BMW R 75 and other BMW motorcycles in the German Army 1930–1945

BMW R 75 and other BMW motorcycles in the German Army 1930–1945

Bavarian rotating propellers

The story of one of the modern automotive giants is dated shortly before the outbreak of the Great War. In 1910, in southern Germany two manufacturing plants were set up, widely regarded as the forerunner of the official BMW: Aeroplan Otto-Alberti, and three years later: Rapp Motoren Werke GmbH. Both have taken mounting aircraft engines, the first of the companies a few months before the Sarajevo events transformed into Otto Flugzeugwerke signed a contract for the construction of airplanes for the Bavarian Army.

While the imperial troops fought in the trenches, in case of both manufacturers important transformation took place: in 1916 owner of Bayerische Flugzeugwerke GmbH – Gustav Otto stood on the brink of bankruptcy, and in two consecutive years, Karl Rapp has changed its company to Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, soon selling its first shares. The new institution, the head of the board was Franz Josef Popp and chief engineer - an engineer Max Friz received from the German authorities’ request for two thousand airplane engines. This impulse lay at the basis of dynamic development and the related success, and above all – the operational ceiling record set in June 1919 using the BMW IIIa engine (9.760 m). Around the same time, there were sort of a financial revolution – part of the shares acquired one of the richest men in contemporary Europe – Camillo Castiglioni who in a short time, passed the majority to the Association of Banks in Vienna. As a result of the transfer was carried out in 1922, the financier merged with companies formerly managed by Gustav Otto and became the real owner of the rights and technology, BMW, this condition has persisted for the next seven years, until the takeover by a consortium of German banks. This circumstances allowed the Bavarian plants survive the crisis of the first postwar months especially that conducted before the activity is interrupted as a result of limiting the Armed Forces of the Weimar Republic by the preliminaries of the Versailles Treaty.

bmw Rys19b--
The first two-wheel vehicles under the symbol if tge blue and white rotating propeller was presented nineteen years after the first motorcycles had appeared in the army of the Hohenzollern Empire. Financially secure company, trying to take advantage of favorable conditions for the construction of this type of machines, caused by limitations imposed on Germany at the Versailles, first proposed M2B15 BMW engine regarded as the universal one and finally in 1923, presented its own proposal in the medium class motorcycle – BMW R 32. The design of the equipped with two-cylinder M2B33 engine with a capacity of 486 cm3 and power of 8.5 HP the engineer-duo of Max Friz abd Martin Stolle created in just five weeks. The trademark of the machine, which forms the peculiar symbol of the brand in the next decades were the opposite arrangement of cylinders (the boxer type engine) and the cardan shaft. In addition, the vehicle was characterized by solid, double frame, rigid rear wheel suspension and a triangular, flattened tank with a capacity of fourteen liters. The machine weight was 122 kg was able to reach a maximum speed of 95 road km/h. Average fuel consumption by optimum driving was 3 liters per 100 km. If necessary, the sidecar could have been attached. The motorcycle was produced for three years, the number of units sold amounted to three thousand and ninety.
Less then fourteen months had passed since the September debut of the R 32 at the Motor Show in Berlin, where another motorcycle rolled off the Munich factory again. BMW R 37 was equipped with a drive unit with a slightly increased capacity (494 cm3), but nearly twice the power - 16 HP. Moreover, it was decided to use the innovation created by engineer Rudolf Schleicher – the cylinder heads equipped with aluminum covers, the patent which is used by modern times. Even before the launch of production, which lasted between 1925 and 1926, the vehicle made ​​a loud because of its sport performance: using R 37 Franz Bieber gained a victory in the ADAC Eifelrennen mountain race and the Ruselberg Rally. Soon after, another BMW driver – Rudi Reich led his 170-kg sidecar set on the highest step of the Ettaler Bergrennen podium. Taking advantage of the growing interest in 1927 in the manufacturer catalogue, the 18 HP powered BMW R 47 was also revealed.
The results mentioned above significantly contributed to strengthen the position of Bayerische Motoren Werke AG in the German market. In the mid-twenties, the company of Franz Josef Popp could have stand boldly compete with manufacturers such as NSU Motorenwerke AG from Neckarsulm in Baden-Württemberg and the acclaimed Nuremberg Zündapp GmbH. The demise of the first motorcycle presented above coincides with the launch of its upgraded and above all cheaper version of R 42. Within two years the civilian users have purchased about six and a half thousand pieces of this variant, adding another nearly fourteen hundred of model R 52 – the successor manufactured between 1928 and 1929. Despite the signs of the great economic crisis which has not spared the German State, BMW AG, could boldly declare success.

BMW in the German Army

With the increase in demand for civilian market there were the Armed Forces officials who started to look closely at the machines with the blue-and white propeller sing. The demand increased significantly after announcing of the motorization program at the end of the twenties.
The first model, which drew the attention of the Ministry of the Reichswehr was mentioned earlier BMW R 52 and the heavy R 62. For their use primarily spoke optimum engine power – respectively, 12 HP (486 cm3) and 18 HP (745 cm3) and a solid construction. These models can therefore be regarded as the precursor of the military use of two-wheel vehicles from the capital of Bavaria. Number of them appeared on the ranges, however, three years later through another medium variant – BMW R 4. Summer of 1935 during maneuvers in Munster for the first time German Army presented the motorcycle battalion, the basis of which were the Zündapp K800 and BMW R 4 models.
In the Armed Forces of the Weimar Republic, and then – the Third Reich, motorcycles have been divided into three classes, to which the assignment was dependent on the capacity of the drive unit. In each of these Bayerische Motoren Werke AG significantly marked their participation.


The light military motorcylces (in German: leichte Kräder or Meldekräder) represented R 2, R 20 and R 23 models, which engines did not exceed the limit of 350 cm3. The first one was produced in five series between 1931 and 1936, and despite the relatively high price – 1000 German Marks enjoyed considerable popularity, especially among people who do not have permission to drive (since 1928 driving motorcycles with engine capacity below 200 cm3 did not need a license). It was an interest in the civil sphere was one of the cornerstones of the incorporation of this equipped with a single cylinder 198 cm3 and 6 HP engine (from the third series – 8 HP), to the Reichswehr. The vehicle, having a curved front to the front fork with a clearly visible leaf-spring suspension, holding the weight of one hundred and thirty kilograms is accelerated to a speed of 95 km / h (in the case of the 6 HP power unit – 80 km / h).
With the end of its production the company from Munich offered variant R 20. According to the predecessor this model was above all distinguished by a telescopic front wheel suspension, typical for this version, placed just above the axle, rubber shields as well as reduced to 192 cm3 engine capacity, having no effect on the power. Simultaneously the fuel tank was extended by two liters.
The last vehicle of the series in the inter-war era was about five kilograms heavier BMW R 23.The production of this variant lasted from 1938 to 1940. The vehicle was equipped with the engine with capacity of 247 cm3 and a power of 10 HP, which allowed to reach a maximum road speed of 95 km / h.
The first BMW military motorcycle representing the medium class (mittlere Kräder) and the first under the sign of a spinning propeller in general who became interested in military officials in Germany was the R 52 model. However, in this category company from Munich has established itself in 1932 with the produced through the next five years in five series and more than fifteen thousand copies, R 4 variant. The vehicle, originally considered as the primary purpose two-wheel vehicle of the army, was equipped with a single cylinder, OHV engine, having a capacity of 398 cm3 and the power of 12 HP initially, and eventually - 14 HP. As in the earlier models was the cardan shaft drive. Also uses dry clutch and manual transmission with four gears. Maximum road speed was ranked in the range of 110 km / h. The front wheel received the telescopic suspension, while the rear was rigidly mounted in a frame of pressed steel. External element that changed during the course of completing another sampling was front fender, initially (until the third series) with a shape similar to a lighter BMW R 2. The curb weight of the machine was one hundred and twenty kilograms. Because of its almost legendary reliability, the BMW R 4 found widespread use in both the civilian and military space, being used until the collapse of the Third Reich in training centers or by paramilitary organizations.
Despite the good performance both on road and in the field, the R 4 model with the time he began to give way line in units of his successor. Produced between 1937 and 1940 BMW R 35, sometimes called The Donkey (Esel), proved to be the most popular solo motorcycle, ever used by the German army. This one hundred fifty-five kilograms vehicle was propelled by 14 HP, 340 cm3 engine, obtaining on the highest, fourth postponement the speed of 100 km/h. With a balanced traveling at 60 km/h the fuel combustion finished in the borders of three liters per one hundred kilometers, which meant that the vehicle can be regarded as a very economical (the maximum road range was approximately four hundred kilometers). It is worth noting that as the only of all bikes offered by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG during the Weimar Republic and the Adolf Hitler, was also complete by the end of the World War II, the production in the factory of Eisenach, was continued until 1955.
Although the there was the Zündapp of Nuremberg which clearly dominated in the category of heavy motorcycles (schwere Kräder), the BMW proposed most of its two-wheel vehicles strictly in that group. Can not be ruled out that this fact was associated with the demand not only reported by the military but also civilian users, for which the heavy sidecar unit, was not too expensive, and relatively capacious and durable mean of transportation especially in the eve of great economic crisis and subsequent years. At the turn of the third and fourth decade of the twentieth century, the armed forces have stated so clearly the requirements for a set of machines equipped with engines with a capacity exceeding 500 cm3. Due to the anticipated use in a transportation role for the infantry in direct combat area, as well as poorly developed road network in Eastern Europe – the main direction of the planned German expansion, indicated that the ground clearance of the bike should be no less than 100 mm below the vehicle and 250 mm in a case of a sidecar.


In 1928, the Ministry of the Reichswehr and the Board of BMW AG entered into an agreement under which over the next several months, the Army planned to provide reliable, heavy motorcycle. There was the R 62 model which were supposed to fulfill the army demand, with a two-cylinder 745 cm3 and 18 HP engine, being allowed to reach a maximum road speed of up 115 km/h.
Especially for use with a sidecar its successor was designed – BMW R 11, produced in five series between 1929 and 1934. Although already a successful debut at the Olympic Games in London in 1928, the military use of that variant was rather a temporary solution. The machine was equipped with 745 cm3 and 18 HP engine (the last production series showed a 20 HP). Three-speed transmission with dry single-plate clutch (since 1931 – double-plate) allowed to disperse the more than 160 kg vehicle to the top speed of 112 km/h Noteworthy is also the fact that the variety is described as the first in the history of motorcycles under the sign of a spinning propeller had a frame made of pressed steel sections and was equipped in standard with traffic lights and speedometer.

bmw Fot13

Approximated performance was characteristic for another model proposed to the Third Reich Army – BMW R 12, which was developed in the mid-thirties as an answer to the needs of a motor tourism increasingly popular in Western Europe. In the four years of production (1938-1941), the number of completed and sold exemplars could have reached even 38.000. The engine of this variant was a twin-cylinder 745 cm3 and 18 HP power unit with a single carburetor in an early version j (more popular in the army) or 20 HP in the case of the model with two. There were dry, double-plate clutch, and four hand-selected gear ratios installed too. The motorcycle reached a maximum speed of 110 km/h (single-carburetor model) and 120 km/h (double carburetor model). After attaching the sidecar it decreased to 85 km/h. The vehicle also had a number of innovative solutions, including in particular the depreciation of the telescopic front wheel with damping oil (the first of its kind in the world) and, as was the exception to the rule, rear drum brakes (so far was the most common variant of the jaws affecting the shaft). The confirmation of its popularity may be the fact that after 1942 it was one of the two (along with the BMW R 75) motorcycles bearing the symbol of a spinning propeller, manufactured for the Armed Forces of the Third Reich by the company from Munich.
Also another heavy motorcycle designed in Munich was bearing the name of the Wehrmachtsmodell or Wehrmachtskrad. Over 180 kg BMW R 61 has been designed nearly almost exclusively for a sidecar. The two-cylinder engine with a capacity of 587 cm3 and the power of 18 HP dispersed that variant to a speed of 100 km/h, and in the solo version – 115 km/h.
A year before the outbreak of the World War II, assembly halls in Munich began to leave the next version – BMW R 71 produced in parallel to the intended mainly for the civilian market variants: R 61, and sport R 51. This, finalized in the amount of three and a half thousand pieces vehicle was equipped with a two-cylinder 746 cm3 and 22 HP engine.  Curb weight in a solo variant was 190 kg, while the sidecar – about 300 kg. The vehicle accelerated, respectively to 125 km/h and 95 km/h.



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