Wednesday, May 5, 2010


It is always nice to have a laugh at horrible burning death.

We nice people have used fire in combat for pretty much ever, and the granddaddy of the flamethrower was a little invention called Greek Fire. Dating back as far as the first century of the common era, Greek Fire was sprayed from a large tube or hose pressurized by a simple hand pump. The Byzantine Empire used it as a potent naval weapon. The exact recipe was lost, but it is stated in histories that the Greek Fire could not be extinguished with water, making any ship hit with it a total loss. Very bad in an era when most sailors couldn't swim. The Chinese invented a piston pumped flamethrower in the 9th Century, and used it for many years, especially defending walled cities from the Mongol hordes.

German soldiers in WWI with flammenwerfer

Anyways, the modern flamethrower was first used in combat by the Imperial German Army back in 1915 during WWI. The design dates back to 1901. The basic plan for a flamethrower, as typified by the US Army's M2A1-7 flamethrower from WWII, involves a gun attached to three back-mounted tanks via a flexible hose. One tank holds inert pressurized gas like nitrogen to provide the pressure, and the other two tanks hold the flammable materiel, often gasoline, sometimes with a thickening agent to make it stickier. The gun has two triggers, the front one for the igniter, which can be a simple electrically heated coil of wire, or it may be a pilot flame fed by the tanks. The rear trigger controls the valve to let the pressurized fuel spray down the gun, past the igniter and onto some extremely unlucky person or object.

Flamethrowers have a large number of advantages as a weapon. First off, they would be absolutely terrifying to face. They have also shown an ability to kill or injure troops that are in positions that give them high amounts of protection from bullets and bombs like trenches and bunkers. For example, in the Pacific Theater, US Marines reported that Japanese troops hiding in deep cave complexes were suffocated when the flamethrowers consumed all the available oxygen. Range of most flamethrowers is really pretty good, about 70 feet for an effective range, with maximum reach of about 130 feet. This is good, but well within the "easy shot" range of any rifle.

So as we can see there are significant disadvantages to using a flamethrower. First off, the weight. The full system weighs almost 70 pounds and that is only enough to have a few seconds of flame. Also, being the only guy in sight who is controlling a 100 foot long flame tends to get one noticed. And shot at. The Soviets attempted to camouflage their flamethrowers to lessen to risk of the operators being singled out and killed. Despite what we see in the movies, they weren't quite as likely to blow up if damaged or shot, but if given a choice I would certainly be happy for some other guy to carry it.
And he can stand way over there.
WWII US Army M2A1-7 Flamethrower
Model: M2 Flamethrower

Feed System: nitrogen(Propellant) and gasoline (fuel)

Type: Flamethrower

Weight Unloaded: 48 lbs (68 lbs filled)

Cartridge Capacity: 2 (2 gallon gas tanks) 1 nitrogen tank

Manufacturer: US Army Chemical Warfare Service

Year Produced: 1940-41

Military Use: Flamethrowers would project a stream of flammable liquid, rather than flame, which allows bouncing the stream off walls and ceilings to project the fire into blind and unseen spaces, such as inside bunkers, pill boxes and other protected fortifications during WWII. The flamethrower had great psychological impact on a German emplacement.

The Department of Defense decided to discontinue all use of flamethrowers in the arsenal in 1978. The overall effectiveness of the system was called into question, especially in light of the immense weight of the system and the public relations problems associated with using it. Don't be too sad, though, a new rocket powered incendiary weapon was ready to go-the M202 FLASH.

French soldiers with a flamethrower


  1. On WW1 photo. Soldiers are French, not German.

  2. You are of course correct I did not pay any attention to their helmets and only wrote what the caption said. To repay my readers for this lapse, I will edit and give you all actual Germans with flamethrowers. You have shamed me sir.

  3. No offense, man.
    As a french, I just noticed it at first sight.

  4. dear friend, the last picture seems to show not a french flametrower, but a chemical decontaminator for mustard gas...(
    here can see a french flametrower :
    primo capo

  5. Highly descriptive blog, I loved that a lot. Will there be
    a part 2?
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