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"Portable Flame Throwers (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German portable flame throwers of WWII, from the Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]


Portable Flame Throwers (German)

Since the beginning of the war, the German portable flame thrower has undergone a number of modifications. Each successive model has represented an attempt to provide a less cumbersome weapon without decreasing its effective range. The various models are discussed in the following paragraphs.

1. MODEL 35

The German portable flame thrower, Model 35, which was in use at the start of the present war, is a modified version of the 1918 German flame thrower. The fuel container is a commercial-type pressure cylinder which also holds the compressed nitrogen used to propel the jet of fuel. Fuel ejection and ignition are controlled by a trigger lever on top of the flame gun. This weapon weighs 79 pounds. It has a fuel capacity of 2.6 gallons and a flame range of 25 yards.

2. MODEL 40

This so-called "Lifebuoy Type" portable flame thrower has a fuel unit consisting of two concentric ring-shaped containers, which are carried flat on the operator's back. The total weight of this flame thrower is 47 pounds. Its fuel capacity is only 1.5 gallons. The flame range is approximately the same as that of the Model 35.

3. MODEL 41

The German portable flame thrower, Model 41, introduced about August 1942, and its later modification, the portable flame thrower, Model 42, are equipped with flame guns of two different types. The rest of the equipment is the same for both models and can be used with either type of flame gun.

Figure 1 illustrates the Model 41, and figure 2 illustrates the Model 42.

Fuel capacity, weight, and flame range of the two most recent models do not differ much from those of the Model 40. The following table supplies basic information.
          Model 41         Model 42
Maximum range25 yd25 yd
Total weight, chargedapprox 47 lb40 1/2 lb
Total weight, empty32.2 lb29 lb
Fuel capacity1 1/2 gal1 1/2 gal
Fuel pressure368 lb/sq in368 lb/sq in
Nitrogen capacity218 cu in218 cu in
Hydrogen capacity28 1/2 cu in_ _ _ _ _

The flame gun of the Model 41 is the same as that used in the earlier types of German portable flame throwers. The jet of fuel is ignited by a hydrogen flame, which itself is ignited by a battery-actuated electric device. The hydrogen cylinder, 16 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter, is mounted on the flame gun. The rubber fuel hose, which has an inside diameter of approximately 1 inch, is wire-braided on the outside. The fuel tank and the pressure cylinder, each charged with compressed nitrogen, are 13 inches long, their diameters being 7 inches and 5 inches, respectively. Both containers are carried on the operator's back, in a horizontal position and with the pressure cylinder placed above the fuel tank. The fuel valve, which controls the flow of fuel to the flame gun, is so placed that the operator can rotate the hand wheel with his left hand.

[Figure 1. (WW2 German Flame Thrower Model 41)]
Figure 1.

The tank carrier consists of a fabric-covered quadrangular frame, fitted with two metal cradles. Each cradle consists of a horizontal bar with a semicircular metal strip at each end. The fuel tank and the pressure cylinder are held on the cradles by a metal band fitted with a quick-release clasp and cotter pin. The tank carrier is provided with two shoulder straps.

4. MODEL 42

Except for the flame gun, this equipment is the same as the Model 41. Although shorter, the flame gun of the Model 42 is otherwise similar in appearance to that of the Model 41. The essential difference between the two models is in the ignition method. In the Model 42 flame gun, the fuel jet is ignited by the flash from a blank cartridge, instead of by a hydrogen flame.

The principal parts of the flame gun are a fuel tube with a fuel-discharge valve at the rear, an ignition device, and a removable protective cover for the ignition.

The fuel-discharge valve is controlled by a trigger lever, which can be folded flat when not in use. The protective dust cover is a steel tube, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and constitutes the forward outside part of the flame gun. Removal of this cover discloses the ignition device. This consists essentially of a tubular spring-loaded cartridge magazine, mounted above, and parallel with, the fuel tube. The breech and the firing rod cartridge-ejection mechanisms are at the forward end. The magazine holds 10 blank 9-mm (0.35-inch) rimless cartridges.

[Figure 1. (WW2 German Flame Thrower Model 42)]
Figure 2.

The normal position of the breech is such that the mouth of the cartridge is about 0.4 inch from the fuel jet and inclines at an angle to it, so that the flash is directed into the fuel jet.

The firing mechanism is operated by the same trigger lever that controls the fuel-discharge valve. When this trigger is moved to the rear, the fuel discharge valve begins to open. At the same time, the breech of the firing mechanism swings back into line with the magazine. Ejection of the spent cartridge takes place, a fresh cartridge is inserted by spring pressure, and the striker pin is withdrawn, thereby allowing the breech to swing forward into an inclined position. Percussion takes place with the fuel valve wide open. When the trigger is released, the fuel-discharge valve closes, and the firing mechanism is again ready.

The Model 42 flame gun weighs 5 1/2 pounds, or about 2 1/2 pounds less than the Model 41. It is cleverly designed, but is very complex and requires a number of expensive small parts.


Only the engineers carry and employ flame throwers. However, the engineers in the German army are regarded as combat troops, and engineer elements are frequently attached to small infantry units, down to the smallest assault detachments. These elements may be anything from an engineer platoon attached to an advance guard[1] to two engineers with a flame thrower supporting a raiding party.

Flame throwers are used only against static targets, preferably in inclosed spaces. They are used most of all against pillboxes. In such instances the flame-throwing detachment begins the final assault on the pillbox itself by engaging the embrasures at close range after infantry detachments have cut any communication wire. (The flame throwers usually advance to within effective range under cover of smoke or of fire from machine guns, antitank guns, or single tanks.)

The effect of the flame thrower is chiefly psychological. Moreover, the men carrying the equipment are good targets, once they have been spotted. Experience has shown that casualties in German flame thrower detachments are high.

[1] Although the German tables of organization represent such a platoon as consisting of 60 men with 2 flame throwers, it should be noted that for special missions the number of flame throwers may be increased.

See Also: Flame Throwers (Italian), Flame-Throwing Pz. Kw. 3, Tactics of Personnel Carriers Mounting Flame Throwers
Keywords: Flammenwerfer, Flamethrower, Flammenwerfer mit Strahlpatrone 41, FmW 41, FmW 41W, FmW 41P, FmW 42

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