Soviet Motorcycle Units

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Dunnigan
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Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Dunnigan » 29 Jun 2018 19:48

You read a lot about Soviet foot reconnaissance and their great ability to infiltrate to gather intelligence, yet I haven't read anything about how the Motorcycle Battalions (in Tank and Mechanized Corps )and Regiments (in Tank Armies) were used in their reconnaissance role.

In reading several accounts of Soviet Mechanized action, there is a lot of accounts of the Tank, Mechanized, Motorized Brigades and separate Assault Gun, Anti-Tank, and Artillery, yet there's nary an account of the motorcycle unit. I know they were organized to have a small complement of tanks, motorcycles, and other motor vehicles.

What I'm looking for is how they were used. Where they properly used for reconnaissance or used in other roles like security or flank protection like American Cavalry Reconnaissance units often found themselves doing? Where they used as powerful recon by force like the German Panzer Reconnaissance Battalions? Did they dismount often and scouted on foot like the British Armored Car Regiments? I'm really looking from mid-war to late-war (basically when the Tank and Mech Corps were reorganized into division sized formations).

Thanks.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 30 Jun 2018 09:33

There are many curious military experience reports online as well as reports on armor reconnaissance. In short in most cases "motorcycle" (or reconnaissance in fact) battalions were split by separate recon patrols/groups with the rest of the battalion kept as a reconnaissance reserve. In some cases motorcycle battalions/regiments could be employed as whole units for other missions (screening, flank guard, vanguards in cases when there was no contact with enemy, raids etc). It was universally noted that motorcycles were not suitable for Eastern Front roads and were incapacitated by snow/mud/rains for a large part of the year, so they were frequently kept at baggage trains while scouts operated on foot. Neither BA-64 (the only scout vehicles built in the USSR) made a good impression. Consensus was that half-track type armored carriers would be the best vehicles for recon units.

Organizational scheme of the motorcycle battalion (Shtat 010/487):
Image

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 01 Jul 2018 09:18

A directive of the staff of Red Army's armored and mechanized forces of 26 October 1944:
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=136908506

The directive prescribed to submit reports on tactical employment of motorcycle units and technical operations of motorcycles, in particular answers to the following questions:
1. Tactical employment of motorcycle units (independent and in combination with other units), results, typical battle episodes.
2. Command and communications in the motorcycles regiments in different types of combat.
3. Peculiarities of operations in winter.
4. Employment of heavy weapons installed on motorcycles (AT rifles, machine guns, mortars), weather they were employed from motorcycles in movement. Technical assessment of weapons mount and ammunition storage.
5. Marches (the distance and duration of a day march, average speed etc)
6. Technical operations of different types of motorcycles (operational range, cross-country capability, adequacy of the spare parts complement).
7. Vulnerable parts and mechanisms of different types of motorcycles.
8. What motorcycles types proved to be the best in regard to durability and cross-country performance. Proposals regarding motorcycle types and construction.
9. Opinions on employment of power drive in the sidecar wheel.

A number reports on experience of motorcycle units employment were produced in response to this directive.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 01 Jul 2018 20:39

One of answers (7 Guards Tank Corps, November 1944):
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=136238573

Synopsis:

1. 4 Guards Motorcycle Battalion was equipped with Soviet M-72 and lend-lease Harley-Davidson, Indian and BSA motorcycles. Motorcycle-mounted units (platoon, company, battalion) were not employed in combat. Motorcycles were used to transport scouts to the forward line and for intercommunication. There were single cases when fire was delivered from motorcycle-mounted machine guns.

2. Motorcycle battalion wasn't employed for combat either independently or in cooperation with other troops (?).

3. In winter conditions only 5-10% of the available number of motorcycles were employed for reconnaissance due to lack of good roads, snow etc. Usually motorcycles were kept gathered in one place under guard, while scouts operated mounted on armored carriers, armored cars, on horses or on foot.

4. Only limited employment of DP machine guns and 82-mm mortars installed on motorcycles. Mortar mounts were changed so that mortars were installed in sidecars and could open fire directly from motorcycles. Nevertheless their employment in scouting operations was rare. Machine gun mounts and ammunition storage on motorcycles are Ok.

5. Marching ability in highways and asphalted roads is satisfactory. Daily march was 100-120 km. Good results with night marches. Average marching speed 20-25 km/h.

6. Lend-lease motorcycles "Harley-Davidson", "Indian", "BSA" demonstrated good durability yet were hampered by a lack of spare parts. Many motorcycles stayed out of the line waiting for spare parts. Soviet M-72 demonstrated a tendency for mechanical breakdowns.

7. Operational range on highways/paved roads:
M-72 - 170km
Harley-Davidson - 150 km
Indian - 130 km
VZA - 110 km

Unpaved roads: 65-85 km.

8. Roads performance on highways is good for all types of motorcycles. On unpaved roads in dry weather - satisfactory. In winter and mud period road performance is bad.

11. "Harley-Davidson" and "Indian" proved to the the best model in regard to durability and operation. Captured "BMW" motorcycles also demonstrated good cross-country ability and durability.

12. Motorcycles with power-driven sidecar wheel demonstrated good cross-country performance.

13. Battalion was rarely employed as a whole unit. Frequent changes of direction require keeping a reserve of recon troops. Motorcycle companies typically lagged behind during marches and arrived too late. The tank company was for the first time equipped with tanks only in 1944. Consequently the combat force of the battalion was the armored carrier company and an AT battery plus a small number of motorcycles which were lucky enough to reach the area of operations in due time.
In rare cases the battalion was employed as a whole unit with the mission to protect flanks or screen a threatened direction.
In most cases the battalion was split by small mobile reconnaissance groups. In some cases there were as many as 5-8 separate groups sent to the axis of advance and also to flanks and rear.

14. Command - either directly by the battalion staff or via auxiliary command posts. In some cases via the staff of a brigade in whose areas reconnaissance elements operated.

15. Radio was the principal means of communications. In case of a large number of recon groups and a limited number of radios also motorcycles (when good quality roads were available), armored carriers and armored cars.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 01 Jul 2018 20:48

Regarding motorcycle-installed mortars mentioned above: tables of organization included 82-mortars (as well as crews and ammunition load) transported by motorcycles. A footage of motorcycle-mounted mortar battery from the year 1944:

Image

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Leo Niehorster
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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Leo Niehorster » 02 Jul 2018 08:00

Thank you, Art, for your information.
You are truly a font of information! :thumbsup:

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Dunnigan
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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Dunnigan » 02 Jul 2018 16:26

Art wrote: 13. Battalion was rarely employed as a whole unit. Frequent changes of direction require keeping a reserve of recon troops. Motorcycle companies typically lagged behind during marches and arrived too late. The tank company was for the first time equipped with tanks only in 1944. Consequently the combat force of the battalion was the armored carrier company and an AT battery plus a small number of motorcycles which were lucky enough to reach the area of operations in due time.
In rare cases the battalion was employed as a whole unit with the mission to protect flanks or screen a threatened direction.
In most cases the battalion was split by small mobile reconnaissance groups. In some cases there were as many as 5-8 separate groups sent to the axis of advance and also to flanks and rear.
Art,

This is great information. This quoted item is of particular interest.

I gather then that these "Motorcycle" Battalions (and likely the Army Separate Motorcycle Regiments) were used similarly to the foot infiltration reconnaissance. This would differ from the German Armored Recon that often used them whole and reinforced as a strong mobile attack/recon force. The tank company by 1944 would look to be used as a reserve force to support the small separate recon groups where needed and not as an offensive punch.

I know this is a subjective question, but how was the reputation and training for these reconnaissance units? Where they specially trained or hand-picked men?

It looks like from the information you provided that after the reconnaissance work, they would pull back and let the combat units fight. And only if needed to hold a flank or screen as a whole unit, they would do so, but otherwise their primary role was recon.

Thanks again Art.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 02 Jul 2018 20:34

Dunnigan wrote: I know this is a subjective question, but how was the reputation and training for these reconnaissance units?
There were complaints that officers' salaries were smaller than in tank units on the same positions and that their status wasn't sufficiently elevated. Also proposals to use the word "reconnaissance" instead of "motorcycle" to emphasize unit status and mission.
It's quite obvious from reading many documents that Soviet armor recon units were frequently hampered by lack of equipment and in many cases didn't have vehicles they were supposed to have according to tables of organizations. In extreme cases they were reduced to a group of foot scouts. That was a problem of the Soviet armored force in general. Even in 1945 and even in best cases they had only 2/3 of the authorized number of motor vehicles.
The tank company by 1944 would look to be used as a reserve force to support the small separate recon groups where needed and not as an offensive punch.
I would say tanks were normally distributed by small portions between recon groups. To clarify things here is a pattern of armored reconnaissance according to the 1944 manual of armored forces:
The manual distinguished between "tactical reconnaissance" meant to acquire information before combat and "battle reconnaissance" carried out by units in contact with the enemy. Organs of tactical reconnaissance depending on mission were recon patrols, separate recon patrols and recon groups

Recon patrol (RD) - dispatched by a recon group to a distance 5-7 km (30-45 minutes) to inspect some locality and direction. Composition: a squad of motorcycle infantry or infantry on trucks and up to a platoon of armored cars possibly with guns and means of communications. Recon patrol is to operate secretly and mostly uses observation, only in exceptional cases it is engaged in combat.

Separate recon patrol (ORD) - dispatched by tank or mechanized units to directions of secondary importance to reconnoiter separate objects or directions. Distance from the main forces - 10-12 km (1-1.5 hours). Composition: a tank platoon reinforced by motorcycle infantry or motorized infantry, armored cars, guns and means of communication. Separate recon patrol mostly operates using observation, only in exceptional cases it is engaged in combat.

Recon group (ORG) - dispatched by tanks and mechanized units to a distance 15-20 km to reconnoiter separate objects or directions. Composition: up to tank company, reinforced by motorcyclists, motorized infantry, guns, means of communications and specialized elements. Recon group dispatched recon patrols to inspect localities at 5-7 km distance. Recon group operates using both observations and combat, it is sufficiently strong to overcome enemy security elements. Recon group can dispatch separate recon patrols to watch enemy at new direction or watch bypassed enemy forces.

In addition recon organs dispatched patrols at a distance of visual observation (700-1500 m) to secure themselves and to inspect localities. Compositions of patrols - 2-3 vehicles (motorcycles, armored cars, armored carriers, trucks with infantry). Typically recon patrol is secured by one or two vanguard vehicle, separate recon patrol - by a vanguard patrol, recon group - by vanguard, side and rearguard patrols.

A recon element of battalion strength or larger was called "reconnaissance detachment" by Soviet parlance (not covered by 1944's manual). As said above motorcycle battalions were rarely employed this way. Typically the battalion could detach 1-2 recon groups plus several recon patrols while keeping the rest of the force as a recon reserve close to the corps HQ. Army level battalions or regiments were employed as whole units more frequently for recon or other missions. In more static situations recon operations also included observation from specially organized observation posts, raids and ambushed to capture prisoners or documents, infiltration by small groups etc, all those were also within the scope of motorcycle units' missions.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 03 Jul 2018 08:53

Some more illustrations:

Image
A lend-lease M4 Sherman in the Soviet Army

Image
Valentine MkIX during trials at Kubinka

Both motorcycle battalion and a motorcycle regiment included a tank company with 10 tanks. For some reasons Shermans and Valentines were preferred in this role, motorcycle units had more chances to be equipped with lend-lease tanks than "usual" tank regiments or brigades.

Image
US-built M3A1 scout cars. About 3000 were shipped to the Soviet Union where they were mostly employed in armored recon units. Note a Soviet-built BA-64 armored car on the same photo.

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Another footage of scout cars. Note that one vehicle is hauling what appears to be a ZIS-2 AT gun.

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Scouts riding motorcycles and a BA-64 armored car. Spring of 1945, somewhere in Germany.

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A US T48 gun motor carriage. A 57-mm gun mounted on top of a half-track basically. About 650 were shipped to the USSR where they were known as SU-57 self-propelled guns. A large (probably even the largest) part of them went to the recon units where they replaced towed AT guns included in the original TO&E of motorcycle regiments/battalions.

Image
A jeep carrying a Soviet-built Maxim machine gun. For some reasons jeeps were not widely employed as scouting vehicles in the Soviet Army, and I don't understand why, frankly speaking. Anyway the exception was the motorcycle regiment which included a machine gun company with 12 machine guns transported on jeeps. I suppose, the vehicle on the photo belonged to one of these units.

Image
Another footage of a Willys jeep towing a 45-mm AT gun. TO&E of the motorcycle regiment included an artillery battalion with 8 45-mm guns (and also 4 76-mm guns which were supposed to be towed by armored carriers).

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 03 Jul 2018 12:55

Unit structure and weapons allocations:

Late-war motorcycle battalions (Shtat 010/487) included:
- HQ and HQ platoon (radio section and a motorcycle section)
- two motorcycle companies (each with 9 light machine guns, 2 82-mm mortars)
- tank company (10 tanks)
- armored carrier company (two scout car platoons and and armored car platoon, total 11 M3 scout car and 5 BA-64 armored cars)
- anti-tank battery (4 57-mm guns, frequently replaced with SU-57 SP guns)
- service platoon with maintenance and transport sections
- supply section

47 officers, 168 sergeants, 236 privates, 451 men total
10 tanks (T-34 or Shermans or Valentines)
11 M3 scout cars
5 BA-64 armored cars
18 light machine guns
4 82-mm mortars
4 57-mm guns
207 machine pistols
82 rifles
5 radios (excluding those installed on tanks and scout cars)
56 motorcycles with sidecars
55 motorcycles solo
5 jeeps or Dodges 3/4 tons for AT battery
17 trucks
4 special purpose vehicles (workshops, ambulance etc)

Late-war motorcycle regiment (Shtat 010/433) included:
- HQ and HQ company
- motorcycle battalion ( about 560 men, three companies, each with 12 light machine guns)
- anti-tank battalion (about 140 men, two batteries each of 4 45-mm guns, towed by jeeps, and one battery of 4 76-mm guns towed by M3 scout cars or M2 halftracks)
- tank company (10 tanks)
- sub-machine gun company (13 M3 scout cars)
- machine guns company (12 medium machine guns transported on jeeps)
- mortar company (74 men, 30 motorcycles, 12 82-mm mortars)
- service company with maintenance and transport elements
- medical aid point

110 officers, 337 sergeants, 742 privates, 1189 men total (personnel numbers vary somewhat)
10 tanks
18 armored carriers (13 in a SMG company and 5 in a AT battalion)
3 BA-64 armored cars (likely in a HQ company)
36 light machine guns
12 medium machine guns
18 AT rifles
12 82-mm mortars
4 76-mm guns
8 45-mm guns
405 rifles
517 machine pistols
8 radios
224 motorcycles with sidecars
12 motorcycles solo
2 cars
23 jeeps (in a HQ company, machine gun company and AT battalion)
17 1.5-ton trucks
23 2.5-ton trucks
9 special purpose vehicles (staff bus, 2 GAZ-55 ambulances, 1 "A mobile workshops, 2 "B mobile workshops, 1 recharging station, 2 fuel trucks)
As already said towed guns were frequently replaced with SU-57, also 45-mm guns could be replaced with 57-mm towed guns.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Dunnigan » 03 Jul 2018 17:06

Art wrote: Both motorcycle battalion and a motorcycle regiment included a tank company with 10 tanks. For some reasons Shermans and Valentines were preferred in this role, motorcycle units had more chances to be equipped with lend-lease tanks than "usual" tank regiments or brigades.
This is interesting, I would think at least the motorcycle battalion would use the same vehicle that the Tank and Mech Corps would use. I'm sure preferred really means that if they could get their hands on these they could (and the rest of the corps, say, use T-34's), but would use whatever was on hand.

I seem to recall reading that Cavalry Corps preferred Valentines (or perhaps that the Soviets liked the Valentines in general even late war when they were considered obsolete in British use by 1944).

I haven't verified completely but from what I know, Shermans were used in Mech Corps (1 Gd, 3 Gd, 9 Gd) while the rest used T-34's. I would think the Motorcycle Battalions used the same tanks that that Tank and Mechanized Brigades used, but this may be similar to British Armoured Divisions that used Cromwells in their Armoured Recce Regiments while most of their divisions (Guards and 11th) used Shermans.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 03 Jul 2018 18:21

Dunnigan wrote: This is interesting, I would think at least the motorcycle battalion would use the same vehicle that the Tank and Mech Corps would use. I'm sure preferred really means that if they could get their hands on these they could (and the rest of the corps, say, use T-34's), but would use whatever was on hand.
For example, 2 Tank Army in January 1944: all tank brigades equipped with T-34 tanks, each of three motorcycle battalions (two in the corps and the third in the army) had 10 Mk-IX Valentines.
29 Tank Corps in June 1944: tank brigades equipped with T-34 tanks, 75 Motorcycle Battalion had 10 M4 Shermans.
5 Guards Tank Army in January 1944:
10 Tank Corps - T-34 in tank brigades, 10 M4 Shermans in the corps motorcycle battalion
29 Tank Corps: T-34 and SU-76 in tank brigades, 10 M4 Shermans in the corps motorcycle battalion
also 1 Guards Motorcycle Regiment with 10 M4 tanks.

That looks like more than a simple coincidence.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Dunnigan » 03 Jul 2018 18:58

Art wrote: For example, 2 Tank Army in January 1944: all tank brigades equipped with T-34 tanks, each of three motorcycle battalions (two in the corps and the third in the army) had 10 Mk-IX Valentines.
29 Tank Corps in June 1944: tank brigades equipped with T-34 tanks, 75 Motorcycle Battalion had 10 M4 Shermans.
5 Guards Tank Army in January 1944:
10 Tank Corps - T-34 in tank brigades, 10 M4 Shermans in the corps motorcycle battalion
29 Tank Corps: T-34 and SU-76 in tank brigades, 10 M4 Shermans in the corps motorcycle battalion
also 1 Guards Motorcycle Regiment with 10 M4 tanks.

That looks like more than a simple coincidence.
Wow, that is certainly more than coincidence.

Much of my research in the late war period has revolved around the fighting in Hungary in early 1945. Here the Tank and Mech Corps were mostly severely depleted and the from what I had seen, there weren't variations in the tanks used in the motorcycle battalions and the tank and mech brigades. I'll have to doublecheck later as I have the 2nd Ukrainian returns and will see if they mark the tank type for each of their subunits. I do recall that some of the motorcycle battalions did not have any tanks listed on Jan 1 or Jan 15 given the depleted states).

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 04 Jul 2018 11:08

Continuing with experience reports: 6 Guards Tank Corps's report from November 1944:
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=136238569

Motorcycle battalion was always employed as a reconnaissance unit in view of peculiarity of its equipment/armament and absence of other recon units in the corps. Only in one case it was employed as a whole unit (Orel operation, summer 1943) with the task to capture and defend a fortified village.
Organization of the battalion leaves much to desire. It would be better to replace one of motorcycle companies with an armored carrier companies, since operations of motorcycles are limited by climatic conditions (motorcycles cannot be used in winter with snow cover larger than 15 cm or during spring and autumn mud periods). such a replacement would save 25-30 men and increase the firepower by 1/3. Also a mortar battery should be removed from the organization since it lacks transportation means and an officer to control it.
Conclusions: motorcycle battalion of the present organization is means of reconnaissance in hands of the corps commander. The battalion is sufficient to form three RG (recon groups) and 2 ORD (separate recon patrols) and partly provide reconnaissance to the corps. Motorcycles are mostly employed as a means of intercommunication and in more rare cases - as independent reconnaissance elements.

1. Communications - mostly by radio, duplicated by motorcycles.
2. In winter the motorcycles battalion can be fully employed if the snow cover is less than 15 cm irrespective of the type of motorcycles. With the snow cover larger than 15 cm motorcycles can only operated on paved roads cleared of snow. Other vehicles operate regardless of the snow cover.
3. Heavy weapons of the battalion are employed efficiently enough save for the 82-mm battery which can be eliminated without much harm.
4. Speed of day march - 40 km/h on good roads and 30 km/h on improved dirt roads. Night march - 30 and 20 km/h respectively. Distance of daily march - 200 km (25% of motorcycles lag behind due to malfunctions).
5. Harley-Davidson w. sidecar - one of the most durable motorcycles. Spare part (chains, sprockets) are needed.
M-72 - lack of reliability, no spare parts
BSA - no air filter, lacking durability
Operational range: Harley-Davidson - 130-150 km on average roads, M-72 - 150-170 km.
...
7. Best types of motorcycles
Harley-Davidson with a sidecar
DKW solo (captured)
Zundapp with a sidecar wheel drive
BMW with a sidecar wheel drive
If motorcycle with a sidecar drive are available to our army it would be describable to install on them Maxim or other types machine guns with a large ammo load.

General conclusions.
Motorcycle battalion of the tank corps should be considered a reconnaissance unit. As a reconnaissance battalion it needs the following modifications:
1. One motorcycle company replaced with an armored carrier company
2. Towed AT battery replaced with self-propelled guns (installed on half-track)
3. Removal of a mortar battery which would provide an economy in personnel
4. Supply of scissor telescopes for observation points.
5. Replacement of small-power radios (RB and 12RP) with a medium power radios (RSB or SCR) since a distance to the corps in mobile operations can be as large as 50-70km. Light radios should be used only at close distance.
6. Supply of wire (not less than 15 km) for communications on observations points.

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Re: Soviet Motorcycle Units

Post by Art » 05 Jul 2018 14:36

Experience report from the 100 Motorcycle Battalion/9 Mechanized Corps (November 1944)
https://pamyat-naroda.ru/documents/view/?id=136238572

Motorcycle elements of the battalion were never employed in isolation either for scouting tasks or for combat. Typically motorcycle squads or in some cases motorcycle platoons were attached to recon groups which also included tanks, armored carriers, and armored cars.
Communications between recon groups and the battalion staff - only by radio. No radios were installed on motorcycles. Communications between patrols and a recon group's core was carried out by single motorcycles. Motorcycle elements were only employed for scouting.
Employment of motorcycles in winter was limited by road conditions and snow cover.
Heavy weapons: AT rifles and mortars wee not installed on motorcycles and there was no practical experience of their employment. DP light machine guns were installed on motorcycles and in cases when no organized resistance was met they delivered fire from motorcycles. In some cases when strong enemy fire was met machine guns were removed from motorcycles and used by dismounted scouts.

Distance of day march:
Highway/asphalted road - 200 km
Highway with damaged pavement or dirt road in dry weather - 120 km
Dirt road in rainy weather - 50-70 km

Average marching speed in dry weather and on good quality road is 25 km/h. During strong rain or snowfall motorcycle march is practically impossible. The column is strongly stretched, frequent malfunctions, excessive expenditure of fuel.

"Hardley-Davidson" proved to be the best motorcycle durable in every season. If spare parts (chains and sprockets) are available it can travel up to 10 000 km without repair.
M-72 is problematic during autumn-winter season and lack reliability.
"Indian" (sidecar) cannot operated on military roads.
"Indian" solo is a first-class vehicle, excellent in operation in every season

Operational range:
M-72 - 250 km on a highway, 170 km in a damaged highway or dry dirt road, 100 km on sand or mud
"Harley-Davidson" - 150 km on a highway, 90 km in a damaged highway or dry dirt road, 60 km on sand or mud

Road performance of motorcycles is good on highways and asphalted roads and improved dirt roads. On field roads:
Sand - road performance is better in rainy weather
Clay or black earth - road performance is better in dry weather. In rainy period such roads are impassable for motorcycles.

Motorcycles with a sidecar wheel drive provide and advantage of better road performance and ability to operate regardless of season and weather.

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