Mel Rappaport – HQ 6th Armored Division
Yes, we did have Harleys in the division. We had them when we were training at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and in the Mojave desert in California.
In fact, I learned how to drive them, and even suffered a bad fall. I recall all of this very well. Once you master that monster machine, you want to go fast!.
I was in the desert, making a turn, in the heavy desert sands. The darn thing fell on top of me and it burned my legs as it fell on top of me. That sucker weighed a lot, even in those good old days.
I was careful after that incident; we used them for traffic control. For example, on a road march, they would rush to the front of a tank column, and at a cross road would direct traffic like a traffic cop.
We still had them at Camp Cooke, CA, but if I remember correctly, we had a lot of bad motorcycle accidents and a lot of drivers were hospitalized, all due to recklessness.
So I think General Grow just did away with them. Too dangerous. One of my good friends, Sgt. Able, was very badly hurt in a fall and was in the camp hospital.
That was the end of the cycles in our 6th Armored Division. I do not know about the other divisions. All of this is my recollections going down old memory lane, but we did have the motorcycles in the division up to 1943.
Nick Reconnaissance, Company 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion
We had Harley motorcycles in Recon Company of the 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and we did take them overseas with us. I believe we had one for each platoon. One of our first casualties was a fellow named Jacobsen who was delivering a message to Headquarters, and had an accident while trying to negotiate a turn on the way back. He was found by some French people, but they were unable to save him.
I cannot remember exactly when, but the motorcycles disappeared later on. They actually were of no use to us, and a real hazard to those that rode them in combat areas. Radios sort of made them obsolete.
Wayne Field, 2nd platoon, D Troop, 86th Reconnaissance Battalion
During the spring of 1945 some of us in the 86th found a German motorcycle and rode it a little just for fun. I might say, it ISN'T impossible to ride it a slow speeds, just difficult to hold it down.
As a 18-year-old replacement my first motorcycle ride was in Germany. I tried to turn too short and wound up on my back looking up at the machine, the gasoline dripping from the gas tank cap. I'm thankful there wasn't a spark or flame around.
My first horseback ride was over there too. I tried to get on from the left side and landed several feet behind the horse. The horse has the upper hand, or was it foot? I tried again, this time going from the top of a fence to the back of the horse, and succeeded. Oh, there wasn't a saddle around. I don't remember if there was a halter, but I'm sure there wasn't a bridle.
Lt Gus Braun, C Company 128th Armored Ordnance Maintenance Battalion
We called the steel brackets on the front of the jeeps “Wire Cutters”. I don't know whether any were mounted in England prior to embarkation. I do remember a steady line of Jeeps being processed through an assembly line on several occasions. The first was in Plouay in southern Brittany.
Later we had a regular production line going at Nancy as the division was able to convert most Messenger Motorcycles to jeeps. The problem was in getting the angle iron steel. We often had several sizes of metal to deal with.
The “Wire Cutters” were welded to the front bumper with angle braces back to the front of the frame. Nice and sturdy but it created a mean problem when we had to repair radiators or even lift out engine assembly as a unit piece. With experience, our guys refined their assembly techniques to get around the mounting mistakes made in a haste at the start.
Trust the GI to come up with a “field-fix” to improve ease of maintenance and repair.
I don't know of any jeep accidents but you have to remember that they replaced the motorcycles that were causing real havoc with accidents. I remember the jeep fondly. When we were at Camp Cook we had to drive through a range and try to toss a live hand grenade into an old truck cab. Most went through in a halftrack and ducked behind the armor after they threw the grenade. One officer hadn't gone through so I was detailed to drive him down the range in a jeep. I had one eye on the road and another on him. He stood up, threw the grenade and I took off so fast he fell back, he didn't sit willingly. I don't remember that he objected seriously but he made some remark that I've long since forgotten. In my opinion they were the right vehicle at the right time!
Bruce Frederick, son of Lt Arthur M Frederick 212th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
My brother and I didn't have much contact with our father, but my brother (who is seven years older than me) has told me about an odd exchange from the 60's regarding jeeps.
A few years ago, when I read the 212th AFA history in detail for the first time, I mentioned to him in passing: “You know, it's amazing how many non-combat casualties occurred from jeep accidents. The is full of them.
He replied: “That's really weird. When I was 18, I was arguing with dad about Vietnam, and he made a comment that a lot of the casualties over there were probably due to jeep accidents. I thought it was the stupidest, craziest thing I had ever heard him say”.
We captured a German motorcycle right after we got into Germany, in Frankfurt. It had a sidecar on it and we put it up on the back of our tank and carried it with us. When we got there to Frankfurt and the big Air Force Base there we stopped to regroup and service our tank and get ready for the big push into Germany. We had a lot of time while we were there. So we took that old motorcycle down off of the tank and filled it up with gas and we started riding that thing around and around through there. We ran all the tires off of it. The funny part about it was they were going to take the motorcycle away from us. The company ordnance, seeing that we had it, they wanted it. Lt. Cooper said: “They aren't getting this one, we're going to have some fun out of this thing before they get it.” So, we ran every one the tires off of that motorcycle. We tore that motorcycle all to pieces.
This story sounds a lot like the story Forrest Longwell told about a German motorcycle they confiscated. They were having a ball with it. I even believe it was near Frankfurt. They were riding the wheels off it when their commanding officer told them to get rid of it as there were enough ways to get killed in the war without creating one.
Horace W Lennon – A Company 25th Armored Engineer Battalion
Here is another motorcycle story of sorts.
On our first morning in combat, we came to a bridge the Germans had blown. The water was only about 2 feet deep so we went on across. On the other side there was an abandoned German motorcycle. My platoon leader Lt. G ( we won't call his name ), examined it and decided it was ridable. He cranked it up, gunned it a few times, and rode it around in a couple of circles. I was in the 1st Platoon's half track and he motioned me over. He said: “Sgt. Lennon, you're in charge now—ride in my jeep—I'm going to do some recon on this motorcycle.” With that he took off.
He'd hardly been gone 5 minutes when the call came in for the engineers to clear some mines. I took a detail (one squad) and we got busy. We cleared and deactivated the mines and placed them outside the road. The convoy got moving again and soon had our first contact with the enemy. Thankfully, it was a light skirmish and we went on our way, but it wasn't long before the call came out again: “Mines—Engineers!”. After we cleared that batch we came in contact with a German outpost. The Infantry took care of that. By then it was starting to get dark and the call came down to go into bivouac and post guard. There wasn't much sleeping that night. We could hear sporadic action up ahead. I thought they were “feelers” testing us out.
About daybreak orders came down to get things ready to move out. I heard someone calling for the engineer platoon so I yelled: “Engineers over here!”.
It was my CO, Captain Brooks. He said he was looking for Lt. G. I told him he had ridden off the day before on a German motorcycle, leaving me in charge, and I hadn't seen him since. After a few choice words, he promised to get me a new platoon leader, and did right away. Lt. Vermillion came and stayed with us from then on.
Rumor was that Lt. G. was given a desk job. As for the motorcycle, we never saw it again.