Royal Enfield WD/RE
The Royal Enfield WD/RE known as the Flying Flea was a lightweight British motorcycle developed by Royal Enfield for the British War Office (the WD came from War Department) as a means of transport for that could be dropped by parachute or carried in gliders, to quickly carry messages and signals between airborne and assault troops where radio communications were not in place.
The best known Royal Enfield produced for the Second World War was, however, the WD/RE 125 cc which was known as the Flying Flea and designed to be dropped by parachute with airborne troops.
After the German authorities stopped the Dutch franchisee of the DKW RT100 motorcycle from receiving any more supplies in 1938, preferring a non-Jewish company, Royal Enfield was contacted by the displaced importer about producing a similar motorcycle. Using a less sophisticated but increased capacity two-stroke engine in the same frame, a few of these RE motorcycles were made before the outbreak of the Second World War.
As with other British motorcycle manufacturers, the Royal Enfield factory production was turned over to the war effort. Military motorcycles included the Royal Enfield WD/C 350 cc sidevalve, the Royal Enfield WD/D 250 cc sidevalve and the Royal Enfield WD/L 570 cc.
In early 1942, the War Office ordered twenty WD/RE motorcycles from Royal Enfield for testing. Based on their 1939 civilian pre-war design, the prototype had a right hand brake and was fitted with an Amal carburettor and had a low mounted toolbox.
The trials went well and led to some modifications, including fitting a twin-box exhaust system to help silence the noisy two stroke engine, a Villiers carburettor (indicated by a ‘V’ on the engine), raising the toolbox and fitting a folding kick-start, footrests and even folding handlebars, so that it could be packed into the smallest possible space. A Miller lighting system was added, together with a sealed vent on the fuel filler to prevent spillage when the motorcycle was packed in a drop carrier. The foot brake was also relocated to the left side.
The reason the War Office wanted such a lightweight motorcycle was to establish communications between troops that had been dropped by parachute and the front line forces, who could be some distance away or out of radio contact. The problem was how to make sure that the Enfield landed without too much damage. In the summer of 1942 experimentation therefore began to develop a protective cradle that would go right round the motorcycle.
A number of different versions were tested by dropping them from the bomb racks of aircraft such as the Halifax and Lancaster bombers. As well as surviving the drop, the cradles also had to be easy to remove on landing. The prototypes met neither requirement as they were too light and bent the wheels on impact but eventually a design was developed that worked with heavier tubing and increased bracing and in December 1942, went into production at the Enfield’s Calton Hill factory in Edinburgh.
The first significant orders for the Royal Enfield WD/RE were consequently placed during early 1943, but after all the planning and preparation only a few were actually dropped into the battle zone by parachute, as it was decided to load them into troop carrying gliders four at a time without the protective frames, and secured by a special harness instead. A number of Royal Enfield WD/RE motorcycles were also used for beach landings during 1943 and 1944, and were carried inside landing craft for communication between the beaches and the nearest front line forces.
There was a huge demand for cheap and reliable transport after the war so any surviving models which were disposed of as war surplus were stripped down and repainted for civilian use. Most of this work was carried out at Enfield’s Bradford-on-Avon works in Wiltshire. A few military Royal Enfield WD/RE motorcycles remained in limited service use until the end of the 1940s.
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