from ‘the War Budget’ January 27th, l9I6
'Liquid Fire as a German Arm'
'Terrors of the ‘Flame Projector’'
by Ignatius Phayre


the Use of Flamethrowers in Warfare

left : from the cover of a German magazine - a French flamethrower
right : German flamethrower as shown in a Dutch magazine


It would be folly to deny military genius to the Germans. No nation since the world began was so formidably equipped for offence nor so entirely given to Odinism and aggressive intent. Luckily the cure of it inheres in its own violence. Never again will Prussia prance over all the German States, with her mad Hohenzollem tocsin of "Weltmacht oder Neidergang" — Dominion or Downfall! Reviewing the whole colossal clash we see surprise after surprise sprung upon the unready Allies. Automatic rifles and monstrous guns; aerial mines, suffocating clouds, and whole corps of professional incendiaries, armed with bags of nitro-cellulose "confetti" for blazing the trail of "Frightfulness" through terrified civilian populations. On land, at sea, and in the air, the German was full of wicked wiles. In the East African bush he stretched ropes- across the sand and brushwood tracks. Trodden on by our troops these ropes brought down flags hoisted in the trees. These flags marked the range to a yard; the whole field of fire being commanded by machine-guns in other trees farther back. No wonder the East African campaign called for a General of Smith-Dorrien's calibre.

The Flammenwerfer

It is a fact that the Germans enlisted hives of wild bees against us in these jungle wastes. As with the range-finding flags, wires or cords lifted lids from the hives, whereupon infuriated swarms assailed our advancing men. Partly smoked into stupor at first, but now thoroughly roused, the winged Huns made fierce practice, quite spoiling that of our men and bringing their gallant attack to nought. Of the Loyal North Lancashires many were horribly stung by this unexpected foe. Some were blinded for a time, or rendered incapable of holding weapons. From one of our lads a R.A.M.C. captain extracted over a hundred stings. Such tricks and guiles as these are not to be despised. I could fill a column with them, ranging as they do from wireless mendacity to the now famous "Flammenwerfer." This is a truly devilish engine for spraying liquid fire in vast sheets and jets, accompanied by palls of smoke that screen the supporting infantry. I often wonder where Germany tried the awful tools she was preparing for. Certainly not at the great "Kaisermanoevers" — those pompous reviews of all arms led by the Emperor himself and watched by all the foreign attaches. No fire-squirts were seen there, but decorous academic drill, with a cavalry charge to wind up the day — an affair magnificent indeed, but not war at all.

Flames at Hooge

Where did the Prussian General Staff experiment with Satan's own gear like the flame-projector, before whose coal-tar sheets of fire our men recoiled at Hooge? We lost 500 yards of trenches that day — a position we had held in the face of all other attacks by mortar and battery and bomb. But the aerial-blaze was too much for flesh and blood to bear; this inextinguishable Greek fire from the sky, with its withering heat and hideous slithering roar. Another surprise — each cloud of fire covering an area of 110 feet, beneath which no living thing could survive. The Flammenwerfer, a thing like a portable fire-extinguisher and made by the Fiedler Company of Berlin, was one of the Krupp secrets for blasting a road to. Calais through the best armies of the Allied Powers. So long ago as October 16th, 1914, Note 32 of the 2nd German Army fell into our hands, and gave all instructions about "Arms at the Disposal of Pioneers for Fighting at Close Quarters.

Trained Incendiaries.

The flre-squirts, troops were told, were to be in charge of specially-trained men; and the nozzle threw a liquid that flamed spontaneously as it met the air. The jet had a range of 100 ft. "The effect is immediate and deadly" the novice was assured." And the enormous heat developed forces the enemy a long way back. As jets burn from one and a-half to two minutes, and can be stopped at will, short isolated spurts of flame are advisable, so that one charge may spray several objectives. The Flammenwerfer will therefore be mainly employed in street and house to house fighting."

Beyond all doubt this instrument of Kultur was used to destroy whole towns in the early German line of march. In a reservoir cylinder is stored the nitrogen which gives the necessary pressure that forces out the oil fuel from the main body of this new arm. This cylinder, about 3ft. 6in. high, holds 14 quarts of benzine, and strapped on a man's back it supplies four or five lengths of hose and nozzles, each directed by a pioneer well trained in the devil's own war. .

Fire Among the Snows

Even the Italian Bersaglieri were sprayed with flame on dizzy rock walls South of Plezzo. Like hounds scenting their prey the famous Alpini tracked the Austrians into snowy caves, which, without a moment's warning, spouted vast sheets of fire, generating intolerable heat. Yet the Alpini prevailed. The first ranks emptied their magazines in a last agony, burning alive before their comrades' eyes. But meanwhile the great Italian howitzers plastered the caves with monstrous shell. till the foe was buried by the very rocks he'd rolled up to hide his treacherous lair. Here vast hoards of munitions were found, among them flre-squirts of German make, each weighing 2701b. when fully charged. Under a pressure of 125 atmopheres, a highly inflammable mixture of tar and benzine was forced into an ignition-tube and then expelled in hissing tongues of flame 200ft. long. A murderous arm, indeed, at the short ranges of trench warfare. As the mixture issues from the nozzle in fine diffusive sprays it takes fire with extraordinary effect, blighting all below it.

Fighting the Flames

On the French front entire trenches .were set ablaze — especially those floored with boards and "wattled” at the sides with pit-props and hurdles to hold up the oozy winter clay. There was no arguing with the Flammenwerfer — at first. Men simply melted before its blazing blast; their clothes alight, the very stocks of their rifles charred with the killing heat that came pouring out of the very sky.

"I was on patrol one morning," a badly-burned victim told me in a Boulogne hospital, "when I heard a new sort of explosion on my right. I thought the world was coming to an end when I beheld an enormous aerial fire-sheet, 20ft. long and 100ft. high. I was gaping at this when the flames swooped down. I don't think seas of water would have put out that conflagration. The whole earth appeared in flames. I screamed aloud, as a man might who fell into an ocean of vitriol. Then I ran for it with tunic and trousers uncannily ablaze. But no man has any idea what it's like to face these new blowpipes of Kultur. It's not war, sir. It's scientific flaying and withering — as one day the Germans themselves will admit, and condemn such murder as our own Field Marshal condemned it in his Hooge dispatch."


a French cartoon from 1916 :
'Look Captain, this nice feller here was bringing gasoline to light the street-lamps.'


'Story of the Evening of Liquid Flames'
by Philip Gibbs
from his book 'the Soul of the War' 1915

German Flamethrowers in the Argonne

left : from a French magazine : a German with flamethrower
right : from a British magazine - French flamethowers


The soldiers of France have learned the full range of human suffering, so that one cannot grudge them their hours of laughter, however coarse their mirth. There were many armies of men from Ypres to St. Mihiel who were put to greater tasks of courage than were demanded of the human soul in medieval torture chambers, and they passed through the ordeal with a heroism which belongs to the splendid things of history. As yet the history has been written only in brief bulletins stating facts baldly, as when on a Saturday in March of 1915 it was stated that : “In Malancourt Wood, between the Argonne and the Meuse, the enemy sprayed one of our trenches with burning liquid so that it had to be abandoned. The occupants were badly burned." That official account does not convey in any way the horror which overwhelmed the witnesses of the new German method of attacking trenches by drenching them with inflammatory liquid.

A more detailed narrative of this first attack by liquid fire was given by one of the soldiers :

"It was yesterday evening, just as night fell, that it happened. The day had been fairly calm, with the usual quantity of bursting shells overhead, and nothing forewarned us of a German attack. Suddenly one of my comrades shouted, 'Hallo! what is this coming down on us? Any one would think it was petroleum.' At that time we could not believe the truth, but the liquid which began to spray on us was certainly some kind of petroleum. The Germans were pumping it from hoses.

Our sub-lieutenant made us put out our pipes. But it was a useless precaution. A few seconds later incendiary bombs began to rain down on us and the whole trench burst into flame. It was like being in hell. Some of the men began to scream terribly, tearing off their clothes, trying to beat out the flames. Others were cursing and choking in the hot vapour which stifled us. 'Oh, my Christ!' cried a comrade of mine. 'They've blinded me !’

In order to complete their work those German bandits took advantage of our disturbance by advancing on the trench and throwing burning torches into it. None of us escaped that torrent of fire. We had our eyebrows and eyelashes burned off, and clothes were burned in great patches and our flesh was sizzling like roasting meat. But some of us shot through the greasy vapour which made a cloud about us and some of those devils had to pay for their game."

Although some of them had become harmless torches and others lay charred to death, the trench was not abandoned until the second line was ready to make a counter-attack, which they did with fixed bayonets, frenzied by the shrieks which still came from the burning pit where those comrades lay, and flinging themselves with the ferocity of wild beasts upon the enemy, who fled after leaving three hundred dead and wounded on the ground. Along five hundred miles of front such scenes took place week after week, month after month, from Artois to the Argonne, not always with inflammatory liquid, but with hand grenades, bombs, stink-shells, fire balls, smoke balls, and a storm of shrapnel.


French flamethrowers in action