Between July and November of 1917, one of the greatest disasters of the Great War unfolded near the Belgian town of Ypres, where the British and their allies fought the Germans for control of some ridges running through Flanders.
Better known as the Battle of Passchendaele, hundreds of thousands of men occupied trenches, dugouts and underground tunnels on the front lines. Among the British forces there were many seasoned infantrymen who could claim to have seen all the technological terrors so far gathered together on World War I battlefields—machine gun fire, poison gas, strafing and bombing by aircraft.
But for many soldiers, they would face a weapon for the first time that the Germans had introduced just two years before. The Flammenwerfer—or, in English, the flamethrower.
The results were horrifying. Carried by specially trained assault teams, German flamethrowers were highly effective weapons that would either drive men from their defensive positions … or simply incinerate them.
“When the nozzles were lighted, they threw out a roaring, hissing flame 20 or 30 feet long, swelling at the end to an oily rose, six feet in diameter,” Guy Chapman, a British infantryman at Passchendale, recalled years later in an account about one such assault. “Under the protection of these hideous weapons the enemy surrounded the advance pillbox, stormed it and killed the garrison.”The article goes on to recite the basic history of the flamethrower, and how it was key to the United States' victory in the Pacific theater during World War II.
During the Vietnam War, for better or worse flamethrowers and other incendiary weapons became widely regarded as inhumane weapons of war. In 1978, the Defense Department issued a directive that ceased the tactical use of flamethrowers and their further development.
However, no international agreement bans flamethrowers.
From 1999 to 2000, the Russians employed flamethrowers against Chechen rebel forces during the battle for Grozny. Russian tacticians concluded that the flamethrower was effective as much for its psychological effect as its ability to flush insurgents or snipers out of enclosed or fortified positions.
The Russian use of flamethrowers was also one reason why in 2003 the United Nations declared Grozny the most devastated city on the planet.(H/t Sipsey Street Irregulars)
Related Links: "So You Want to Buy a Flamethrower"