Bicycles in Military

Discussion in 'Land Forces' started by mayankkrishna, Apr 11, 2019.

  1. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Hi friends!!

    I wish to dedicate this thread to discuss about the evolution of bicycles in military uses around the world, and how it is still practical for armed forces to utilize them as a means in any kind of mobility requirements wheather in wartime tactical, general logistics or general fitness purposes in armed forces?

    The bicycles as we know includes a human-powered or motor-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other, or for the purposes of our discussions we may also include Light E Mobility vehicles which includes 2 or 4 wheelers which are less than 100 Kgs.

    Today, as per my knowledge, Mahindra and Mahindra is already supplying their E-Verito models to Border Security Force. But Bicycles have always been integral part of all kinds of armed forces since the beginning. However, today as there is a fast transformation from Human powered bicycle to pedelec, we do need to explore the potential so that pedelecs and even conventional bicycles having new technological designs and materials can find their optimum utilization in Armed forces for their effectiveness.

    I invite your valuable views and insights to explore deeper into this subject!
     
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  3. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    A modern Bazooka-carrying Swiss Army bicycle. The Swiss army no longer use bicycles as a mode of transport. 31-modern-swiss-army-bike.jpg
     
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  4. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    A brief comparison..... militarymobilitycomparisonchart.jpg
     
  5. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    MOUNTAINBIKElbi82.jpg Another good article..
     
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  6. garg_bharat

    garg_bharat Senior Member Senior Member

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    Well a 100cc motorbike needs only 2 liters of fuel for 75 miles range. This bike can easily carry 100 pounds luggage. The fuel is easily available everywhere. I guess a small motorbike is far better than bicycle; as ingress and exit is much faster on a bike; plus pillion rider can fire on the move.
     
  7. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Yes true, but looking at the other angle, a foldable bicycle of light weight carbon fibre or titanium alloys may hardly weigh additional 5-7 kgs on individual soldier's backpack. It may greatly enhance their mobility speed and also support their luggage carrying capacity over greater distances even on off road terrains. Further, it might be a better tactical vehicle for infantry who might quick movements without exposing much of their camouflage.
     
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  8. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    A good video of how US Paratroopers use folding Military Bikes. The development of such bikes was funded non other than DARPA
     
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  9. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    The below link gives a fair idea how the bikes could give troopers a fair advantage in their deployment
    https://militarybikes.com/
     
  10. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    Bicycles for Military ...?? For runners inside a Regiment in peacetime ??

    Where are you my dear fellows ? In Europe or Scandinavia or switzerland ?

    Bicycles in Kargil , Leh and Ladakh ?
    Bicycles is Sikkim or Tawang ?
    Bicycles in Jammu or Kashmir valley ?

    For sight seeing, picnics or eve teasing?

    By cycles in Jaisalmer or Barmer ? Ghar wapas nahi aa paoge.

    Motor cycles are understood. Tractors are understood. Jugad is also understood but bicycles ??????

    Photos, Photos and Photos !!
     
  11. singhboy98

    singhboy98 Regular Member

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    Some people often get bowled over by glamorous photo ops of the Western MIC. While there product may be useful in their regions, most of them are downright impractical in India. For example this cycle. Someone try cycling for 10 kms in Delhi in June (when it touches 50+ ) or just take it up Lal Tibba in Landour to see how utterly useless they are in Indian context.
     
  12. singhboy98

    singhboy98 Regular Member

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    What pray would be the use of bicycles in the Indian Armed Forces outside NDA/IMA?
     
  13. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Innovations might not just be glamorous, they might be one of those rare beauties with the real brains. By 2030 the global light e-vehicles market would be over US$400 Billion. Automobiles running on Fossil fuels may become history by 2050.

    Now tell me, which category of the mobility does the Armed forces does not use today? So the point is that there has been so much innovation in light weight materials, Batteries, E Vehicles technologies etc recently.

    Bicycles of yesteryear has become Pedelec today, and they have improved its utility for its range, speed as well as human efforts required on pedalling. With pedelecs available today in market, and given the traffic conditions in Delhi, 10 kms is quiet convenient, no matter it gets 50 degree.

    I am also trying to say that with pedelec technologies the load bearing capacities of bicycles have improved and also with their further technological enhancements, travelling 30 kms will be quiet convenient on them in near future. Well as I know there are certain regulations in restricting the motor powers of e bicycles,for civilian uses. Therefore, why not the military grade batteries and motors can add more power for their mobility requirements.

    So its all about how best can Armed forces Innovate and use them for their advantages..
     
  14. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Ca
    Can you please throw some light upon how the Bicycles are used at IMA or NDA.
     
  15. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    India has one of the largest bicycle making industry. You need to go to Ludhiana how a township has come up around cycle factory Hero If we need bicycles we will buy from them.. they make very good sports bicycles too.

    Sada Hero .... Jinda Bagh ...
     
  16. singhboy98

    singhboy98 Regular Member

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    Don't shift goalposts now. When I say bicycles, I mean pedal powered 2 wheeled transportation. If you want powered transportation, there are a plethora of products available in the market. Most are fossil fuel powered for now but will shift to electric in the next decade. You are trying to solve a problem which DOES NOT exist. What advantages in capability would your aforementioned pedelec/electric scooter provide over current transportation solutions? If you want to send a message, do it electronically. If you want to send a secure package, send it in an armoured Safari Storme or a MPV or a heptr if the terrain is particularly rough. Talking about Special Ops.. Where will our operators use cycles? In the dense jungles of the North-East? Or in the mountain ranges of J&K where average elevation often reaches over 15000ft? Perhaps you intend these toys to be used in the desert then? But we already got Polaris for that...
     
  17. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Yes, Ludhiana is famous and Hero is the largest manufacturers of bicycles in India. However, there are some limitations even with Hero Cycles such as they don't use Hydroforming Technology even after decades. India is a largest manufacturer of Steel frame bicycles. There has been no significant increase in any exports over the last decades, whereas the imports are increasing. Majority of parts and components are supplied by MSMEs.

    Technology wise India has long way to go to catch up with even Taiwan, Korea, Germany, US or Dutch companies leave aside China.

    I really doubt if Armed forces ever express their need before industry in Future, which I presume would be high quality, considering the lag in current technology levels and its scalability as of now, Industry may not be capable to fulfill such demands.
     
  18. Bhadra

    Bhadra Defence Professionals Defence Professionals Senior Member

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    Where is the market for a fiber glass bicycle or Titanium moulded bicycle ? If someone has 70000 Rs he would buy a second generation motorcycle rather than a bike.

    In Taiwan I can run through the length and breadth of the country on a bicycle not in India.

    And there is no utility for military use bicycle in India
     
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  19. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Bicycles at War

    All is fair in love and war, they say, so it’s no surprise that it did not take long for bicycles to be used in armed conflict, especially after they were fitted with pneumatic tyres and sturdy frames. Their earliest use, in the late 19th century, was by messengers and scouts, as they could travel faster than men on foot. Of course, it was essential to have a network of good roads, which Europe did.

    Share:

    In 1886, the French army set up several units that developed folding bikes which could be slung over the back and carried over rough terrain. By the turn of the century, every French infantry and so-called chasseur, or hunter, battalion had its own detachment of cyclists that, in addition to scouting and carrying dispatches, were also used for skirmishes with the enemy. They soon replaced horse-mounted troops because they were cheaper, needed no special training and did not whinny or neigh when they were hungry.

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    © akg-images / AKG / Profimedia
    Before World War I, bicycles were already in use by armed forces in Britain, France, Italy, Belgium and Russia. The first known use of bicycles in actual combat took place during the Jameson Raid – a failed raid against the South African Republic in late 1895 by a British colonial statesman and his troops – in which cyclists were used as messengers. In the Second Boer War (1899-1902), military cyclists were primarily used as messengers and scouts. But cycle-mounted infantry units from both sides also carried out raids, with the Boer Theron Reconnaissance Corps described by the British commander Lord Roberts as “the hardest thorn in the flesh of the British advance.”

    In World War I, every combatant army used cycle-mounted infantry, scouts, messengers and ambulance carriers. The German Jäger light infantry battalions each had a bicycle company at the start of the war, and they proved so useful that additional cycle-mounted units were formed during the conflict. Eventually, a number of these were formed into bicycle battalions. The British army created two entire divisions, the 1st and 2nd Bicycle Divisions, from its cyclist companies and dismounted horse brigades.

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    The Japanese Invasion of French Indochina in September 1940. © Pictures From History / AKG / Profimedia
    The bicycle became a major weapon of conflict in 1937, when Japan used some 50,000 bicycle troops in its invasion of China. Then, early in World War II, cycle-mounted soldiers were instrumental in the Japanese march through Malaya on their way to capturing Singapore. The bikes provided quiet and flexible transport of thousands of soldiers who then surprised the defending units. Also, using cycle-mounted troops saved petroleum for the Japanese because they did not require trucks or ships to transport the soldiers. Finally, the Japanese knew from intelligence reports that bikes were plentiful in Malaya and so did not have to bring their own; they simply confiscated them from civilians and shops.

    Using bicycles, the Japanese were also able to move more rapidly than withdrawing Allied troops and so, travelling over plantation roads, native paths and improvised bridges, often caught them by surprise, cutting off their retreat or attacking them from behind.

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    Swedish m/42 bicycle
    The Finnish, Swedish, Polish and German armies also made extensive use of bicycles during the war. The six Swedish bicycle infantry divisions were equipped with domestically manufactured military bicycles, the most important of which was the m/42, a one-speed roadster. After the war, these bikes continued to be used in the army, until 1970, when they were sold off. They quickly became very popular with Swedish students, prompting a new company, Kronan, to produce modern versions of the m/42 in 1997.

    The US army made scarce use of bikes during the war, except to supply folding bicycles to paratroopers and messengers. However, they also dropped bicycles out of planes to their troops behind enemy lines, giving rise to the term “bomber bikes”.

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    Viet Cong supply train. © Pictures From History / AKG / Profimedia
    Although bicycles were eventually replaced by motorized transport after World War II, they were very important to the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army, who used them to transport supplies along the Ho Chi Minh trail during the War in Vietnam. However, because they often carried up to 180 kg of rice, they could not be ridden but were pushed instead. These Vietnamese “cargo bikes” were often reinforced in jungle workshops to enable them to carry heavy loads over all kinds of terrain.

    Today, bicycles are no longer used in anger, unless you count their use by cycle-mounted police to deal with social protest and crime.
     
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  20. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    8 Ways Bicycles Helped Win World War I


    THIS MEMORIAL DAY, WE LOOK BACK AT HOW BIKES HELPED MOVE TROOPS QUICKLY AND EFFICIENTLY IN THE GREAT WAR.


    BY JESSICA COULON
    May 27, 2019

    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    World War I was unprecedented in its time for its sheer size and deadliness. In part, this was because of new technologies used widely in combat for the first time. Things like modern artillery, powered aircraft, and tanks all signaled a new era of warfare on a massive, far bloodier scale.

    But amid a field of advanced technology was one simple, handy, and timeless machine: the bicycle. Rarely the focus of writings and discussions on WWI, bikes were a common sight on all sides of the conflict. In fact, they played a vital role in transporting huge amounts of soldiers and supplies to and from the front lines.

    “At the beginning, while it was a war of mobility, bicycles were very important,” said Doran Cart, senior curator at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.

    Here’s some more of what we learned about bicycles in World War I.

    BICYCLES WERE EFFICIENT
    [​IMG]
    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Bicycles could move large bodies of troops without some of the problems associated with horses or motor vehicles. Horses needed food, while in the 1910s cars and trucks needed not only fuel but also good roads, trained operators, and frequent maintenance. Bicycles, on the other hand, were human powered and relatively easy to maintain.

    Cycling units could travel anywhere between 50 and 100 miles a day. Because they could deploy quickly, many were sent to the front in the war’s early years. French folding bicycles, seen on the postcard above, were especially pragmatic: Troops could ride them on roads when possible, or else carry them over rough terrain.

    THE FRENCH FOLDING BICYCLE
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    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Pictured above is a fully restored “Captain Gérard” folding bicycle, an especially prized exhibit piece at the National WWI Museum and Memorial. “It’s rare,” Cart said. “It went out of fashion when the military stopped using it in WWI.”

    This model was designed in 1896 by Henri Gérard, commander of the French bicycle troops, and manufactured by Peugeot. Weighing roughly 30 pounds, it was designed specifically for the French infantry: Gérard added a folding component and straps so soldiers could carry it on their back, and he moved the seat post directly over the rear axle, enabling a soldier to stabilize the bike and fire his weapon while straddling it.

    Gérard’s bikes did make a reappearance in World War II, Cart said, enjoying some use among paratroopers.


    THERE WERE CYCLING INFANTRY UNITS
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    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Not every soldier had a bike, but some WWI infantry units—and sometimes entire battalions—had only cyclists in their ranks. Professional riders were often recruited to lead these units, which were especially common during the first two years of the war. Seen here is a compagnie cycliste of the French army, a unit that relied on folding bikes. Other countries with cycling units included Britain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, and Russia.

    ARMIES ISSUED THEIR OWN BIKES
    [​IMG]
    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Like guns and uniforms, bicycles were military issued. Among British soldiers, they were in such high demand that for a short time, the Army reverted to using civilian bikes retrofitted for military use.

    Members of the cyclist corps were identifiable by the badges on their caps and other insignia. (The U.S. was the only major country engaged in the war that did not designate its cyclists with cap badges.) Most military-issued bicycles were singlespeeds, though some British models had three gears.

    EVERY COUNTRY USED THEM
    [​IMG]
    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Every country involved in WWI used bicycles at some point. While this German photograph looks like an action shot, it’s actually a staged image meant to show soldiers how to properly dismount and prepare for an attack.

    German bicycle units faced particular hardships early in the war. Rubber was rationed at the time, and during one shortage German bike manufacturers had to make tires out of wood—or else, soldiers had to ride on their rims. By 1917, rubber tires were only allowed on German bicycles specifically approved for war use.

    THEY TRANSPORTED SUPPLIES
    [​IMG]
    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Although modern cargo bikes hadn’t yet been invented, military bicycles could still transport goods like ammunition, small arms, medical supplies, and food to the front.

    The British soldiers seen here are hauling a machine gun. While the description calls it a Maxim gun, Cart said they’re actually pulling an American-designed Colt machine gun.


    AMERICAN BIKES
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    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    The U.S. didn’t enter the war until 1917, but when it did the military decided it too would need bicycles. As Cart said, “They realized bicycles could make a difference in certain situations.”

    By this point, trench warfare was well underway at the front, meaning bicycles were no longer needed to rapidly move troops. They weren’t particularly safe on open roads, either, but they still played important roles on airbases and relaying messages quickly. The image here shows American servicemen in ground support of an air facility in France.

    Producing military bikes fell to three American companies: The Westfield Manufacturing Company of Massachusetts, the Great Western Manufacturing Company of Laporte, Indiana, and the Davis Sewing Machine Company of Dayton, Ohio. (The latter switched to making bicycles just for the war.) All three manufacturers put out the same bicycle, known as the “standard military type.” In all, 27,000 American bikes were produced for WWI.

    BICYCLES HUMANIZED WAR
    [​IMG]
    National WWI Museum and Memorial
    Regardless of country, bicycles in the 1910s were deeply engrained in the public imagination. Unlike many other technologies used in WWI, bicycles were familiar to everyone, including civilians. “It was a tool of war that wasn’t really from the military, so it wasn’t threatening,” Cart said.

    Countless illustrations and war propaganda from the time depict bicycles. The top of the image here reads “Onward Savoy,” referring to a northwestern region of Italy that borders France and Switzerland. Below is the Latin motto of the Italian 26th Bersaglieri Battalion.

    “I think bicycles were a very humanizing aspect to the war,” Cart said. “Bicycles represented something that every person could use, and bicycles still seem that way to me. They’re available to everyone regardless of social class, and the same was true back then.”
     
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  21. mayankkrishna

    mayankkrishna Regular Member

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    Pedal Power – Bicycles in Wartime Vietnam
    In the Viet Minh's decisive victory against the French at Dien Bien Phu, bicycle transport was crucial.
    By Arnold Blumberg

    In Vietnam’s long war for independence, first against longtime colonial power France and later against the United States and its allies, many factors contributed to the ultimate victory for Communist forces. At its core was the iron will and tenacity of millions of Vietnamese who had to rely on relatively primitive means to combat adversaries wielding state-of-the-art war-making technology. Among the low-tech means—often derisively dismissed by their foes—that proved critical to the outcome of their war with the French and, to a lesser extent, the United States, was the simple bicycle.



    [​IMG]


    HistoryNet Interview with Stephen Harding
    BY HISTORYNET
    “Why don’t we concentrate on bombing their bicycles instead of the bridges?” Sen. Fulbright wanted to know.
    This point may be best illustrated by a London newspaper report of October 3, 1967, that described a hearing before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas responded to a New York Times reporter’s testimony regarding the extensive use of bicycles by the Communist forces in Vietnam. The reporter, Harrison Salisbury, who had recently been in Hanoi, detailed for the committee how bicycles enabled the Viet Cong (VC) and regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) to continually resupply their forces even under the most adverse conditions. Salisbury concluded his testimony with a strong assertion: “I literally believe that without bikes they’d have to get out of the war.”

    The astonished Fulbright, almost springing up from his seat, replied to Salisbury: “Why don’t we concentrate on bombing their bicycles instead of the bridges? Does the Pentagon know about this?” Most of the committee members and those in the audience thought the senator was being sarcastic. Laughter erupted at the idea of vast numbers of sophisticated American aircraft hunting down bicycles in the thick jungles of Vietnam.

    In contrast to the smirks and snickering, the stone-faced silence of the uniformed members of the U.S. military in attendance was revealing. They, along with their bosses in the Pentagon and in Vietnam, knew that the enemy’s employment of bicycles in the war in Southeast Asia was hugely significant to sustaining their war effort against the United States. It was no laughing matter. The bicycle had survived the most modern weapons in the American military arsenal.

    After the Japanese were defeated at the end of World War II, the French once again took control of their Indochinese colonies. But the Communist Viet Minh, led by the diminutive Ho Chi Minh, were determined to drive the French imperialists from their homeland. The architect of their military strategy was General Vo Nguyen Giap, whose tactical model called for relentless small-scale actions against the French, designed to wear them down by cumulatively increasing their anxiety, inflicting constant losses and destroying their self-confidence. In order to do this, Giap had to be able to move men and war materiel speedily and stealthily around the battlefield.

    By 1953, after seven years of savage fighting, the French had suffered 74,000 casualties, with another 190,000 troops bogged down in fruitless occupation. Hoping to negotiate a way out of the conflict, General Henri Navarre, the French supreme military commander in Indochina, devised a plan to draw Giap in to a decisive set-piece battle. If he could notch one clear victory, then France would be in a strong position to obtain an honorable political settlement that would allow Paris to quit the country without losing face.

    The place Navarre chose for his climactic battle was Dien Bien Phu, a vital transport junction in a valley in the extreme west of the country, 220 miles from Hanoi. It sat astride the main route to Laos, where a crucial Viet Minh supply line from China linked up. Navarre was confident that his opponent did not have sufficient transport to bring in the food and weapons needed to win a major confrontation in this isolated area.

    In late November 1953, 15,000 French troops occupied Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh accepted the challenge and quickly surrounded the French outpost with 50,000 fighters, supported by tens of thousands of workers and porters who cut new jungle paths to carry supplies to the battlefront.

    The contest for the base became a battle of logistics. The French grievously erred by underestimating the Viet Minh’s ability to bring up heavy artillery and supplies for their troops. They expected to face only mortars, not heavy long-range guns. But Giap was able to place 144 heavy artillery pieces—plus dozens of lesser caliber—around the doomed French post.

    The key to the Viet Minh’s supply effort in this epic battle was a combination of transport modes—built around the largest military bicycle-transport feat in history. Although the Vietnamese used 600 Russian-made Molotova 2.5-ton trucks as well as sampans, ponies and some 200,000 porters carrying spine-breaking loads, the mainstay of their logistical network was composed of 60,000 tough bicycle-pushing men and women.

    On May 7, 1954, after 3 1/2 months of preparation, including the stockpiling of massive amounts of food and ammunition, followed by more than two months of vicious fighting, the beleaguered French bastion at Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh. The French lost more than 3,000 men killed and 8,000 taken prisoner. The Vietnamese lost 8,000 soldiers. Throughout the siege, the Viet Minh supply lines, maintained by the transport cyclists and other transport means, were never seriously interdicted by aircraft, even though the French knew of the supply routes and storage areas along the way. They simply did not have enough planes to disrupt the day and night flow of Viet Minh supplies reaching the battle zone. Further, the thick jungle canopy made accurate targeting of these supply lines very difficult.

    In their fight against the French—and later the Americans—the Vietnamese favored the French-made Peugeot bicycle, with the Czech-built Favorit their next bike of choice. One of the Favorits set a record, hauling a total of 100 tons in 1961-62.
    With their large carrying capacity, bicycles were particularly effective on Vietnam’s narrow roads and tracks in the dry season, and easily modified for service. “First our bicycles had to be turned into xe tho [pack bikes], with the crossbar capable of carrying 200 kilograms [440 pounds] or more,” said Ding Van Ty, a bicycle brigade leader and repairman, in The Bicycle in Wartime, by Jean Fitzpatrick. “We had to strengthen all the parts….We camouflaged everything with leaves and moved at night.” Ty described how the seat was removed and a rack fashioned of metal, wood or bamboo lashed in place over the back wheel. This provided an extended line from which bags or boxes were hung and other goods tied on by ropes or strips of inner tubes. The bicycle frame was often strengthened by adding metal, wood, or bamboo struts, reinforcing the front forks and increasing the suspension. Even with two tenders walking each bike, the tonnage of supplies getting to the fighters proved to be a great deal more than that consumed by the bike tenders.

    Once loaded, it was not possible to walk close enough alongside the bike to use the normal handlebars for steering. Hence, a wooden stick or bamboo pole was lashed to the handlebars that extended far enough to allow the tender to hold and steer the bicycle. Typically, another stick was inserted into the vertical seat tube that was used to push the bike along or hold it back on downward slopes. The carrying capacity for these modified two-wheelers ranged up to 600 pounds, with the average load being around 440 pounds, versus the 80- to 100-pound load that could be carried by a single porter. A record was set at Dien Bien Phu with a single bicycle carrying a load of 724 pounds. This achievement would be surpassed a decade later when one bicycle, or as the North Vietnamese called them, “steel horses,” carried 924 pounds along the entire Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1964.

    In addition to transporting men and supplies, the bicycle served the needs of the wounded on the battlefield. In 1968 a Peugeot subsidiary produced a model especially for the North Vietnamese Army that contained surgical and medical kits and two headlights, with detachable extension cables for lighting a small field hospital. And a rudimentary form of medevac was devised using two bikes lashed together with long bamboo poles from which one or two stretchers could be suspended.

    By 1963 the United States had 12,000 military advisers in South Vietnam and had taken the place of the French in Southeast Asia, with the new of aim of preventing the spread of communism across the region. Within six years, more than half a million U.S. troops and some 100,000 allied soldiers were fighting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. Dismissing the French experience and defeat as partly the result of a lack of sophisticated technology, the American military employed its advanced war-making capability, its helicopters and overwhelming airpower in a massive way. Ignoring French advice, the U.S. military reckoned that simple things such as the bicycle were obsolete and that their effects on logistics were to be discounted.

    To militarily deal with the Americans, Giap turned again to the strategy employed against the French—wage a protracted war and use Laos and Cambodia as sanctuaries. As part of his war-winning scheme, his men would counter U.S. mobility and firepower by moving and fighting at night. And to sustain his forces in the field, he would continue to rely on bicycle transport to deliver food and weapons to his forces. Giap used the bicycles, as one American colonel said, as “pickup trucks.” Hundreds of thousands of them were on the move daily.

    Averaging 25 miles a day, Vietnamese cyclists traversed across narrow trails that were seldom straight for more than four yards and were studded by stumps, roots and snags. The riders’ heads and bodies were constantly striking overhanging bamboo and creepers. As bad as the pathways were, the many tiny, swaying bridges, suspended only by jungle vines over the hundreds of waterways, were worse. Sturdy, maneuverable and reliable in all these conditions, the bicycle also offered the advantage of silence. Tenders could hear American aircraft in time to pull into the undergrowth and avoid detection.

    Although most of the U.S. military dismissed the importance of bicycles in the war, the Pentagon did commission a 1965 report on their use during wartime. Colonel B.F. Hardaway, chief of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Research and Development Field Unit-Vietnam, had requested the study to help the Pentagon assess the enemy’s use of bicycles and determine how best to counter it. The introduction noted, “Interest in the employment of bicycle troops is emerging once again, this time in Southeast Asia, where the road network is inadequate for motorized transportation, but where paths and dikes may provide an acceptable avenue for bicycle movement.” But the report gave little guidance; it was based mostly on American sources, with only a few references to Japanese use of bikes in Malaya and the impact bicycle transport had on the outcome at Dien Bien Phu. Soon after the report was issued, Hardaway’s superiors instructed him to drop the subject—and get on to more pertinent matters.

    During the early 1960s, the North Vietnamese government started to expand and modernize the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which at that time was so narrow that it was only passable on foot or by bicycle. By 1975 the Trail would comprise 12,000 miles of roads and paths carved in the face of increasingly violent American efforts to close it down. Used during the First Indochina War as a line of communication to the north by the Viet Minh, the sparsely populated area paralleling the borders of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was actually a maze of paths, roads, streams and rivers running down the spine of the Annamite Mountain range of eastern Laos, through some of the most inhospitable terrain and impenetrable jungle in the world. The web of paths took months to traverse on foot at a rate of six miles a day. Bikes and ponies were used on portions of the Trail to carry supplies south, but even their use was impractical on much of it.

    In 1964 the growing American presence in South Vietnam caused Hanoi to begin to enlarge the Trail into a truck route to ferry more supplies to sustain VC and NVA troops. The Trail was necessary to make up the shortfall in sea-transported supplies, which had been severely interdicted by the Americans.

    By 1966 the Trail had become the logistical backbone of North Vietnam’s military effort. Supplies and troops primarily exited at three major points: the A Shau Valley, the Ia Drang Valley and War Zone C. Using the modernized Trail, the number of troops and the quantity of supplies moving south grew dramatically, from a total of 30,000 men and 20 to 30 tons of supplies a year in the period 1959-64, to 10,000 to 20,000 troops a month and 120 tons of war material a day by 1968.

    As impressive as the numbers were, the success of the North Vietnamese resupply was also aided by the meager supply requirements of the Communist fighting forces in South Vietnam. A 10,000-man NVA or VC division needed only three tons of supplies per day. Further, much of the food consumed by the Communists was taken from South Vietnamese villagers as a form of tax and therefore was usually within moving distance of its recipients. The result of all these factors allowed the bicycle, plentiful in all regions of Vietnam, to be utilized to its fullest extent and to provide a cheap and ready mode of transportation to a military logistical requirement that was modest at best.

    American attempts to stop traffic on the Trail were persistent yet uniformly unsuccessful. Clandestine CIA operations, ground incursions and B-52 carpet bombings all came up short. The most effective tactic to disrupt Trail movement was the use of low-level helicopter attacks against truck traffic. Although the helicopters flew only a small percentage of missions against the truck convoys on the Trail, they accounted for half of the destruction inflicted on them. Helicopters, however, were vulnerable to the thousands of enemy antiaircraft guns that studded the Trail by the late 1960s, and these missions were soon replaced by high-level—but highly inaccurate—B-52 bombing sorties. When U.S. strikes did stall a truck column, bicycle and human porters would be brought in to transport the goods. Overall, U.S. aerial interdiction against the route’s logistical effort inflicted only 2 percent of the losses the North Vietnamese suffered while using the Trail.

    Although French and U.S. airpower could not stanch the flow of supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the terrain nevertheless took its toll on the Viet Minh and later North Vietnamese porters and bicycle tenders. Seventy-two military cemeteries that line its route attest to the dangers nature posed in addition to human intervention. More cyclists and porters—estimates range from 10 to 20 percent—perished from disease, exhaustion, and attacks by tigers, elephants and bears than by
    bombs or bullets. They rested at the many relay stations on the Trail, which were really nothing more than clearings in the forest, and they were moved every few days to prevent the enemy from discovering them.

    As the Vietnam War intensified, so did the size and scope of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which more than anything showed that the conflict between the United States and North Vietnam was a war of supply, a war the North Vietnamese were not losing no matter what the United States did. Starting in 1965, the number of North Vietnamese trucks traversing south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail rose to about 2,300, with 2,500 moving in the opposite direction. This number would dramatically increase during the remainder of the war as the truck became the mainstay of the resupply effort of the North Vietnamese.

    The bicycle, however, was never entirely replaced as a means of transportation of war materiel. In fact, the organization responsible for the movement of all supplies to the south along the Trail, the 559th Transport Group, throughout the war retained among its 50,000 troops and 100,000 laborers two battalions of some 2,000 cyclists engaged in moving supplies to inaccessible areas along the Trail and supplementing the efforts of the truck convoys.

    Indeed, in the jungles of Vietnam, the bicycle continued to be a competitor against the best 20th-century war technology the West had.

    Arnold Blumberg, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, is a frequent contributor to military history publications and is the author of the forthcoming book from Casemate Publications, When Washington Burned: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812.
     
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