Flamethrower in action

Flamethrower in action

German troops being trained to use a flamethrower, 1917. The German flamethrower – or flammenwerfer – was capable of firing a jet of flame out to a distance of 20 yards (18 meters) and was designed to be carried and operated by a single soldier. Originally invented by a German engineer, Richard Fiedler, in 1900 the flamethrower was accepted into service by the German Army in 1911 and was used by specialist assault engineer units. The flamethrower made its combat debut on 26 February 1915 when the German 3rd Guard Pioneer Regiment used them in a successful small-scale attack against French trenches near Verdun on the Western Front.

The flamethrower was not a super weapon - its short range and the small amount of fuel a single man could carry on his back meant it had to be used sparingly. However it possessed a psychological power to terrify enemy soldiers far in excess of these practical facts. Fear of fire, of burning to death, was an ancient one, and one not easily controlled by the Allied soldiers who had to face this new nightmarish German weapon.

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