A couple of months before the beginning of the Second World War, the HWA (“Heereswaffenamt”, Eng: Army Ordnance Department) requested the construction of a flamethrower tank to support the infantry fight against heavily fortified positions. The first vehicles (named Flammpanzer II) were ready after the Fall of France and participated, along with other newly made Flammpanzer IIs, in Operation Barbarossa. In combat, these tanks performed rather poorly due to their thin armor. Ultimately, all of them were pulled out of service and converted into Marder II tank destroyers.
History of the Flamethrower Tank
The origin of the Flammpanzer can be traced back to the First World War, when the German Army started using the flamethrower as an assault weapon against infantry in close-range combat situations. These flamethrowers were carried by specially trained soldiers and were highly effective when assaulting a trench line. Their task was to pin down the enemy while friendly forces advanced into the enemy’s lines. They were not only effective as combat weapons, but also had a great psychological impact. The only major downsides were the fact that the flamethrower operators were unprotected from any kind of projectiles and had to carry a lot of heavy equipment.
Seeing their effectiveness, many nations experimented with their own flamethrowers. Another new type of weapon that saw great success during the First World War was the tank and combining these two inventions made a vehicle that could bring fear into the enemy while still being protected. After the end of the First World War, many Europeans and veterans immigrated to South America. This led to the creation of the first flamethrower tank to be ever used in combat. The so-called F-1 was a field-improvised tracked agricultural tractor with added armor protection and a flamethrower. It was used by the São Paulo Public Police Force during the Brazilian Revolution of 1932. The “tank” performed excellently against the Brazilian Army, which did not have tanks or enough anti-tank capabilities in the area where the F-1 was used. It proved to be most effective as a weapon of terror against the Brazilian infantry, but still lacked mobility and was too cramped for the crew.
The first serially constructed flamethrower tanks were the Soviet OT-26, developed from 1931, and the Japanese Sōkō Sagyō Ki, introduced in 1931. These tanks shared differences, but also had things in common. Both used an already existing tank chassis and the main armament was removed. The OT-26 was based on the twin turret T-26 variant. One of the turrets was removed while the other had its gun exchanged with a flamethrower. Although the T-26 chassis was reliable, the flamethrower was ineffective due to its short-range.
The Sōkō Sagyō Ki was based on the Type 89 I-Go chassis. Additionally, the turret was removed and replaced with a commander’s cupola. Unlike the OT-26 or previous flamethrower tanks, the Sōkō Sagyō Ki was not just a flamethrower tank. It was equipped with multiple flamethrowers, two claws in front of the tank for mine cleaning, and a winch to grab heavy objects. These tanks were made for the engineer battalions in order to destroy enemy fortified positions.
Italian and German Flamethrower Use
The Italian tank fleet was very weak in the 1930s in terms of firepower. To increase this, flamethrowers were mounted on Italian tanks. The first tanks to receive this upgrade were the FIAT 3000 and the FIAT-Ansaldo CV.35. After the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, the Italians sent military aid to the Spanish Nationalists in 1936, including flamethrower equipped CV.35s. During the conflict, a new way of flamethrower tank combat was invented, which involved attacking the enemy tanks from behind and burning the crew alive. The small size of the CV.35 was perfect for sneaking up to the enemy. However, because of the thin armor, the tanks were only protected against small-arms fire and were vulnerable against enemy tanks like the BT-5 or T-26.
Furthermore a small number of Panzer I’s sent to Spain were converted into flamethrower tanks. These were less effective than their Italian counterparts and were generally vulnerable against any enemy tank fire. The flamethrower’s range was also not effective as it could only reach up to 25 m.
In winter 1939, the German weapons department ordered the creation of a flamethrower tank using an already existing chassis, with the idea of having a flamethrower tank to support the infantry in assaulting heavily fortified positions.
The official designation for this tank was Sd.Kfz.122 Pz.Kpfw. II (F) Ausf.A/B. The (F) should not be confused with the later Panzer II Ausf.F version. The (F) stands for (Flamm) or (Flammpanzerwagen), which would translate to (flame) or (flamethrower tank). This is why most people refer to it as the Flammpanzerwagen II or.
Production (Ausf.A and B)
Since the Panzer I did not fulfill the criteria, the HWA decided to use the Pz.Kpfw.II Ausf.D variant, originally a light tank made for cavalry support and independent light tank divisions. But, since this was never implemented, the Panzer II Ausf.D had no specific use. The Flammpanzer tank had two sub-variants, the Ausführung (variant) A and B. Ausf.A tanks were all vehicles built before the summer of 1941 and based on the Panzer II Ausf.D1 and E chassis, while the Ausf.B was built from June 1941 until March 1942 on the Panzer II Ausf.D2 chassis. While the D1 variant had a sprocket wheel with 11 spokes, the D2 chassis had only 8 spokes. The Ausf.E had changes made to the front and idler wheel and had lubricated tracks but only 7 Ausf.E chassis were made and all were converted into Ausf.A.
The Panzer II manufacturing companies, MAN and Daimler-Benz, were approached by the HWA to design the hull and turret respectively.
From April to September of 1939, 46 chassis of the Panzer II Ausf.D1 were taken off the normal production line and rebuilt by MAN. 1 prototype vehicle was already finished in July 1939 made out of carbon steel (also known as soft- or mild steel). Later, in the Winter of 1940, all of them were converted to flamethrowers by Wegmann & Co. in Kassel. In addition to the construction of new tanks, 43 already completed Panzer II Ausf.D were taken from the 7th and 8th Panzerdivision. In May 1940, the production was halted and all completed vehicles were sent back for modifications. The original order demanded the production of a 0-series with 90 Flammpanzer II tanks by October 1940. This deadline was achieved with the delayed production of only 3 tanks which were completed in February 1941 due to a lack of Panzer II chassis. Additionally, an order for 150 new Flammpanzer IIs was given in April, which were to be produced at a rate of 30 per month. Production started in August 1941 but, due to a shortage of chassis for the Flammpanzer IIs and the fact that some of the available chassis were not in a usable state, only 62 could be completed until March 1942. After that date, the conversion order for Flammpanzer II tanks was stopped. The rest of the 150 tank order were normal Panzer II Ausf.Ds.
The Flammpanzer II used the same engine as the Panzer II Ausf.D, which was the 6-cylinder Maybach HL62 TRM 140 hp gasoline engine. Since the original role of the Panzer II Ausf.D was to support the cavalry, it had to keep up with the horses. Therefore, a more powerful engine had to be built in comparison to the regular Panzer IIs. This speed was transferred to the Flammpanzer II, making it a very fast vehicle with a maximum speed of 55 km/h. Although the weight was raised from 11 to 12 tons, the vehicle showed no changes mobility-wise.
Both the Flammpanzer II Ausf.A and B used the unchanged suspension of the Panzer II Ausf.D and E. Since the Panzer II Ausf.D requirements were for a better engine, the running wheels had to be upgraded too. They were given a completely new running gear, using four large all-rubber wheels sprung on torsion bars, which made the return rollers of the Ausf.C superfluous. Furthermore, all 7 vehicles were based on the Panzer II Ausf.E chassis had different front and back wheels which adapted to the new lubricated tracks on the Ausf.E.
Hull and superstructure
The lower hull was completely identical to the Panzer II Ausf.D and E. The superstructure was also very similar. On the front of the tank were two escape hatches for the driver and radio operator. Two armored boxes were placed on the left and right mudguards, which consisted of the fuel tanks for the flamethrowers, which could be accessed by opening the top. On each Flamethrower turret, there were small hatches to access the flamethrowers if repair was needed. To reach the engine, which was separated from the crew compartment, a hatch was put on the rear top of the tank. Additionally, storage boxes and the standard tank equipment were placed on the superstructure. Some of the Ausf.A Flammpanzer IIs had a spare track and idler wheel on the backside.
The turret was completely different from the one used on the previous Panzer II variants and was smaller. It had a hexagonal shape and an armored vision slit on each side. The front side had a MG fitted in a “Kugelblende”. Additionally, there was a hatch located on the top for the commander.
One of the main flaws of the Flammpanzer II was its weak armament. The two flamethrower turrets, called “Spritzköpfe” (meaning Spray heads), were equipped with two standard flamethrowers that could be moved 180°. The turrets were located on the front, on the left and right, on the mudguards. The fuel was stored in separate fuel tanks behind the turrets, running along the sides above the tracks. They could be refilled by opening the top of the armored box. Each of the two fuel tanks included 160 liters of flamethrower oil, a mixture of gasoline and oil, and were “shot” with the help of pressurized nitrogen stored in six pressurized tanks. The oil was then ignited by an acetylene lighter. The Flammpanzer II could shoot 80 bursts for 5 seconds each at a maximum range of 35 meters. This range proved to be very weak and not enough for effective use. Additionally, there was a 7.92 mm MG 34 fitted in the turret with 1800 rounds available and a K.Z.F.2 (1,75 x 18°) as a gunsight with a range of 200 meters. Behind the turret on the backside, two pairs of three small “Nebelwerferanlagen” (smoke grenade throwers) were fitted, which could create a smoke wall to support infantry advance or help the tank retreat in dangerous situations.
Another drawback of the Flammpanzer II was its light armor. The turret was relatively well armored in relation to the hull, with 20-30 mm of thickness. The hull and superstructure had 14.5-30 mm of armor. The frontal armor plates provided effective protection against anti-tank rifles at most ranges. The side armor, on the other hand, could only protect against small arms fire and proved to be extremely dangerous for the fuel tanks of the flamethrowers.
Flammpanzer II tanks had a crew of 3 men (radio operator, driver, commander). The commander was situated in the turret. His tasks were commanding the crew, operating both flamethrowers and the machine gun in the turret. The small flamethrower turrets were moved by an electrical transmission located in the main turret. The radio operator was situated on the right side and operated the radio (FuG 2), while the driver sat on the left side.
Operation Sea Lion
Flammpanzer IIs were organized into Abteilungen (eng: Battalions) which served in Panzer Divisions together with the “Panzergrenadiere”. From the 1st to the 4th March 1940, two Panzer Abteilungen (Tank Battalions) were formed. These were Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 and, a few days later, 101. Another flamethrower unit was Panzer Abteilung (F) 102, but this battalion consisted of “Flammenwerfer Beutepanzer” (captured tanks that were converted into flamethrowers). Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 used a “Wolfsangel” (Wolf fishing rod) as their unit emblem, while 101 first used crossed flamethrowers in light green paint and, after 1941, a multi-colored flame.
Although they were ready for the invasion of France, there was only a small number built at this point. Before the invasion of France, both battalions were located at training schools in “Wehrkreis III” (Army Circle 3). Furthermore, the OKH (German Army High Command) delayed the production to July 1940. After the invasion, they were stationed in northern France and prepared for the planned Operation Sea Lion (amphibious invasion of Great Britain). Many photos show the tanks during exercises, being loaded and unloaded from transport ships and rafts.
Flamethrower combat tactics
In September 1940, a manual for “Panzerflammabteilungen” (Flamethrower Tank Battalions) was created. This manual reveals the tactical doctrine and the flamethrower´s intended combat role. Their main task was to support the “Panzertruppe” (tank force) or “Panzergrenadiere” (tank grenadiers) by eliminating threats which other tanks or the infantry could not. Furthermore, the flamethrower had a huge demoralizing effect on the enemy. While the flamethrowers were to be used at an effective range of 30 meters, the machine gun was used for longer ranges, up to 400 meters.
The manual covered three different methods of engaging enemy positions. The first method showed how to deal with enemy infantry on flat terrain. The flamethrower turrets were to be set at an 0° elevation angle and sprayed in discharging bursts. Furthermore, by traversing the turrets whilst driving, an area about 50 meters could be covered. The second method showed how to engage opponents in field fortifications, woods, buildings or machine-gun nests. This could be achieved by shooting out short bursts, demoralizing and driving out the enemy, so they could be eliminated with other weapons. The last method dealt with entrenched enemies or enemies in bunkers and log bunkers. By shooting out cold oil and covering the area then igniting it with a single burst, the area could be set on fire for a longer duration.
In terms of pushing forward, the flamethrower tanks were always to advance with cover fire from either the artillery or other tanks. Additionally, at close ranges, the regular Panzer IIs provided cover fire. During combat, all three flamethrower tank companies were to be deployed and were only allowed to advance with a Panzerdivision.
Furthermore, the Flammpanzer II could create a smoke cloud whilst shooting the flamethrowers and using the “Nebelwerfer”. This could be used to close in on enemies or retreat safely. If supply vehicles managed to reach the Flammpanzer IIs, the whole battalion could be refilled and rearmed in one hour.
Combat results on the Eastern Front
Since the invasion of Britain was never initiated, all 90 Flammpanzer IIs were transported to the Warsaw area for the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. There, Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 was attached to the 19. Panzer Division in the XLVII Panzerkorps (47. Tank Corps) and Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 to the 7th Panzer Division as part of the 2. “Panzergruppe” (2. Tank Group). Both battalions were part of Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Center). Each battalion had a Staff and Staffcompany, 3 armored flamethrower companies, 1 reserve squadron, 1 light tank platoon (with 5 Panzer II light tanks) and a workshop company. The armored flamethrower companies each consisted of 1 staff platoon with two Panzer II Ausf.C or D light tanks, three flamethrower tank platoons with 4 Flammpanzer IIs each and a single light tank platoon with 5 Panzer II Ausf.C or D. The reserve squadron held a reserve of 2 Panzer II light tanks and 6 Flammpanzer II tanks. In practice, these reserves did not last long.
Starting in August 1941, the first new Ausf.B Flammpanzer IIs arrived, which were highly needed due to tank losses. They were put into the already existing battalions. After seeing how vulnerable the battalion was against enemy armor, the OKH demanded the addition of a Panzer III (5cm) platoon for extra anti-tank capability. There was also one single Pz. Bef. Wg. III added, which was a command tank variant of the regular Panzer III (5cm) but was fitted with a “Rahmenantenne” (cage antenna) and had the main armament removed. At the start of Operation Barbarossa, both battalions consisted of 24 regular Panzer IIs (2cm), 42 Flammpanzer II tanks, 5 Panzer IIIs (5cm) and 1 Pz. Bef. Wg. III.
Panzer-Abteilung (F) 100 first saw action in the area of Legi, beyond Warsaw, when the tanks drove over the Legi bridge. Only a few days later, the battalion reached Minsk and a month later participated in the battle of Smolensk. Instead of advancing to Moscow, the battalion was sent south and almost reached Kursk. This order was canceled and the tanks were ordered to support the advance on Moscow. Their final advance was to the area of Orel (350 km south of Moscow), where they were stopped. Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 followed a similar route as 100 and also got put out of service around the same date. In early November 1941, both battalions were pulled off the front and only left the regular Panzer II (2cm) and Panzer III (5cm) tanks behind, which were transferred into the 18. Panzer Division.
Unlike Panzer Abteilung (F) 100, 101 offers a detailed rare after-action combat report from the 26th June 1941. On the 26th of June 1941, near Stonim in Belarus, Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 and Panzer Regiment 25 supported the attack of “Schützenregiment 7” (7th Infantry regiment) against an enemy who held a position 2 km wide and deep. At 6 am, the battalion attacked. The 3rd Company attacked from the right side, while the 1st and 2nd attacked from the left. Due to terrain difficulties which included driving over multiple gullies, the advance had to be done on a narrow front. The Soviet infantry, which had only used small arms fire at this point, though the presence of anti-tank guns and heavy machine guns were suspected, had positioned itself in brush-covered woods.
Shortly after the tanks reached the forest, it turned out that the woods were impenetrable by tanks. The infantry, which advanced alone into the forest, was met with heavy machine gun fire. After the commander failed to direct the battalion around the forest, due to difficult terrain, the 2nd and 3rd Companies started to burn down the brushland with Panzer III (5cm) support. The advance through the woods was slow because many Soviet soldiers were shooting from hidden spots and therefore the German infantry could not advance forwards. The Flammpanzer IIs burned down the Brush Piles, one after another, and captured soldiers who were struck by fear. With the support of the 1st Company, the woods and nearby cornfields could be secured by 11 am. At 12:30 am, Panzer Abteilung (F) 101, which had already retreated from the area, received a message from Schützenregiment 7 that they were under attack from all sides. The commander of Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 (Major Mast) sent the 1st Company for support but, upon arriving, this support was no longer needed, since the infantry had successfully defeated the enemy.
In the end, the battalion managed to destroy several light machine guns, 11 heavy machine guns, 1 mortar, 2 cars, 3 trucks, and one tank. Furthermore, the battalion claimed to have destroyed 1 heavy tank and 2 artillery pieces, but this number could not be verified. Around 100-150 Soviet soldiers were killed by either the machine guns or flamethrowers. Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 reported no casualties, vehicle- and men wise.
Like many other German early war tanks, the performance of the Flammpanzer II on the Eastern Front was rather weak. Due to their thin armor, Soviet anti-tank rifles and guns faced no problem penetrating the sides of the Flammpanzer II at most combat ranges. Another downside was that the Flammpanzer II, like many pre and early WW2 tanks, had a one-man turret. The commander of the Flammpanzer II was overwhelmed with his tasks of observing the battlefield, giving orders to the crew, and operating the flamethrowers and the machine gun. Lastly, the flamethrower’s short-range made the tank even more vulnerable, since it had to approach the enemy very closely.
Both battalions suffered from huge losses, as seen in Tables 2 and 3. Almost the entirety of the time, the battalions had no command tank and only little medium tank support. Additionally, in the first few days, both battalions lost almost half of their Flammpanzer II tanks. These problems continued throughout the invasion and the battalions were only at half of their strength for the most time. When the order arrived to pull the Flammpanzer IIs back from the front, Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 and 101 together had only 12 operational Flammpanzer II tanks. On the other hand, unlike the early Panzer II variants which had problems with their leaf spring suspension in the Russian mud, the Flammpanzer II and its larger wheels performed excellently.
After their last deployment, the Flammpanzer IIs were pulled off the front by mid-November 1941. All surviving vehicles, including the regular Panzer II Ausf.Ds were converted into Marder II tank destroyers. The flamethrower tank project was canceled and production stopped, until 1943, when the Germans started introducing a new flamethrower tank, the Flammpanzer III. Meanwhile, Panzer Abteilung (F) 100 was renamed Panzer Regiment 100 and was reorganized and equipped with standard medium and light tanks. Panzer Abteilung (F) 101 experienced the same fate when they were renamed the 24th Panzer Regiment. Both regiments saw action again in the summer offensive of 1942. The flamethrowers were given to the pioneers and the MG turrets were built in coastal defenses in Norway as a part of the Atlantic Wall. Since all Flammpanzer IIs got converted, only the turrets can be seen nowadays.
In the end, the Flammpanzer II was a well-thought-out first attempt at creating an armored flamethrower to attack bunker positions, supporting the infantry, and performing tasks that other tanks, such as the Panzer III or IV, could not achieve. The idea behind it was fairly good and, at that time, the armor and armament seemed good enough to fight the opponents. Furthermore, its original role was not to engage enemy tanks, but rather infantry and bunker positions. Additionally, the combination of speed and the fear factor from the flamethrowers made a fairly effective anti-infantry vehicle.
Flammpanzer II specifications
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||4.30 x 2.124 x 1.85 m|
|Total Weight, Battle Ready||12 tonnes|
|Crew||3 (commander, radio operator, and driver)|
|Speed||55 km/h, roads: 40 km/h, cross-country: 20 km/h|
|Range||roads: 250 km, cross-country: 125 km|
|Armament||2x flamethrowers & 7.92 mm MG 34|
|gunsight||K.Z.F.2 (1.75 x 18°) 200 m range|
|ammmunition||320 liters falmeoil & 1,800 rounds/td>|
|Elevation||-10° to +20°|
|Traverse||Turret 360°, Flamethrower turrets 180°|
|Engine||Maybach HL 62 TRM / 6-cylinder / 140hp|
|Armor||5-30 mm 90°-30°|
|Ground clearance||0.34 m|
|Power-to-weight ratio||11.7 hp/ton|
|Trench crossing capability||1.70 m|
|Communication||FuG 2 or 5|
|Total Production||Ausf.A: 89, Ausf.B: 62|
Michael Sawodny, Waffen Arsenal Deutsche Panzer Raritäten 1939-1945 Band 77