Motorcycles found a wide range of applications within military organizations during the first half of the 20th century. Armored motorcycles weren’t unheard of in these times and a number of nations delved into this concept. Some vehicles of this type even saw service during the First World War. As such, it’s not surprising that the Swedish company AB Landsverk, which designed a range of military vehicles during the interwar period, also created armored motorcycles of their own, albeit in limited quantity. Design and production at Landsverk during the interwar years was used as a facade for the German company GHH which was banned from developing and producing military equipment as part of the Versailles Treaty of 1919. This allowed for advanced design choices to be implemented on Swedish armored vehicles while German engineers gained valuable experience in return. It would eventually turn out that armored motorcycles were a dead end however and despite some very limited export success, only three or four such vehicles would ever be built by Landsverk.
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The design and appearance of the Landsverk 190 (L-190) is actually not known for certain. However, based on the correlation of photographic and Landsverk sources, the author of this article assumes that a specific vehicle which was photographed in army units during the early 1930s is the L-190.
The Landsverk 190 was the first Swedish armored motorcycle. It was developed around 1930 and was used by the Swedish army as the pansarbil fm/30 for trials as an experimental model. This vehicle was based on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle onto which multiple armor segments were mounted. These segments were mainly riveted, but feature some bolted elements. The armored surface in front of the driver was equipped with a square viewport that could be covered by a folding armor plate which limited forward vision to that provided by a slit in the folding plate. This armor only provided frontal as well as limited side protection. Some pictures of the L-190 in Swedish army service show it with two additional armor segments covering the front wheel, although the provisions for mounting these plates appear to be present in all photographs of the vehicle. The presence of an extension in the armor above the front fender hints at the presence of a headlight protected by a movable armor plate. An armored two-wheeled sidecar was attached on the right side of the motorcycle.
A belt-fed 6.5 mm kulspruta (ksp) m/14-29 machine gun which acted as the vehicle’s sole armament, was mounted inside of the sidecar. The ksp m/14-29 was a Swedish modification of the water cooled Browning M1917 with the cooling jacket replaced by that of a Schwarzlose machine gun, itself known as the ksp m/14 in Swedish service. It was chambered for 6.5×55mm m/1894 ammunition. On the L-190, it was equipped with a riveted gun shield and placed on a mount capable of high elevation, likely in order to enable anti-aircraft capability. One picture of the L-190 shows the ksp m/14-29 equipped with a pistol grip rather than with a spade grip as seen in other images. The crew consisted of a driver on the motorcycle and a gunner in the sidecar.
According to a Landsverk order ledger, either one or two vehicles of this type were ordered. In the same ledger this vehicle type is referred to both as ‘pansarbil fm/30’ (armored car trial model 1930), according to the standard Swedish army naming system of the day, and ‘pansrad mc’ (armored motorcycle). It should be noted that the year indicated in Swedish designations does not refer to the year of delivery, but rather that of design acceptance. At least one pansarbil fm/30 saw field testing during the armored car trials performed between 1932 and 1935 at the K 3 cavalry regiment in southern Sweden. The previously mentioned variation in armament, armor configuration and designation may hint at the existence of two separate vehicles, or it could simply be that modifications were performed to the pansarbil fm/30 over the course of time in action.
By the early 1930s, the Danish military was investigating whether a cheaper alternative could be found to conventional armored vehicles of the day. In 1932, Landsverk produced a new type of armored motorcycle based on specifications provided by Danish authorities, internally known as the L-210. This vehicle received the official designation Førsøkspanser 3 (F.P.3, Trial armored vehicle 3) in Denmark.
It was based on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle equipped with a 1200 cc (cubic centimeter) V2 engine capable of producing 30 horsepower (22 kW). This type of motorcycle was already in use by the Danish army at the time and the F.P.3 could thus benefit from parts commonality. The motorcycle in question was most likely a Harley-Davidson VL which first entered production in 1930. This vehicle was equipped with a single-wheeled sidecar carrying the armament which was placed to the right of the motorcycle. This armament consisted of a Madsen light machine gun which was mounted behind a gun shield and chambered for 8×58 mmR Danish Krag ammunition fed from a top-mounted curved box magazine.
The construction was however of a more modern type than that seen on the L-190, as the L-210 used a welded design with only partial riveting. This was a quite an advanced configuration method for the early 1930s, somewhat contrary to the Danish intent of acquiring a cheaper alternative to other armored vehicles of the time. The armor plate used was 4.5 mm thick which in itself wasn’t enough to stop rifle caliber bullets, but through the extensive use of angling it may have been sufficient. Another advancement compared to the L-190 was the armored body that had replaced the segmented design. This provided increased protection to the sides and, unlike the L-190, defence from the rear.
The metal connector between the forward and rear part of the armored body was presumably present in order to aid structural integrity. Just as on the L-190, the armored surface in front of the driver was equipped with a square viewport that could be covered by a folding armor plate which limited forward vision to that provided by a slit in the folding plate. A headlight was located on the armored front fender, protected by a metal frame. In addition to this, a second headlight was embedded in the armored body behind an adjustable metal cover. A rear view mirror was mounted to the right of the driver’s position. A drawing shows that it was planned for the L-210 to be equipped with a spare tire at the rear of the armored body. At a weight of roughly 730 kilograms, the vehicle’s increased protection came at the cost of making the design quite heavy. The L-210 was 1.6 meters tall, 2.3 meters long, 1.6 meters wide and provided 1.1 meters of clearance between the wheels.
In practice, the F.P.3 was a failure. Danish trials showed that the high mass of the vehicle made steering difficult and that cross country mobility was minimal. In addition, the 30 horsepower engine was reportedly only capable of propelling the vehicle to a maximum speed of roughly 50 kilometers per hour. As a result, trials were suspended and the vehicle was removed from usage in August 1933 while the armored body was dismounted already in the same year.
Improved Landsverk 210
The failure of the L-210 wasn’t the end of Landsverk’s armored motorcycles however. Further dialogue with Danish authorities resulted in the construction of a lighter variant of the L-210. Based on an unconfirmed Landsverk source, it can be deduced that the design process was likely active between 1932 and 1934. Drawings of this new type are available from May 1934. Before delivery of the new model could be carried out, the Danish trials with the F.P.3 had ceased and the new L-210 model was thus without a user.
The vehicle would eventually find an operator in the late 1930s. An order for the vehicle was recorded on the eighteenth of October, 1938, by Baron Friedrich Karl Johannes von Schlebrügge. He was, according to a Landsverk order ledger, the head of Nazi propaganda in Central and South America at the time, being based in Mexico City. The order was placed at a cost of of SEK 10,000, equal to roughly USD 33,000 or EUR 28,000 in today’s (2018) value. This was a high cost for such a vehicle at the time, equal to about half that of a German Sd.Kfz. 222 light armored car. The L-210 was delivered to von Schlebrügge in October 1938.
The design of the vehicle differed in a number of ways compared to its predecessor, most notably that the sidecar was located on the left side of the motorcycle rather than on the right side. The Harley-Davidson model on which the vehicle was based remained the same as that of the previous L-210 design and so did the vehicle’s overall dimensions. Despite this, the total weight of the vehicle had been brought down to around 650 kg. This was aided by decreasing the thickness of the armor plate to 4 mm. Of the total weight, 320 kg were the motorcycle and its sidecar while the armored body weighed 260 kg.
The same machine gun armament was kept, with the exception of the box magazine which was replaced by a drum type. In addition to the loaded magazine, three additional drum magazines were stored to the left of the machine gunner in the sidecar. An interesting change was that the arm on which the machine gun was mounted could be removed and instead placed at the front of the sidecar which allowed the machine gun to be used for anti-aircraft purposes. This mount could be moved to and from the anti-aircraft position by the two crew members in a matter of seconds as there was only a single attachment point. Some photos show an alternate three-point mount for the machine gun where two legs extend into the armored body when it is placed in the anti-aircraft position. The machine gun mount could be placed at the rear of the vehicle with the three-point mount but it does not seem to have been possible with the single leg alternative. These photos also show a conventional fender underneath the armored cover for the front wheel and that the metal connector between the front and rear section of the armored body was at some point located on the right side of the vehicle, opposite to the rear view mirror.
A simple backrest for the machine gunner extended from the rear of the armored body. The headlight on the front fender was, unlike the earlier L-210 design, not present, and the rear view mirror was shifted to the top of the armored body. An additional rear view mirror was also placed on the left side of the sidecar. Located next to it and at the rear of the armored body were marker lights. A spare tire was present on a preliminary drawing of the L-210, something which was not carried over to the production model.
The armored motorcycle was one of the many concepts that died with the interwar era. Their increased weight and relatively high cost coupled with limited combat potential meant that their place in armored fighting vehicle history resulted in little more than a footnote. Despite this, their evolution through time is clear and the later Landsverk models can be considered relatively advanced from a design perspective compared to contemporary armored vehicles in general.
Early design for an improved variant of the L-210, the spare wheel was removed on later designs.
The improved L-210 as it was built with its machine gun in the standard position on the sidecar.
The improved L-210 as it was built with its machine gun in the anti-aircraft position.
These illustrations were produced by Andrie Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.