The Flame Thrower in the War Against Germany
This volume is "under development" and will be completed as time allows...
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The Portable Flame Thrower in the ETO
NormandyPre-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 New instructions, in the form of another training memorandum, did little more than reiterate the memo which it superseded.21 Of more help was the allocation of 150 portable flame throwers to each of the assault divisions of First Army,22 a number far in excess of the 24 flame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 nought; 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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20. ETOUSA, Trig Memo No. 33, 6 Oct 43, sub: Portable Flame Thrower, sec. II, reprinted as app. 19 in McKinney, Portable Flame Thrower Opns.
21. ETOUSA, Tng Memo No. 10, 5 Apr 44, sub: Portable Flame Thrower, sec. I, reprinted as app. 20 McKinney, Portable Flame Thrower Opns.
22. FUSA Rpt of Opns, 20 Oct 43-1 Aug 44, bk. VII, p. 190.
23. (1) Ltr, CmlO SOS ETO to CmlO FUSAG, 5 Jun 44, sub: Flame Throwers. 12th Army Group Rcds, 470.71-Apparatus. (2) The theater made this recommendation after the portable flame thrower became an item of Class IV issue. WD Cir No. 204, 23 May 44. Other support bases of issue were: airborne division, 15; armored division, 18; Ranger battalion, 6; and engineer combat battalion, 24.
24. Ltr, CG 12th Army Group to CG COMZ ETOUSA, 16 Aug 44, sub: Request for Flame Throwers. 12th Army Group Reds, 470.71-Apparatus.
25. (1) McKinney, Portable Flame Thrower Opns, pp. 192-93. (2) Interv, Hist Off with Col W. H. Greene, 12 Jul 48. During World War II Colonel Greene served successively as chemical officer of the 26th Division and the XX Corps.
26. (1) McKinney, Portable Flame Thrower Opns, pp. 195-96. (2) FUSA Rpt of Opns, 20 Oct 43-2 Aug 44, bk. VII, p. 197. (3) Informal comments of CWSO 21 Jun 44. CWS 317.4, Portable Flame Thrower.
27. Observer's Rpt 1, Flame Thrower E4-5, Incl to Ltr, CmlO 12th Army Group to Comdt Cml Warfare School, 14 Nov 44, sub: Flame Thrower Rpts. This report consists of a series of replies by First Army units to a questionnaire on flame thrower operations submitted by Colonel St. John, Chemical Adviser, G-3, SHAEF.