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The Harley-Davidson WLA: A Legendary Motorcycle of World War II

Posted By: Southside H-D®
Post Date: 07/13/2023

US Troops during WW2 poised for action atop Harley-Davidson WLAs

When it comes to iconic military motorcycles, few can match the legacy of the Harley-Davidson WLA. As World War II raged on, the WLA emerged as a rugged and dependable workhorse, serving the Allied forces with distinction. In this article, we delve into the fascinating history and enduring significance of the Harley-Davidson WLA, a symbol of American military might during one of the most critical periods in history.

  1. Origins and Development: The development of the Harley-Davidson WLA can be traced back to the late 1930s when the U.S. Army issued a request for a new military motorcycle. Drawing upon their expertise in motorcycle manufacturing, Harley-Davidson answered the call and began working on a ruggedized and versatile two-wheeler that could endure the rigors of warfare.

  2. Design and Features: The WLA was based on Harley-Davidson's civilian model, the WL, but underwent several modifications to meet military requirements. Its robust construction included a reinforced frame, heavy-duty suspension, and a powerful 45 cubic inch (740cc) V-twin engine. The bike featured blackout lighting, an air cleaner system for dusty environments, and a simplified electrical system for field maintenance.

  3. Role on the Battlefield: The WLA motorcycles played diverse roles on the battlefield, proving their mettle in various scenarios. They were primarily used for reconnaissance, as courier motorcycles, and for general transportation of troops and supplies. The versatility and reliability of the WLA made it an essential asset for the military, helping them swiftly navigate difficult terrains and maintain effective communication.

  4. Allied Usage: Beyond the U.S. Army, the WLA found its way into the hands of other Allied forces through the Lend-Lease program. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the Soviet Union benefited from the robustness and reliability of the WLA, utilizing it in their respective military operations. The motorcycle became a symbol of Allied solidarity, further cementing its place in history.

  5. Cultural Impact: The Harley-Davidson WLA left an indelible mark on popular culture and motorcycle enthusiasts alike. Its distinctive appearance, characterized by the exposed V-twin engine, sleek lines, and olive-drab military paint, has become an iconic symbol of the era. Even today, the WLA continues to inspire nostalgia and serves as a testament to the courage and sacrifice of those who fought during World War II.

  6. Collectibility and Restoration: The Harley-Davidson WLA holds significant value in the eyes of collectors and restoration enthusiasts. Owning and restoring a WLA is a labor of love, often involving meticulous research, sourcing of original parts, and craftsmanship. Restored WLAs are a tribute to the motorcycle's historical importance and a way to preserve its legacy for future generations.

The Harley-Davidson WLA stands as a remarkable testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the era. Through its service in World War II, the WLA earned its place in history as an iconic military motorcycle. Its robust design, reliability, and versatility made it an invaluable asset on the battlefield and a symbol of American military power. Today, the WLA remains an enduring symbol of courage, resilience, and the enduring spirit of those who fought for freedom during one of humanity's most challenging times.

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