Get to know your VMMV staff & vehicles
In this section we will introduce you to the people and armor of the
Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. We will chat with the VMMV staff,
so that you can get to know the people who "keep 'em running"
and work so hard behind the scenes. And also provide a behind-the-scenes
look into the history of individual vehicles in the VMMV collection.
In this, our seventh newsletter, we highlight one of the most interesting,
but possibly overlooked vehicles in VMMV's collection-the Welbike.
What has a
98cc engine, can go up to 30 MPH and gets 100 miles to the gallon?
You might think it's the latest hybrid automobile from Detroit until
we give you another clue: It weighs only 70 pounds and is 15 inches
high in the folded position. Still unsure, please read on! The Welbike
is perhaps the tiniest, and one of rarest, fighting vehicles in our
was conceived in late 1941 during the early stages of World War II.
Back then, the British airborne forces needed transportation for key
personnel after they had landed, but the gliders, tow planes, and
parachutes of the time simply couldn't handle large loads. Although
the history of D-Day and Operation Market Garden is littered with
pictures of Jeeps debarking from large gliders such as the Horsa and
Hamilcar, a Jeep wouldn't fit into the small Hotspur glider of the
early war period.
was designed and prototypes built, at the Special Operations, Executive
(SOE) research station on the Frythe estate in Welwyn, Hertfordshire,
England. The Welbike got its name from its birth location-Welbike
being a combination of WELwyn and motorBIKE. Other projects designed
at Welwyn research station include the Welrod silenced pistol, Welsub
one man submarine and a submachine gun called the Welgun.
Lester is generally credited with designing the Welbike. His task
was to build a folding motorcycle that would fit in a cylinder 15
inches in diameter that could be dropped by parachute and used as
transportation by Allied Agents operating in enemy territory. SOE
did not accept the Welbike, even though six prototypes were built.
lack of interest, the Welbike soon found an ally in the British Airborne
and Parachute regiments that were forming up. The main British units
included the 1st Airborne Division, 6th Airborne Division, the Special
Air Service, the 1st Polish Independent Brigade and several other
of the Welbike was turned over to the Excelsior Motor Company Ltd.
of Birmingham, England, who churned out nearly 4,000 Welbikes in 1942
and 1943. After filling out the TO&E for "lightweight"
motorcycles of the units above, several thousand Welbikes were still
available. They found use with the Royal Marines on D-Day and with
the British airborne units during Operation Market Garden. Other Welbikes
were used in a liaison capacity and to putter around bases in England.
Documentary research reveals little use of the Welbike in combat because
by the time many of these units saw combat in 1944, the larger gliders
developed in the interim were able to carry bigger motorcycles and
Mark I Welbike was equipped with a two stroke, single speed 98cc engine
using a gas and oil mixture. The total fuel capacity was only 6.5
pints but that gave it a range of 90 miles on one tank. Putting the
power to the ground was done by two 12 inch diameter Dunlop tires.
The Welbike could be folded into a package a mere 51 inches long,
15 inches high and 12 inches deep. When packed into its parachute
container, the Welbike was positioned with its rear wheel at the base
of the container to help spread the shock of landing throughout the
frame of the motorcycle.
The Mark II
Welbike differs only slightly from the Mk I, with the Mk II having
a rear fender while the Mk I does not. I guess riders were tired of
a dirty uniform from debris thrown up by the rear wheel!
Welbike is a fairly unique procedure. The clutch lever is depressed,
the throttle opened and then the Welbike is push-started by the rider.
After the engine catches, the rider hops on and drives away. Oh, did
I forget to mention the Welbike has no suspension? so that every bump
and bounce is quickly transmitted to the rear of the rider.
research indicates perhaps 50 Welbikes are known to exist worldwide-VMMV
has both a Mk I and a Mk II. VMMV staff and volunteers have put hundreds
of hours of labor into rebuilding the Mk I and bringing it back to
life. You might say its Larry Tucker's baby given the amount of hours
Larry has spent on the Mk I. We are currently putting the finishing
touches on the Mk II.
MkI as received. It was stored for 30 some years, but was not
in bad shape. The red tires were interesting at least.
The Villiers Junior logo on the engine and directions (brass tag)
for mixing the oil and petrol. Notice the brake pedal that is
connected by a rod to the drum type brake. Only a rear brake was
sandblasting, painting and polishing the parts are laid out for
assembly. We still have work to do on the pump that applies air
pressure behind the fuel. The petrol pickoff is at the bottom
of the fuel tank, requiring the tank to be pressurised by the
hand pump to force petrol into the carburetor.
MkI is now near completion. The rear brake shoe assembly is ready
to be installed. We were able to save and apply the original WD
number C4659355 on the fuel tank. The serial number on the fork
head is 805. 1200 of the MkI series were produced.
Welbike would be normally completely painted in brown to help
avoid detection. In our restoration process we decided to let
the brass parts stand out due to their excellent craftsmanship.
Welbike folded as it would be for placement in it's drop container.
They were parachuted contained in a plywood tube that opened in
a clamshell fashion.
might get lucky and see a VMMV staff member motoring around on a Welbike
during the next Open House. Stop what you are doing for a moment and
watch a rare piece of history.
The lexicon of armored vehicles is filled with a bewildering amount
of acronyms. And at the VMMV we have a few of our own. Here we will
have the VMMV word of the day so you may better understand the conversations
you might overhear at VMMV.
= VMMV's number one concern at all times is the safety of our staff,
volunteers and visitors. But when you crank up a big tank engine and
stuff yourself into the driver's compartment of an armored fighting
vehicle, you are cut off from the outside world. Visibility is extremely
limited even with the hatches upon, and it is impossible to shout
and be heard over the rumble of copious amounts of horsepower. That
is why VMMV employs ground guides whenever a vehicle is moving. The
ground guide is an extra person outside the tank that communicates
with the driver via hand signals-turn, forward, stop are all done
via arm motions. The ground guide is the driver's eyes and ears-they
must trust each other and work together to move 40+ ton armored monsters
around the VMMV field while ensuring the safety of visitors.
March 6 - 1944 First American heavy bomber daylight raid on Berlin
April 1 - 1945 Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa
April 15 - Tax Day!
September - VMMV Open House (tentative)
Have a great
spring from all the staff and volunteers of VMMV.