Evidence of just how brutal World War II could be is still coming to light 70 years after it ended. Video footage of the Australian 7th Division in Balikpapan, Indonesia, flushing out Japanese bunkers with flamethrowers has recently been released.
The video shows both Australian soldiers and tanks using flamethrowers on the bunkers. At one point, a man is seen trying to escape the bunker as he burns alive. The video ends with a demonstration of what damage the flamethrower, shooting a stream of fire 30-40m long, can cause as it fills the air with smoke.
The video is news footage covering the Australian troops landing on Balikpapan on the southeastern coast of Borneo on July 1, 1945. Borneo had previously been captured by Japan in 1942.
The fighting in Indonesia is considered one of the final major battles in the Pacific Theater. After being subjected to heavy bombing, the Japanese were outnumbered. The battle occurred just weeks before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended the war. The flamethrower was a popular weapon by both the Allies and Germans between 1939 and 1945.
The Allies used M1A1 and M2 flamethrowers in WWII until the flamethrower tanks arrived. Using the tanks reduced the risk of soldiers carrying heavy packs (up to 30kg) of combustible fuel. The flamethrower was also popular in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
In 1978, the US Department of Defense voluntarily removed flamethrowers from their arsenal. The decision reflected the declining effectiveness of the flamethrower in modern warfare and the general public’s distaste for the gruesome images of the weapon’s results.