Bicycle infantry are infantry soldiers who maneuver on (or, usually more correctly, between) battlefields using bicycles. The term dates from the late 19th century, when the "safety bicycle" became popular in Europe, the United States and Australia. Though its use has waned over the years in many armies, it continues to be used in unconventional armies such as militias.
Numerous experiments were carried out to determine the possible role of bicycles and cycling within military establishments until in 1894 a turning point occurred due to improved resilience of pneumatics and the shorter sturdier construction of the frame. To some extent, bicyclists took over the functions of dragoons, especially as messengers and scouts, substituting for horses in warfare. Bicycle units or detachments were formed at the end of the 19th century by all European armies and the US armed forces.
The United Kingdom employed bicycle troops in militia or territorial units, but not in regular units. In France, several experimental units were created, starting in 1886. They attempted to adopt folding bicycles early on. In the United States, the most extensive experimentation on bicycle units was carried out by a 1st Lieutenant Moss, of the 25th United States Infantry (Colored) (an African American infantry regiment with white officers). Using a variety of cycle models, Lt. Moss and his troops carried out extensive bicycle journeys covering between 500 and 1,000 miles (800 to 1,600 km). Late in the 19th century, the United States Army tested the bicycle's suitability for cross-country troop transport. Buffalo Soldiers stationed in Montana rode bicycles across roadless landscapes for hundreds of miles at high speed.
The first known use of the bicycle in combat occurred during the Jameson Raid, in which cyclists carried messages. In the Second Boer War, military cyclists were used primarily as scouts and messengers. One unit patrolled railroad lines on specially constructed tandem bicycles that were fixed to the rails. Several raids were conducted by cycle-mounted infantry on both sides; the most famous unit was the Theron se Verkenningskorps (Theron Reconnaissance Corps) or TVK, a Boer unit led by the scout Daniel Theron, whom British commander Lord Roberts described as "the hardest thorn in the flesh of the British advance." Roberts placed a reward of £1,000 on Theron's head—dead or alive—and dispatched 4,000 soldiers to find and eliminate the TVK.
World Wars Edit
During World War I, cycle-mounted infantry, scouts, messengers and ambulance carriers were extensively used by all combatants. Italy used bicycles with the Bersaglieri (light infantry units) until the end of the war. German Army Jäger (light infantry) battalions each had a bicycle company (Radfahr-Kompanie) at the outbreak of the war, and additional companies were raised during the war bringing the total to 80 companies, a number of which were formed into eight Radfahr-Bataillonen (bicycle battalions). In its aftermath, the German Army conducted a study on the use of the cycle and published its findings in a report entitled Die Radfahrertruppe.
In its 1937 invasion of China, Japan employed some 50,000 bicycle troops. Early in World War II their southern campaign through Malaya en route to capturing Singapore in 1941 was largely dependent on bicycle-riding soldiers. In both efforts bicycles allowed quiet and flexible transport of thousands of troops who were then able to surprise and confuse the defenders. Bicycles also made few demands on the Japanese war machine, needing neither trucks, nor ships to transport them, nor precious petroleum. Using bicycles, the Japanese troops were able to move faster than the withdrawing Allied Forces, often successfully cutting off their retreat. The speed of Japanese advance have also caught Allied Forces defending the main roads by surprise while attacking them from the rear.
The Finnish Army utilized bicycles extensively during the Continuation War and Lapland War. Bicycles were used as a means of transportation in Jaeger Battalions, divisional Light Detachments and regimental organic Jaeger Companies. Bicycle units spearheaded the advances of 1941 against Soviet Union. Especially successful was the 1st Jaeger Brigade which was reinforced with a tank battalion and an anti-tank battalion, providing rapid movement through limited road network. During winter time these units, like the rest of the infantry, switched to skis.
Within 1942-1944 bicycles were also added to regimental equipment pools. During the Summer 1944 battles against the Soviet Union, bicycles provided quick mobility for reserves and counter-attacks. In Autumn 1944 bicycle troops of the Jaeger Brigade spearheaded the Finnish advance through Lapland against the Germans; tanks had to be left behind due to the German destruction of the Finnish road network.
The hastily assembled German Volksgrenadier divisions had a battalion of bicycle infantry, to have some mobile reserve.
Allied use of the bicycle in World War II was limited, but included supplying folding bicycles to paratroopers and to messengers behind friendly lines. The term, "bomber bikes" came into use during this period, as US forces dropped bicycles out of planes to reach troops behind enemy lines.
By 1939, the Swedish army operated six bicycle infantry regiments. They were equipped with domestically produced Swedish military bicycles. Most common was the m/42, an upright, one-speed roadster produced by several large Swedish bicycle manufacturers. These regiments were decommissioned between 1948 and 1952, and the bicycles remained for general use in the Army, or transferred to the Home Guard. Beginning in the 1970s, the Army began to sell these as military surplus. They became very popular as cheap and low-maintenance transportation, especially among students. Responding to its popularity and limited supply, an unrelated company, Kronan, began to produce a modernized version of the m/42 in 1997.
Later uses Edit
Although much used in World War I, bicycles were largely superseded by motorized transport in more modern armies. In the past few decades, however, they have taken on a new life as a "weapon of the people" in guerrilla conflicts and unconventional warfare, where the cycle's ability to carry large, about Template:Convert, loads of supplies at the speed of a pedestrian make it vastly useful for lightly-equipped forces. For many years the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army used bicycles to ferry supplies down the "Ho Chi Minh trail", avoiding the repeated attacks of United States and Allied bombing raids. When heavily loaded with supplies such as sacks of rice, these bicycles were seldom rideable, but were pushed by a tender walking alongside. With especially bulky cargo, tenders sometimes attached bamboo poles to the bike for tiller-like steering (this method can still be seen practiced in China today). Vietnamese "cargo bikes" were rebuilt in jungle workshops with reinforced frames to carry heavy loads over all terrain.
Modern times Edit
Bicycles continue in military use today, primarily as an easy alternative for transport on long flightlines. The use of the cycle as an infantry transport tool continued into the 21st century with the Swiss Army's Bicycle Regiment, which maintained drills for infantry movement and attack until 2001, when the decision was made to phase the unit out.
The LTTE Tamil Tigers made use of bicycle mobility in the fighting in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan army also has a bicycle unit. They are mainly stationed and deployed in high security zones in the capital city Colombo. The theory and the basis of their usage is still not well known.
See also Edit
- Leiser Rolf (sup.) (1991). Hundert Jahre Radfahrer-Truppe (100 Years of Bicycle Troops). Bern, Switzerland: Bundesamt für Mechanisierte u. Leichte Truppen (Federal Office for Mechanized and Light Troops).
- Fitzpatrick, Jim (1998). The Bicycle In Wartime: An Illustrated History. Washington, DC: Brassey's Inc.. ISBN 1-57488-157-4.
- Ekström, Gert; Husberg, Ola (2001). Älskade cykel (1st ed.). Bokförlaget Prisma. ISBN 91-518-3906-7. de:Radfahrtruppen