Flamethrower Q&A with Charlie Hobson


Today’s questions by timestamp are:

0:40 – After international conventions banned most flamethrower use, where and when have they still been used and why?

1:15 – What Hollywood examples are particularly realistic and which ones were the most fanciful (i.e. Aliens)?

3:02 – What was the most effective use in their history in combat?

3:55 – What is the common pressure and nozzle diameter for military flamethrowers?

4:57 – How effective were/are the use of fins inside the flow channel to create laminar flow?

6:18 – What are the chances of ignition of the fuel tank when hit by a rifle’s bullet?

7:28 – Is a flamethrower-assigned soldier expected to do field maintenance on a level on par with a gun carrying soldier? What parts of a flamethrower wear down or require repair the most?

9:44 – Did they really use flamethrowers to clear the bunkers on Omaha beach as depicted in “Saving Private Ryan”?

10:52 – Is there anyone today making true-to-spec reproductions of military flamethrowers?

12:10 – How many accidents has he witnessed?

14:07 – In field campaigns, the Pacific for instance, how did field resupply of flamethrowers work, if at all? Were individuals tanks refilled by supply folks, or were fresh tanks brought up and exchanged?

19:35 – I’d like to hear about the effects on the shooter. I heard that some men passed out because of the drop in oxygen when firing.

20:32 – If the flamethrower had not been banned under the Geneva convention in 1980, what would have been the next design evolution? For example, improved tank storage, non-pietzo ignition systems, or different fuel mixtures (such as triethyaluminium instead of more traditional gelled petroleum).

24:10 – Is there still a role for flamethrowers in modern war?

26:35 – When lighting a cigar with a flamethrower, is there a concern about leaving a poor-tasting residue on the cigar as there is with cheap butane lighters?

27:43 – What does it cost to get into one of these?


  1. I wonder if the very thought of (civilian-owned) flamethrowers might make police SWAT teams shudder, since despite being very well-protected against bullets, tactical officers could literally be turned into fried bacon no matter what kind of body armor they might be wearing.

    My guess is that, the first time one of these commercial flamethrowers ever gets used against police, they’re headed for an immediate, nationwide ban.

    And it might not even take any actual use as a weapon to instigate a ban. Switchblade pocketknives were banned all across the country because of a rash of Hollywood movies in the 1950s that showed them as the preferred weapons of street gangs, petty criminals, and even the occasional regular guy who refused to accept defeat in a routine barroom fistfight. Once again, Hollywood created widespread fear and panic over an entirely bogus issue. Let’s just hope that they don’t start making movies showing inner-city gangs going hog-wild with “Saturday Night Special” flamethrowers — further fanning the flames of the soon-to-be upcoming ban-hammer.

    • “Hollywood movies”
      Also, if I am not mistaken due to this in France pump-action shotgun are harder to own from legal-point of view that lever-action and bolt-action shotguns.

      • You’re right about pump action shotguns with smoothbores. They are classified “B 2° f”. A sporting shooter’s licence and 5 years prefectoral autorisation are needed, and also a safe to store the weapon. Just because of some movies

    • Same on airstrip 1

      A hollywood film in the 1980s with a character using a revolver shot gun / grenade launcher to destroy a convoy of vehicles (apologies for being vague, life is far to short for watching shyte films).

      lead to an almost immediate ban on “revolver shotguns”. the only gun which fit that description on the market in Airstrip 1 at that time was IIRC, an Italian reproduction buntline special in 9mm Flobert, called “The Ratter”

      Decisively useful against a convoy or rats or spuggies at a range of about 3 yards in the allotment garden, but not against much else.

      Hey, if bureaucrats actually knew what they were doing, look at all of the household cleaning and baking products that would be banned.

      and in terms of what a few gallons of gasoline can do – just look at the result of cops using a few gallons in West Philadelphia in 1985.

      It still remains the only air raid on an American city during the entire Cold War.

      Re: blue bacon – I’m not going to eat the stuff, regardless of how much lard there is on it


      it’s usually the blues setting the fires, not us pee-ons.

      • Well, the thing is that moral guardians often have a point against usage of such items as depicted in the movies but they fail to confirm that the stuff in the movies actually works! I mean, seriously, banning switchblades because of movies? Whichever idiot group instituted the ban would probably cower in terror if I showed up pointing an ancient Japanese matchlock musket (with the match lit, of course) in its general direction…

        Examples: tons of gun control advocates are terrified of the FN Five-Seven since it was demonstrated as being able to punch through body armor but only cops and government-affiliated security ever get armor-penetrating rounds. Normal 5.7mm rounds will punch through most house hold items but generally will not penetrate police-issue Kevlar vests. And to top things off, the ammunition is prohibitively expensive!!! Armor penetration is not equal to stopping power. You want a “man-stopping” handgun to put a guy down fast? Get a revolver in .357 Magnum or a semiautomatic chambered for .45 ACP. Stopping power is the ability to incapacitate a target. This usually means causing physical trauma to the target’s innards instead of clean penetration. What trauma do I mean? Try shooting a person through a car door with a Type 38 Rifle. Once that bullet penetrates the door and loses a little velocity, it will perhaps keyhole and make a ragged wound in the victim… or am I wrong?

        • “Normal 5.7mm rounds will punch through most house hold items but generally will not penetrate police-issue Kevlar vests.”
          Wikipedia query FN 5.7×28mm give performance: 31gr @ 2350fps (with 10.35″ barrel) and query .22 Hornet give performance: 35gr @ 3060fps (with 24″ barrel), assuming that each 1″ of barrel give 50fps increase then .22 Hornet from 10.35″ will have MV equal 3060-50*(24-10.35) = 2377.5 fps, very near that of FN 5.7x28mm, but no one say .22 Hornet is EVIL HAVOC WREAKING cartridge or I am wrong?

          • Apparently nobody views the 22 caliber as capable of puncturing couches… Well, nobody in the gun control camp…

          • Ah, but the .22 Hornet is not inextricably connected with a futuristic looking space machine gun as seen on “Stargate”… or a high capacity pistol..

      • As I recall regarding Philadelphia’s “MOVE bombing”, it wasn’t the cops who used the gasoline — it was that the “activists” had cans stored on their roof near the bunker that police were obsessing over and ultimately dropped a demolition charge on. The culpability of the cops was in resorting to dropping a bomb in the first place, and in assembling it with C-4, rather than commercial explosives which had been recommended, and which were less likely to start fires.

        • The bomb that was dropped consisted of explosives fixed to containers of gasoline.

          I’ve just checked with the Wikipedia article and it appears that history is busy changing, and reference to the gasoline component has now been disappeared.

          The wonders of psychopathic gaslighting

      • “it’s usually the blues setting the fires, not us pee-ons”

        Vigilante justice, perhaps? It seems that when the crimes committed by ‘pee-ons’ are so bad and the hatred for them so intense, the standard outcome is … death by fire.

        Serial cop-killer Christopher Dorner died when the building he was holding-up in somehow caught fire after police surrounded it.

        The perpetrators of another cop-killing spree, Waco’s infamous Branch Davidians, similarly died in an even larger holocaust (small “h”).

        In both cases, the fires started after the police surrounding the buildings targeted them with tear gas (or so we were told — though not everyone accepts the official story that the police did not set the fires intentionally in any of these many death-by-fire situations).

        There seems to be something intensely psychological about the use of fire against one’s enemies, which might explain why the use of such an ancient weapon is still relatively common in this technological age. It’s also interesting that there was far greater outrage that American soldiers had burned the dead (or dying) bodies of Iraqis and Afghans then there was for the act of shooting them dead in the first place.

        … and I’m sure that the term “scorched earth” will be with us for a long time to come.

        • I gather that there were plans to burn Randy Weaver and his kids out of their home too.

      • “9mm Flobert”

        My apologies to Ian for my taking this discussion off on a tangent (yet again) but I can’t help myself thinking about this 9mm Flobert. Truly a “forgotten weapon” — there’s not even a Wikipedia page on it (in any language) — it appears to be a 19th century Belgian rimfire (with antique Flobert rifles selling in the $200-$$400 range) that today is available online loaded with shotshell only, with boxes of ammo selling for a ridiculously-low price considering that the shotguns chambered for them are (apparently) not available in this country either new or used.

        It’s quite possible of course that todays “9mm Flobert” shotgun shells are not completely compatible with the 19th-century “9mm Flobert” rifles and/or muskets, but the very idea of a little-known sub-$400 antique gun (even if only ‘rat-gun’ power) that shoots cheap commercial ammunition seems too hard to believe. (also hard to believe that so many places sell the ammo, but [apparently] not any of the modern European guns that fire it)

        It’ll give me something to think about for the next few days during travel, and I’ll definitely have to check back and research this more than the few minutes I spent googling the subject just now. It’s times like this that I wish I could speak French.

          • Thanks for the info. As for my surprise that there was no Wikipedia page on the 9mm Flobert, it turns out there was previously, but it was deleted:

            “10 February 2008 Kimchi.sg (talk | contribs) deleted page 9mm Flobert”

            This was a big reason I stopped editing Wikipedia nearly a decade ago, as many of the articles I worked on ended up being permanently deleted because a single person didn’t think it was “notable” enough, and being a low-traffic article, neither myself nor anyone else was around at the time to fight the deletion process.

            Worse yet, on many deleted Wikipedia pages, I often suspected that some zealot objected to the subject matter entirely and didn’t want others to learn about it.

    • In addition to switchblades, butterfly knives are banned in many European countries. Not in Finland, though. Throwing stars are almost universally banned, despite their minimal wounding capacity. Throwing knives, on the other hand, are not banned in any country I know of.

      • Perhaps the reason why shuriken are banned is that the users are likely to do something stupid and hurt everyone around and themselves without accomplishing any useful goal.

        • Perhaps your evaluation of the users of shuriken is valid in some instances, but when the shuriken “fad” had its day in my area, It was mainly popular as a skill-toy thrown at dart boards and unfortunate hollow passage doors. None of the people I knew playing with them went on to cause any trouble, with or without shuriken. That sort of argument is often used against gun owners… the “gun nuts” ploy…They like black guns…it’s only a matter of time before every one of them goes on a killing spree!. And yes, eventually SOMEBODY will, but that type of person who does, is generally a ticking time bomb regardless of what kind of toys they threw at the dart board, or what color of guns they owned. And they are a tiny percentage of the whole.

          An anecdote: In our woodshop, a friend was throwing a few typical shuriken at a hollow door already scarred and ready for the scrap pile.. he would comment “that one stuck in almost 3/4 if an inch!” After a few such comments, I told him to back away, and from 30 feet I threw a 8″ circular saw blade at the door. It passed completely through and stuck in a corrugated steel wall. I bet circular saw blades are still sold in areas where shuriken are banned, though.

          • Shuriken are generally thrown as a distraction. Any true ninja worth his stripes would kill you with a knife. When I meant people would do something stupid, I wasn’t talking about killing sprees. I meant some idiot would show off his supposed skills by throwing the shuriken at random objects blindfolded, only to hit a bystander or a car (like how some idiots with airsoft guns take shots at parked cars, not knowing that one of the cars might have an occupant). No, nobody in this post ever meant to harm anybody, but somebody could end up in the hospital because of some stupid moron showing off without thinking about safety concerns…

  2. I worked with a Marine veteran who survived the occupation of Iwo Jima, he had some stories to tell.

    The Japanese had lots of time to dig networks of tunnels, and had no intention of surrendering.

    • An old gentleman, who’s now left us, fought his way up through Malaya and Burma in WWii.

      He said that there were no end of Japanese who surrenderd – but having seen the way that they tret prisoners, non were taken prisoner.

      After the surrender, those Japanese soldiers who were still in Malaya were immediately re employed by Britain, and spent two or three years rooting out former British allies – ethnic Chinese communists.

  3. From what he said the components of the igniter are, its essentially a sparkler! I thought flamethrowers were banned in the 1994 assault gun ban, I guess i was wrong. Still, it only takes a man with a pen and a phone to fix that. These would be a very effective way to burn a fireline as he suggested, I am surprised that more of the fire dept down here in socal doesnt use them with the rash of fires that have occurred in the past years.

    • You could build yourself a fully functional device (although not a replica) for a lot less, and you can really bring the cost down if you are willing to accept a shorter range (say 30-50 feet) and thus operate at much lower pressures (under 125 PSI working pressure.)

  4. I have a question! Could you load these up with paint? So you could spray things with a stream of paint from a distance.

  5. The international “bans” on flamethrowers amuse me because they seem to be purely symbolic and gratuitous. Even back in the 1970s fuel-spitting flame weapons were considered to be on the way to obsolescence, replaced for bunker-busting by phosphorus-based rockets. Today Fuel Air Explosives and “thermobaric” grenades and warheads are the choice for first-world militaries. The bans are presumably just press exercises and efforts to disadvantage less wealthy armed forces who would still find them sufficiently effective.

    • “The international “bans” on flamethrowers amuse me … ”

      Like the ban on hollowpoint bullets, a goal of these various “rules of war” was to have less pain and suffering along the way, as well as fewer lifelong debilitating injuries. Burn victims will die a very slow and agonizing death, and those who don’t die often wish they had, even many years later.

      Personally, I think I’d prefer not to survive a flamethrower attack — in fact, I’m quite sure of it.

  6. Charlie, you are a legend. What an education you have provided. If only the Australian forces had flamethrowers at Gona and Buna where the japs had spiders’ nests of ‘invisible’ bunkers which were only defeated after much mutual slaughter in the dense jungle.

  7. The most interesting part would be if Flamethrower would use liquid plasma instead any fuel,the burning incinerating temperature would increase rapidly and also would capable toasting vehicles not infantry alone…
    This weapon would become number one devastating technology,the fuel or stoarage tanks should be made from much higher quality materials even if they unearthed…
    At minimum if flamethrower use liquid plasma temperature would rise approximately 8500-16000 degree of Celsius which close to surface of sun,tank armor would melt like using giant torch stream on it…
    If fuel tank get shot it would ignite and detonate in violent explosion,if plasma storage tank shot it won’t do anything serious rather just loss of fuel amount….
    However plasma technology is way too advanced for modern world but napalm could be used,the size and weight of flamethrower would be decreased…
    Napalm have a high volume of temperature but in order to meet longer range it have to be mixed and already be compressed in cylinder,by proper doing so air tanks no longer would be need rather than change empty napalm canister….
    The other particular interesting substance is thermite which is powder but it possible make it compressed among mixing with other chemicals or gasses…

    • ” air tanks no longer would be need”
      Soviet ЛПО-50 flame-thrower use blank cartridges to throw rather than air tanks.

    • A lightning strike is plasma

      With DC welding, you can get interesting effects with the arc wandering about, and that’s only over distances measured in fractions of an inch.

      When you see how jagged the path that lightning takes is, then the most obvious way of generating the plasma by electrical discharge – looks like a non starter for an aimed weapon.

      • Keith, what we’re getting into here isn’t plasma (the by-product of a lightning strike) but an electron beam. You can get it to go in a straight line by using a laser pulse fired along the desired beam path just a fraction of a second before the electron beam is produced.

        Such a weapon would be very potent, even producing a spray of radiation inside the target due to bremsstrahlung.

        The issue is that the equipment for generating such a beam of electrons is enormously large and heavy. Of course, there are some technological advances that might allow that to be shrunk down to vehicle size in the long (50 years) term. Plasma wake-field accelerators, for instance, can accelerate particles as much in a few centimeters as much as conventional accelerators do in many meters.

  8. Val, plasma in the sense you’re thinking (superheated ionized gas) isn’t an effective weapon because it’s far less dense than air. It would be like trying to build a gun to shoot a beam of gas long ranges while underwater, only even worse.

  9. If you were stood in, but at one edge of say a 10ft puddle of water, on a flat surface, and somebody dropped a live electrical power cable on the opposite edge of the puddle. Would the water conduct the electricity so you got electrocuted at the other end of the puddle, if so, if one of these flamethrowers could spray an unbroken stream of water out perhaps you could electrify said stream utilizing a none electricity conducting handle for you to hold. And use a tazer type electrical current producer thing to electrify the water by firing through it etc, in order to create a “tazer stream” to conveniently stun a crowd of hippies for having the temerity to protest against a shale oil extraction company releasing noxious chemicals into the environment.

    • The problem there is “unbroken stream.” There’s no practical way to make such a stream with water, which readily breaks up into smaller droplets. Even streams that seem solid are, on closer inspection, made up of many unconnected blobs. Certain other substances might work, but on the whole it seems infeasible.

  10. Liquified plasma is not just necessary gas or air,it could be anything,if plasma get ionized or passed through dark matter it could get even worst….

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.