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Individual motorcycle history

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I, as probably most other owners, was very keen to find the war time history of my bike. 
This has proven to be quite impossible. The reason of this can be explained by the way the bike registration in general and administration in the field was executed. Through my searches I came to the following.

To start with, the Army (I do not know whether this goes for the Royal Navy and/or Royal Air Force) was not interested in individual vehicles. They were interested in the amount of operational vehicles.

Motorcycles left the factory in batches, most likely in sequence of manufacture, and were sent to military transport distribution centres like Chilwell for the Army, Hartlebury or Stafford for the RAF etc. The Military reserved batches of Census numbers per individual contract and the bikes were given the numbers either at the factory or at the distribution centre. 
From the distribution centres, motorcycles were sent to whatever unit needed them. As there was no single unit taking 1000 or so bikes, it can only be assumed that the batches were broken down in smaller sets before being sent away.

Basically three documents were used for each vehicle in active service, A.B. 412, A.B. 405 and A.B. 406.

Army Book A.B. 412(M)
"Active Service Vehicle Log Book (A.B. 412 for cars and motorcycles (before 6/43) or, A.B. 412 for non motorcycles and A.B. 412M for motorcycles (after 6/43)) in which the use of the vehicle was administered as well as the driver's executable maintenance tasks.
When a driver was given a task, he was to check the vehicle and fill out and sign off the appropriate page of the vehicle Log Book for acceptance of responsibility. (Ref. War office instruction "Standing Orders for Drivers of Mechanical Vehicles (Wheeled) and Motor Cyclists"). After returning from duty, the driver of the vehicle had the responsibility to fill out the Log Book again, reporting any irregularities (damage, accidents) and the execution of maintenance including changes of tires where the speedometer mileage and serial numbers of old and new tires were to be administered.
The A.B. 412 also contains a page for "Record of Transfer of Vehicle Between Units".
The A.B. 412 was to be kept with the vehicle at all times (stated in the A.B. 412). From a conversation with a veteran motorcyclist I learned that (at least with his unit) the Log Books were kept by the Motor Transport section of the unit and not carried around.

 CLICK TO ENLARGE example of AB412  A.B. 412


Army Book A.B. 405
A.B.405 being the "Unit register of unit vehicles to war establishment". This book would be the only real way of proving that a vehicle served with a certain unit, as this contains details like chassis numbers. There are no A.B. 405's known to be left at this moment.

Form A.B. 406
"Vehicle Inspection Report Book (A.B. 406), which gives "a complete analysis of the condition of a vehicle" (Ref. War Office Pamphlet "Inspection maintenance and care of 'B' vehicles 1945").
The A.B. 406 should be kept in the possession  of the sub-unit commander or of the transport officer in the case of HQ vehicles. 


CLICK TO ENLARGE example of Army Form AB406 A.B. 406



The A.B. 412(M) and the A.B. 405 are therefore the only historically correct source for finding individual vehicle histories. 

The following circumstances have resulted in the great difficulty/impossibility of finding individual vehicle history.

During the wartime use of the bikes, many were damaged, destroyed, stolen or just lost.  A great number of them changed identity through becoming a "rebuilt".
In case of a rebuilt, the identity was completely changed and it can safely be assumed that a rebuilt motorcycle would have been issued with a new A.B. 412(M). With the disappearance of the original bike, there was no need to keep the "old" Log Books.
In 1947 all vehicles were given new registration numbers. The link between the wartime census numbers and the postwar registration numbers can be found in the so called "Key Cards". With the wartime identity not longer used, the remaining Log Books were also thrown away.

The war time Log Books were therefore mostly destroyed after the war as there was no use for them (especially when the bike was taken off strength) and there was no historical interest in those everyday papers of vehicles not used anymore. 

In Europe most Norton's were taken off strength just after the war, but sometimes used into the 50'ties. Bikes being struck off charge came onto the civilian market through sales people absolutely not interested in history or Log Books. The motorcycles finally became completely anonymous!

So based on above, don't let yourself be misled by anyone who states that he knows the wartime history of a bike. It just cannot be true because of aforementioned. 

I have experienced that some of the most convincing people were badly informed. Any story without traceable evidence is fantasy.

It is nearly impossible to find any individual vehicle history. A wartime photograph with a census number on it is the only link to a unit and or theatre but it is still a spot in time. Many official wartime pictures are however "mutilated" by the British censor, retouching the registration number, military shoulder patches and or unit signs to prevent nosy spies (or fifth columnists) from learning the whereabouts of Army units.
It is therefore important to have the unofficial snapshots surfacing on which the everyday soldier is shown with his motorcycle. So please, send any pictures with or without legible numbers.

One article in the "Military Machines International" magazine of May 2008 on a nicely restored 16H suggests that there is a date stamped somewhere on the frame. This is not correct for Norton M/C's. There is however a date stamp on the inside of early crankcases. This stamp was probably applied  after machining of the matching parts to their final shape. Using such a number as manufacturing date for the entire bike is by definition not correct. The date given on the crankcase of this particular machine was 28th of May 1940 where the Norton Assembly Books give a manufacturing date of the bike as being nearly the end of 1940!  The magazine tells further that the bike travelled to Greece in November 1940. A date when it had not even left the factory!! More incorrect information was e.g. about the use of speedometers with a trip counter. Norton assy books specifically specify NT (Non Trip), 80 MPH, speedometers on all the military bikes (if they even have a speedo that is).
Trip counters were definitly not used on Norton military motorcycles. The Magazine has with the publication of this poorly researched article sadly made the world more confused. A missed chance.

 

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