Flamethrowers were first used by the Greeks in the 1st Century AD. More than 1000 years later, this weapon was used by Byzantine Empire against Arabs. In modern times, they were used during World War I, and more widely in World War II.
The English word ‘flamethrower’ is a loan-translation of the German word
Flammenwerfer, since the modern flamethrower was invented in Germany.
On July 30th, 1915, it was first used in a concerted action, against British trenches at Hooge, where the lines were just 4.9 yards apart—even there, the casualties were caused mainly by soldiers being flushed into the open and being shot by more conventional means rather than from the fire itself.
The flamethrower was extensively used during World War II. In 1939, the Wehrmacht first deployed man-portable flamethrowers against the Polish Post Office in Danzig.
Subsequently, in 1942, the U.S. Army introduced its own man-portable flamethrower. The vulnerability of infantry carrying backpack flamethrowers and the weapon’s short range led to experiments with tank-mounted flamethrowers (flame tanks), which were used by many countries.
Photos of flamethrowers
German flamethrowers during the First World War on the Western Front, 1917 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R22888 / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. German flamethrowers during World War I. 1917 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 104-0669 / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. German stormtroopers practising the attack, supported by flamethrowers, near Sedan, May 1917 [© IWM (Q 88122)]. A British tank set on fire by a German flamethrower team from a trench, April 1918 [© IWM (Q 43463)]. A soldier with 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, demonstrates the Lifebuoy man-portable flamethrower, Denmead, Hampshire, 29 April 1944 [© IWM (H 37975)]. Flamethrowers at New Orleans Louisiana in the Army War Show. 27 November 1942[National Archives and Records Administration, 168594] A Churchill tank fitted with a Crocodile flamethrower in action. This flamethrower could produce a jet of flame exceeding 150 yards in length [© IWM (TR 2313)]. A soldier from the 33rd Infantry Division uses an M2 flamethrower [National Archives]. Marines engaging Japanese positions on Guam with a flamethrower [ Via]. A flamethrower operator of Co. E, 2nd Bn, 9th Marines, runs under fire on Iwo Jima, February 1945 [ Official U.S. Marine Corps Photograph 111006]. A Japanese soldier firing a Type 93 flamethrower [ Via]. A US soldier holds up a German static flamethrower Abwehrflammenwerfer 42 [ Via] Lance-Corporal J.E. Cunningham of The Essex Scottish Regiment practices firing a Lifebuoy flamethrower near Xanten, Germany, 10 March 1945 [MIKAN: 3524539] A Marine flame-throwing tank, also known as a “Ronson”, scorches a Japanese strongpoint. The eight M4A3 Shermans equipped with the Navy Mark 1 flame-thrower proved to be the most valuable weapons systems on Iwo Jima [ Via]. A German soldier operating a flamethrower in 1944 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1808-15A / Scheck / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. Churchill Crocodile flamethrowers in action against the village of St Joost, north of Schilberg, during an attack by 1st Rifle Brigade, 20 January 1945 [© IWM (B 13944)]. Seargant K. Wilde, Pioneer Platoon, 2/23 Infantry Battalion, using a flamethrower on the entrance to a Japanese bunker during cleaning up uperations on Margy Feature. Tarakan Island, 1 June 1945 [© AWM (108558)]. Australian soldier of 2/8 Infantry Battalion using the flamethrower in the acton against the Japanese. Wewak area, New Guinea, 10 May 1945 [© AWM (091749)]. Panzer III Flammenwerfer, Italy, city unknown in 1943 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-306-0730-30 / Dohm / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. Panzer III of Division “Grossdeutschland” launches its flamethrower. Soviet Union, 1943/44 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-732-0114-16 / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. Polish “K Pattern” flamethrower. Those weapons were produced in occupied Poland for the underground Home Army and were used in the Warsaw Uprising [ Via]. German Brennkommando (Burning Detachment) destroying Warsaw during the planned destruction of the city [ Via] A German soldier with flamethrower during Warsaw Uprising. Germans were “cleaning” in that way all buildings, street by street, in order to prevent insurgents for using this places again. 11 September 1944[Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1996-057-10A / Schremmer / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. Japanese troops clearing an American position with a flamethrower, Corregidor, Philippine Islands, May 1942 [United States National Archives]. The two men in the center foreground are watching to intercept any of the enemy who might try to escape [ Via]. An M4 Sherman Flamethrower Tank Battalion 713 attacked a cave in southern Okinawa [Public Domain] German Paratrooper with flamethrower during the invasion of Crete [Public Domain]. Sd.Kfz. 251/16 “Flammpanzerwagen”, somewhere in Russia, August-September 1944 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-281-1110-03 / Petraschk / CC-BY-SA 3.0]. American Soldiers with flamethrowers on Tarawa Island [ Via] German soldier lighting his cigarette with a flamethrower [Public Domain] US Marine Corps M67-A2 Tank in Vietnam, 1966 [ Via] A Life Buoy flamethrower in action. This could produce a jet of flame up to 50 feet in length [© IWM (TR 2318)] 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), pioneers using a flamethrower to clear undergrowth from the perimeter wire in the area known as The Horseshoe. Note the fire extinguisher and fire-proof blanket carried by the soldier at left. (Donor B. Betts) [© AWM (P02222.017)/ CC-BY-SA 3.0] A US Marine Corps M67 flame-thrower tank in Vietnam, 1968. An M1919A4 MG is mounted on the commander’s cupola to the right [ Via]. A riverboat of the U.S. Brownwater Navy shooting ignited napalm from its mounted flamethrower during the Vietnam War [ Via]. A U.S. soldier firing a flamethrower during the Vietnam War [National Archives and Records Administration, 532491]
Damian is a history geek that’s working for War History Online for almost a decade. He can talk about the history and its chain of events for hours and is 100% legit fun at parties. Aside of history, geography and etymology of all things are no less exciting for him! An avid video game player, meme distributor, and your comment section moderator all in one. Mythologies of all cultures are fascinating to him, Greek, Nordic, Slavic – you name it, and he’s in!
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