Military-Grade Awesome

Wee Willy Welbike

One issue with planning a paratrooper attack is figuring out how to give those troopers equipment and mobility when they jump in behind enemy lines. In World War II, the British Special Operations Executive developed the Welbike, a single seat folding motorcycle that could be dropped along with a paratroop invasion. While only built in small numbers, one has survived to find a home in the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia, where I snapped a few of these images. One of the images, cropped for mysterious effect, was yesterday’s mildly esoteric Q³. Even with such a unique specimen, Toasters commenters do not disappoint, and the answer was quickly submitted by EnsignSlow. As promised, now let’s learn a little more about this bodacious bantam bike!

The Welbike was developed in 1941-42 in the secret lair of the British Inter-Services Military Research Establishment, known as Station IX and located in a mansion near the town of Welwyn. Powered by a Villiers 98 cc single-cylinder two-stroke gasoline engine, the Welbike was designed to fit into a standard parachute airdrop container (51 inches x 15 inches x 12 inches). It was planned so that assembly was simple and once removed from the container it would be ready for use as quickly as possible.  The fuel tank was small by necessity, and the layout was such that the bottom feed was located lower than the carburetor, requiring the tank to be occasionally pressurized by a built in hand pump. The bike was placed in the container with a pressurized tank to save time on start up.

This miniature motorcycle has the distinction of being the smallest motorcycle ever used by the British armed forces.  It earned it’s name from the convention that all projects coming out of Station IX had names starting with Wel, due to the proximity to Welwyn town. So a motor bike, Welwyn, motor bike, Welwyn…

The Welbike was packed into the parachute container with the rear wheel to the base of the parachute canister, which had a percussion head to minimize damage on landing. Once it hit the ground all that was needed was to twist the handlebars into position and lock them on spring-loaded pins. The saddle was pulled up and the footrests folded out ready to push start the two stroke engine and ride into action. The aim was that a paratrooper could remove the Welbike from its special green container (which was marked in white lettering with the words Motor Cycle) and its easily identified colored parachute, and be on the road within 11 seconds. (Wikipedia)

In 1942 the cycle went into full production, but never saw extensive combat use. The weight difference in a loaded container and a paratrooper caused the Welbikes to often land some distance apart. The trooper would then have to find the containers in order to retrieve a bike. Additionally, the low power and tiny size of the Welbike caused it to be ill suited for the rough battlefield conditions.

Approximately 3,641 units were built over the 2 year production run, in three lots.

The first 1,200 were known as the Mark 1 and were really the developed version of the original prototype with tuned engines. These did not have a rear mudguard fitted however. One thousand four hundred Mark 2 Series 1 Welbikes were produced and these had a range of minor modifications, including the addition of the rear mudguard. The final batch of 1,340 was the Mark 2 Series 2 and had ‘saddle’ fuel tanks with a splash shielding between them and an improved filler cap, as the original design required the removal of the pressurization pump, which was too time consuming. (Wikipedia)


Images via, and taken by me at the Virginia Military Aviation Museum.