All major powers of World War 2 fielded some sort of man-portable flamethrower (or "flame projector") during the conflict - the Germans developing and adopting the "Flammenwerfer 35" of 1935. The type was a single-user evolution of the three-man, team-based system of World War 1 to which the German Army debuted against the French in 1914. The FmW 35 series incorporated a twin-tank backpack configuration with a line running to the hand-held projector. One tank held the fuel whilst the other held the required propellant. Both were combined at the projector and ignited via a hydrogen based system. While effective in testing and early war usage, the German Army soon learned that the unforgiving Soviet winter played havoc on their many well-engineered weapons including the FmW 35 series - ignition becoming the primary problem. Additionally, the system, as a whole and fully filled, weighed close to 80lbs and this on the back of a sole operator - making for one cumbersome weapon. Comparatively, flamethrowers were one of the ultimate psychological tools of war - if one could get within range of the enemy that is.
In 1941, the Germans opened the second front to the east, the "Eastern Front", by invading the Soviet Union in June. This also brought adoption of a new, streamlined flamethrowing system to replace the aging FmW 35 series in the "Flammenwerfer 41". The FmW 41 retained the twin-tank arrangement set upon the operators back (held in place via traditional straps) and generally followed the same form and function of the preceding design. A line was drawn from the two tanks into a hand-held projector system and flushed through a nozzle with ignition found at the point of exit. Early forms retained the same hydrogen-based ignition system though experiences in the harsh winter of 1941 heading into 1942 soon forced an adoption of a cartridge-based ignition system. This new ignition system proved more reliable in the operating temperatures expected and gave better service everywhere else. The streamlining of the tanks also produced a much lighter system at 63lbs compared to the 80lbs of the FmW 35. Range was only slightly improved out to approximately 30 yards.
As in with any battlefield flame projector of the war, the operator could fire a direct stream at a target/target area or arch the stream to "rain" fire down on entrenched enemy positions. Against flammable fortifications, a flamethrower could make short work of structures, burning them down within minutes as proved the case across the vast Russian countryside. Such weapons also proved helpful in flushing out stubborn defenders, the flames reaching every crevasse when fired into confined spaces such as those of a pillbox.
The FmW 41 was fielded during all major German-Soviet engagements of the East Front such as at Stalingrad and utilized through to the end of the war into 1945. Production spanned from 1941 until right before the cessation of hostilities in May. One other, though less notable, variant appeared in time - a single-burst paratrooper model known as the Einstoss Flammenwerfer Tragbar. From a 1.5 second burst, the weapon could reach out to 30 yards away, providing light infantry with a very specialized weapon. Production is of this variant was said to be extremely limited in the context of World War 2 which went in line with the German's dwindling reliance on paratroopers as a whole.
In the field, FmW 41 operators suffered the same limitations and dangers encountered by FmW 35 flamethrower infantry - their tanks could be penetrated by rifle fire at range. Unlike Hollywood's vision of a punctured flamethrower tank, real-life flamethrowers were not prone to engulfing into flames when struck. The exiting pressures would propel the operator forward and spraying fuel held the possibility of igniting - just not in the glorious fashion Hollywood envisions. Incendiary rounds held the best value of igniting fuel stores and these were not on standard issued to standard frontline rifles. Due to their distinct projectors and backpack tanks, FmW 41 operators were obvious targets along a horizon and, thusly, measures were taken to ensure their livelihood including crude modifications to the projector element to make it appear more as a service rifle. It became common practice to protect flamethrower infantry with regular.
Where applicable, the appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Russian Ministry of Defense, Chinese Ministry of Defense or British Ministry of Defence visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement of this website (www.MilitaryFactory.com). Images marked with "www.MilitaryFactory.com" or featuring the Military Factory logo are copyrighted works exclusive to this site and not for reuse in any form.