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Remembered Today:

The Flaming Bayonet


centurion

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Way back in the late middle ages/early renaissance there was a revival of the even older fire based weapons epitomised by Greek Fire (a weapon that makes napalm look positively benign). There were various injunction by religious leaders not to use such dreadful things against one’s co-religionists and whilst some had problems distinguishing between infidels and heretics (who it was often regarded as OK to burn anyway) in general their use became restricted to warfare between Christian and Islamic nations and they were used by both sides in the last great jihads against Europe (they were used in the sieges of Rhodes, Malta and finally Vienna). One of the chief of these was the Trompe, usually affixed to the business end of a pike these were tubular containers of nasty stuff (the formula for which has been mercifully lost) which when ignited burnt with a loud roar and ejected a flame many feet long as well as burning (and very sticky) particles. There were no controls – once lit a trompe burned until all fuel was exhausted, even sticking it a barrel of water would not extinguish it.

The Trompe died out in the 17th Century (although the arsenal at Venice continued to carry stocks) and it seemed to have disappeared from consideration for warfare until the USA revived it in WW1. The new American weapon was called “The Flaming Bayonet” and was usually affixed to the business end of a rifle and was a number of tubular containers of nasty stuff (the formula for which is still a secret) which when ignited burnt with a loud roar and ejected a flame many feet long. There were no controls – once lit a Flaming Bayonet burned until all fuel was exhausted etc etc. There were at least two sizes and many were built and sent to France. However, as far as one can tell, they were never used in anger. Does anyone have any idea why?

post-9885-0-87026500-1306439347.jpg post-9885-0-43886300-1306439379.jpg

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Gunner Bailey

Geneva Convention?

John

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All of the belligerents seem to have been adept at interpreting the Geneva Conventions to fit their weapons. I wonder if the no off switch aspect was tricky?

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The new American weapon was called “The Flaming Bayonet” and was usually affixed to the business end of a rifle and was a number of tubular containers of nasty stuff (the formula for which is still a secret) which when ignited burnt with a loud roar and ejected a flame many feet long. There were no controls – once lit a Flaming Bayonet burned until all fuel was exhausted etc etc. There were at least two sizes and many were built and sent to France. However, as far as one can tell, they were never used in anger. Does anyone have any idea why?

The likely answer is that the head of the AEF Gas Service (and later head of the Chemical Warfare Service), Amos A. Fries, was opposed to all incendiary weapons. He was a gas man, and he wanted all the energies of his branch devoted to the research, development, and production of poison gas. After the war he shared correspondence with Bernhard Reddemann, the former commander of the German flamethrower regiment. Fries claimed to Reddemann that the Germans never attacked American troops with flamethrowers. It's an amazing statement, given the worldwide knowledge about the heroics of the Lost Battalion and their fight against German flamethrower operators.

Fries was in charge of the Chemical Warfare Service until 1929. The pervasiveness of his mindset meant that the CWS ignored incendiary weapons right up until the start of World War II. When the Japanese began using flamethrowers against American strong points in the Pacific, the CWS went on a crash course to develop portable flamethrowers and flame tactics. Since the military had no flamethrower instructors, the civilian salesmen of the companies that manufactured the weapons were sent to the Pacific to teach the troops how to use them.

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Gunner Bailey

With a name like Fries it would have been more appropriate if he had been put in charge of flamethrower development!

John

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With a name like Fries it would have been more appropriate if he had been put in charge of flamethrower development!

My dentist was named Dr. Toothaker. Really.

Fries coauthored the book Chemical Warfare, in which he wrote a lot of nonsense about the "flaming gun":

With these facts in mind it is easy to see how service in the flaming gun regiments is apparently a form of punishment. Men convicted of offenses in other regiments were transferred either for a time or were permanently and were forced under threat of death in the most hazardous enterprises and to carry out the most dangerous work.

http://books.google.com/books?id=cTA6AAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Amos+A.+Fries&hl=en&ei=5FrfTb-NMpD4swOxu9WNBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=flaming%20gun&f=false

In reality the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment was an all-volunteer unit with a very high esprit de corps, due to the support it got from the Crown Prince. The regiment was awarded the death's-head sleeve badge and was considered one of the most elite shock units of the German army.

The fact that Fries didn't bother to inform himself on the German flamethrower regiment shows the low esteem in which he held incendiary weapons.

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