TOP FIVE: Military Sidecars

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MHM  looks at the innovative designs in military sidecars since 1914.


Scott Mobile Machine Gun batteryAlfred Scott of Bradford, West Yorkshire, designed an armoured machine-gun, motorcycle, and sidecar combination in 1914. Following an inspection by Winston Churchill, 300 were ordered, to be used in groups of three: one carrying a Vickers machine gun, another carrying ammunition, and a third in reserve. By 1915 Scott had supplied 1,400 combinations to the British forces, but these were soon superseded by better designs from other manufacturers, such as Clyno and Royal Enfield. It was Scott’s innovation, however, that set the bar.

4. FN M12

FN-M12More than 1,000 of these 992cc combinations were delivered to the Belgian Army between 1937 and 1940. Described as ‘the best military outfit of all time’, the M12 boasted a top speed of 62mph, with a driven sidecar wheel for extra traction and a high-level exhaust system that allowed shallow rivers to be crossed without stalling the engine. It was even possible to remove the sidecar and use the motorcycle in solo form. Many of its features were incorporated into the Zundapp KS750.


Watsonian-ambulance-sidecarIn 1914 European armies relied almost entirely on horse-drawn transport. Motorcycles could be produced relatively quickly and cheaply compared with cars and lorries, and the British and French soon fitted them with specially designed sidecars for use as ambulances. Watsonian, a pioneering British manufacturer, made sidecar ambulances that could be attached to a variety of machines. These were used to transport the wounded from first-aid posts on the front line to casualty clearing stations.

2. URAL M-72

URAL-M-72In 1940 the Soviet Government acquired five BMW R-71 sidecar outfits via a Swedish go-between. They reverse-engineered an exact copy and started production in Moscow in 1941, quickly moving to Irbit in the Ural Mountains to keep the factory safe from German bombing raids. The first M-72 outfits entered service with reconnaissance detachments and mobile troops in October 1942, and 9,799 of these rugged rigs were delivered to the front by the end of hostilities. The plant was privatised in 1992 and still produces a sidecar outfit visually similar to the original M72.


Zundapp_KS-750The Wehrmacht employed a million motorcycles during WWII, including 40,000 sidecars. Armed with light machine guns, sidecars could support Blitzkrieg tactics by seizing key objectives (road junctions, bridges, etc). Although the BMW R75 had the best sidecar, the Zundapp KS750 proved superior in the field and the Nuremberg factory produced 18,695 KS750 outfits for the German Army from 1940-1945. These had a driven sidecar wheel (copied from Belgium’s FN M12) and a reverse gear, making them highly manoeuvrable on muddy or sandy terrain.

This article appeared in issue 56 of Military History Monthly.

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