Historical Trivia: First Reported Use of the Flamethrower
On the 26th-27th February 1915, the Germans unleashed a new weapon on the French near Verdun. The flammenwerfer or flamethrower had first been tested by the Imperial German Army in the early 1900s but had not been deployed until the design was refined and a smaller portable system was developed.
The Flammenwerfer fired a jet of burning oil propelled by a pressurised gas (air or CO2) system with a range of about 20 yards. The early tanks were good for a single short burn. February 1915, saw the first widely reported use of the weapon although it may have been used earlier. The London Illustrated News printed the story and an illustration of what the weapon looked like in August 1915 (see image #1). While the flamethrower did not cause any direct casualties it caused widespread panic amongst the French troops it was aimed at.
The official French account reported:
The defenders of the trench felt heated air blowing over the parapet and in a few seconds were flooded with a scalding liquid which they think was pitch. Jets of the liquid played all over them in the midst of the smoke, as if squirted by a pump… the Germans hidden by a cloud of smoke managed to force a passage.
Despite this success the use of the Flammenwerfer remained patchy and it was not reported again until the British first encountered it near Hooge in July. The flamethrower caused terror and panic among troops who had not encountered them before. The London Illustrated News described them as ‘diabolical’ and the British press condemned them as barbaric, however, by the end of the war both sides had deployed them. The prospect of being engulfed in flames led many to quickly vacate their positions. It was extensively used during the Battle of Verdun and again later in the war by specially trained German Sturmtruppen.
The WW1 Flamethrower: A New Weapon of War (source)