The motorized units of armoured grenadiers proved their worth in combat, and all of Western Europe was conquered by blitzkrieg tactics. Yet it remains true that the German armed forces were largely dependent on non-motorised means of transport, including bicycles
In German propaganda weeklies we do see images of infantrymen riding on trucks, but the practice was different in most cases. In the context of the development of new weapons that had proved their worth in the First World War, the Reichswehr and later Wehrmacht command realised that it needed a simple and inexpensive means of production for infantrymen to move to the front line, or to operate both in the rear and at the front.
The answer was the requirement for a new type of wheel, later used mainly for communication purposes. But the Wehrmacht also had separate bicycle units. Already on 13 December 1935, the manual „Das Truppenfahrrad“ was published, which contained the regulations of Heeres Dienstvorschrift (H.Dv.) 293, Marine Dienstvorschrift (M.Dv.) Nr. 571 and Luftwaffe Dienstvorschrift (L.Dv.) 406. This shows that they served all three branches of the Wehrmacht – infantry, navy and air force. This regulation was then updated and reissued in 1942.
Army Bike Specifics
The army bicycle itself did not differ much from the civilian men’s bicycle at first glance. The frame was made of tubes with a diameter of 2.54 cm – 2.86 cm, with a minimum wall thickness of 1 mm. It was painted with matte black enamel paint. Service army bicycles were to have a 15 cm long red stripe on the top and bottom tube of the frame and the rear mudguard was to be marked with a stripe in the colour of the weapon (white, for example, for the infantry bicycle).
The saddle was leather, with springs for a more comfortable riding position. A pump was attached to the inside of the vertical frame tube by two brackets, and on the outside near the fender was a bag with accessories for the bike (e.g. keys, adhesive material in case of damage to the inner tube). However, on closer examination, there were obvious differences from the civilian bike.
In particular, the quick-release handlebars, which could be detached and removed by means of a lever for better compliance. The front wheel brake was located at the right handlebar handle, and outside of it, the classic Torpedo rear wheel brake, which was no different from the civilian one, also worked. The pedals were wider and sturdier, due to riding in leather boots. A bell was to be placed at the left hand grip. The front fork had a nameplate on the front, indicating the bike’s manufacturer, serial number, year of manufacture and military acceptance.
The dynamo and light were of the same type as on regular civilian bicycles. The lights were also made with shields to prevent the light cone from becoming too large. In addition to the dynamo, power could also be drawn from a battery drive. The battery itself was inserted directly into the interior of the lamp. Another significant difference from the civilian wheel was the carrier, usually of the Pallas brand, 25 cm wide and 40 cm long.
Compared to the civilian carrier, it was much wider (to the length of the cartridge box for MG 34 and MG 42 machine guns), more robust and had holes cut in its sides for threading the belt through when hanging the load. Under the wheel frame was a box in which a soldier could carry three hand grenades (Stielhandgranate M24) or an ammunition box with machine gun cartridges.
It was also possible to carry a 50mm mortar (Granatenwerfer 36), a machine gun (Maschinengewehr 34), an anti-aircraft tripod for a machine gun (Dreibein 34), or an anti-tank rifle (Panzerbüchse 39). The pump was usually moved to a different part of the frame when hanging these props so as not to interfere. From 1944 onwards, brackets were also produced for the front wheel axle, used to mount two armoured fists.
Finally, it should be noted that although there are a huge number of photographs of Wehrmacht members on bicycles, these are not always of the Truppenfahrrad. Especially from the second half of the war onwards, civilian bicycles were also requisitioned in large numbers.