30/7/1915 Germany deploys a new horror: the flame thrower

Fighting continues on the Western Front, though combat is localised and more about trying to gain tactical advantages than striving for a strategic victory. Earlier in the month the British attacked the Germans at Hooge, near Ypres. After digging a tunnel under the enemy’s trenches the British successfully exploded a mine, blasting a gap in the German line. But today the Germans strike back at the British.

Ypres has already been the scene of German innovations in the art of war, with the first successful use of poison gas there against the French in April. Now the Germans test another new weapon, the flammenwerfer. This squirts a jet of inflammable liquid, ignited with a taper to become a torrent of flame.

The flammenwerfer is a great success. Many of the British defenders are set on fire, enduring the horror of being burned alive. Others climb out of their trenches to escape the flames and are then cut down by German guns. It appears that all of the British defenders are killed. The Germans recapture their lost position and hold it against determined counter-attacks.
Although the German flame thrower has proved devastating today, it has limitations that prevent it being a truly decisive weapon. The flammenwerfer is a bulky device, not readily transportable outside the German trenches. It can only project flame for a short period, as it uses up its supply of fuel in a couple of minutes. And its range is short, just 18 metres, so it can only be used in those rare situations where German trenches lie close to those of the enemy. It is a good weapon for horrifically killing and terrifying enemy soldiers, but it will not win the war for Germany.

image sources:

Spraying Liquid Fire (The Illustrated First World War)

map (WWI Today (@wwitoday) on Twitter)

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