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Terry_Reeves

German flame thrower attacks

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Terry_Reeves

I am trying to get a handle on the amount and effectiveness, or otherwise, of German flame thrower attacks against BEF units.  If any one has come across references to them in war diaries I would be  interested in the following information:

 

1. Unit name

 

2. Date and place of the attack

 

3. Any casualties noted - numbers will do.

 

4. Any general comments made about the incident in the diary.

 

Many thanks

 

TR

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Dave1418

Hi Terry

try searching liquid fire on the forum and you should find a few items. I believe the first use against British troops was near Hooge in July 15 against the KRRC I believe one of the officers present was the brother of Tubby Clayton of Toc H

 

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The Prussian

Hello Terry!

The first unit was the Detachement (Abteilung) Redemann.  In january  the 48 men had 12 flame-throwers.

The first attack was february 26, 1915 in the "Bois de Malancourt". 

The III. Bataillon (9.-12. comp.) of Gardepionier-Bataillon was a flame-thrower formation in march 1915. In 1915 too the 13. and 14. comp. were added.

In february 1916 a IV. Bataillon with two companies were added too. In april it became the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment. (3 bataillons with 4 companies each).

Those 12 companies had 30-40 flame-throwers each.

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Loader

A member of this forum has written a lot on these units. His father was in one of them. Hope he will be along soon to help you. He has posted some very interesting info.

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Terry_Reeves

Thank you  for the responses so far. I am particularly interested in any mention of such attacks in battalion war diaries.

 

TR

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stiletto_33853
Posted (edited)
20 hours ago, Dave1418 said:

Hi Terry

try searching liquid fire on the forum and you should find a few items. I believe the first use against British troops was near Hooge in July 15 against the KRRC I believe one of the officers present was the brother of Tubby Clayton of Toc H

 

 

Terry,

 

The 14th Division units make note of the first use of flamethrowers on British troops at Hooge Crater on 30th/31st July 1915 as well as Divisional units. This attack fell on 8th Rifle Brigade and to a lesser extent the units by them, 7th KRRC  & 9th Rifle Brigade. The brother referred to by Dave was Neville Talbot who worked for Tubby Clayton, brother of Gilbert Talbot. Gilbert died in the counter attack in the afternoon with the 7th Rifle Brigade. Neville later on at night climbed out of the trenches in search of is brothers body, recovering it and bringing the body back with assistance from the troops then holding the trenches. Talbot House was named after Gilbert and is one of very few bodies recovered (Sanctuary Wood Cemetery).

As to numbers, well there are the Divisional reports however the CWGC  has made some transcription errors with men listed as 30/7/16 rather than 30/7/15 and on the Arras Memorial rather than the Menin Gate. The Division were in the Arras sector 7/16.

Quite a few Rifle Brigade memoirs/memorial volumes cover this action in better detail with hand drawn maps, accounts etc, with one surviving officer suffering survivors guilt seeking reassurance from the 8th Rifle Brigade's Commanding Officer Ronnie MacLachlan.

During my research into this action I have also managed to find some French letters to British HQ regarding the French actions in earlier flamethrower attacks.

Anything I can help you with on this let me know.

 

Andy

Edited by stiletto_33853

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Terry_Reeves

Andy

 

Many thanks for your contribution.

 

TR

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stiletto_33853

Welcome Terry,

 

You will find casualty lists in the 8th Rifle Brigade's diary, although over time it has proved not to be 100% accurate unsurprisingly and searching the CWGC site leads to an even bigger difference, the numbers have always been underestimated. With regard to the material I have amassed over the years on this action it is at your disposal should you need it.

 

Andy

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MBrockway
Posted (edited)

Here's a link to the detailed thread Andy and I pulled together to commemorate centenary of the July 1915 Liquid Fire attack at Hooge:

14th (Light) Division - Hooge Liquid Fire attack & later actions

 

This topic includes links to all the other topics covering Tubby Clayton, Toc H, Gilbert Talbot, Sidney Woodroffe (the first Kitchener VC) etc. already mentioned.

 

Pal bob lembke, mentioned obliquely above, whose father was in one of the German Pionier flamethrower units (though not actually at Hooge 1915) has recently added further interesting material there.

 

It's definitely the place to start!

 

8/RB bore the brunt of the flammenwerfer attack being only 15-20' away from the German front line.  7/KRRC were to their right.  Flammenwerfer were used against them but with much less impact.  No Man's Land widened to a more typical separation in their frontage.

 

Mark

 

 

Edited by MBrockway

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MBrockway
20 hours ago, The Prussian said:

The first attack was february 26, 1915 in the "Bois de Malancourt". 

 

I have a vague recollection of earlier use on the Eastern Front?  Or am I getting confused with gas?

 

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The Prussian
Posted (edited)

Hello Mark!

The Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment fought in 1917 in Russia and Gallicia too

Garde-Res.Pi.Rgt. (Flammenwerfer, Totenkopf).JPG

Edited by The Prussian

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Terry_Reeves
45 minutes ago, MBrockway said:

Here's a link to the detailed thread Andy and I pulled together to commemorate centenary of the July 1915 Liquid Fire attack at Hooge:

14th (Light) Division - Hooge Liquid Fire attack & later actions

 

This topic includes links to all the other topics covering Tubby Clayton, Toc H, Gilbert Talbot, Sidney Woodroffe (the first Kitchener VC) etc. already mentioned.

 

Pal bob lembke, mentioned obliquely above, whose father was in one of the German Pionier flamethrower units (though not actually at Hooge 1915) has recently added further interesting material there.

 

It's definitely the place to start!

 

8/RB bore the brunt of the flammenwerfer attack being only 15-20' away from the German front line.  7/KRRC were to their right.  Flammenwerfer were used against them but with much less impact.  No Man's Land widened to a more typical separation in their frontage.

 

Mark

 

 

Mark

Thanks for you input. I have done some back ground work, including the very interesting thread you have provided a link to. I also have a fair amount of information about German army and its tactical deployment of these devices, although any information is welcome.

 

The main point of my post is to determine the number of times the weapon was used against the BEF and how effective a weapon it was, hence my request for war diary entries.   Much has been said about these weapons, and the British army and the press made an issue over it, although the latter may have been for propaganda purposes.    

 

With regard to casualties specifically caused by flame weapons, it may well be that I am up against a brick wall as I think they are probably included in the general casualty state and not as a specific casualties of the flammenwerfer. Hooge is case in point. It may be of course that the of the weapon, and the support team that accompanied it,  may have had an effect on the opposing troops without them actually being caught by it.

 

TR

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trajan
22 hours ago, The Prussian said:

Hello Mark!

The Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment fought in 1917 in Russia and Gallicia too

Garde-Res.Pi.Rgt. (Flammenwerfer, Totenkopf).JPG

 

Nice Totenkopf badge on the sleeve there! Correct me if I am wrong, but this Flammenwerfer-Abzeichen was introduced after July 28 1916, and this is the standard enlisted man's version, being grey cloth.

 

Julian 

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The Prussian

Hello Julian!

Absolutely right!

The skullhead was introduced july, 28, 1916.

Enlisted men had a white or grey skullhead on grey cloth with white teeth, black eyes and black nostrils. 

Officers had silver ones and the black colours were from black velvet

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bob lembke

I am the aforementioned Bob Lembke. 

 

I have been been largely away from Great War studies for a few years, but am returning. 

 

I have collected a spreadsheet of the effectiveness of the Flammenwerfer weapon, and the statistics are so spectacular that I rarely mention them. But I have not broken them down by the national origin of the troops attacked. I am currently working on my phone, as both of my computers are "down ", and I am in a big tax crunch. 

 

However, from two or three years' memory, the rough summary. I have extensive statistics and documentation on German FW attacks, and casualties. 

 

Going over the 653 FW attacks carried out by the Prussian Guard FW regiment,, I culled out the 40 plus attacks where I found good data on how many prisoners were taken. I then excluded three or four that were so large that it was not reasonable to attribute the success to the FW, even if they were important in the attack. I did not cherry pick, i.e. Leave out attacks with poor results. 

 

Summary for about 40 attacks. About 59-60,000 prisoners taken. I only have numbers of weapons captured for a small subset of attAcks, like perhaps for 15 attacks each for MGs and artillery pieces. For that number of attacks, the numbers of MGs and cannon captured; something like 700 each. (This number is not clear in my mind, from years ago.) the number of enemy dead? I do not have that, but knowing the battles, many thousands. 

 

The casualties for this level of success?  112 Flamm=Pioniere dead, I think 

 

the results are so spectacular that I have avoided touting them. These numbers are fully documented over 15 years of study. I am a mathematical economist and an engineer and have supervised the construction of world-class econometric models; I am a good analyst. 

 

 

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bob lembke

In most FW attacks, the FW=Pioniere did not lose (as in dead) a single man. And many attacks were large. Many were 30 or 50 FW, and the biggest was 154 FW. My father told me that, in most attacks, the French just ran away. 

 

And the the stuff about the FW blowing up is mostly bull. I have only found data for that happening on 2-3 occasions. (Allied FW, mostly horrible designs, did blow up or catch on fire.) Foulkes and Fries, the US gas and flame commanders, spent 15 years writing lies about the flame weapon. 

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Terry_Reeves

Bob

 

Thanks for your reply. Are your statistics a combination of all fronts? I ask because my post was specifically about the BEF. That apart, can you provide solid evidence which confirms that flammenwerfer attacks were solely responsible for the amount of prisoners and weaponry taken? Could you also supply the evidence that shows Fries and Foulkes were liars?

 

If I could draw attention again to the original aim of my post which is to try and substantiate the amount of use and the effectiveness of this weapon against the BEF via war diaries.

 

Many thanks

 

TR

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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bob lembke

Terry;

 

I have info on almost all WW I flame attacks, organized chronologically.  Just give me a date. But I usually only have the German side of the picture. 

 

I I have looked at some UK war diaries, but found in heavy attacks often little info, perhaps officers lost?

In most FW attacks, the FW=Pioniere did not lose (as in dead) a single man. And many attacks were large. Many were 30 or 50 FW, and the biggest was 154 FW. My father told me that, in most attacks, the French just ran away. 

 

And the the stuff about the FW blowing up is mostly bull. I have only found data for that happening on 2-3 occasions. (Allied FW, mostly horrible designs, did blow up or catch on fire.) Foulkes and Fries, the US gas and flame commanders, spent 15 years writing lies about the flame weapon. 

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Terry_Reeves

Bob

 

Thanks, I would be interested in the German side as well, it would  help as a comparison with any British records.

 

TR

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AOK4
47 minutes ago, bob lembke said:

I

Summary for about 40 attacks. About 59-60,000 prisoners taken. I only have numbers of weapons captured for a small subset of attAcks, like perhaps for 15 attacks each for MGs and artillery pieces. For that number of attacks, the numbers of MGs and cannon captured; something like 700 each. (This number is not clear in my mind, from years ago.) the number of enemy dead? I do not have that, but knowing the battles, many thousands. 

 

The casualties for this level of success?  112 Flamm=Pioniere dead, I think 

 

 

 

I'm sorry but that number is ridiculous. I have quite a bit of information about flamethrower attacks during Third Ypres (mostly small scale counter attacks to try and recapture some bunkers or a part of trench). These attacks were nowhere near as successful.

 

The official number of casualties of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment is 800 dead (according to a published list).

 

Jan

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bob lembke

We are in a giant snow storm, I have real estate, and workers out there. Also only my storm. So a quick reply. 

 

Statistics for all fronts. But the bulk were the Western Front. I could tease out nationalities. 

 

The FW troops did not trust other troops, so they if possible attacked alone. They manufactured their own light mortars (40 lbs) and carried captured ultra-light MGs. But certainly you cannot say that the success was solely due to the FW. But I only included attacks where they were the decisive weapon. 

 

I I can supply lots of evidence that Foulkes and Fries were liars after the war. I have read, in a Rare Book room at my wife's library, the actual carbons of memos written by Foulkes lying to Pershing. Reddemann was so furious about post-war lies that he wrote a 18 page letter of protest and refutation. They wrote that the flame unit was a suicide unit set up to execute by exploding FW men that the German Army wanted to execute but really didn't want to publically shoot. My father wore the Crown Prince's personal insignia on his left sleeve, his company was frequently inspected by the Crown Prince and sometimes by the Kaiser, and my father, a private, often caged cigarettes from the Crown Prince. Convicts designated for execution by suicide attack? Utterly dishonorable!

 

I I have not read Foulkes or Fries for probably ten years, but their writings were full of crap about both flame and gas. I could probably write a 100 page essay on it, if I wanted to to waste a significant portion of my remaining life. I have read hundreds of pages written by those two "gentlemen", and understand the technology of gas and flame, and they lied a great deal. And Foulkes was amazingly rigid in thought. Fries was just a terrible person and literally in the pay of the DuPont Corporation, which made most US poison gas. 

 

Other than that, I like Foulkes and Fries a lot. 

 

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bob lembke

Jan;

 

I have great respect for you, and I even agree that the number sounds astonishing, so I rarely cite it. But I assure you that it is based on careful scholarship. I will share the details privately. But there is a troll out there who steals my material and publishes it. I have the complete casualty lists (deaths, not wounded) for the flame regiment. 

 

In in those about 40 attacks they lost about 112 men. In one of them, with 154 FW against a square mile of concrete fortifications, they lost 22, but captured the entire complex. In a conventional infantry assault they would have lost 1000-2000. In the total 653 attacks, I think, they did lose about 800, I don't remember the exact number, but in most of the attacks they did not lose a single man. In a letter to his father, a staff officer, my father described a flame attack at Verdun in which his company lost three dead and 12 wounded as a "disaster". Father was wounded twice at Verdun, twice near Reims. One wound kept him out of combat for 18 months and probably saved his life. It spit bone for over 10 years. 

 

Terry, if you give me the date of a flame attack, I can give you, at the least, the FW company, and names and rank of any FW troopers lost. In a few cases I might have a lot of material. I have at least 1500 pages of condensed material. 

 

But it now I have a snow storm, and the iPhone is killing my eyes. 

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Terry_Reeves

Bob

 

I can't give you a specific date, my original post asked for BEF war diary entries to try and pin down as far as is possible, the number of attacks in the BEFs TAOR.  From that I asked, as a supplementary question, for any British casualties that might have been noted as a direct result of a flame attack. As I said earlier, the latter question may not be able to be answered because the casualties were all lumped together.

 

TR

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MBrockway

Bob - I love your posts!  Great to see you back and hope the storms - meteorological and administrative - all blow over soon!  :thumbsup:

Mark

 

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bob lembke

Jan; my work is conservative and careful. FW attacks succeded perhaps 60% of the time. Often modest results. But sometimes spectacular. I am working from memory several years back. In one case at Verdun a flame attack swallowed a French brigade, the brigade and two regiment HQ captured in their dugouts, Brigade only managed to get out a one sentence warning phone call before flame troops occupied the HQ. French command suspected treachery (Reg. CO an ethnic German). French histories barely mentioned this, brigade erased from the rolls of the Army. The brigade had been in line too long, probably. What was the box score? Maybe three flame troopers lost, maybe 4000 French POWs. How many MGs and Field pieces? Big actions in Russia, also. 

 

Got out to run and pay a shoveler. 

 

Jan, I will give you the figures in confidence, and sources. But the "box score" was spectacular. However, if you had lots and lots of FW, the Allies would have worked harder on countermeasures. Part of the success was due to FW attacks being infrequent. 

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