcycles, to see that all bolts, etc., are properly tightened up in order that they may always be kept at a maximum of mechanical efficiency, and to avoid accidents.

Governors on all trucks will be set for a maximum speed of not more than fourteen (14) miles per hour, except for light delivery wagons of the Ford type. Keys to locks on governors will be kept by the officer in charge of trucks.

Trucks will not be allowed to stand overnight with loads on, unless some military emergency exists and with the approval of the officer in charge. When a truck for any reason is to remain in garage over twenty-four (24) hours, it will be jacked up sufficiently to lift all four wheels clear of the ground.

All tires are guaranteed for a certain mileage, and an accrurate record should be kept on each tire so that in the event it does not run it's guaranteed mileage, refund may be obtained for the difference on the purchase of new tires. Requisitions for new tires will show guaranteed mileage of the old tire; also actual mileage performed. neumatic tires will be kept inflated to the number of pounds pressure advised by the manufacturers and usually indicated thereon.

No unauthorized person will be allowed to ride on motor trucks, motorcars, or motorcycles.

During the first World War, thousands of motorcycles were furnished to the armed forces and other government agencies. About 41,000 of these were Indians. The first 20,000 had been contracted for by the War Department at $187.50 for solo machines and $47 additional for the sidecar. Harley-Davidson made some 15,000 motorcycles for the war effort while a lesser number were Excelsiors and Clevelands.

The Marine Corps used some motorcycles for messenger duties as well as for convey duty with the slow-moving Liberty trucks. If the Corps used any in support of it's trench warfare operations in France, they were probably Army machines.

Following World War I, the Marine Corps acquired a large number of surplus Army motorcycles. For a time, a rumor reportedly circulated thoughout the Corps that every recuit would be issued a motorcycle upon graduation from boot camp. Motorcycles had become accepted as a practical means of transportation.

Hard times were soon experianced by the armed forces and the Marine Corps was not exempt from the budget cutting ax being wielded by the Congress.

Despite the bleak financial situation in the 1920's, motorcycles still had a place in the Corps. In 1927, Marines in China were protecting American citizens and interests during a revolution which had been going on for quite some time. The colorful and legendary Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, who had earned two medals of Honor during campaigns in Mexico and Haiti, was ordered to China to take command of the Marines. On September 14 1928, he was in Tientsin inspecting a squad of motorcycle marines who were performiong police duties and escorted the tanks of the 3rd Brigade. Their machines were 1926-27 Harley-Davidson vee-twin models.

In 1932, marines were in Nicaragua, establishing neutral zones for the protection of Americans and other foreigners. Officers and noncommissioned officers of the 2nd Brigade were detailed to serve as instructors and unit commanders of the Guaedian Nacional. They used Harley-Davidson motorcycles in the performance of their police duties.

Military motorcycle advocates apparently never had very many supporters in influential positions of the Marine Corps hierarchy. Some of the escapades of the Motorcycle Marines themselves probably contributed to a lack of enthusiasm for the machines. However, there were other reasons why the use of motorcycles in the Corps was never as widespead as in the Army. A primary reason was the expeditionary force mission of the Marines, which historically had involved counter-insurgency operations in undeveloped counties.

As late as 1940, the revised edition of the Marine Corps Small Wars Manual gave little attention to the subject of military motorcycles. In one section appeared the statement, "Motorcycles with or without sidecars are of very little value in small wars. They require good roads and have some value for messenger service." Another section, describing the responsibilities of signal troops, mentioned motorcycle messengers along with signal flags and carrier pigeons as being amoung the possible means of communications in the field.

The Marine Corps Table of Organization and Equipment for a Detached Regiment dated February 25, 1929, listed the following regimental motor transport vehicles: 5 motorcycles with sidecars, 9 bicycles, 2 five-passenger or cross-country cars, 2 other cross-country cars, 2 one-ton trucks, 1 ambulance, 1 light repair truck, with a sufficient number of trailers for the tractors.

In the early 1940's the typical Marine Cops motorcycle was a "Harley Hog", a 74 cubic inch machine with sidecar. Weighing some 850 pounds empty, it easily weighed over 1,000 pounds with passengers aboad. Motorcycles designed for street use are somewhat like aytomobiles designed for that purpose. The motorcycles of the period were never intended to be all-terrain vehicles or "trail bikes". The Army learned this in the spring of 1940 during maneuvers by the 6th Cavalry Regiment in Louisiana and Georgia. Their 81 motorcycles covered approximately 4,000 miles and at the conclusion of the maneuvers, about half of the engines had to be rebuilt.

As World War II approached, a number of peacetime Marines at various posts of the Corps were perfoming their duties on motorcycles. During the period 1936-40, there was a Harley-Davidson sidecar rig assigned to the Marine Barracks at bremerton, Washington. The machine was used for messager service by the Marine orderly assigned to the Commandant of the Naval District. There was also a motorcycle at the Marine Barracks, Cavite, Philippines Islands.

I 1931, Marines assigned to the Legation Guard in Shanghi, China, were using motorcycles. They were photographed performing motorcade escort duty.

In April 1941, the First Marine Division returned from maneuvers in the Carribbean and moved into a tent camp near the rifle range at Parris Island, S.C. At the end of September, the division moved to another tent camp at New Piver, N.C. At both sites, the Marine Corps was using motorcycles for garrison duty.

During World War II, the major American manufacturer of military motorcycles was the Harkey-Davidson Motor Company, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wis. Harley produdtion during the war totaled approximately 88,000 machines, for which the company earned two "Army-Navy E Awrads". In addition to supplying military machines to all branches of the armed forces, the firm supplied motorcycles to Canada, China, Great Britain, Russia and South Africa.

The Indian Motorcycle Company of Springfield, Mass., manufactured about 42,000 cycles for our armed forces, governmenr agencies and our allies. The firm also received the "Army-Navy E Award" for its production efforts. A large number of Indian machines went to New Zealand, where many are still in use by antique motorcycle enthusiasts.

The war in Wurope was more conducive to motorcycle use than the campaigns in the Pacific. The Germans made wide use of the machines, increasing their motorcycle infantry battalions from three to 20 during the war. The russians, in their fight with the Germans, had regiments. Solo machines carried "rifle troops" and sidecar rigs were equipped with machine guns and anti-tank weapons.

The Marines Corps did not use a large number of motorcycles during the war. Between 1941 and 1946, approximately 125 machines in use by the Corps can be accounted for. The great majority of these were the 74 cubic inch Madel UA Harley-Davidson, many with sidecars. A small number of Indian machines were also used. Based upon information from Marine veterans who rode motorcycles during the wartime period, it has been determiuned that they were used for messenger service, convoy escorts, military police patrol and the transportation of officers.

Jesse E. Nowlin joined the Marines on June 26, 1941. In August 1941, the 24 year-old Texan, then a private first class, found himself on Wake Island with the !st Defense Battalion, which had three motorcycles. Two were Harley-Davidson and the third was either a Harley or an Indian.

The motorcycls were used by the Marines for messager service and to transport the Officer of the Day on his rounds. PFC Nowlin wa assigned to administratiive duties when he was told to take a motorcycle and pick up someone. Since he had never ridden a motorcyle before, one of the other Marines gave him an accelerated course in it's operation. After a few jack rabbit leaps forward, Nowlin was riding the machine and had suddenly become a Motorcycle marine. In January 1942, Nowlin and most of the other surviving American on Wake were taken aboard the Japanese liner Nitta Maru and hualed off to prisoner of war camps.

The old motorcycles on Wake were probably destroyed by our own bombs. After the Japanese surrendered, only ten unspecified American and Japanese vehicles remained intact.

In August 1941, Pvt. Edward J. Driscoll, Jr., was assigned to the 2nd Scout Company, Second Marine Division, at Camp Elliot, near San Diego, CA. The forerunner of today's Marine Recon Battalion, the scout company's vehicles included Harley-Davidson Motorcyles, and the Marines were required to learn how to operate them. The motorcycles were used for liaison and road recooaissance and were maintained by mechanics assigned to the company.

Although some machines of that period were equipped with tanden seats, the solo models had a luggage rack mounted on the rear fender. A leather Thompson sub-machine gun scabbard attached to the right front was used as a mail pouch while the motorcycle was operated in garrison. Vehicle markings on the front fender consisted of "2MAR-DIV" and a two-digit vehilce number painted below.

By November 1942, when the 2nd Scout Company boarded the SS President Monroe and sailed off to war, Driscoll was a sergeant. The Marines took their newly acquired jeeps with them, but left their faithful motorcycles behind.

When Louis Metzger was a teen-ager attended high school in San Francisco in the mid-1930's, he and some friends bought an old World War I military surplus Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Riding the machine over the hilly streets of the city was not without challenge and provided excitement as well as experience.

In 1939, theyoung motorcycle enthusiast joined the Marine, graduating from the basic school at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1940.

After a tour of sea duty abopad the USS New Orleans, Lt. Metzger was transferred to Camp EElliot, CA., becoming Platoon Leader of the 2nd Platoon, Company B, 2nd Tank Battalion. He was pleased to find that the tank company was assigned three Harley-Davidsons with sidecars for the transportation of officers.

On January 5, 1942, less than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lt. Metzger and the rest of the 2nd Marine Brigade shipped out from San Diego for Ameican samoa. The lieutenant's platoon made camp at Pavaiai, a Samoan village. His platoon's vehicle inventory consist of five M#A! light tanks, a 21/2- tom truck, and one of the motorcycle himself. Although assigned a driver, Metzger preferred to ride the motorcycle himself. He often removed the sidecar for greater mobility during his travels around the island paradise.

Sometimes Lt. Metzger would have his driver sit in the sidecar while he rode the motorcycle. This would cause the enlisted man to wonder aload if ti was really necessary that he make the trip. Some thought the lieutyenant drove a bit fast while negotiating the unimproved roads and marrow trails of the island.

In the summer od 1942, the motorcycle were turned in and


CONSTRUCTION TO THIS STORY IS STILL IN THE WORKS.
MUCH MORE OF JACKS STORY IS YET TO BE POSTED TO THIS PAGE.

 

 

 

Marine Corps Motorcycle, Restored by:
The Author of These Fine Stories, Jack M. Sands

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