Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Bicycle with a mount for a MP44 and a tellermine.

Young Volkssturm soldiers (14/16 years old) on bikes equipped with special Panzerfaust racks in Frankfurt an der Oder, January 1945. Each bike could carry 2 disposable rocket weapons, to be used against enemy armour; to cope with Russian infantry each boy was given also a rifle.

Contrary to popular belief the German Army was not fully motorised at the outbreak of war. The Treaty of Versailles had severely limited the Army's resources, especially within motorisation. A large part of the Infantry were required to move on foot and therefore it seemed logical to utilise non-motorised forms of transport such as horses and bicycles. These forms of transport continued throughout the war and towards the end the reduced manufacture of motorised vehicles and lack of fuel resources forced OKW (Oberkommando der Wermacht - The High Command of the Armed Forces) to utilise more non- motorised forms of transport. In 1943 the production of bicycles was estimated at 1.2 million. Although the exact number is not known, the largest part of this production was initiated by military demands. 

All units of Infantry and even motorised divisions included bicycles in their standard equipment. The reorganisation of the army in the mid 1930's stated that the first battalion of each infantry regiment should be equipped with bicycles and throughout the war, in the majority of infantry regiments, this was the case. Each regiment had a reconnaissance section, which were either on horseback or bicycles (Regiment Radfahrer / Reiterzug) or sometimes a combination of the two. The HQ staff of infantry regiments were issued five bicycles, as were pioneer battalions. Later in the war all units had bicycles issued, especially sections whose role was as despatch riders. 

The cavalry, at the start of the war, had fifteen regiments. Each of these regiments included a small section of motorised vehicles and a battalion of bicycles. In 1941 the attack in the east against the Soviet Republic showed the unsuitability of combining horse mounted troops and bicycle units. During the muddy period in autumn of that year the horses retained good mobility whilst the bicycle became a burden. Within the cavalry the bicycle battalion was eventually phased out by 1943, however the cavalry itself became practically non-existent having been reduced to three regiments by this time. 

In 1945, during the closing days of the war, the allied offensive on Berlin and other major cities had placed a stranglehold on equipment and supplies, which forced the defenders to utilise any form of transport available to them. Bicycles were used in great numbers by the infantry, Volksturm (civilian volunteers) and the Hitler Youth to manoeuvre through the streets in a vain attempt to stay the onslaught.

Fahrradtruppen: A very efficient way of moving a large number of troops with their individual fighting equipment long distances so that they were able to arrive ready to fight if need be, without suffering exhaustion felt by marching troops carrying all their equipment.

During the Battle of Arnhem the Germans moved hundreds of troops up by bicycles to reinforce the area. This was done quickly and within hours and totally independent of the need to use motorised or train transportation.

The hastily assembled German Volksgrenadier divisions had a battalion of bicycle infantry, to have some mobile reserve. One infantry regiment was designated 'bicycle' (rad, or radfahrer), having one Abteilung equipped with these machines as a mobile reserve.

No comments:

Post a Comment