Can anyone identify a motorbyke ?

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by Ron Goldstein, Jul 27, 2007.

  1. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    In 1946 my unit was stationed at Opicina in the extreme North of Italy.

    It was a fairly relaxed period for most of us, despite the fact that we were keeping the peace in the Venezia Giulia area between the Jugoslavs and the Italians.

    Through the good offices of one of the Troop Don-Rs (Despatch Riders) I had a crash course in riding a motorbyke and for one glorious day roared around the barracks delivering mail.

    My question is simply can anyone identify the motorbyke?

    A knowledgable ex-biker friend of mine suggests it might have been a Matchless..... any other thoughts please ?

    Attached Files:

  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  3. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Hi Owen

    Many thanks for prompt and I'm pretty sure correct identification.

  4. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Owen is correct. Certainly a WD16H Norton in good standard specification for the period.

    I had hoped to add a bit more info from the Census number but would have expected it to be a seven digit sequence. I suspect that the first cipher is obscured.

    Ron, do you know what the "4" Tactical marking indicates ? Had there been a change to a post-war system by 1946 ?
  5. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  6. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    If it is "41" then it's well off-centre which is quite possible.
  7. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I've just thought, that Carrier in Ron's photo is a 56th Div recce regt one, ie 41 on blue/green square & black cat
    Like the one here.

    Just read in the 4QOH that Ron's unit joined 56th Div in Oct 45.
    War Diary of the 4th Hussars in 1945

    <TABLE borderColor=#000000 width="100%" border=1><TBODY><TR><TD width="29%" bgColor=#ffffff>1/10/1945</TD><TD width="71%" bgColor=#ffffff>Major JJ O’Brien left to go on a course in UK, also 14 days leave. Warning order received that the Regt will move to TRIESTE and become Recce Regt in 56th (Lon) Div in lieu of 44th Recce Regt. </TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
  8. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Owen & Rich

    The number certainly was 41 for Div Recce and I'm impressed that Owen went to my eponymous Army Album to spot the markings on the Bren Gun Carrier which also had the 56 Div (Black Cat) markings.

    So the byke was a Norton after all.

    Whilst writing I am reminded that when, at the age of 13, I got my first job it was with the Associated Press of Great Britain in Tudor Street, I was what was known as a "runner boy" taking press photos to all the newspaper offices in Fleet Street.

    When the photographers went to an event to take a photo they were accompanied by a despatch rider on a Norton byke who would race back to town to get his photos home first.

    The resultant roar as all the bykes entered Fleet Street almost together was something to be remembered !
  9. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Wonderful stuff Ron. Norton's sporting reputation in the 1930s was of course second to none and the bikes were very much sold on performance. The 16H though was rather an Edwardian motorcycle amongst the sporting models.

    It is generally accepted that the pre-war military orders from which the large wartime contracts stemmed were to some extent based on Norton's generous hospitality to the decision makers at the War Office. They provided machines for the Army Trials teams and even had a staff member on hand to write up machine appraisals so the officers concerned could relax after a hard days motorcycling.
  10. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    A 16H in rather perfect condition:

    And just for Rich, Mr. Wheatcroft's 'Bike shed':
    Name that lot!
  11. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Thanks for posting those links Adam. I hadn't realised that their interest included motorcycles.

    The Norton has a lot of nice parts on it to the correct spec but also quite a lot of silly faults. They don't say that it is to 1939 spec but the late war economy control levers and steel footrests were not fitted originally. The horn is a post-war civilian Lucas 'Altette' as well and the yellow wiring stands out a mile as modern - should be black rubber with tiny coloured rubber bands for identification.

    Mind you, they have so many vehicles to work on and my 16H is still at the research and parts collecting stage after three years !

    The first rather rusty bike on the other link looks like a Zundapp DBK 250 to me but I'm not well up on German stuff - I don't know if they're going to use it as the basis of a cosmetic restoration but I don't think that pressed steel frame will ever be safe to ride.
  12. PeterG

    PeterG Senior Member


    Just happened to be going over a few things and went back to this thread. The WD serial number of the Norton you are on is C 353125.

    There were many thousands of the Norton 16H 500cc side-valve single-cylinder produced between 1935 and 1945, but that particular one seems to have had a very charmed life and gone right through WW2, much as thankfully you did.

    It was one of the first batch of 308 machines produced at Chilwell following the evaluation of the 16H evaluation machine CMM 754. This initial batch of 308 was delivered between 13 December 1935 and 21 February 1936. This first batch was allocated War Office serial numbers C 352836 to C 353146. Given the number and the rate of production of 50 per week, we can date yours to February 1936. Its price was £39 18s 2d, in today's values £1,619.

    The 16H was modified in 1938, when presumably the front number plate of that bike was removed, and modified again in 1940. Yours has the DU 142 headlamp fitted with the 8" blackout mask, this too was a 1940 modification.


    P.S. No, I am not a mine of information. I got it from British Forces Motor Cycles, the 2006 revised edition, by Chris Orchard and Steve Madden, a fascinating book cram full of photographs and data.
  13. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Cor !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The mind boggles at the amount of information there is available if one only knows where to find it.

    Well done Peter !

  14. PeterG

    PeterG Senior Member

    Actually Ron, you were astride one of the finest bikes in the world, at the time. The 16H was a superb machine and even though it was a side-valve producing only a modest 16bhp it could cruise all day at 50-55 mph and do 75 mph with ease. The specially tuned Isle of Man racing models reached 125 mph. It was one of the staples of Norton's after WW1 and probably at its peak in 1938. The gearbox was one of the best, even though the gear pedal was not positioned very well and had excessive movement.

    On the face of it, all Norton had to do to produce civilian machines after the war was to change the paint colour from khaki to black. But they did rather more, and the 16H was given enclosed valves. Derivatives of the 16H were winning races well into the 1960s and the vertical single 500cc (in fact 490cc) will be always associated with Norton at its best.

    An article here Classic bikes: Norton 16H - Telegraph in The Telegraph explains why it was popular with WW2 dispatch riders.

    I always admired Nortons, but in the 1950s I bought a 1953 500cc ohv twin Matchless G9 Super Clubman instead, and toured most of Britain on it. Side valve bikes (I subsequently had a 600cc sv Ariel) were mostly then used with sidecars for their steady pulling power.

    Ah, those were the days! :)

  15. binney 962

    binney 962 Junior Member

    dont know if this helps hubbys a bit of a bike nut,he thinks it could be either lee enfield with long range tank or an ajs
  16. vintagecollector

    vintagecollector Junior Member

    bike is norton 16h side valve 500cc.

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