by John Norris
Barnsley, Eng. / Philadelphia: Pen & Sword / Casemate, 2021. Pp. xiv, 183.
Illus., biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1526763516
Bicycles at War
Norris, author of several works in military history, has produced what seems to be the first comprehensive look at the use of the bicycle in warfare. Soon after the velocipede, a pedal-less proto-bicycle, appeared in the early1800s, military uses for the device began to be found.
By the early twentieth century many armies, including the U.S. Army, had experimented with bicycles, giving them to couriers and scouts, infantry battalions, medical personnel, and so forth, making then an integral part of the war making tool kit for decades to come. During W. W. II most armies made some use of bicycles field. Bicycles even landed by sea and air on D-Day, and the Viet Cong used bicycles to sustain logistical movements on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Norris tells this story very well. While primarily concentrating on British military use of bicycles (albeit failing to mention several experimental cyclist divisions raised in 1916-1917), but he does offer some coverage of their use by Germany (as a battalion runner in W.W. I, Hitler had a bike) and other countries, giving us a look at how cyclist units, mostly of battalion size, were organized, their service, the types of machines used, and more. Oddly, Norris neglects to mention that it was not until 2001 that the Swiss Army disbanded the last bicycle unit on active duty
The Military History of the Bicycle is an excellent look at a rather neglected tool of war.