extracted from The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals in Combat

Chapter XVI

The Flame Thrower in the War Against Germany


The Portable Flame Thrower in the ETO


Pre-Normandy preparations included more effort directed toward the training of flame thrower operators and the preparation of tactical and logistical procedures for the weapon than had been attempted before the invasion of Italy. In October 1943 Headquarters, ETOUSA, published detailed instructions for all units under its control in the tactical use of the portable flame thrower. This training memorandum suggested the assignment of three men-operator, assistant operator, and refill carrier-to each weapon and urged that twice that number be trained. This document stressed the tactical necessity of covering the flame thrower operator with small arms and smoke, but it did not specify the exact composition of the assault party. 20

As the date of the invasion approached, ETOUSA increased the tempo of its flame thrower preparations. New instructions, in the form of another training memorandum, did little more than reiterate the memo which it superseded.21 Of more help was the allocation of 150 portable flame throwers to each of the assault divisions of First Army,22 a number far in excess of the 24 flame throwers which the theater suggested for an infantry division in normal operations.23

The assignment of such a large number of flame throwers to the assault regiments naturally increased the problem of training. In general, the status of flame thrower training within the divisions in England was poor. Engineer battalions had received limited doses, but infantry division troops, even of the veteran units, were generally unfamiliar with both the technical and tactical aspects of the weapon. Divisions of the First U.S. Army conducted schools in an effort to correct this deficiency. Third Army units, slated for commitment later than those of First Army, suffered from a lack of flame throwers


(in August 1944 Third Army's supply of the weapon was described as "practically nil"),24 and a consequent lack of trained operators.25

These preparations went for naught; there is no record that the flame thrower was used during the Normandy landings. Many of the weapons were lost in the rough surf, and infantrymen perforce abandoned others in the struggle to get across the beaches in the face of heavy enemy fire. The 14th Chemical Maintenance Company, which landed in Normandy at the end of June, repaired and returned to depot stock over 100 portable flame throwers which it had picked up from salvage piles on the beaches. In any event, German positions encountered on the beachheads usually were not suitable flame thrower targets.26

As the initial weeks of the campaign wore on and units moved inland, some flame thrower targets did appear. Cities and towns presented obstacles which occasionally called for flame thrower action, although the 1st and 2d Infantry Divisions reported that the weapon was not particularly useful in ordinary street fighting. The V Corps stated that the limited range of the portable flame thrower restricted its usefulness in fighting in the hedgerows, that ubiquitous feature of the Normandy terrain. 27



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