What kind of fuel do flamethrowers use


[BLOCK] Weapon system in which flammable liquids (flame oil, mostly a mixture of tar oils, gasoline and / or diesel, later because of the greater range and better "adhesion" napalm) by pressure (e.g. using nitrogen) against targets can be thrown.

The US M9 / 7 flamethrower during testing.

Flamethrowers exist i. d. Usually from at least 2 containers (one for the flammable liquid, the other for the propellant), valves and a hose with a trigger at the end, which is held by the flame guard. The ignition takes place with the help of electricity, small detonators or a glow head. Flamethrowers were mainly designed to attack well-fortified defenses such as bunkers in attack. The F. was also successful in trench warfare or against armored vehicles. During the First World War, a number of British tanks with this weapon were put out of action. The use is limited to the immediate close combat, because portable F. seldom have a greater range than approx. 40 meters.

Name plate of an American flamethrower from WWII

A basic distinction is made between portable, stationary and those that are installed in vehicles or tanks (e.g. Churchill Crocodile, range approx. 80-90 meters). During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army used flamethrower systems from river boats to destroy the embankment as a possible cover. In the course of the Second World War there were several attempts on the German side to establish flamethrowers as aircraft armament (e.g. in the Focke Wulf 190) against earth targets (type "GERO"). Stationary (remote-controlled) flamethrower systems were, among other things, part of the German defense concept on the Atlantic Wall. Buried FOG-1 flamethrowers, which the Red Army used against the advancing German troops, were particularly efficient. Almost 15,000 units were built. These were triggered by tripwires and were often able to effectively block larger areas. The concept was so convincing that the German side simply copied this idea exactly (Abwehr-Flamethrower 42) and later also made use of it. By 1944, more than 50,000 copies of the counterpart to the FOG-1 had been made.

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The first use of flamethrowers took place in 1915 by German troops in Flanders. The chief developer of the first functional variants was the head of the Poznan Landwehr company Reddemann. As early as 1912, he and a few technicians had built two devices without waiting for military instructions or even orders.

Flamethrower attack in World War I (movie scene)

The F. of the First World War were often operated by two men at the beginning, only the models that were developed towards the end of the war were purely one-man devices (e.g. the so-called "Kleif" for "small flamethrower"). Only the German and French strike forces used F. massively, the British limited themselves after a few unsuccessful attempts almost exclusively to the use of stationary devices for defense. But the Italians and Austrians also occasionally used the new type of weapon in the bitter trench warfare.

During World War II, all warring parties used flamethrowers extensively. This weapon was used particularly intensively in the Pacific War, when the U.S. forces often faced well-entrenched Japanese defenders who were unwilling to give up.

The most built flamethrower of the Second World War was the German "Flamethrower 41" with approx. 80,000 copies, which was manufactured in various variants until the end of the war. Despite the more and more defensive operational requirements towards the end of the war, flamethrowers were used by the Germans in the troops until the end of May '45. As in World War I, they increasingly assumed the role of anti-tank weapons. In the final battle in Berlin, the so-called "People's Flamethrower" (actually Flamethrower 46), a very simple, tubular disposable device that could deliver a burst of flame of about 30m in length, proved its worth.

Flamethrowers were also widely and extensively used in the Korean War and later in Vietnam. In the Vietnam conflict in particular, however, the devices were often used to destroy large areas of the local vegetation in order to take cover from the so-called "Viet Cong".

The basic success of this type of weapon is not without controversy: Despite the undeniable high psychological effect and the immediate, very destructive effect on unprotected targets, it quickly became apparent in use that all types of flamethrowers immediately attracted all defensive fire. Captured fire shooters had to expect no mercy from the enemy and were usually executed immediately. Thus, the surprise and the deployment with supporting troops (riflemen) were essential factors that contributed to the possible success of a flame deployment. There have been reports (especially from the last months of the war in Europe) according to which the defenders surrendered when flamethrowers or flame tanks appeared or fled. It is therefore likely that the extreme psychological deterrent effect of this weapon has often led to it not being used in the first place.

Not to be neglected is the fact that flamethrower systems were exposed to many technical defects - for a long time it was not possible to speak of a really safe function. The devices from World War I in particular were still extremely prone to failure and unreliable. According to legend, US GIs are said to have started their flamethrowers in Vietnam with a Zippo if necessary, because the ignition mechanism did not always work properly. The complex flame tanks were often only partially operational due to the large number of pressure hoses and valves, and for understandable reasons such vehicles were usually not very popular with the crews.

Towards the end of the Second World War, many armies initially came to the conclusion that only flamethrowers in the form of "flame tanks" could operate effectively on the battlefield. In addition to the relatively short range of the flame jet and the limited amount of fuel, portable devices had the disadvantage that they were bulky and heavy at the same time; the porter was often recognized from a distance as a dangerous target and consequently fought vigorously. The losses among the fire fighters were accordingly disproportionately high. In addition, it was not uncommon for a high degree of susceptibility to failure under extreme climatic conditions. Another disadvantage is the danger that the weapon poses for the wearer himself: Direct hits could ignite the flame oil or napalm - contrary to claims to the contrary, which are repeatedly rumored in post-war literature.

Flamethrower in Vietnam (movie scene)

Despite a very divided opinion on the combat value of flamethrowers, many states developed new, more effective flamethrower models with a longer range in the post-war period, including the USA (M-9), Russia (LPO-50), Switzerland (Sifrag) and France. Germany concentrated its developments on small and handy single-impact flamethrowers, which, after a 4.5 kg test model from the Mauser (1958, with napalm), ended up in the hand-held flame cartridge (DM 34), which was available in the Bundeswehr until 2001.

Most armed forces have completely retired or mothballed their stocks of flamethrowers (e.g. the U.S. Army from 1992) and / or replaced them with more effective systems. These include smaller, lightweight single-impact flamethrowers, such as those owned or owned by the Bundeswehr in the form of the "hand-held flame cartridge" filled with red phosphorus (see above) or bazooka-like rocket projectiles that can set entire areas on fire in seconds (the Russian "Shmel" works according to one such principle). The main advantage of these new types of weapons is that they have a much greater range and that they are much easier to handle and easier to set up and use.

Brazil and the French Foreign Legion apparently still use classic portable flamethrowers of a modified American design (M2) today. The U.S. Army uses simple flamethrower systems to burn down cover (embankments) in Iraq, but these devices are expressly not declared and designed as ordnance.

According to the current German Weapons Act, private individuals are prohibited from building and owning flamethrowers. Flamethrowers are defined as follows:

Section 1 WaffG (excerpt): Weapons are portable objects which, by their nature, are intended to eliminate or reduce the ability of people to attack or defend themselves, in particular cutting and thrusting weapons.

Attachment 1:

Portable objects according to ยง 1 Paragraph 2 No. 2 Letter a are in particular objects,

... in which gaseous, liquid or solid substances leave the object in a targeted and burning manner with a flame longer than 20 cm.

... in which easily inflammable substances are distributed and ignited in such a way that a fire can suddenly start.


The photo above shows the original pistol grip with the trigger system for triggering the flame jet from the American M2 flamethrower from WWII production, including a scaled-down model of this flamethrower. The two large fuel oil tanks and in the middle the small tank with the propellant can be clearly seen here.