The Harley-Davidson Motor Company’s 1937 civilian 45 cubic-inch (739 cc) model WL became the basis of the military WLA (A for Army) motorcycle. A pair of 1939 motorcycles were sent to cavalry units at Fort Knox, Kentucky for evaluation along with Indian and Delco (GM) offerings.
After Pearl Harbor, Harley’s Milwaukee plant built over 70,000 WLAs, with spare parts for 30,000 more full motorcycles. WLAs were used heavily by U.S. forces as well as furnished to Canadian, Russian, and British units.
WLA motorcycles were used in scouting, messenger services, convoy escort, and patrol duties. The tough motorcycle could traverse 16 inches of water and cross muddy or rocky terrain with ease. On pavement, the WLA could travel up to 120 miles at 65 miles-per-hour.
History of the Artifact
This Navy version of the WLA is equipped with a crash bar, blackout tail lights, and a high windscreen to protect riders from weather and road debris.
Did you know?
Some European civilians knew the Harley WLA at the “Liberator,” because when a scout arrived riding on this machine, American troops, in great numbers, were not far behind.