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Newsgroups: sci.military.moderated
From:, (R Fleming)
Subject: Re: Effectiveness of fire-based weapons?
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997 17:51:40 GMT

From, (R Fleming)

"Stormcaller (M. Richards)" <> wrote:

> I was just wondering, having just read a book about WWII, about
> the actual effectiveness of flamethrowers, and air-dropped
> napalm, on armoured vehicles. 

Supposedly in the early stages of the Korean war, napalm was the _only_
allied weapon that would reliably destroy enemy tanks. Often, a
considerably amount of fire would get into the vehicle through various
apertures, and air was removed the same way. Rubber road wheels add to the
conflagration, and many Soviet design tanks also carried spare fuel in
drums or jerries outside the tank; after a while, this would brew up.
Quite apart from the tyres burning and melting, burning napalm in the
engine air intakes could kill the engine, and the wall of fire would
totally cut off visibility. So even if no flame agent has entered the
tank, you have an immobilised, blind tank, with the crew inside packed
like sardines, where it is gradually getting harder to breathe, and hotter
and hotter... Nasty.

Modern tanks generally have some form of NBC protection which makes them
immune to the entry of flame agents (unless a hatch was open at the time,
unlucky) and removal of air. They carry less flammable stuff outside, and
engine air intakes are better protected. Also, they are often much
heavier, so (together with less fuel outside) it would take much more
napalm to heat them up to a dangerous point. Still, they would be blinded
and the engine _might_ stall. Oh, BTW, many IS AFVs have pretty formidable
external fire extinguishers, too.

> We all hear about how horrible it
> is, etc, and so it's reasonably obvious that it has a great
> psychological effect, and it's also safe to assume that any
> unprotected soldier hit by burning in liquid will probably die, but
> how well does this work against, for instance, soft vehicles such
> as jeeps, 

All that nasty stuff I said for older tanks, goes double for jeeps. I
would think about triple for Hummers, with all those plastic panels and
light alloy stuff.

>or maybe pillboxes?

The fuel is a very thick liquid, and comes out of a flamethrower in a rod
like water from a hose. With a pillbox, the idea is to hose the burning
fuel through a firing slit.  If you do that, they're history inside. Even
if you only get close, the fuel splatters, some might splash inside and
the rest will obscure the occupants vision. Also don't underate the
psychological effect. If you have a choice between burning or
surrendering, most people surrender. Even the Japanese in WWII, who
otherwise usually fought to the death, generally surrendered if a
flamethrower was brought up to their bunker (and they couldn't stop it,
etc etc).
An interesting corollary to this is that anyone identified as a
flamethrower becomes the number one target on the battlefield. This is a
bummer for him because his weapon is usually quite easy to identify even
at some distance. The Soviets seem to have been the only army who took
some trouble to disguise flamethrowers as LMGs (with pushbutton ignition
instead of an incendiary ignition cartridge, to avoid that telltale tongue
of fire near the "flash suppressor").

BTW most armies stopped using flamethrowers years ago. Does anyone know of
any who still use them?

> P.S. Anybody got any ideas why none of the libraries over here
> seem to stock books on chemical warfare?

No idea at all. There are quite a few unclassified ones about.

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