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Flamethrowers in Normandy

Discussion in 'Allied Motorised Weapons' started by Jim, Sep 29, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    When Britain’s fortunes were at its lowest ebb in 1940, when the Army had returned almost weapon less from Dunkirk and the full fury of Hitler’s hordes threatened his invasion, Ramsgate beach saw the first active steps taken towards the development of amazing new weapons which seared great paths through the enemies most formidable defences.

    At dusk on July 14th 1944, a Scottish regiment launched an attack on a German position north of Esquay in Normandy. Strongly entrenched in the edges of woods and along the hedgerows, the enemy could not easily be overcome by any ordinary plan of engagement. But this, assault was to hold surprises for the Germans against which they could not hope to stand.

    Astride a roadway the attack went in, one troop of tanks on each side of the road, each troop followed by a platoon of the infantry, one section keeping close up to the armour. Suddenly through the half light enormous flames roared out and licked fiercely at the hedgerows and forward undergrowth of the woods. Bushes and saplings were wrapped in fire. In that fiery, crackling inferno no man could live.

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    The flame could reach 150 yards from the Crocodile; here is a picture of the fuel tank (Above) pulled at the back of the tank. The picture below shows the projector nozzle where the flame was emitted.

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    From this awesome threat of being consumed the Germans turned and ran, presenting their backs as targets for the bullets of the Scottish infantry. Some stayed, and were burned. And the position was taken without loss to the attackers. Subsequent interrogation of prisoners left no shred of doubt in the minds of the questioners as to the devastating and utterly demoralizing effect of this flood of liquid fire from the Crocodile flamethrowers. For this section of the enemy it was the first (and for many the last) experience of Britain’s new device for blasting a way into Normandy and so through France. Others had already made its fearsome acquaintance. Thirty five minutes after our landing On D-Day the Crocodiles went into action, and they led the British 2nd Army in the advance to Crepon (9 miles N.E. of Bayeux). The flame throwing Crocodiles, Wasps and Lifebuoys took part in almost every operation, fighting with every British and Canadian formation in the Normandy bridgehead.

    “The Churchill, Crocodile was the most powerful flamethrower in the world at this time," declared Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd who, as, Minister of Petroleum, formed in 1940 the organisation known as the Petroleum Warfare Department. “With its special fuel it shoots a flame that is truly terrifying and deadly. We designed this weapon to burn out the strongpoints of the Atlantic Wall and Hitler’s Fortress Europe and to save the lives of our infantry carrying out the assault. All this has developed from our first crude experiments to improvise burning oil defences on the beach at Ramsgate on a June afternoon in 1940. All of us who were there became keen believers in the effectiveness of flame warfare. That band grew and included people with the most varied, and indeed unorthodox, qualifications."

    From those first hasty experiments, undertaken in every circumstance of personal danger; the three flamethrowers developed. The Germans, who had used flame weapons in the last war, were well provided for this war with new equipment on improved lines. The Allies started from scratch, but fortunately were possessed of ample stocks of oil. Not until the Dieppe raid did the troops go into action with anything of the sort; then the Commandos used flamethrowers of an early type to such effect that a German coastal battery was put out of action. The Ramsgate beach experimenters suffered painful burns and injuries, but the research went on with all possible haste, for there was every likelihood of an attempted landing on British shores by the enemy, and the immediate objective in the event of that happening, was to fling a protective curtain of flame over Britain from the beaches, the harbours, the lanes and the highways. A satisfying measure of success was achieved in these, preparations and it became possible to switch from thoughts of defence to assault. In due course there rolled from the factories (the Ministry of Supply being responsible for production) these mighty weapons whose use had been attended with such tremendous success.

    The Crocodile flamethrower was fitted to the heavy armoured Churchill tank, and the devastating and demoralising flame was thrown 150 yards.

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    Immense efforts were called for on the part of the firms concerned, varying from foundry men to footwear manufacturers and from racing car builders to laundry engineers! The workers, pledged to secrecy, were given a glimpse of the result of their labours by films and demonstrations. Discouragements, inevitable in the evolution of any novel weapon, were many; types were changed, modifications were introduced, older attempts outmoded. There came the final call for a last lap sprint for D-Day. The Crocodiles were needed 35 minutes after the Normandy landing. Nobly the workers responded. They even collaborated in the special and urgent training of the troopers who were to man the flamethrowers. This early work of the Petroleum Warfare Department had indeed borne striking fruit. Speaking of the later work on the mobile flamethrowers in Bren Carriers, Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd said, "We owe a great debt of gratitude to General Macnaughton and the Canadian Army, particularly the Engineering Corps. Their enthusiasm matched our own. The Canadian Army carried out the first practical trials with the new weapon and the Canadian Government placed the first large order.”

    Fitted to the heavily armoured Churchill tank, the most powerful and effective of the flamethrowers was the Crocodile. The armoured trailer which carried the fuel was towed by the tank, and the fuel was led forward through an armoured pipe. Should need have arose, the trailers were universally articulated so that it could move in any direction, could be jettisoned by means of an ingenious device. The trailer itself was controlled from inside the tank, and its movements were indicated by pilot lights mounted on a panel in front of the tank commander. This made it unnecessary for the commander to expose himself to enemy fire in order to see just what was happening at any given moment. One specially useful and interesting point about the new type of fuel that was used it could be projected to distances of over 150 yards, is that it could be fired around corners, so that it would ricochet and produce persistent flame in every cranny of pillbox and trench.

    The Lifebuoy flamethrower, deriving its name from its appearance, had a ring shaped tube as container for the fuel, with a spherical container for compressed gas, the device being carried on the operators back. The flame was projected from a "gun" which incorporated an igniting mechanism. The range was about 50 yards, and the Lifebuoy had been used with outstanding success by the parachute troops, the Commandos, and the Canadian infantry. For dislodging, the enemy from otherwise "awkward" positions and exposing them to the small arms fire of the infantry it was in always admirable.

    The Wasp was fitted to a Universal Carrier, the flame gun having a range equal to that of the Churchill Crocodile. Pipes lead from the projector to fuel and compressed gas tanks which were easily removed, in the field they could be taken out quickly if it was desirable that the carrier should resume its normal role, and could be replaced at once if flame throwing operations against the enemy were to be resumed.

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    The Wasp had a larger fuel supply and greater mobility render it more suitable than the Lifebuoy for big operations. This thrower was fitted to a Universal Carrier. Tanks containing the liquid fuel and compressed gas were mounted on the carrier, the flame gun projecting through the front armour.
     

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