Born out of World War I, the flamethrower could only shoot flames for a matter of seconds, but it was essential for rooting out the enemy from entrenched positions. The flamethrower was a simple innovation – one canister for fuel, one for propellant. Launch fire. Charlie Mike.
The video below outlines exactly how the weapon worked and why it became a fundamental weapon for a World War II unit to have in the arsenal.
This video also introduces Hershel “Woody” Williams, a WWII-era Marine and flamethrower operator who fought on Iwo Jima. (He’s shown wearing the Medal of Honor he received for his actions there.)
What the video doesn’t tell you is that Williams is the last living Medal of Honor recipient from Iwo Jima. He singlehandedly took out seven Japanese pillboxes with his flamethrower that day.
“I remember crawling on my belly,” Williams told Weaponology. “I remember ’em coming, charging around that pillbox toward me. There were five or six of them. And I just opened up the flame and caught them. It was like they went from real fast running to real slow motion. But by cutting out those seven pillboxes, it opened up a hole and we got through.”
The humble Marine forgot to mention the seven fortifications he took out were part of a network of hardened, entrenched positions, minefields, and volcanic rock protected by withering machine gun crossfire that held the entire American invasion back.
For four hours, Woody Williams singlehandedly crawled to the pillboxes with only four Marine riflemen for cover. Since his flamethrower only fired for a matter of seconds, he had to repeatedly return to his lines for a new tank of fuel.
“The Japanese were really scared to death of flamethrowers,” Williams recalled.
With good reason.