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The Foldable Paratrooper Motorcycle - Welbike

Designed by the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Britain’s wartime covert espionage and sabotage organisation, and built by Excelsior Ltd in Welwyn (Hertfordshire), the Welbike foldable motorcycle was designed for use by paratroops and other service personnel being parachuted into active war zones.

Approximately 4000 Welbike miniature, foldable motorcycles were built during the Second World War  Photo: © National Army Museum, New Zealand (Image Supplied)

The bike featured a single cylinder horizontal 2-stroke, 98cc air cooled engine with a single speed gearbox which gave it a top speed of around 48km an hour, and it had a range of 145km.

Because the bike could be folded into a space 1.35m x 0.33m x 0.5m high, when the parachutists were dropped from their aircraft the standard size drop canisters (containing the motorcycle) could be dropped alongside them. Once on the ground the soldiers could unfold the bike and drive off at a speed significantly greater than a running pace.

It was used for the first time in 1942, and by 1943 it was being widely used by ground assault forces, including the Commandos and the Royal Marines, particularly for beach landings at Anzio and later, Normandy.

Unfortunately, the Welbike was not particularly successful due to it being too underpowered for cross-country work. It could only be driven on roads and tracks and even then, the wheels were too small to safely negotiate potholes and ruts. With a large man riding it, the bike was also close to being dangerously overloaded.

The foldable Welbike really is a diminutive motorcycle.  

Brockhouse Corgi motorcycle (1946)

Designed in 1946 as an updated version of the Welbike, the Corgi entered production in 1948. Though it was also designed to be a motorcycle that could also be used by military operators it was generally marketed as a civilian motorbike. In 1953 a motorbike sidecar combination was offered for sale.

While the Corgi was not used by the British Army, it did see some use by the Royal Navy before production ended in 1954. Some NZ Hospital Boards purchased a number in the early 1950s to be used by district nurses on their rounds.

The Corgi motorcycle shown here is a post-WW2 development of the Welbike.

While the Welbike/Corgi was never used in service by the New Zealand Army, the National Army Museum collection features two of these interesting, yet small military motorcycles.

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