Thursday, August 06, 2015

WW1: Mass Application of Flamethrowers

Captured flamethrower
War can create pressure that leads to innovation. Germans are pretty innovative. Germans are also pretty good at war. The world just passed the 100th anniversary of the first mass use of flamethrowers in war. Wikipedia has enough on the area of Hooge that was in the Ypres salient and home to some of the most intense fighting. This involved horrifying and dangerous underground fighting. The area was critical to the war on the Western Front, and the Germans were keen on using all tools necessary.

The flamethrower was just the latest weapon to use. It was a heavy, clumsy weapon, but in the mold of "Greek Fire" terrifying for the other side to see. The horrors of mechanized warfare were developing in the American Civil War, and the Euros did not bother to see the trends coming their way when the leaves changed color in 1914. They would eagerly pick up the slack and push warfare to new ghastly forms in the few years that followed.


peterike said...

When did the use of flamethrowers stop? I wondered back in the invasion of Iraq days, when our soldiers were doing hand-to-hand combat in Fallujah and other hell holes, why not just walk up to a house you suspect has the enemy and flame-thrower the hell out of it? Seems an obvious use of the technology, like they used to flame-thrower Jap pill boxes and stuff. They even had flame thrower tanks, which were REALLY terrifying.

Son of Brock Landers said...

No clue, we used them in Vietnam.

peterike said...

The internet knows all!

The U.S. Department of Defense decided in 1978 to stop using flamethrowers. They have been removed from the U.S. weapons arsenal and are not currently used by American soldiers. The decision by the U.S. Defense Department to ban the use of flamethrowers was voluntary. At the time, military officials stated that flamethrowers were not effective in modern combat scenarios.

NOT EFFECTIVE???? What a lot of nonsense. Good old 70s, the decade when every decision made was the wrong decision. From the same article:

Some flamethrowers can project fire 100 meters and incinerate targets within seconds.

Yeah, totally obliterating your enemy from 100 meters away. How is THAT effective??

Elkman said...

Pretty grim stuff, though it might be preferrable to be incinerated rather than gut-shot. The reality of war is “one of those things.” Speaking of gut-shot, that was an issue with the dentist who shot the lion. I am not sure that the lion was specifically gut-shot, but it was wounded and had to be tracked for most of a day or something. Sloppy and cruel. Big game trophy hunting is beyond my ken. Back in the old days of childhood aka the 70s, around here the ecosystem was healthier and more animals were around, one of the neighborhood gangs would like to blow up leopard frogs with firecrackers. I found that upsetting, and still do. The frog just doing his thing but these kids blow it up for no reason but the spectacle and (i guess) the thrill.

I am not making the case that such sensitivity is “good”; it certainly is not adaptive in a competitive world. A nature documentary on PBS about the wildlife around Antarctica had a great segment showing how the killer whales would bat around (toy with) the seals that fell into their orbit, before dispatching and eating them, and related that the best explanation that ethologists had for that behavior, which behavior comes at a cost of some energy and risk of losing the prey, was that it was evolved sadism as an advantage for predators. Cat and mouse, kids and leopard frogs. I don’t know if that ethological explanation is current, but it seems likely, and anyways, such theories on behavior cannot be tested, or proved and disproved, because the variables are too complex and impossible to isolate, among other problems.