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Introduction to Military Flamethrowers

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  • Introduction to Military Flamethrowers

    This is the video we have been waiting for!


    "Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be a ugly brawl."
    --Frederick II, King of Prussia

  • #2
    Interesting although a little skimpy on WW1 flamethrowers a subject I've studied extensively. For those who are interested here is a very abbreviated history I've put together. If wished I can go into stultifying detail in particular actions and models of flame thrower.

    Liquid Fire On The Western Front In The Great War

    Introduction

    In 1900, long before the Great War began, and trench warfare created a static Western Front, a German engineer - Richard Fiedler - invented what was perhaps the first terror weapon, the Flammenwerfer (English = Flame-thrower or Liquid fire projector). Adopted in 1906 by the Imperial German Army as a potential infantry support weapon, and developed in secret, this device was formalised as a weapon of war by the creation of a Flammenwerfer regiment: by 1912 there were twelve companies in three battalions. This parent unit was the Guard Reserve Pioneer Regiment, and Flammenwerfer teams were seconded from the component companies to support German infantry assault troops as the need arose.

    The original Flammenwerfer apparatus

    The prototype was a rudimentary device consisting of a cylindrical steel tank from which ran a metre long length of flexible rubber tubing attached to which was a metal nozzle incorporating a control valve. A leather harness was attached to the cylinder so it could be carried on the back of one of a two-man team. The other team member manipulated the nozzle and the control valve. The inside of the reservoir tank of the Flammerwerfer was divided into two equally sized compartments that contained, respectively, a pressurised gas (usually nitrogen) and a flammable fluid, such as oil mixed with petrol.

    The operator would point the nozzle at an enemy target and open the control valve on the nozzle. As the gas pressure expelled the flammable liquid, the operator would light the fuel using a wick, or taper, and direct the ensuing flame at the enemy. The flame could be projected for a distance of around 20 metres and for a duration of about two minutes. By skilful use of the operating tap several targets could be attacked in sequence, and the 'life' of the reservoir extended accordingly. Similarly, by means of special cartridges, short bursts of flame could be created and projected to more effectively cover scattered targets.

    The deployment of the Flammenwerfer

    Given the German Army's predilection for terror weapons and terror tactics, it is somewhat surprising that they did not deploy this weapon until 26th February 1915. The chosen target for the first operational trial was a concentration of French troops in the Verdun Sector. Apart from the initial surprise element, the Flammenwerfer attack did not have a great impact, and a conventional French counter-attack the following day effectively neutralised the situation.

    A much more notable incident occurred at Hooge on the night of the 29th/30th July 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres. Although only six Flammenwerfers were used on a limited frontage, the effect on the inexperienced troops of Kitchener's British New Army was dramatic, even though there were only few casualties from burns. The Germans captured whole trenches, and a general sense of demoralisation among the British troops was reported by their commanders.

    Immediately, the Flammenwerfer was envisaged by all the belligerents as a possible weapon of war with particular application to trench warfare, where it was seen to have great potential against troops in both trenches and dug-outs.

    The further development and wider deployment of the Flammenwerfer/Flame-thrower

    The French Army had captured examples of the Flammenwerfer during the attack at Verdun and demonstrations were made to the French and British Staff in March 1915. Despite a generally positive appraisal, there were still strong reservations from some British military quarters about its efficacy and applicability as a weapon of war. But, after the Hooge incident, both the French and British began a serious development programme. In the case of the British it was from first principles, whereas both the French and the Americans had already planned prototypes: respectively the J. Herchent and J. Menchen models.

    British use

    On the British side, the outcome was that a development team of the Trench Warfare Department came up with several prototypes. The first was a one-man knapsack model (The Hay) that was largely based on French patents and had an effective range of about 30 metres (33 yards). It weighed a relatively light 40 kilogrammes (88 pounds) but only had a limited capacity of 30 litres (6.6 Imperial gallons) and an effective operational life of around 20 seconds. It was successfully tested in December 1915.

    However, the British High Command could not agree on a coherent modus operandi for the flame-thrower. The machine was produced in some numbers and used on the Western Front in a very limited way to demonstrate to the British troops that an operational one-man model was available should it be needed operationally. But it never went into wide-scale production and deployment. The only notable use of the knapsack sprayer in action was that by the Royal Navy in the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918.

    The British produced two other models of flame-thrower, a two-man medium model and a heavyweight version with a crew of eight. The semi-portable, two-man model had an effective range of 50 metres (55 yards) and a flame life of 20 seconds. At 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds) and a capacity of 70 litres (15 Imperial gallons) it presented considerable logistic problems. A batch of 24, 55 litre (12 Imperial gallon) versions of this semi-portable model was taken to France by its British designer, Captain Livens, Royal Engineers, for use in the forthcoming Somme Offensive. It went into action on a limited scale in July and September of 1916.

    After nearly a year of development the heavyweight, or battery, version was also ready. It had four 90 litre (20 Imperial gallon) tanks and a combined flame life of 50 seconds. It weighed a tonne and was the size of a small modern car. A flow interrupter device allowed up to 16 'flame balls' to be projected as much as 80 metres (88 yards) over a period of 5 minutes.

    Six of the larger Livens battery flame-throwers with 12 tanks (1,100 litres [240 Imperial gallons] of four minutes duration were also taken to France in 1916 for deployment the Somme Offensive. Two machines were dug into the Somme Front and were deployed just before the British troops went over the top. It was claimed that 40 German soldiers were killed by the liquid fire, whilst many others were demoralised.

    Evidently, both the two-man and battery flame-throwers produced some effect, but it was not thought to be significantly efficacious in military terms. Further development and deployment by the British Army ceased after 1916. The introduction on the Western Front in 1915/16 of the highly successful Stokes Mortar, the Livens Oil Can Mortar and, later, the Livens Projector, seemed, at the time, to offer by far the better option. These devices could rapidly rain down on the heads of the entrenched enemy troops large numbers of projectiles containing toxic gas, incendiary bombs and high explosive; all at far less risk to the operators .

    French Use

    The French used their flame-throwers extensively with a portable model - the Schilt - being particularly effective against pillboxes and dugouts. The Schilt was developed by a French fire brigade chief of that name. In WW1 he was assigned to form and train French flamethrower troops. It carried a useful 15 litres (3.3 Imperial gallons) of fuel with a three burst capacity of 25 metres (27 yards) or a single burst for 100 metres (110 yards). French flamethrower troops were attached to the US Army on the Western Front – working usually in two man teams. They were particularly useful in mopping up operations.

    Italian Use

    The Italians created elite assault units, the Reparti d’Assalto, on 26 June, 1917. A Reparto was made up of three companies of 700 men, including one 27-man flamethrower section armed with 15 portable devices. Flamethrower operators were recruited from the engineers and designated flammieri.Following an army reorganization in May of 1918, the assault detachments were expanded to 900 men each. A Reparto d’Assalto would now include three flamethrower sections, each composed of 15 men armed with six Italian or modified French devices. Flammieri were trained at the flamethrower school at Montecchio Emilia, near Parma. They were initially equipped with French Schilt portable and static flamethrowers, as well as modified Schilt flamethrowers called the Schilt Nr. 3 bis OFC.

    By the end of 1917, most of these had been replaced by the Italian-designed DLF (named after the Direzione Lanciafiamme or Flamethrower Department) and the Apparato tipo italiano a due serbatoi accoppiati (“Italian Twin-tank Apparatus”). They also used the massive two-wheeled Hersent-Thiriont flamethrower

    German Use

    After the 1915 attacks, the German Flammerwerfer teams were active throughout the war on the Western Front. Particularly favoured were the Grof (Grossflammenwerfer) heavy-duty model, with 35 metres (38 yards) of flame projection, and two portable models, the Klief (Kleinflammenwerfer) and the Wex. The Klief was a two man portable model with a range of 20 metres (22 yards). The one-man Wex, had the distinctive Polo Mint shaped fuel tank - frequently seen in Great War action photographs and ciné film. It had a capacity of 12 litres (2.75 Imperial gallons) and the capability to produce 10 bursts of flame at a range of 30 metres (35 yards) or in a single burst, a projection of flame up to 100 metres (110 yards). Uniquely, the Wex had an automatic ignition system

    American (non) use

    It's almost impossible to find information about American flame weapons in World War One because after the war, the head of the Chemical Warfare Service--one Brigadier-General Amos A. Fries--essentially rewrote history in order to reflect his opinion that flamethrowers were utterly useless. In 1928 Fries corresponded with the former commander of the German flamethrower regiment and insisted that the Germans had not attacked Americans with flamethrowers during the war. This despite countless newspaper articles about flamethrower attacks on Americans, including the very famous assault on the Lost Battalion on October 6, 1918, which Fries surely would've known about. Fries said in his book Chemical Warfare, co-authored with Clarence J. West, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1921), that after the war the men of the Chemical Warfare Serice never mentioned flamethrowers unless an outsider asked about them..

    The history of flamethrowers in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) is very confusing. Here is what I've been able to work out: On August 15, 1917, the 30th Engineer (Gas and Flame) Regiment was established, based at American University in Washington, D.C. On September 3, 1917, the AEF Gas Service, a separate entity, was formed under the command of Colonel Amos A. Fries. The Chemical Warfare Service was in turn created on June 28, 1918, as the umbrella organization that combined the activities of all the military and governmental agencies connected to chemical warfare, including the Gas Service, the Gas and Flame Regiment, the Medical Corps, the Ordnance Department, the Signal Corps, the Bureau of Mines, and the Chemical Service Section.

    One company--possibly F Company--of the 30th Engineers was initially assigned French and British flamethrowers, but the unit’s name change to the 1st Gas Regiment in August of 1918 seems to mark the date that incendiary weapons were dropped from the inventory. Postwar histories of the regiment make no mention of flamethrowers or their use by American troops in combat. As a colorful side note, the men of the 1st Gas Regiment were nicknamed the “Hellfire Boys.”

    Although the Americans experimented with several models of portable flamethrower during the war, none were accepted for production, and data and nomenclature are wildly contradictory. The portable or "knapsack" type appeared in either twin-tank or single-tank configurations; beyond this general description, details are extremely vague. One model of flamethrower was known as the Boyd No. 3, which weighed anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds. The only concrete snippet of information is that two were shipped overseas for testing in March of 1918. Most photos show the Boyd No. 3 as a twin-tank model that used hydrogen and a Bunson burner as the ignition system, but other sources identify it as a copy of the British Lawrence, a single-tank model ignited by a spark from a dry-cell battery.

    Conclusions

    Perhaps the key development that evaded the designers of the flame-throwers of the Great War was the absence of a fuel thickening agent (e.g. latex rubber). This would turn the fuel into a gel to facilitate its projection and adhesion and reduce the possibility of a blow back on the operators. The efficacy of such a gel was amply demonstrated in the flame-throwers of the Second World War.

    Overall, the Flammenwerfer/Flame-thrower was never a great success in the Great War. The operators were singularly vulnerable to small arms and shell and mortar fire: the carrier of the flame-thrower reservoir tank(s) being a particularly obvious target. Also, the belligerent armies quickly learned to site the defences of their trenches so as to be out of the effective range of the Flammenwerfer/Flame-thrower. The longest effective range ever achieved was around 120 metres (130 yards). The larger models of flame-thrower were difficult to move about and install, and required huge amounts of fuel and gas to keep them working effectively.

    Nevertheless, it should be recognised that the British Army totally failed to see the enormous potential that was indicated by the French Army's limited success with the flame-thrower against German strong points. If a thickening agent could have been developed, and an appropriate modus operandi devised, the flame-thrower could well have proved to be a particularly effective weapon against the troublesome and costly strong-points that were encountered during the Allied advance in 1918. This efficacy was clearly demonstrated 30 years later in another World War. And particularly so in the American's Pacific Islands Campaign.

    Finally, it is worth noting that the Great War designers got their basic designs right. Although the flame-thrower has been improved over the years, the principle and operating system remain essentially the same.
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by MonsterZero View Post
      This is the video we have been waiting for!

      Not so strangely, I do not want or need any such introduction, having met the afor said gent a number of years back and was not impressed, lcm1
      'By Horse by Tram'.


      I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
      " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by lcm1 View Post
        Not so strangely, I do not want or need any such introduction, having met the afor said gent a number of years back and was not impressed, lcm1
        He may well be expert in restoring and testing the things but some of his history seems a little off. Listening to it a second time he gets the pre WW2 stuff about the organization a bit garbled. I also find it very puzzling that the Kincaid flame thrower he shows looks exactly like photos of the WW1 Boyd 3 which make one cautious about his story about how it was developed. I've been trying to post photos of the Boyd 3 but all I get when I try and post any picture at the moment is an error message
        Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
        Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

        Comment


        • #5
          American WW1 flame throwers were as follows

          Large flamethrower:
          • Flame Projector, Parapet Type


          Small flamethrowers:
          • Knapsack Flame Projector, Mark I
          • Boyd No. 3
          • B-D No. 3


          Mobile flamethrower:
          • Flame Projector, Tractor Type, Mark I


          Flaming bayonet (small flamethrowers mounted on rifles):
          • Flaming Bayonet Liquid type, Mark I
          • Flaming Bayonet Cartridge Type, Mark I
          • Flaming Bayonet pistol, Mark II
          • Flaming Bayonet pistol, Mark III


          The flaming bayonets were essentially a one use device that clipped where the bayonet went. Triggering it produced a single short burst of flame. A multiple holder could take five of these and they were intended for assaulting trenches. Once used they would be thrown away.

          The Tractor may have been the same weapon as mounted in the US Steam Tank prototype
          Last edited by MarkV; 06 May 16, 05:44.
          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

          Comment


          • #6
            How does one go about "introducing" WWI technology, MZ?

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
              How does one go about "introducing" WWI technology, MZ?
              Presumably the same way as you introduce any other technology - can you be a bit less opaque with your question?
              Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
              Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                He may well be expert in restoring and testing the things but some of his history seems a little off. Listening to it a second time he gets the pre WW2 stuff about the organization a bit garbled. I also find it very puzzling that the Kincaid flame thrower he shows looks exactly like photos of the WW1 Boyd 3 which make one cautious about his story about how it was developed. I've been trying to post photos of the Boyd 3 but all I get when I try and post any picture at the moment is an error message
                Hi Mark, I really know very little about them but think that it is a disgusting weapon of war. Our company Bren gun carrier had one mounted and towed a tank of fuel for it. Do not know what type it was and only saw it used in training. It is something I heartily dislike and can contribute no more to the debate. Ken. lcm1
                'By Horse by Tram'.


                I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
                " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by lcm1 View Post
                  Hi Mark, I really know very little about them but think that it is a disgusting weapon of war. Our company Bren gun carrier had one mounted and towed a tank of fuel for it. Do not know what type it was and only saw it used in training. It is something I heartily dislike and can contribute no more to the debate. Ken. lcm1
                  Other than it was the same one as used in the Churchill Crocodile I'm not sure either.

                  There is an account I've read but have no real means of verifying of a German pocket commanded by a fairly young officer. He met the Allied commander of the forces surrounding his pocket under a flag of truce but refused to surrender. He had been ordered he said to defend his position by any means possible and not to do so would be dishonourable. Storming the pocket would create heavy casualties on both sides but it was in a position where it could not safely be allowed to persist. Then the German commander said 'we have the means to defend ourselves against any thing but flamethrowers'. Accordingly a few hours later a Churchill Crocodile lumbered into position, gave a few short bursts and the garrison surrendered - honour had been satisfied.
                  Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                  Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                    Other than it was the same one as used in the Churchill Crocodile I'm not sure either.

                    There is an account I've read but have no real means of verifying of a German pocket commanded by a fairly young officer. He met the Allied commander of the forces surrounding his pocket under a flag of truce but refused to surrender. He had been ordered he said to defend his position by any means possible and not to do so would be dishonourable. Storming the pocket would create heavy casualties on both sides but it was in a position where it could not safely be allowed to persist. Then the German commander said 'we have the means to defend ourselves against any thing but flamethrowers'. Accordingly a few hours later a Churchill Crocodile lumbered into position, gave a few short bursts and the garrison surrendered - honour had been satisfied.
                    Hi Mark, amusing in a grim sort of way but entirely possible in the later days of the war. lcm1
                    'By Horse by Tram'.


                    I was in when they needed 'em,not feeded 'em.
                    " Youuu 'Orrible Lot!"

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MarkV View Post
                      Other than it was the same one as used in the Churchill Crocodile I'm not sure either.

                      There is an account I've read but have no real means of verifying of a German pocket commanded by a fairly young officer. He met the Allied commander of the forces surrounding his pocket under a flag of truce but refused to surrender. He had been ordered he said to defend his position by any means possible and not to do so would be dishonourable. Storming the pocket would create heavy casualties on both sides but it was in a position where it could not safely be allowed to persist. Then the German commander said 'we have the means to defend ourselves against any thing but flamethrowers'. Accordingly a few hours later a Churchill Crocodile lumbered into position, gave a few short bursts and the garrison surrendered - honour had been satisfied.
                      Yep that would surely make me think twice about things if faced with a few of those things. There is nothing pleasant about being burned alive.
                      Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        When I first went into pioneer platoon we still had flame throwers, the fuel we put in them was petrol and the pressure sphere was filled with air not nitrogen like whats said in the vid. Everything about them was old, the 5 shot phosphorous match that ignited for 7 seconds per shot, the squeeze grip that indexed and ignited each match usually was a bit worn and required a hit rather than a squeeze. The m4 thickening agent that was a pain to use as it went too thick very easily and then caused the flamethrower to shoot out globs rather than a stream, from memory there was a health warning on it as well. Most of the time we fueled them with straight petrol that we called 'thin fuel'. Thin fuel had a short range but incredible heat.
                        We only got to use them a couple times per year. They were on the way out and parts were no longer available from the U.S., rupture valves etc.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          This is the Boyd 3 WW1 flame thrower which looks very like the one shown in the video as being designed in WW2 by Kincaid. My suspicion is that the account given is incorrect and what Kincaid did was take an existing WW1 prototype and come up with a means of manufacturing it in quantity
                          Attached Files
                          Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
                          Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

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