War horses

James ML

The 172cc ML (Military Lightweight) was a development of a pre-war design adapted for military use with the intention that it be airdropped during WW II in the period after the D-Day landings to allow airborne troops greater mobility.  The ML  was nicknamed the ‘Clockwork Mouse’. It came hand geared with fold-able footrest and a quick unlock/lock handle to loosen the handlebars so that the handlebars could be turned in line with the motorcycle, for easier storage and transportation.

James ML in 1944

Military ML’s were made with numbers running from “ML2″ through to “ML 8500″ (with some rather odd gaps in the sequence) it is thought that somewhere between 6-7000 Military ML’s were actually built between 1943 and late-1944/early ’45.The last WD contract for ML’s was originally for some 3000 machines, with frame numbers running from “ML 7001″ to “ML 10000″……but the last 1,500 machines from this contract were canceled after frame “ML 8500″ due to the requirement for such machines having reduced with the end of the war in sight.

James ML in olive drab with ‘C’ number on tank.

It is thought that these canceled WD models were simply built and finished as civilian models for sale from 1945 onwards. They were, it is thought, virtually identical to the standard WD model ML, with the addition of civvy paint, a speedometer, and a longer rear mudguard to accommodate a numberplate.Following construction and delivery of these canceled WD models, James simply carried on with ML production thereafter, continuing the frame number sequence  from the WD models. Some of these early civvy versions were little different from the WD and WD/Civvy versions, some still retaining the military folding footrests, cylindrical toolbox, etc, doubtless to use up stocks of parts at the works.By 1947-48, the civvy ML had a few more differences/improvements over the WD model, including a different toolbox, lighting, handlebar mounting, etc, but was otherwise essentially the same bike.

It is quite easy to convert a post-war civvy James ML into the WD version. Long civvy mudguards can be shortened to the correct WD length, the lighting is standard Lucas (except for the headlight switch and panel), the fuel tank vented filler cap, handlebar clamping lever and folding footrests are all available as repro parts (the latter made by converting the rigid civvy ones), and spares for the Villiers 9D engine unit and carburetor are all available from Villiers Services.

Villiers Mark 9D engine

The prefix used on the Mark 9D was ‘AAA’ with a the suffix ‘A’.The engine had a 6 pole 18 watt flywheel magneto, fitted with a flat aluminum dust cover it had a dome in the middle. A 3 speed gearbox was built in unit with the engine.  It had a flat topped piston, 4 transfer ports, a single plate cork clutch and an endless roller chain primary drive enclosed in an oil-bath chaincase.

Engine number

Gear box. Flywheel with aluminum dust cover.

Norton WD16H

The Norton WD16H is a single cylinder 490cc side valve engine with a bore and stroke of 79 x 100 mm. Norton was the main military motorcycle supplier prior to WW2 and one of the main suppliers of motorcycles to the British Armed Forces during WW2 for whom they produced almost 100,000 motorcycles. Military orders were placed for the 16H from 1936 and continued throughout the course of the Second World War, setting a ten year record for the longest time the War Office procured a single make of motorcycle. These bikes were supplied to the Australian, New Zealand, Indian and the Canadian Armies.

While it was used a lot by despatch riders, the WD16H was also used for training, reconnaissance, convoy control and escort duties.

Military Motorcycles left the Norton factory in Army Service Green, Khaki green, Khaki brown or Olive green, depending on colour specified at time of production. Prewar RAF machines (up to September 1939)were delivered in RAF Blue.Wartime RAF bikes were identically coloured as the “Army” bikes. A number of machines were painted sand ‘desert camouflage’ by local workshops in the Middle East and used in Palestine and the North Africa Campaign.

This is my Norton WD16H from 1944 in civilian, silver and black trim. The frame was built under contract S2602 which was scheduled for delivery at 1600 per month commencing January 1944. There are no surviving records of machine allocation – these were all destroyed when the new registration system was introduced in 1948 / 49.

Machines with consecutive numbers could be sent anywhere in the world. However, by mid 1944, there were really two main possibilities – The British in NW Europe had by and large stopped taking 16Hs but the Canadians still did. Machines from this contract appear in late war photographs.

Perhaps most likely is that they were sent to the ‘Far East’ – initially to India for further distribution. There was a substantial stockpiling through 1944 as the war in the Pacific was not expected to end as soon as it did.

These later bikes do have the convenience of the last ciphers of the frame number matching the census number-military registration number- usually applied on the petrol tank, made up with white numbers-sometimes, in a black square with a white edges. so my motorcycle would have been C5271641.

Norton 16h with a census number on it’s tank

1944-500cc, Norton WD16H in civilian colours.

side valve engine

Head light and upper section of girder fork

Steering damper and top view of girder forks.

Contract and catalogue number plate on rear mudguard.

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