German battlefield flamethrowers were developed in the early 20th century by engineer and inventor Richard Fiedler, with help from engineer, soldier, and firefighter Bernhard Reddemann. Fiedler’s bulky, emplaced Grossfammenwerfer required a large team of operators, but his Kleinfammenwerfer needed only two men and represented a ghastly but significant new instrument of warfare. The first operator, particularly vulnerable to small-arms fire, wore a two-section tank on his back, one with flammable fuel, the other with a pressurized gas propellant— a volatile combination. Te second man carried a lance connected by a hose to the fuel tank. When he pulled the lance’s trigger, the fuel was ejected from the lance and ignited at the muzzle, sending a jet of fame out as far as 60 feet.
Capable of immolating the occupants of an entire trench section, bunker, or dugout, the Kleinfammenwerfer was first used in combat in the Argonne in October 1914 and thereafter increasingly integrated into assault tactics. In an attack in Skrobova, Russia, in November 1916, the Germans used no fewer than 240 flamethrowers—the largest such action in history. Following the German lead, the British produced the static 2.5-ton Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector, and in 1915 the French engineered the Schilt, a one-man flamethrower ignited by a 10-second fuse at the nozzle.
Chris McNab is a military historian based in the United Kingdom. His latest book is Hitler’s Fortresses: German Fortifications and Defences 1939–45 (Osprey).
This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2014 issue (Vol. 27, No. 1) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Kleinflammenwerfer: A New Battlefield Horror
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