Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Flamethrowers

Title: U.S. infantry flamethrowers on Kwajalein Island
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Modern flamethrowers were first used by the German army in World War I. A flamethrower is a pressure-operated device that shoots a stream of inflammable liquid. The liquid is ignited as it leaves a nozzle, which can be placed at the end of a handheld tube or mounted on a tube projecting from an armored fighting vehicle. A flamethrower consists of four elements: the fuel container, a mechanism to force the fuel from the container, a projecting tube and nozzle, and an igniting system that will set the stream of fuel on fire. Ignition systems are based on powder cartridge, electric coil, and electric spark designs.

Flamethrowers can be used in both antimatériel and antipersonnel roles. Typically, they are used in complex terrain with short standoff distances, such as in trench, city, and jungle fighting. They are used against hard targets such as bunkers, pillboxes, and mobile and dug-in tanks. German forces also used flamethrowers as defensive mines. Although these weapons possess combat advantages, the advantages are balanced by disadvantages including short burn times, the fact that the user immediately becomes a priority target, and the vulnerability of their fuel cylinders, which can explode if struck by a bullet or shrapnel.

U.S. military forces used the 70 lb M-1 model fielded in 1942 and also used the M1-A1 model. The M-1 could generate a 10 sec stream of fire, carried 4 gal of fuel, and was man-portable. It had a range of 82 ft. The improved M1-A1 model had a range of 131 ft.

In addition to using flamethrowers in infantry assault forces and ad hoc mechanized forces, the U.S. Army created the 713th Flame Throwing Tank Battalion in November 1944. It consisted of 54 M-4 Sherman tanks. Each Sherman was retrofitted with a Ronson flamethrower gun and had a 300 gal fuel capacity and a flamethrowing range of 75–100 yards. The unit saw action during the invasion of Okinawa and was used to kill more than 4,500 Japanese soldiers.

British man-portable flamethrowers were based on the 1940 No. 1 Mk-II "Marsden" and 1942 No. 2. Mk-II "Lifebuoy" models. The Marsden was an 85 lb unit with a 98 ft range. The Lifebuoy (also called the "ack-pak" unit) was a 64 lb doughnut-shaped device with a 131 ft range. The British also fielded a flamethrower tank built on the tank chassis of a Churchill tank. Known as the Crocodile, it carried 10 minutes' worth of fuel and could tow a trailer holding fuel for an additional 30 minutes. The tactical disadvantage of the trailer was that, if hit by enemy fire, it could explode like a massive bomb, killing the tank crew. Crocodile tanks were organized in three battalions of the 79th Armored Division and operated in platoons attached to other military units.

French flamethrowers were incidental to the war, given France's early defeat. They were based on the World War I man-portable Schilt model. Early Soviet models were variants of German designs, but the Soviets introduced improved flamethrowers in 1943 with the 50 lb ROKS-2 and 75 lb ROKS-3 man-portable models. They had effective ranges of 115 ft and 230 ft, respectively. A triple-tank man-portable model known as the LPO-50 also existed. The Russians used numerous armored fighting vehicle-mounted flamethrowers during the war. Typically, they were retrofitted to the turrets and chassis of older tanks.

German forces used a wide variety of flamethrowers. Man-portable systems were the Model 35, Model 40, Model 41, and Model 42. They ranged in weight from 35 to 79 lb and projected a stream of fire about 25–35 yards. A lighter and highly accurate para-flamethrower used by Schutzstaffel (SS, bodyguard) troops and a "field gun" trailer flamethrower with a weight of 900 lb also emerged.

The Germans placed flamethrowers on the Sd Kfz 251 3 ton half-track, the Panzerj?ger 38 chassis, and the Pz. Kpfw. II and III tank series. Typical fuel capacity was 150 to 200 gal with flame-throwing ranges out to 65 yards. The static flamethrower (Abwehrflamenwerfer 42) was used as a defensive mine and was fired by electrical squibs. It shot a flame 5 yards wide by 3 yards high out to 30 yards.

Italian flamethrowers were the Lanciaflamme models 35 and 40, introduced in 1935 and 1940, respectively. Guastori (Italian combat engineers) employed them in fighting in Ethiopia, North Africa, and the Soviet Union. The Italian flamethrowers lacked the range of German flamethrowers, but these manpacks were simple in design and effective. A larger version built for the small Italian L3 tank pulled a fuel wagon.

Japanese flamethrowers were based on the Type 93 and Type 100 man-portable models. The Type 93 had a weight of 55 lb and a range of 25–30 yards. It could shoot a stream of fire lasting 10–12 sec and relied on a revolving 10-cylinder blank cartridge ignition system. The Type 100 was a shorter and lighter variant of the Type 93, with a removable, rather than a fixed, nozzle outlet tip. Flamethrowers were not normally mounted in Japanese armored fighting vehicles.

Robert J. Bunker


Further Reading
Barnes, Gladeon M. Weapons of World War II. New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1947.; Mountcastle, John Wyndham. Flame On! U.S. Incendiary Weapons, 1918–1945. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing, 1999.; U.S. War Department. Handbook on Japanese Military Forces. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1995 (reprint of 1944 handbook).; U.S. War Department. Handbook on German Military Forces. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1995 (reprint of 1945 handbook).
 

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