HITLER WAS A CYCLE MESSENGER IN WORLD WAR 1
Records now online detail the full military careers of 1.5 million Bavarian soldiers who fought during WWI, including then 25-year-old volunteer Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler, considered today as one of the most evil men in history. Individual records include the soldier’s name, rank, date and place of birth, details of their active service, religion, status or occupation, marital status, parents’ names, and address.
Hitler’s record describes him as a ‘Catholic’, an ‘Artist’ and a ‘Messenger (bike rider) for the Regiment’, whose role was to carry messages back and forth from the command staff to the units near the battlefield. His detailed injuries include ‘lightly wounded at Le Barque by an artillery grenade in the thigh’ in October 1916 and ‘gassed at La Montagne, taken to hospital’ in October 1918. His record also shows that he was awarded five medals, decorations and other awards, including the Iron Cross twice – 1st and 2nd Class.*
German Army Jager (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.
The Germans needed to mobilise vast amounts of troops during WW1, and bicycles were used wherever possible. As you can see from these photos, the majority were not accessorised with military fittings like the British machines. With much larger troop numbers, any available bicycle was used by the military.
Unlike the lightweight French bikes and middle weight British bikes, the normal style of civilian bicycle in Germany was a heavyweight roadster with front plunger brake and coaster rear hub, so they were ideally suited for military service.
1905 Herrenrad Victoria ‘Model 12’
Beaded Edge Tyres
Military Fittings: Folding Front Carrier, Frame Bag,
1916 Mauser C96 ‘Broomhandle’ Semi-Automatic Pistol
Some bicycles used by the German military during WW1 had a folding front carrier, and others had a frame bag mounted on the top tube.
A spring wheel was occasionally used as a result of a shortage of rubber.
The spring wheels were not on this bicycle when it was found in France, alongside an American WW1 Columbia Military Model. I managed to find the front spring wheel at Beaulieu Autojumble, and I got the rear spring wheel a year later from the USA, just in time to use its photos in my book.
GERMAN CYCLE CORPS: 1894
Bicycles were used in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The German military explored the use of bicycles like other European armies. The above illustration is from 1894, and the photo below from 1908.
Prior to World War One, German training manuals suggested that technical communications should not be used because ‘a field officer may loose opportunities to use his initiative.’ So, as an alternative, messengers on bicycles, horses and on foot were recommended, as well as cavalry relay stations. Initially German army communications depended on semaphore, but this soon proved to be suicidal to the signallers. In the first stages of the war, German troops advancing to Vogosen were shocked by the accurate artillery fire against them where no French troops were to be found; they subsequently discovered telephone cables leading to hidden artillery observers. As a result the German Army totally restructured its signals corps and, by the end of the war, it had become a major branch of the army. As well as wireless telephones, they used messenger dogs, carrier pigeons, flares, signal horns, sirens, bells, various kinds of signal flags, and illumination rounds to fire messages to the rear. Infantry companies were allocated messengers and two bicycles and at battalion and regimental level mounted cavalry messengers were also used. *
1899 REFORM SPRING WHEEL
Various types of spring wheel were patented in the 1890s. Rubber tyres were still in their infancy at this time, were expensive and not easy to fit or repair. As rubber tyres evolved there was no need for a metal spring wheel …until the shortage of rubber as a result of WW1.
This style of wheel was also used in British fairgrounds for ‘wall of death’ rides: no doubt the noise of the wheel on wood was more dramatic than that of rubber tyres.
1916 MAUSER C96 ‘BROOMHANDLE’ SEMI-AUTOMATIC PISTOL
‘NEW SAFETY’ MODEL
The Mauser C96 ‘Broomhandle’ was the world’s first successful semi-automatic pistol. It’s a classic example of German engineering: there’s only one screw in the entire weapon – the grips; every other part fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. It was manufactured by Mauser between 1896 and 1937, with around one million made; unlicensed copies were also produced in Spain and China.
Soon after its introduction it became very popular with British officers, who purchased it privately; Westley Richards in Birmingham subsequently took on a British agency for the Mauser. Winston Churchill used his during the Battle of Omdurman (The Sudan Campaign, 1898) and in the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902). It was also popular with the Boer Kommando, but was in short supply.
Mauser’s first military contract for this pistol was with the Ottoman Turkish government, who ordered 1,000 in 1897. The Italian Navy purchased 5,000 in 1899. The Persian government were supplied with 1,000 in 1910. Austria-Hungary had 50,000, and the Imperial German Army contracted for 150,000 chambered in 9mm rather than the standard 7.63mm. 137,000 of this order were delivered before the end of WW1. Most were branded with a red number 9 on the grip panels to warn against loading with 7.63mm ammunition.
This example is the ‘New Safety’ model, introduced in late 1915. It is classed as a ‘Wartime Commercial’ model as distinct from the earlier ‘Prewar Commercials.’ The differences in improvements are not easy to see externally, but the New Safety has the monogram ‘NS’ marked on the hammer.
‘Victoria’ was a popular name in Germany as well as in Great Britain …because Queen Victoria was Kaiser Wilhelm’s grandmother.
Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941), Germany’s last Kaiser, born in Potsdam in 1859, was the son of Frederick III and Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria. Wilhelm was an overtly militaristic man, and believed fervently in increasing the strength of Germany’s armed forces. In particular he was keen to develop a German navy the equal of Britain’s Royal Navy. Wilhelm’s policy towards Britain was by turns contradictory. Whilst supporting South Africa during the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, he attempted a reconciliation shortly afterwards. He held a senior position within the British armed forces; and he confessed that he could not envisage a war with Britain. Yet he publicly criticised King Edward VII, whom he described as Satan. Even after war was declared in August 1914 he wrote that war would never have occurred had Queen Victoria, who died in 1901, still held the British throne.
The company started, like most motorcycle manufacturers, with bicycles. Founders Max Frankenstein Burger and Max Ottenstein started their company ‘Frankenstein Burger and Ottenstein Nuremberg’ in Nuremberg, in 1886. By 1888 they had manufactured 1000 Victoria bicycles. In 1895, the name became ‘Victoria Fahrradwerke AG,’ abbreviated to ‘Victoria Werke AG’ in 1899 and they made their first motorcycles in 1901, using Cudel and Fafnir engines. With the company’s success, the original founders, being Jewish, were forced out and replaced with Government-approved directors.
With the need, after WW2, for auxiliary engines (a limit was fixed on Germany by the Allies on how many larger-engines vehicles could be made), a 38cc Victoria FM 38 cycle-attachment engine was sold, between 1946 and 1954.
HISTORY OF THIS VICTORIA
This early German machine is one of the most ornately decorated bicycles I’ve seen. Although ornate gilt lettering throughout a bike was not uncommon in Germany at the time, it’s rare to find a 108-year-old example that’s so well-preserved. With so many bikes ridden into the ground, especially through two world wars, and the more recent destruction of original bikes through ‘restoration’ by hobbyists, this Victoria is a real treasure.
I found this machine in France; it was used during WW1. I bought it together with an American WW1 Columbia Military bicycle which was also in well-preserved original condition. They were parked together in dry storage after 1918, and only recently saw the light of day.
Hitler’s WW1 war record with thanks to – http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2009/12/09/german-wwi-military-archive-reveals-‘bike-messenger’-hitler’s-first-service-record/
Info on Mauser C96 with thanks to – http://askmisterscience.com/1896mauserbackup/safety.htm