The History of Motorcycles in the Korean War

While the motorcycle is a taken for granted vehicle on the road these
days, its role as a vehicle in war is often overlooked. In
this article, the role of the motorcycle is explored in the context of
the Korean War and the important role which it played during this

Motorcycle manufacturers have a long history of stepping up to the
plate and delivering when their country is in need. During WWI and
WWII, manufacturers such as Indian, Harley Davidson and Triumph
provided machines to the military which were equipped to the exact specifications of the Pentagon. In
fact, Harley Davidson produced over 90,000 machines for the U.S.
military during WWII alone!

Early in the Korean War (August 1950), at least 45 motorcycles were
destroyed during an abortive attempt to retreat. No, these
weren’t Harleys that were captured – they were
North Korean
motorcycles captured by the U.S. 25th Division, 3rd Battalion, 5th
Marines. In fact, the newly formed North Korean Army (aided and trained
by the Soviets and Chinese) had among its 90,000 men an entire
motorcycle reconnaissance regiment. On this particular day, however,
the motorcycles met their match in the Corsairs that swooped down on
them with their 20mm guns and rocket attacks.

On the North Korean side, the North Korean Army (NKA) used motorcycles
equipped with saddlebags []
extensively. When the NKA took over Seoul in July of 1950, the 12th
Motorcycle Regiment secured key crossroads at Ch’ungju that
helped secure the central region and allow the NKA to capture the city.
On the allied side, the 17th Motorcycle regiment assisted in routing
the NKA out of Seoul a short time later.

The main shift that took place during the Korean War was the
replacement of the motorcycle by the Jeep in the U.S. Army. The
motorcycle had apparently been replaced as the preferred vehicle for
difficult terrain. The introduction of the Jeep was part of a
comprehensive program the U.S. Introduced to replace aging vehicles
from WWI (among which were the motorcycle and sidecars). While newer
motorcycles were certainly used during the Korean War (as noted above),
the Jeep replaced it in numerous areas where it had formerly known

Perhaps the real history of the Korean War and the motorcycle is one
that will not be found by browsing through the history books or looking
up dry numbers such as how many motorcycles were used in this or that
raid for this or that purpose. The real history – the human
history, may be summed up in the story of Mark Nozzolillo and his Honda
Shadow. This is a picture of Mark’s father, Vince.

Vince is a veteran of the Korean War who lost a friend on the
battlefield in August of 1950. So shocked to see his buddy’s
being carried out, the young man (then 20 years old) turned to his
first sergeant and clung to him in an almost fetal position, sobbing
uncontrollably. Nozzolillo himself said he “just went
when he saw the sight. His son took the old photograph (first published
in 1955) and had it airbrushed to the gas tank of his Honda.

The story here is one of the tragedies of war that we must all
remember, and the tribute a father paid to his son. That this tribute
was paid on airbrushed motorcycle is something all motorcycle
enthusiasts can be proud of. It’s a memory that Mark will
every time he rides his bike.

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Gwen Josephine

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