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.
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.