Military Police Motorcycles: On active service

Bike Profile

A fleet of Harley riders training for ceremonial duties in the 1950s.

A pictorial history of motor cycles used by the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police (RACMP)

Research, photographs and text: Sergeant Antony Buckingham. RACMP, Service Police investigator currently posted to The Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS).

Since their formation in 1916 during the First World War (WW1), the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police (RACMP) or more commonly known as the Military Police (MP) have been policing the Australian Army in times of war and peace conducting policing, investigation and combat support duties in support of their fellow soldiers.

Taken during WW2 – MPs with their Harleys.

Throughout its history, the MP have always used motor cycles in conjunction with other vehicles to carry out its duties. The Military Police motor cycle has been the “work horse” of the Corps and has stood the test of time throughout war and peace providing speed, practicality and presence in battle and military areas throughout Australia.   

Whilst the current MP bike is the BMW (civil police model) the Corps has ridden US, British and Japanese types since 1916 for the purposes of: Urgent message delivery; Convoy control – shepherding and herding vehicles; Traffic control – quick response to traffic problems; Manning check points – quick means to dart between various points especially in battle; Highway and road patrols – pick up stragglers, identify broken down vehicles, assist lost; Physical policing presence – patrol military areas for discipline infractions; Maintain physical security – police/security presence throughout military areas; Road signing and route marking – assist military convoys and vehicles; Ceremonial escorts and PR activities; More practical on unsealed roads – can go anywhere; Easily deployable in aircraft or maritime vessels; Maintenance and reliability generally better in operational areas.

Left: A Triumph-mounted British Commonwealth Occupational Force member in Japan, late 1940s. Right: Harley and rider decked out for ceremonial work in the 1950s.

British bikes by Norton and US models of the Harley WLA were especially in vogue during WW2. The post WW2 Australian Army in the late 1940s early 1950s was largely equipped with WW2 military equipment including motor bikes the most predominate being the Harley Davidson military version commonly referred to as the WLA. Supplied to Australia for free by the USA in WW2 under the ‘Lend Lease Agreement’ many hundreds would serve throughout the war and well into the late 1960s with the Australian Army. On occasions their use took on a more theatrical flair.

As part of raising the profile of the new Australian Regular Army, the Military Police were requested to provide “precision riding displays” at Military Tattoo’s and public relations events throughout Australia where it was common to see dangerous and spectacular riding combinations involving multiple MPs standing/lying and sitting on a single venerable old Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The Harleys would serve the Corps well and continue riding into the 1960s and the Vietnam war. In 1967, the long serving Harley Davidson motorcycles would be replaced by British BSA B40 motorcycles, although, not without some controversy involved. Initially, the BSA B40 was chosen because of its lightweight and cross-country performance, which suited the Army requirement of operating in South East Asia. The need for a highway capable bike was not essential, as the Army was on continuous operations in South East Asia during this period.

Kawasaki W1 undergoing suitability trials in the 1960s.
A mixture of models in the 1970s at Sydney’s Botanical Gardens including a BSA B40 and a W1 Kawasaki.
Left: A member of the MP Red Knights display team with his GS400. Right: Red Knights ‘Sword pegging’ aboard a GS400.

Various reports were submitted about the state of the bikes in service with the Corps with one report dated 1971 stating that Australian BSA distributors did not carry the majority of spare parts required to service the Australian Army. It was further noted that in Northern Command, Brisbane and North Queensland, engines had not been available since January 1969 and pistons and piston rings had to be manufactured by RAEME. There were many other problems as well, ranging from various cables continually braking, electrical faults, external parts of the bikes falling off and poor performance, at slow speed when conducting ceremonial escorts. The same report identified that one particular Provost unit had their bikes in for repair on an average of 25 days per month with another unit having 16 of its 20 bikes in repair at RAEME workshops.  One antidotal story relates how the spares that should have come with the bikes on entry to Australian Army service were loaded onto a separate ship that got caught in the Suez crisis of the 1960s finally arriving in Australia in 1975 some 10 years later possibly explaining why parts replacement was a major issue.

A gaggle of Suzuki-mounted Red Knights.
Hopefuls undergoing selection trials in the 1970s including from left, a Honda CB550, Yamaha 500, Kawasaki Z400 and Suzuki GS400.

In 1976 the Australian Army adopted their first non British/US bike introducing the first of many Japanese models the Suzuki GS400. Used in a field and policing role it was prone to “bits” falling off when on long road trips. By 1987 the Suzuki 65GSRR would enter service. Regarded as an easy to ride, well balanced and great for escort work it would serve the Corps well until 2004. During 1987 a further Japanese bike was introduced into MP service the Yamaha 60XTT Trail Bike. Regarded as a strong pulling bike and very reliable once initial problems with fuel and batteries got sorted out it remained in service until 2011 with the last being sold off recently.

Left: Suzuki GS400 at work in the 1980s. Right: Triumph Twin undergoing tests in the 1970s.
The BMW R 1150 RT-P was chosen to replace the fleet of ageing Kawasaki 650s and Suzuki GS400s. First delivery comprised 37 motorcycles and were essentially identical to that used by the police.

In 2004, the Corps obtained its current issue MP bike the BMW K100 Police Bike. Based on the Victorian Police model, it has been very reliable and well balanced and is currently used for escort and ceremonial work and domestic policing of Army bases throughout Australia. RACMP continues to use motor bikes on a daily basis and provides an efficient and worthwhile service to the Australian Army and the ADF.

Military Police bikes are not currently deployed in the Middle East due to the “high IED bomb threat” and not considered safe (lack of protection for the rider) in the modern combat environment. However, MP bikes are used on a daily basis throughout Australia and are synonymous with the roles and functions of the RACMP.

The RACMP Corps motto says it all ‘For the Troops and With the Troops’.

Ode to the Military Police Motor Cycle

I was the one who delivered urgent messages during battle.
When the roads were congested with traffic, I was the “traffic cop” for you.
When your convoy was lost, I was the one who guided you.
When “check points” needed to be manned and operated, it was I who raced between locations,
opening and closing roads and tracks with “split second” precision.
When you got lost in battle or survived mortal combat, I came to find you.
When you needed urgent medical supplies, I delivered.
When I saw your body had fallen, I prayed for you.
When you were injured, sometimes I carried you.
When the roads were damaged or impassable, I came through.
When women and children were displaced, I led them to safety.
When large military areas needed to be patrolled and policed, I was there to help you.
When the Australian Army put on a “pomp and ceremony” parade,
it was I who escorted the troops dazzling the crowd with my engine control skills.
When you returned to barracks after a night “in town”, it was me who escorted you home safely.
When you needed a laugh or some Aussie ‘larrikinism’, I entertained you with my riding skills.
I have ridden the “highway to hell” through two World Wars, BCOF Japan, Korea, and through to Today,
maintaining the RACMP Corps motto ‘For the Troops and With the Troops’.
I am the Military Police (MP) motor cycle and I am always with you

This story was written with the kind assistance of the Military Police Association of Australia (MPAA), current serving and former serving members of the RACMP.

OBA Issue 28
This article first appeared in Old Bike Australasia Issue No.28