Volume 3, Issue 1
March 15, 2007


Welcome to the seventh issue of "Heavy Metal" -- the newsletter of the

Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles (VMMV). Our mission is our motto -- by working to restore armored fighting vehicles, artillery, small arms, uniforms, and accouterments of the US military and other countries, we hope to share the legacy of the sacrifice and courage of our fighting men and women with future generations of Americans. Located in Northern Virginia, our collection has grown to over 90 vehicles, starting out with the first US tank, the M 1917 through such legendary US vehicles as the M4A1 and M4A3 Sherman , M3A1 and M5A1 Stuart , M24 Chaffee , M3A1 Half-track , M36 Jackson and M3 Lee along with a few vehicles you might not know existed -- such as a prototype of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) tank.

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 collection.

The Welbike 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.

The Welbike 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.

Welwyn's Harry 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.

Despite SOE's 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 small units.

Production 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 even jeeps.

The original 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!


Starting the 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.

Historical 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.

The 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 furnished.
After 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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.


Perhaps you 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.

VMMV Acronym
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.

Ground Guide = 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.

Calendar of Events
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.

Mike Panchyshyn-Editor