The birth of the modern flamethrower, a psychological weapon of WWI

May 28, 1918 French troops use flamethrowers to flush out German positions in the town of Cantigny, France. IMAGE: THE PRINT COLLECTOR/PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES

Though projected incendiary weapons such as Greek fire were used in naval engagements by ancient Byzantines and Chinese, the modern flamethrower made its debut in 1901, when Richard Fiedler submitted his “Flammenwerfer” design to the German Army.

Most flamethrower designs consisted of two tanks carried on a soldier’s back, one filled with a flammable liquid, the other with propellant gas. The squeeze of a trigger would send the liquid shooting across an igniter, projecting a jet of burning fuel at targets up to 18 meters away.

The first combat use of the flamethrower came on Feb. 26, 1915, against the…

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