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Flame Throwing Tanks

The combination of tanks and flame-throwers is a potent one and it goes back a long way. In 1916 British designers considered mounting one in the original Pedrail Landship but the first successful application was in the United States, in 1918.

Tank Museum photo No. 0155/D/5
Tank Museum photo No. 0155/D/5

This huge tank, designed by the Corps of Engineers, was steam powered because the original idea was to have a steam operated flame jet.

Soon everyone was toying with the idea and by World War II many armies had tank flame-throwers of one sort or another.


Tank Museum photo No. 0698/D/5
Tank Museum photo No. 0698/D/5

This Italian version was one of the most impressive and probably the first to use a trailer but it was slow, and the range of the flame limited. A captured example is displayed in the Tank Museum.

Things got off to a slower start in Britain and when they did begin, rival factions were involved; the Petroleum Warfare Department and the Ministry of Supply.


Tank Museum photo No. 0417/B/2
Tank Museum photo No. 0417/B/2

Both selected Valentine tanks and both decided to use trailers. This is the MoS design which used a cordite operated ignition system. In the end neither was adopted and it was not until 1943 that a new design, by R P Fraser of the Lagonda car company was accepted and entered production as the Churchill Crocodile.


Tank Museum photo No. 4838/A/4
Tank Museum photo No. 4838/A/4

Still employing a trailer, but now in a much more powerful and heavily armoured tank it entered service in the spring of 1944 and soon proved to be a formidable weapon system. Its most outstanding feature was undoubtedly its effective range, up to 180 metres (say 200 yards).


Tank Museum photo No. 0051/F/1
Tank Museum photo No. 0051/F/1

Not that it was by any means perfect. No tank driver likes to tow a trailer, particularly one as lethal as this, which in action has to be shielded from enemy fire by the tank itself. And it had to be used with care. The flame-gun had to be 'pressured up' before an action by turning on the gas and unless it is used within 30 minutes most of the pressure leaks away.

After the war plans were developed for a new British tank with a built-in flame-thrower capability but when this was abandoned little more was done. In the USA, on the other hand, armoured flame-throwers remained popular up to quite recent times.


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