The creation of the first viable motorcycles began in earnest in the early twentieth century, and as is often the case with new types of vehicle – their militarisation was to happen not long after that. When we think about World War I we tend to think of the mechanisation of warfare, the emergence of the tank, the use of cars and trucks, not to mention the sophistication of the weaponry that included the new and much more devastating artillery, machine guns and repeating rifles using smokeless propellants and explosives made possible by Alfred Nobel’s discoveries.
Yet the First World War was fought by many on horseback, and mules were primary transport animals. Unlike the Second World War, The Great War was the transitional war between nineteenth century technology using black powder, horses and mules, to the new mechanised warfare of the twentieth century. Just to emphasise the transitional nature of the tactics and technology its worth noting that the last successful cavalry charge in history was done during the First World War when 800 cavalrymen of the Australian 4th Light Horse armed with 18” Enfield bayonets and mounted on their big “Waler” horses charged the Turkish fortifications at Beersheba in Palestine.
The horseback attack was swift and despite the fact that they charged an enemy armed with artillery, machine guns, and Mauser ’98 repeating rifles the Australian cavalry prevailed. The Great War was a war that was filled with surprises, most of them unpleasant, and no doubt the Australians were very surprised that they were not all killed. It was for the First World War that the military motorcycle made its real debut, although it also appeared with the forces of Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution. Pancho Villa discovered that the big Indian motorcycles were ideal for his raiding activities and acquired a few of them.