Types of WWII German Motorcycles

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Germany during World War II equipped its military with a wide range of motorcycles with engine displacements of up to 800 cc. The more common motorcycle brands used in combat were Zündapp, BMW, DKW and NSU. BMW’s R75 and the Zundapp K-series bikes were perhaps the most durable under combat conditions. Most prewar civilian motorcycles were not up to the rigors of military use, therefore Germany motorcycle makers developed specially designed bikes for the war effort.

German motorcyclists on the streets of Warsaw on Oct. 01, 1939
(Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The German military employed motorcycles for reconnaissance and liaison work. Perhaps more than any other army in the European and Pacific theaters, Germany made the most extensive use of motorcycles. Each German tank division had motorcycle units. Up to three motorcycle companies formed a motorcycle battalion. On the Eastern Front, a German infantry division included up to 452 motorcycles, which were assigned to reconnaissance, signal, engineer and anti-tank gun battalions, infantry and artillery regiments, the headquarters company and supply units.

German motorcycle used during World War 2
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DKW had been producing motorcycles for nearly 10 years before the outbreak of war in 1939. DKW specialized in smaller bikes, with its most important contribution to the German Army being the RT125. It was an ultra-lightweight reconnaissance motorcycle powered by a two-stroke engine and three-speed transmission. It was the most copied German military motorcycle after the war, with Harley-Davidson, the British-produced BSA and Yamaha liberally taking its designs and applying them to their own bikes.

DKW E250 at motorcycle show in London, circa 1930
H. F. Davis/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1938, NSU Motorenwerke developed the NSU HK101 Kettenkrad half-track motorcycle powered by an Opel Olympia engine. Designed by Heinrich Kniepkamp, it was intended as a cross-country vehicle originally to help clear timber from forests. Its spoked front wheel was too weak to work in combat conditions, but NSU added a solid front wheel to increase its front-end strength. Its primary duty during the war was to transport parachute troops on the ground. It continued as a civilian tractor in postwar Germany and ceased production in 1948.

Kettenkrad half track
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Zündapp was one of the largest suppliers of military motorcycles. Among its models were the DB200, DBK250, KS600, KS601, KS750 and the largest German military motorcycle, the K800W. Founded in 1917, Zündapp produced more than 200,000 motorcycles by 1938. Between 1940 and 1945, it manufactured 18,695 KS750 models for the army. It came with a tow hook and was capable of towing up to 1,850 pounds. Power came from a 745-cc two-cylinder pancake engine matched with a four-speed transmission. It featured hydraulically operated brakes. Its dry weight was 925 pounds. The army equipped the KS750 with an MG34 machine gun and two MP40 submachine guns. The lighter DBK 250 featured an 8.5-horsepower, single-cylinder two-strike engine displacing 247 cc, which was matched with a three-speed transmission.

Zündapp
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The BMW R75 was the only motorcycle during the first two years of war considered reliable. It carried a 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun, but more importantly, it shared numerous interchangeable parts with the Zündapp motorcycles, making field maintenance and repairs easy. The BMW R75 was a racer model equipped with a supercharged, two-cylinder 500-cc engine. It came with either a rigid or a spring-welded, steel tube frame.

German motorcyclist bogged down in mud near Athens, Greece in May 1941
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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