36 Fiery Photographs of Flamethrowers Through the Ages

Over 1000 years ago the Greeks were the first to employ the tactic of hurling flames at their enemies and through the First and Second World Wars, it was a weapon used to great effect by both sides.

Later hand-pumped flame throwers, that hurled Greek Fire, were very adroitly used by the naval forces during the Byzantine era. Greek Fire was a substance that many historians believe exploded into flames when it met water and was most probably a mixture of quicklime and naphtha.

This made it almost impossible to put out, and when used in naval warfare, it was highly effective, especially in campaigns against the Arab nations.

A soldier from the 33rd Infantry Division uses an M2 flamethrower [National Archives].
A soldier from the 33rd Infantry Division uses an M2 flamethrower [National Archives].
The Chinese also successfully employed the use of flamethrowers, and fire in one form, or another has been used in battle ever since.

The word ‘flamethrower’ is an Anglicized form of the German word Flammenwerfer. This stems from the fact that the modern flamethrower was developed in Germany. It was first used against Allied troops in the First World War on the 30th June 1915.

The German and British trenches were around five yards apart and the flamethrower was not successful in setting fire to the troops in their trenches. It was extraordinarily successful in forcing the British troops out of their trenches where they were easy targets for the German soldiers.

The flamethrower was far more successful during World War II, when the model that fitted into a backpack was used. Again, it was the German military that first used this form of flamethrower and it saw action in 1939 against the Poles in Danzig.

This encouraged the Americans to do research and they produced their own backpack version, which was introduced in 1942. These backpack type of flamethrowers left the infantryman wearing it very vulnerable to enemy fire, so the Americans turned to experimenting with flame throwers installed on tanks. These were much more successful and were used in many conflicts.

These photographs show some of the action seen by flamethrowers through time.

 

The two men in the center foreground are watching to intercept any of the enemy who might try to escape
The two men in the center foreground are watching to intercept any of the enemy who might try to escape

 

US Marine Corps M67-A2 Tank in Vietnam, 1966
US Marine Corps M67-A2 Tank in Vietnam, 1966

 

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
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

 

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]
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]
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)].
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)].
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].
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].
A British tank set on fire by a German flamethrower team from a trench, April 1918 [© IWM (Q 43463)].
A British tank set on fire by a German flamethrower team from a trench, April 1918 [© IWM (Q 43463)].
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 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 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 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 German soldier operating a flamethrower in 1944 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1808-15A Scheck CC-BY-SA 3.0].
A German soldier operating a flamethrower in 1944 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-299-1808-15A Scheck CC-BY-SA 3.0].
A Japanese soldier firing a Type 93 flamethrower
A Japanese soldier firing a Type 93 flamethrower

 

A Life Buoy flamethrower in action. This could produce a jet of flame up to 50 feet in length [© IWM (TR 2318)]
A Life Buoy flamethrower in action. This could produce a jet of flame up to 50 feet in length [© IWM (TR 2318)]
A riverboat of the U.S. Brownwater Navy shooting ignited napalm from its mounted flamethrower during the Vietnam War
A riverboat of the U.S. Brownwater Navy shooting ignited napalm from its mounted flamethrower during the Vietnam War

 

 

A soldier with 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, demonstrates the Lifebuoy man-portable flamethrower, Denmead, Hampshire, 29 April 1944 [© IWM (H 37975)].
A soldier with 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, demonstrates the Lifebuoy man-portable flamethrower, Denmead, Hampshire, 29 April 1944 [© IWM (H 37975)].
A U.S. soldier firing a flamethrower during the Vietnam War [National Archives and Records Administration, 532491]
A U.S. soldier firing a flamethrower during the Vietnam War [National Archives and Records Administration, 532491]
A US Marine Corps M67 flame-thrower tank in Vietnam, 1968. An M1919A4 MG is mounted on the commander’s cupola to the right
A US Marine Corps M67 flame-thrower tank in Vietnam, 1968. An M1919A4 MG is mounted on the commander’s cupola to the right

 

A US soldier holds up a German static flamethrower Abwehrflammenwerfer 42
A US soldier holds up a German static flamethrower Abwehrflammenwerfer 42

 

American Soldiers with flamethrowers on Tarawa Island
American Soldiers with flamethrowers on Tarawa Island

 

An M4 Sherman Flamethrower Tank Battalion 713 attacked a cave in southern Okinawa
An M4 Sherman Flamethrower Tank Battalion 713 attacked a cave in southern Okinawa

 

Australian soldier of 28 Infantry Battalion using the flamethrower in the acton against the Japanese. Wewak area, New Guinea, 10 May 1945 [© AWM (091749)].
Australian soldier of 28 Infantry Battalion using the flamethrower in the acton against the Japanese. Wewak area, New Guinea, 10 May 1945 [© AWM (091749)].
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)].
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)].
Flamethrowers at New Orleans Louisiana in the Army War Show. 27 November 1942[National Archives and Records Administration, 168594]
Flamethrowers at New Orleans Louisiana in the Army War Show. 27 November 1942[National Archives and Records Administration, 168594]
German Brennkommando (Burning Detachment) destroying Warsaw during the planned destruction of the city
German Brennkommando (Burning Detachment) destroying Warsaw during the planned destruction of the city

 

German flamethrowers during the First World War on the Western Front, 1917 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R22888 CC-BY-SA 3.0].
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 flamethrowers during World War I. 1917 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 104-0669 CC-BY-SA 3.0].
German Paratrooper with flamethrower during the invasion of Crete
German Paratrooper with flamethrower during the invasion of Crete

 

German soldier lighting his cigarette with a flamethrower
German soldier lighting his cigarette with a flamethrower

 

German stormtroopers practising the attack, supported by flamethrowers, near Sedan, May 1917 [© IWM (Q 88122)].
German stormtroopers practising the attack, supported by flamethrowers, near Sedan, May 1917 [© IWM (Q 88122)].
Japanese troops clearing an American position with a flamethrower, Corregidor, Philippine Islands, May 1942 [United States National Archives].
Japanese troops clearing an American position with a flamethrower, Corregidor, Philippine Islands, May 1942 [United States National Archives].
Lance-Corporal J.E. Cunningham of The Essex Scottish Regiment practices firing a Lifebuoy flamethrower near Xanten, Germany, 10 March 1945 [MIKAN 3524539]
Lance-Corporal J.E. Cunningham of The Essex Scottish Regiment practices firing a Lifebuoy flamethrower near Xanten, Germany, 10 March 1945 [MIKAN 3524539]
Marines engaging Japanese positions on Guam with a flamethrower
Marines engaging Japanese positions on Guam with a flamethrower

 

Panzer III Flammenwerfer, Italy, city unknown in 1943 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-306-0730-30 Dohm CC-BY-SA 3.0].
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].
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
Polish “K Pattern” flamethrower. Those weapons were produced in occupied Poland for the underground Home Army and were used in the Warsaw Uprising

 

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Sd.Kfz. 251 16 “Flammpanzerwagen”, somewhere in Russia, August-September 1944 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-281-1110-03 Petraschk CC-BY-SA 3.0].
Sd.Kfz. 251 16 “Flammpanzerwagen”, somewhere in Russia, August-September 1944 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-281-1110-03 Petraschk CC-BY-SA 3.0].