Articles

Here's why flamethrowers were so deadly on the battlefield for both sides

Used as the ultimate weapon to clear out enemy trenches, the flamethrower made its first major war debut during the early days of WWI, unleashing terror upon British and French forces.


The flamethrower dates back to the 5th century B.C. when elongated tubes were filled with burning coal or sulfur to create a "blowgun" that could be propelled by a warrior's breath.

Considered one of the most devastating weapons on the battlefield, the modern day flamethrower was often considered just as dangerous for the trooper wielding it as it was for the enemy it faced.

Related: The 7 deadliest weapons of the Crusades

This Marine sprays his deadly flamethrower at an enemy building. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

At first, the German army tested two types of flamethrowers — a Flammenwerfer (a large version) and the Kleinflammenwerfer (designed for portable use). Using pressurized air or nitrogen, the thrower managed to launch the stream of fire as far as 18 meters (the larger version shot twice as far).

The weapon consisted mainly of two triggers, one to shoot the fuel as the other ignited the propellant.

As American forces adopted the weapon, its popularity grew during the island hopping campaigns of WWII since the Japanese commonly use bunkers or "pillboxes" as defensive positions.

Although the flamethrower was a highly effective killing tool, the operator was at a total disadvantage as the supply tank only allowed the weapon to spread its deadly incendiary for about 10 seconds before running out of fuel — leaving the operator somewhat defenseless.

According to retired Marine Willie Woody, the average life expectancy of a flamethrower trooper on the battlefield was five minutes. Since the fuel tanks weren't constructed of bulletproof materials, the tanks just made bigger targets.

If struck by a hot round in the right spot, the result could be a massive explosion.

Also Read: The British and Germans built these deadly hollowed-out trees in WWI

Check out the Lightning War 1941's video below to see the flamethrowers effectiveness during battle.

(Lightning War 1941, YouTube)
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