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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