There is something about a flamethrower that induces the primordial fear amongst those on the receiving end. The awe of seeing a sheet of flame projected towards you with little or no chance of stopping it was recognized as a very effective psychological weapon during World War I, when these devices first started to be fielded. Even as far back as then, there were ideas and plans to mount these flamethrowers into tanks. An armored all-terrain platform makes a lot of sense for a flamethrower-carrier, as it is protected by its armor from the small arms of the enemy but also able to traverse the rough or broken ground in front of the position. Further, whilst a man-portable system was limited by the ability and stamina of the man hauling it, a vehicle was not. A vehicle-mounted flamethrower system could carry far more fuel for a bigger flame thrower with a longer range than was possible with a man-portable system.
The Germans, right from World War I, were fans of flamethrowers and understood the potential of them both in their direct military application for clearing an enemy position as well as for their psychological effect. Various German tanks in World War II were trialed with flamethrowers, although some are better known than others. One of these projects that is mostly forgotten and was never realized in a vehicle was the fitting of a heavy flamethrower into the hull of a Tiger I, the Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I.
Flamethrowers mounted on the Panzer I (Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf. A), also known as ‘Flammpanzer I’, were used in North Africa against the British and a version known as the ‘Flamingo’, based on the Panzer II (Pz.Kpfw.II(F) Sd.Kfz.122), also known as ’Flammpanzer II’, was used on the Russian Front. Both of these vehicles saw relatively limited service. They were simply too vulnerable to enemy fire with thin armor which even an anti-tank rifle could penetrate from the front. As such, the poor range of the flame projectors they mounted left them very vulnerable to being penetrated as they had to get too close. This, and carrying hundreds of liters of fuel inside the tank was thus a recipe for disaster for the crews. The Flammpanzer I had mounted its projector in the turret alongside a single machine gun but the Flammpanzer II went for two nozzles, one on each front mudguard over the tracks (Spritzkopfe – Spray Heads). Each was independently operable, able to be rotated through 180 degrees. The turret was changed to include new vision ports permitting a better view of each nozzle as it worked and just a single machine gun. Flame time for the Flammpanzer II was limited. Just 160 litres of fuel were carried, enough for up to 80 ‘shots’ lasting up to 2-3 seconds each with the usual method being to douse the target with fuel before igniting it.
A solution to the lack of armor on the Flammpanzer I and II was to use the hull of a more heavily armored tank. Whilst it was on a much slower platform, a successful flamethrower was retrofitted to captured French Renault Char B tanks (Pz.Kpfw.B2 (F1)). Powered by a J-10 Motor driving a pump rather than being reliant upon cylinders of compressed nitrogen gas as the propellant like on the Flammpanzer II, this system had a range of 40 to 45 metres with enough fuel for about 200 separate bursts. This was a new type of fitting designed by Wegmann, although the actual flamethrower was designed by Koebe. This partnership paired the heavily protected Char B hull with the flamethrower, allowing, at least in theory, for the vehicle to get close enough to the enemy to make use of it.
The Panzer III (Pz.Kpfw.III (F) Sd.Kfz.141/3) flamethrower version, also known as the Flammpanzer III, was different to the Pz.Kpfw.B2 (F) using a Koebe* HL II 40/40 1000/20 pump which, in turn, was driven by a two-stroke 28 hp Auto Union ZW 1101 (DKW) (1,100 cc) engine. It could achieve a jet of burning flame oil out to just 60 metres at a pressure of 1.52 to 1.72 MPa (15 to 17 atmospheres) and a rate of 7.8 litres per second. The fuel mix itself was a mixture of oil and petrol to create a thickened burning fluid which was easily ignited by means of Smits glow plugs (Smitskerzen). This system had far better mobility than the Pz.Kpfw.B2 (F) retrofitted system, but still required improvement and found limited use.
*(Koebe was the firm of Hermann Koebe Feuerwehr-Geraete-Fabrik of Berlin, a manufacturer of fire-fighting equipment)
Enter the Tiger
Despite the successful use of various flamethrower-armed vehicles, including tanks and half tracks, during the war, it was clear to the Germans that the short range of the flame systems used meant that the vehicles carrying them had to get too close to the enemy and this rendered them vulnerable to fire. The solution was twofold: first, put the flamethrower on a heavily armored platform (like had been tried on the Pz.Kpfw.B2 (F)), and secondly, partner this with a new, longer-range flamethrower system.
At the end of 1944, a solution was proffered by Hitler. On 5th December 1944, during a conference, he requested that a long-range flamethrower should be mounted behind as heavy an armored chassis as possible. Various heavy tank projects had been suggested up to and including the Maus (which had been through its own flamethrower development by this time). The Tiger II chassis was the most well armored vehicle in service which was in production at the time, but chassis for that vehicle were at a premium. The next best thing of course was the Tiger I (Sd.Kfz.181 – Tiger Ausf. E), a vehicle which had finished production and for which there were hulls available as vehicles were brought back from the front for repair.
Repurposing these hulls for this use was not dissimilar from the idea to reuse hulls for the Sturmtiger programme, as it meant that a tank which might have had severe and irreparable turret damage could be reused for the war effort. Unlike the Sturmtiger though, this flamethrower idea would not require extensive rebuilding with a new superstructure and weapon system. Instead, the plan was much simpler. Hitler’s goal was a Flammpanzer with frontal armor which was impenetrable to enemy fire with a target of 250 mm, but the Tiger I, with armor up to 120 mm thick on the front, would have to do in the short-term. This demand was repeated by Hitler on 29th December 1944 and the task passed over to Obert Crohn of the Entwicklungskommission Panzer (Tank Development Committee).
Reusing Tiger I hulls would mean there would be no need to design a chassis on which to mount this flamethrower but there were still technical hurdles to overcome. First was the flame-part of the problem and, on 23rd January, Obert Crohn reported a solution. It was a reversion to the older high-pressure gas-based delivery system but it would provide a significantly longer range flamethrower, at 120-140 metres. The mounting for the weapon was selected as being the machine gun port on the front of the Tiger, meaning it could be directed by the man in the front right who had previously had the role of radio operator/hull machine gunner, but there was still the issue of the fuel tanks. The interior of the Tiger was crammed full already with the equipment it needed to function as a tank as well as the turret basket, ammunition etc., so there were only two easy options for the fuel. Either it would have to be hauled in a trailer behind (a solution adopted famously by the Churchill Crocodile) or else the turret would have to be removed to create the space. The advantage of a trailer idea is that the main gun could be retained, but this would come at a cost. The trailer would be vulnerable and, since the surplus Tiger Is were those with damaged turrets anyway, the turretless internal-fuel-stowage option was chosen instead. This would be lighter and avoid the vulnerable trailer but had its own flaws. First was the lack of armament as the hull weapon had been replaced, and the turret weapons had been lost. This would receive separate consideration for a solution. The second problem was the profile. A turretless Tiger would draw significant attention and be an obvious target on which an enemy could focus fire.
Certainly, production would not have been a significant issue as the modifications were modest but the whole concept had to be called into question. Major General Thomale was a fan of the flamethrower but only in limited circumstances. Specifically, he liked them on small, light, and maneuverable vehicles which could target the odd stubborn strongpoint and the Tiger I was neither small, light, nor particularly fast even with a turret removed. His second point was also valid. With its main gun, the tank could pick off the enemy at combat ranges up to 2,500 metres meaning a significant safety distance from their fire and, with 80 rounds, could do so many times. A flamethrower meant getting very, very close and offered relatively few attempts to destroy the enemy. Despite the limited advantages of the system, he was therefore against it.
The flame thrower system designed could still be used, but would have to be mounted on something smaller and lighter instead, and the Jagdpanzer 38 was selected as the replacement. Nonetheless, the idea of a flamethrower on the Tiger I was not over.
On 19th March 1945, despite the extremely dire war situation, the project, named ‘Flammenlage auf Tiger I’ (Flame mounting on Tiger I) or ‘Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I’ (Heavy flamethrower on Tiger I) was still being listed as a project under development and Hitler ordered Maj.Gen. Thomale to fit the flamethrower system to a turretless Tiger I with the second idea of increasing the thickness of the armor on the front. Quite how much additional armor was meant to be added is not clear nor how it was to be done, but perhaps something akin to the method used on the Ferdinand/Elephant is the best approximation as to which would have been adopted. The Sturmtiger was similarly up-armored with an extra 50 mm plate, which suggests the frontal armour of the Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I could have been increased to around 150 mm across the front, a lot less than Hitler might have wanted but certainly a significant improvement.
Further progress was still reported into the final days of Nazi Germany, with an update from Wa Pruef 6 on the project as late as 3rd April 1945. In this report, Obert Holzhauer (head of Wa Pruef 6) reported that, following Hitler’s orders, the first steps in putting together this experimental heavy flamethrower on a Tiger I had taken place at Wegmann, Kassel on 21st and 22nd March with completion of the project estimated by 15th April. The Tiger I to be used had been dispatched by train from Kummersdorf on 17th March but, due to enemy bombing, had been delayed until 3rd April 1945. From Kassel, the vehicle was then sent to the firm of MIAG at Braunschweig for assembly there under supervision of men from Wegmann.
This additional movement and Allied bombing meant that the target completion date of 15th April was missed and the vehicle was never completed. Likely, work on actually fitting the system was never even started before Allied forces overran the facility. This is confirmed by a British intelligence report of the time which stated:
“…It is believed that this equipment never progressed beyond the experimental stage and no specimen has yet been recovered….”
– War Office. (26th July 1945). Technical Intelligence Summary Report 182 Appendix F ‘Flame thrower mounted on Pz.Kpfw. TIGER MODEL E (Sd.Kfz.181)’
The new flame-system that was to be fitted to the Flammenlage auf Tiger I reverted back to using compressed nitrogen and special reduction valves (obtained from the Kriegsmarine) which raised the pressure output from the tanks. This meant that this new system had abandoned the motor-driven-pump system. In this way, the pressure of the system could be raised from 1.52 to 1.72 MPa (15 to 17 atmospheres) to 2.03 to 2.53 MPa (20 to 25 atmospheres). With this increased pressure, the system could deliver a jet of burning fuel out to a range of 120 to 140 metres. A pair of 400-litre fuel tanks* would be fitted on the inside (there was more room because no turret was required), providing enough fuel for 16 to 20 bursts, meaning each burst would use about 40 to 50 litres of fuel. At 2-3 seconds per burst, this means the system delivered about 20 litres per second.
The fuel was different to what had been used before. Koebe, when asked at the end of 1942 to design a long-range flamethrower for use on the Porsche-Maus, proved unable to develop a system with a range of more than 100 m. Even then it would have required a flame-nozzle (Spritzkopf) 22 mm wide and would have used 33 litres of fuel per second propelled by a 30 hp engine driving a pumping system. To project a flame even further would require a narrower (12-14 mm) nozzle, but the jet would disperse with range. To go further, therefore, the fuel needed to be thicker and it was this factor which meant a pump could not be used. Even with a range of 140 metres, this was still not ideal and Hiter, in March 1945, still wanted a thicker fuel to match the type used by the British on their flamethrowers, but there would be no time to develop an even thicker fuel. The projector itself, when fitted into the front of the Tiger, would have had only limited traverse. A range of motion of just 10 degrees in all directions was possible.
*(A British report from July 1945 on the project reported a single 300 litre tank, suggesting just a single fuel tank was found with the remains of the system when it was recovered and mis-estimated in volume)
Given that this project was relatively crude, it is hard to know exactly how many men would have been required to crew it, but some things are known. For example, the tank would have had to have kept its driver, located in the front left. Without any kind of remote-control over the direction of the flame-projector, the flame-projector located in the front right would need manual operation too and this would have meant the retention of the man who would usually operate both the hull machine gun and the radio. He would have been the flame-operator and likely still the radio operator too, although it was also identified that flamethrower tanks should have a second radio set in order to coordinate with supporting vehicles. This would suggest the use of a Panzerbefehlswagen Tiger hull which was fitted with both a Fu 5 and Fu 8 (Sd.Kfz. 267) or Fu 7 (Sd.Kfz. 268) radio sets, although on the Panzerbefehlswagen Tiger the additional set was fitted into the turret and would have to be relocated within the hull. No loader was required nor was a gunner, but a commander would certainly have had to be retained in order to coordinate the operation of the vehicle, which would therefore indicate a crew of 3 men. Even with the removal of the turret and ammunition, the two 400-litre tanks required would have taken up a lot of the internal space and it is doubtful there would be room for a fourth man and, in any case, there was no clear role for him anyway.
As the vehicle was based upon an existing Tiger I hull, there were likely no changes made to whichever hull was to be used. As the Tiger I had gone through production, various minor changes were made to some internal and external fittings. Some were fitted with special air filters at the back, and others not. Early production Tiger I vehicles received the 650 hp Maybach HL 210 650 hp petrol engine whilst later vehicles received the 700 hp Maybach HL 230 petrol engine. Early production Tigers used rubber-tyred road wheels but these were later replaced with a more resilient steel-tyred type. Without knowing which hull was to be used, it is impossible to know exactly what the Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I would have looked like, but the essentials of the automotive system would be identical.
Changes to the Tiger I hull were relatively modest. Removal of the turret meant leaving a large hole in the roof of the tank which was obviously a serious hazard in combat so this would have been covered with a large armor-plate. Already discussed is the additional armor on the front, although how this might have looked around the machine gun mounting is unclear. Other than these changes and the interior changes, like the removal of the ammunition racks etc., there would have been few changes inside and most of the work would have been done on the roof. For the prototype, it is possible that just a single plain disc of metal welded or bolted over the hole where the turret would have sat would have been employed. This would have retained the front crew hatches but meant that a commander in the back would have been unable to get out except by these front hatches. Given the hundreds of litres of fuel he would be sat next to, this seems highly improbable for any design which would ever have been authorised for production and the description in the British 1945 report provides an additional clue.
Whilst with no turret and hull machine gun the vehicle might seem otherwise unarmed, it was to get a new machine gun, most likely either an M.G.34 (Maschinengewehr 34) or M.G. 42. This would not have been mounted within the vehicle, but this time mounted externally. This would have been controlled from inside, again supporting the proposition of a third crew member, and would have been mounted on the outside of the cover plate over the turret-hole.
The mounting of such a weapon was certainly not a new idea and was mounted on various Sturmgeschütz in the form of a 7.92 mm M.G. 34, fitted with a 50-round drum mounted behind a short and sharply curved gun shield. Under the gun was a small optical sight which permitted the man below the armor to see where he was firing. Reloading however, had to take place externally.
In order to provide any value to the commander, he would have needed to be provided with some optics as the small optic on even the roof-mounted machine gun would be wholly inadequate for the purposes of command. A hatch would also have been required for observations, access or egress to the vehicle, changing barrels, or reloading/clearing stoppage on the machine gun. Despite the description of the “single continuous roof plate”, it would appear that any development of this vehicle would have needed to include at least a moveable optic and hatch for him, or even just a repurposed tank cupola.
One extra piece to consider is that the Tiger was fitted with a self-protection system launching S-mines to protect against enemy infantry. As this Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I was, by definition, having to get very close to the enemy in order to use its primary weapon, it would be logical to assume that this type of system would have been adopted for any production of the Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I even if the prototype being assembled did not have them. Further, a lot of flame throwing vehicles used by the Germans carried smoke-candle launchers in order to create a smoke screen to protect them from enemy observation. Here again, the addition of smoke grenade launchers on the Schwerer-Flammenpanzer auf Tiger I is a very reasonable assumption as once it had ‘flamed’ its target it would need to withdraw and a smoke screen provides ideal screening during such a manoeuvre.
The overall idea was not a bad one. A flamethrower certainly had some practical military value and served as a potentially very effective psychological weapon against the enemy too. This fact was reinforced in February 1944 by considerations from Panzer Grenadier Division ‘Grossdeutschland’, which recommended the use of a motor-driven ‘howling siren’ to accompany the use of the flamethrower to maximise the demoralisation effect.
Early flame-throwing attempts had been too small (Panzer I), too lightly armored (Panzer II) and too short in range (Panzer III et al.). A heavy flamethrower paired with a heavily armored hull from the Tiger I seems like a system which could have fulfilled the requirements but it was simply flawed in premise.
With very little development time on hand and with the progress of the war going so badly, this was a weapon system which was not going to enter production. The days of assaults against fixed enemy positions like bunkers and trenches, for which a flamethrower is best suited, were over by 1945, as most of the fighting was defensive in nature. The Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I was never finished so no photos of it exist and whatever plans may have existed for it are believed to have been lost. Outside of reports, both German and British, the project remains unknown, and the reader is therefore reminded that the discussion over the vehicle is speculative, as is the artist’s rendering.
Illustration of the Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I (Flammanlage auf Tiger I – ‘Flammpanzer VI’’) based on existing descriptions. Modified by Pavel Alexe, based on wok by David Bocquelet.
Doyle, H., Jentz, T., Sarson, P. (1995). Flammpanzer German Flamethrowers 1941-45, Osprey Publishing, UK
Doyle, H., Jentz, T. (2011). Panzerkampfwagen III Umbau. Panzer Tracts, Maryland, USA
Jentz, T., McKaughan, J. (1995). Elefant Panzerjager Tiger (P). Darlington Productions, Maryland, USA
Jentz, T., Doyle, H. (2008). Panzer Tracts No.6-3 Schwere Panzerkampfwagen Maus and E 100.
US War Department. (May 1945). Intelligence Bulletin Vol. III No.9. War Department, Washington, USA
War Office. (26th July 1945). Technical Intelligence Summary Report 182 Appendix F