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M1 Flamethrower of 1941: The 90-Day Wonder

By Charlie Hobson

I was impressed with the accuracy and completeness of Robert Bruce’s “Current Status of Flamethrowers” in the October issue of SAR. I wasn’t surprised when I was contacted to present additional articles on the development and usage on both of the World War II flamethrowers, the M1 and the M2-2. The two models are diametrically very different, the M1 was a “Ninety Day Wonder” by a fire extinguisher company that had a multitude of problems, but the M2 was the culmination of extensive development efforts by the National Defense Resource Council, universities, manufactures and research think tanks. The totally unique M2-2 was very successful and a dozen or more are still working today. I don’t hesitate to say that the M1 was the worst flamethrower of any army but the M2 was the best and most successful flamethrower of WWII.

Development of the M1

The story of the first standardized US military flamethrower really begins with the US Armed Forces in WWI arriving on the French front in 1917. Germany had already developed five models for use with Blitzkrieg attacks by shock troops. French and English troops captured most models, copied the most useful and then used them successfully to break the trench stalemates. When the US tried to develop a flamethrower less than a year before the war ended, we had only one prototype model which was heavy and never tested in combat. All of the US examples were destroyed 1922 and all flamethrower development stopped until July 1940.

Strangely, between World War I and II, the Chemical Warfare Department denied that flamethrowers were effective and did not attempt to develop them. In fact the Chief of the CWS instructed personnel not to mention these unless asked and he also publicly stated that “flamethrowers did not work because of short range and you could simply duck under the flames”. Many Axis and Allied officers from WWI wrote him that this was not true and even supplied written proof that shock troops with flamethrowers had many successful attacks.

When WWII began in Europe, accounts of German...

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