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"Flamethrowers - One Of The Most Controversial Weapons " Topic

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818 hits since 13 Aug 2018
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2018 1:07 p.m. PST

"One of the most controversial military weapons ever invented is the flamethrower. However, fire on the battlefield goes back to the Greeks in the Peloponnesian Wars, when they would squirt flaming liquid at the enemy through giant bellows. And during the Medieval times, buckets of flame were catapulted into enemy forts and strongholds. Even during the Civil War, fire was used effectively as a method to burn entire cities and enemy forts, infrastructure, and equipment.

Because of the particularly gruesome death that flamethrowers inflict on people, the weapon has been controversial since it was first used in the trenches of World War One. Typically, military flamethrowers project a stream of flammable liquid and allow soldiers to control a stream of fire. The weapon was widely used during the Battle of the Pacific in World War Two mostly to destroy Japanese bunkers and camps on Pacific islands. Many militaries mounted flamethrowers onto tanks and armored vehicles during World War Two…."
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Andy ONeill13 Aug 2018 1:44 p.m. PST

An approach adopted in nwe was surprisingly humane.
A fairly common scenario was an assault on a village or otherwise fixed position held by german infantry.
They rolled the flamethrowing tanks up into view.
Then warned the defenders and asked them to surrender.
They often did.

d88mm1940 Supporting Member of TMP13 Aug 2018 6:12 p.m. PST

Humane killing…
I always thought that the quicker you kill the other side, the better chance your side has of surviving. The above example is an excellent example of its effectiveness.

Lion in the Stars13 Aug 2018 7:08 p.m. PST

The goal of war isn't actually to kill the enemy. It's to make the enemy stop fighting and submit to your will.

You put a greater stress on 'civilized' enemies by wounding them, not to mention that a wounded soldier takes two more soldiers out of the fight (total of 3 soldiers out of the fight) while killing a soldier only takes one soldier out of the fight.

Insurgents, however, don't care about their own casualties, so you basically have to kill all of them. Sadly.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2018 1:39 a.m. PST

The "Wounding strategy" was actually part of the PR talk invented to sell an underpowered varmint round as a military cartridge. They first came up with a magical version of "hydrostatic shock" where they told politicians and military people with a straight face that a .223 hitting you in the pinkie would make your kidneys explode because "shockwaves" And when this didn't happen they changed the tune to "It may not kill, but it wounds !! Which is even better !"

Insergents do care about casualties, soldiers do care about soldiers and have always done so, it's just that the whole idea that two more soldiers being busy with every casualty simply doesn't happen.

What did happen once they tweaked the ammo, is that the .223 is a very light, very fast bullet which tends to do two things when hitting a target, that is to spin in and tumble in a random direction and/or fragment hitting multiple organs.

We have to remember that the whole "wounding" idea flies in the research that shows that small arms fire only contributes a minority of kills, most people are killed and wounded by artillery and it's pretty hard to come up with a 155mm thatwill only wound people so that two more soldiers will oblige to take care of them.

Trying to play the statistics in that way is dumb, simply defeat your enemy by any means possible and none of the "Sarge I killed a guy by mistake, I was trying to wound him now we have to fight two more enemy soldiers !!!"

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2018 7:59 a.m. PST

In a close-up firefight, you need to drop the target dead ASAP. Double tap center mass one to the head, move on. It doesn't matter what size round you are using.

Setting a guy on fire will shift his priorities to self-preservation and not killing you. Many men have been killed by a wounded enemy.


Legion 414 Aug 2018 8:10 a.m. PST

Yes, the more of the enemy you kill[or wound or capture], the sooner they will run out of troops, assets, etc., and the will to fight. The Flamer Thrower really was very good for it's time at clearing out bunkers, fortifications, etc.

Anyway I don't think many want to be burned to death … But if it comes down to my troops or theirs … Burn Baby Burn …

donlowry14 Aug 2018 9:27 a.m. PST

I've read somewhere that flamethrowers more often killed by using up all the local oxygen and thus suffocating the target than by actually burning him to death -- or that by the time he burned, he was already dead or at least unconscious.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2018 11:06 a.m. PST

yes, the flames ate up the oxygen but you can find pictures of the defenders exiting while on fire.

There were actually two different type of flamethrowers used by the US and both were used differently. The early flamethrowers used gasoline, later flamethrowers use a napalm-like mixture.

The early flamethrowers put out a billowing flame about 25m-30m, the napalm mixture was a stream up to 50m. The early ones were used to chase the defenders away from the loopholes to allow the demo charges to be set so it was more of a suppressive effect. The napalm mixture could be aimed at the openings but the stream could bounce and be less effective in suppressing the defenders.

The larger jap bunkers were partitioned so they needed to be completely destroyed by demo charges or bulldozed closed.


I think the operator also had the option of hosing down the target without the igniter on and then igniting it.


Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2018 3:01 p.m. PST

I prefer Patton's take on combat, e.g. getting the other guy to die for his country, and/or cause.

That way, you don't have to fight them again, tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, and keep them from getting a chance to even the score.

So, flamethrowers are fine by me, though horrific in use.

Still, against determined enemies, they seem to get the job done, as does napalm.

RudyNelson14 Aug 2018 3:28 p.m. PST

I fired a flamethrower in one training exercise in 1976. I was surprised at the two ways to use it at that time. One was to ignite the flame and shoot flame at the target area. This was scary and HOT. The second was less scary until later when you thought about the adverse possibilities. You shot a liquid gel stream over the target area then ignite the gel with a small flame. It was not as HOT work and made your position less obvious than the open flame signature.

By the 1970s, flamethrowers were assigned to the combat engineers in our division.

Legion 415 Aug 2018 8:50 a.m. PST

I've read somewhere that flamethrowers more often killed by using up all the local oxygen and thus suffocating the target than by actually burning him to death
Yes, very true if fired at a bunker or confined space/room, etc. But it was also used to clear trenches, flammable structures, etc. So once a flame thrower was fired in direction of the enemy, depending on the terrain, etc., nothing says it may suffocate before being burned to death. I've seen photos/heard stories, etc., of enemy troops running out of burning bunkers on fire still alive. As Wolf noted …

Mark 115 Aug 2018 1:45 p.m. PST

I've read somewhere that flamethrowers more often killed by using up all the local oxygen and thus suffocating the target than by actually burning him to death

Yes, very true if fired at a bunker or confined space/room, etc. But it was also used to clear trenches, flammable structures, etc.

I too have often read how flamethrowers use up oxygen and work by asphyxiation rather than by burning their targets.

I wonder if this is a question of theory vs. practice, or even just putting a less horrific face on the weapon for PR purposes.

I mean, in truth, even in the case of a bunker (enclosed space with limited air flow), it would take several minutes to achieve any practical effect by burning off the oxygen. First, it takes time to burn the oxygen (as long as you see flames, you haven't burned off the oxygen yet). Second, humans can function for another minute or so after the oxygen is gone, and can survive another couple of minutes after they've become non-functional from oxygen deprivation. I don't know of any man-pack flamethrower that could produce 3 or 4 minutes of flame to cover all apertures of a bunker, nor of any operator who would be willing to expose himself on a battlefield for 3 or 4 minutes to maintain the stream of flame.

It might be reasonable with an aerial napalm drop, as the flames are voluminous enough to deplete the oxygen in a wide area, meaning it will take longer for oxygen-rich air to flow back to any one given location in the burn zone. I've read that oxygen deprivation is how napalm can be effective against tanks (asphyxiating the crews), but I wonder if maybe it's main effect is to asphyxiate the engines, and demotivate the crews.

I fired a flamethrower in one training exercise … two ways to use it at that time. One was to ignite the flame and shoot flame at the target area. … The second was … You shot a liquid gel stream over the target area then ignite the gel with a small flame.

I wonder about the ignition issue. Unreliable ignition, particularly in wet environments (like amphibious assaults as performed by the USMC) seems to have been one of the criticisms of the initial US manpack flame thrower. But was a deliberate ignition of the stream really that necessary?

Igniting the fuel as it is projected seems to me to be the least effective way to use the weapon. Much of the burning then takes place on the way to the target, vs. on or around the target. It certainly provides a great big SHOOT THIS GUY QUICK indicator leading straight back to the poor schnook with the great big tanks on his back.

Wouldn't a better effect be had just by covering the target with a thick coating of gooey, highly volatile fuel? It's not like firing weapons doesn't generate lots of heat and flame, and bullet strikes also often generate lots of heat and occasional sparks. Isn't that enough to ignite a few gallons of jellied gasoline spread all over the target?

I know that flame has a significant morale effect, and in many cases the description of use of flame throwers in combat highlight their impact not just in terms of generating casualties but in de-motivating opponents. I can easily understand how seeing a water-fall of flame coming at you might be a major dis-incentive to continue the fight. But then, seeing lots of stuff around me get covered with gooey volatile fuel in the middle of a battle -- well, I would suddenly feel highly motivated to get my butt out of the area where lots of stuff was going flash and bang. Wouldn't you?

(aka: Mk 1)

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2018 4:52 p.m. PST

One of the complaints about the napalm mixture was that it was hard to control so they would hose down the area first. Some Marines preferred the old style because the flame "rolled" over the target giving better coverage but less range.

The air inside the bunker gets superheated to 1000+ degrees in seconds. The oxygen is rapidly replaced by carbon dioxide and other petroleum gaseous by-products. Taking a single breath of air is going to singe your sinus passages and lungs and probably cause uncontrollable coughing and probably pass out and suffocate.

To get us "motivated" before going to the rifle range in Boot Camp our DI brought in his picture album from his tour in VN. The one picture I remember is him standing in front of an NVA bunker with a big grin on his face and about two dozen NVA bodies racked and stacked, hardly any showed signs of being burned.

I've talked to a few Marines that used flamethrowers in WWII and VN and said they thoroughly enjoyed it and had some real macabre stories. My brother met Woody Williams who had no problem recounting the battle he was in.


Lion in the Stars15 Aug 2018 7:18 p.m. PST

The "Wounding strategy" was actually part of the PR talk invented to sell an underpowered varmint round as a military cartridge.

Except the US got the wounding strategy from the VC's training materials.

Legion 416 Aug 2018 7:52 a.m. PST

Wolf +1 thumbs up

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP17 Aug 2018 2:53 a.m. PST

Jim Sullivan who was involved with the design of the M16 makes the claim that they picked the .223 because it was a fast, flat shooting bullet with low recoil that would be most effective when fired full auto and still be able to remain on target.

The problem was that the US army was still wedded to the idea that the infantryman always fired single shots and full auto was for emergency only.

As a result a single bullet didn't always stop the other guy and Colt's PR department went into overdrive and probably picked up the wounding concept to help sell the M16.

I bet the wounding is part of a greater strategy to make life as miserable as possible for regular troops and to deny fighting them on their terms every possible step of the way, but this doesn't mean that the suggestion that "wounding is preferable to killing" is holy gospel that should be obeyed at the expense of everything else. I'm not going to aim for the kneecaps if a platoon of enemies are in a perfect enfilade position, I'll blast them to pieces, manual be damned, their buddies will still feel really bad about it, kneecapped or dead …

Barin117 Aug 2018 3:09 a.m. PST

If I continued my military training in the University after army service I could have an opportunity to use a flamethrower – as it was assigned to chem defence troops.
Nowadays flamethrowers are more sophisticated and easier to use than the stuff of WWii or those I've seen 30 years ago.
There's a compilation of FF Russia has for its army:
YouTube link

and of course this one, nicknamed "Buratino", i.e Pinocchio
YouTube link

Lion in the Stars17 Aug 2018 5:25 p.m. PST

Gotta admit, the Russians really do like their flamethrowers and thermobarics.

Plus I'm pretty sure that every soldier has a inner pyromaniac (including me!)

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