The Germans were quick to exploit the devastating psychological effects of the flamethrower in the First World War with man-portable examples. Those were short-range devices that excelled at demoralizing the enemy and at clearing enemy positions. However, they were seriously limited by their weight, range and operational endurance for ‘flaming’ – a function of how much fuel it could carry. There is only so much a man can carry and, even in WW1, there were ideas for mounting flamethrowers onto armored vehicles. Armor would allow for close contact with the enemy to obviate the problem of range, the engine and platform would counter the flaw of a man not being to carry enough fuel, and the armor would ensure it was protected, unlike a man-portable version. In WW2, the Germans tried various vehicles as the mounts for flamethrowers, from the Panzer I and II up to and including the Tiger I. One of the lesser-known concepts though was the consideration of the Jagdtiger as the platform on which to mount a flamethrower.
Why the Jagdtiger?
It is hard to understand quite why the Jagdtiger was considered as a possible platform for a heavy flamethrower without a short review of the previous flamethrowing equipment operated by the German Army. Some Panzer I’s were modified to mount flamethrowers during the Spanish Civil War, and very early in World War II the Germans had mounted a man-portable flamethrower into the turret of a Panzer I (Pz.Kpfw.I Ausf. A), known as ‘Flammpanzer I’. These had been used in North Africa against the British but the very thin armor of the Panzer I left it vulnerable close-up to anti-tank rifle fire and even concentrated machine-gun fire. The short-range of the man-portable flamethrower and small fuel tank meant that not only did it have to get very close to be effective, but also had a very short flame time on target due to the small fuel capacity.
An improvement in this regard was the Pz.Kpfw.II(f) also known as ’Flammpanzer II’, which found use on the Russian Front. Slightly improved in all regards, the Flammpanzer II was still vulnerable to enemy fire and had an inadequate flame duration and range. It would not be until the retrofitting of a motor-driven flame-throwing system on captured French Renault Char B1 heavy tanks that at least one of these concerns (the armor issue) was resolved. That vehicle, known as the Pz.Kpfw.B2 (fl), had abandoned the compressed gas cylinders used on the Pz.Kpfw.II(f) and adopted a motor-driven pump to provide the pressure required, using the same principle as a fire-fighting pump for projecting water. Although this did require a relatively low-viscosity flame fuel made from oil mixed with petrol, the pump was able to cope and propel burning fuel out to 40 to 45 metres. The drawback with mounting this system on the Char B though was obvious. It was a captured vehicle in limited supply, was also rather slow and, more importantly, did not provide a significant increase in range.
It was not until the Pz.Kpfw.III (fl), a flamethrowing tank based on the Panzer III, that an effective German flame tank was provided. Powered by 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, the Pz.Kpfw.III(fl) could propel 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 easily ignited by means of Smits’ glow plugs (Smitskerzen). Mounting this weapon on the Panzer III provided adequate armor and mobility. It was still not ideal however, and would only find limited use.
* Koebe was the firm of Hermann Koebe Feuerwehr-Geraete-Fabrik of Berlin, a manufacturer of fire-fighting equipment
The obvious successor to the Panzer III as a carrier for flamethrowing equipment was not, as might have been expected, the Panzer IV, because the same faults found with the Panzer III were still there on the Panzer IV, most importantly a lack of sufficient armor. The range of the weapon guaranteed that any vehicle had to come to very close range with the enemy which left it vulnerable, especially on the flanks, to enemy fire. This was why heavy/assault tanks carried heavy armor and it is no surprise therefore that, for an assault flamethrower, protection could be provided in two ways. Firstly, by increasing the distance from tank to target – which meant a longer range flamethrower, and secondly, by increasing the armor on the tank itself. By the time this was being considered though, the Allies were already operating heavily-armored flamethrowing vehicles with a long range, such as the Churchill Crocodile. With up to 152 mm of frontal armor, a range of 140 m and carrying nearly 2,000 litres of flame fuel, the Churchill Crocodile was strides ahead of anything in the German inventory and should have come as absolutely no surprise to the Germans. They had, after all, captured some Churchill Oke flamethrower tanks after the raid on Dieppe in 1942, yet had done little work on the subject.
It was not until 5th December 1944 that proper consideration was given to a long-range, good-duration, heavy flamethrower on a well-armored chassis, when the topic came up in a conference with Hitler. Hitler was no stranger to the idea. He had, after all, pressed for the addition of not one, but two flame nozzles to be added to the Porsche Maus over a year earlier, pushing for a system with a range of 200 m. By the end of 1944, though, the Maus project was effectively over despite having a functional vehicle, there was no prospect of production restarting for it. The most heavily armored chassis in use and available at that time was that of the Tiger II. Tiger II hulls were at a premium at the time and production was focussed on both the tank version of the hull as well as the tank-destroyer version, known as the Jagdtiger, with the huge 12.8 cm gun.
Hitler’s goal was to put a heavy flamethrower onto a vehicle with enough frontal armor to be effectively immune to enemy fire and this meant very thick armor. This was the focus of the following meeting on 29th December 1944 and the heaviest armored vehicle available was the Jadgtiger, but only if a range of 200 m could be achieved, something which at the time could not be done.
Despite a following meeting on 3rd January 1945, where the extremely heavy armor was emphasized and that a figure of 250 mm was needed (the same as the front of the Jagdtiger’s casemate), more discussion was had but no designs or plans were forthcoming. The Jagdtiger, as it met the armor requirement, was the leading prospect for this new vehicle, even if those vehicles were at a premium and needed for their original role.
At a further meeting held on 23rd January 1945 by the Entwicklungskommission (tank development committee), Obert Crohn of Wa Pruf 6 presented a design for a new flamethrower. This design, like the Churchill Crocodile, used compressed nitrogen gas (going back to the original gas-propelled rather than motor-driven system) and could achieve the same range as that of the Crocodile, about 140 metres. How much the Crocodile system influenced that design is debatable although the similarities are interesting.
With this new system designed, a longer range was achievable, albeit not the 200 m demanded and with Jagdtigers in short supply, it was instead to create a prototype based upon the hull of a Tiger I Ausf E. Whether that Tiger I-based heavy flamethrower would ever have been developed further into an actual production vehicle on the chassis is unknown, just as is whether or not the Jagdtiger-based idea would be revised if the flamethrower had proven successful. As it was, neither project was ever built. The Tiger I-based system was ordered and parts sent for assembly, but the war ended before this had been assembled. Nonetheless, a concept of what a production version of that Tiger I-based vehicle could look like is possible.
The Tiger I-based option was worked on under the name Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Tiger I’ (Heavy flamethrower on Tiger I), so the Jagdtiger-based option could be speculatively referred to as Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Jagdtiger’ (heavy flamethrower on Jagdtiger).
Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Jagdtiger: What Would it Look Like?
Knowing only that the Jagdtiger platform was considered for mounting this heavy flamethrower system, and there being no plans or drawings known to exist for it, it is not possible to know exactly what such a vehicle could have looked like had it ever been built.
An examination of the considerations at play during this period provides some important clues though. First is the gun, not the flamethrower nozzle but the actual gun on the Jagdtiger. This gun was a 12.8 cm Pak.44 L/55. A very potent gun capable of firing a 28.3 kg armor-piercing shell and penetrating around 200 mm of armor at a range of 2,000 m. The obvious desire for the Jagdtiger would be to retain this gun as it allowed for the destruction of the enemy at a very long-range rather than closing to close range for a flame-attack. Major-General Thomale, for example, understood the value of flamethrowers, especially those on small, light and maneuverable vehicles and bemoaned the idea of a flame system on a Tiger I as it was wasteful of the main gun.
That obvious advantage of keeping the main gun was fulfilled by the British on the Churchill Crocodile and exactly this consideration was given the Tiger I project – retain the gun and add a flamethrower.
Taking the Jagdtiger therefore, exactly the same consideration can be given to it. Retain the gun and add the flamethrower in place of the hull machine gun. This, on the face of it, gained the advantages of both ideas but had a couple of flaws. Firstly, the loss of the machine gun would leave the Jadgtiger with no secondary armament, as it did not have a coaxial machine gun like the Tiger I. Of course, for the Tiger I option, it was eventually selected to go without a turret anyway, so it was left in the same boat and to get around this problem a remote-controlled machine gun was fitted to the roof of the Tiger I hull. Conceivably, a machine gun could easily be added to the roof of the Jagdtiger too as it retained all of the usual features there.
The second problem of putting the flamethrower in the hull machine gun position and retaining the gun was space. There was simply no space inside the Jagdtiger in which to put the large-volume fuel tanks required of a flamethrower. The same problem had been considered on the Tiger I (with turret) and the same solution was apparent for both. The obvious route was the same one taken by the British, the towing of a fuel-carrying trailer. For the Crocodile, the nitrogen cylinders were fitted into the trailer along with the fuel and then it was piped through the tank to the nozzle at the front for projection. The trailer-option, however, was not adopted, perhaps because it was too vulnerable to fire or for want of developing a whole new trailer for it.
With no trailer option possible, this would leave a question as to where the flamethrower would be mounted. It could, of course, go in the hull replacing the machine gun, perhaps retaining a dummy barrel, but it could likewise have simply, and more effectively, been mounted inside the huge casemate. The massive mounting at the front which allowed the 12.8 cm gun to move could be repurposed for holding the flame nozzle, as this would be easy for the gunner (to the left) to operate and direct whilst at the same time retaining the existing machine gun for close defence. In the absence of any plans or any development of the Jagdtiger-based idea, it is not possible to know which of these might have been selected.
The one thing the Jagdtiger really offered, making it a good choice for this heavy flamethrower idea, was volume, it was simply huge inside. With the breech, mounting, and ammunition for the 12.8 cm removed, there would easily have been enough room for fuel tanks. For the Tiger I, for comparative purposes, it was to have its turret removed and still had space for a pair of 400 litre fuel tanks. Retaining its full interior volume, a Jagdtiger-based vehicle would have had even more space inside so more than 800 litres could easily have been carried. Any further speculation as to what a potential Schwerst-Flammpanzer auf Jagdtiger is perhaps best left to model makers.
The new flame-system which had been chosen is worthy of attention in any discussion over this potential vehicle. As previously stated, the system had gone back to using compressed nitrogen gas, and was to use special high-pressure fittings to raise the pressure available from them. The reason for going back to gas-propellant was a change in fuel. In order to reduce dispersion and in an attempt to get closer to the thickened mix used by the British, the old oil/petrol mix had to be thickened up and this meant that a pump could no longer be used. The system pressure on the Pz.Kpfw.III (f) operated at 1.52 to 1.72 MPa (15 to 17 atmospheres), and by changing to this high-pressure gas system, that was increased to 2.03 to 2.53 MPa (20 to 25 atmospheres). This, and the thicker fuel, meant the range was increased to about 140 metres with a burst delivering around 20 litres of fuel per second.
Given that this project received nothing more than some consideration with no plans, it is not possible to know how many of the original complement of 6 men (commander, gunner, loader x 2, driver, and radio operator) would be retained. Certainly, the tank, at a minimum, required the driver, radio operator and commander, and with no gun, did not need the 2 loaders. This means that at least 3 men would be needed, but the gunner is questionable depending on whether or not the flame unit was mounted in the hull or casemate. Assuming it would have been casemate mounted, the retention of the gunner would have allowed the commander to concentrate on commanding the tank whilst the gunner used the flame gun to immolate the target.
As the vehicle was based upon an existing Jagdtiger hull, there were likely no changes made to the hull, save for whatever new armored cover arrangement might have been added around the casemate front around the flame nozzle. It would have retained the same running gear and the same 700 hp Maybach HL230 petrol engine with performance probably about the same, as if the large and heavy 12.8 cm gun was removed, it would simply be replaced with a couple of large fuel tanks instead.
The overall idea was not a bad one considering the goal was the production of a very heavily armored heavy flamethrower. Despite General Thomale’s preference for small and light flamethrowing vehicles, the use of them was limited to isolated enemy positions, as they were simply too vulnerable to enemy fire otherwise. A flamethrower on a Jagdtiger might sound incredible on paper, but the slow nature of the vehicle, the sheer size and removing the gun would have made it a very obvious target for enemy fire.
It is undoubtedly true that a flamethrower has some practical military value as well as making a huge psychological impact on an enemy force. This fact is reinforced by consideration in February 1944 from the 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.
Regardless of whatever value such a system might have had for extensive flaming of a heavily defended enemy target, this was simply neither what the German Army needed in 1945, nor a type of combat they were undertaking. By this time in the war, it was a process of defensive combat and withdrawal. The Jagdtiger itself proved to be rather inadequate at its role despite the otherwise impressive armor and armament and reusing this chassis for a flamethrower was a project without a purpose. Such things were only pursued because Hitler had said so.
No Schwerer-Flammpanzer auf Jagdtiger was ever made or likely even drawn, but consideration of the chassis for this type of weapon system provides a special insight into both the functioning and the dysfunction at the top of German military command and vehicle design.
Jagdtiger with the main gun removed and replaced with a fake main gun to disguise the flame projector. No drawings of what a Flammjagdtiger could look like exist. Therefore the art is an impression only of what a casemate-based flamethrower might have looked like if it had ever been pursued.
No drawings of what a Flammjagdtiger could look like exist. Therefore the art is an impression only what a hull-mounted flamethrower might have looked like, in this case having to haul a trailer for additional fuel.
These illustrations were produced by Mr. C. Ryan, funded by our Patreon Campaign.
|Total weight, battle-ready||>70 tonnes|
|Crew||4 ((Driver, Radio operator/hull machine gunner, Commander, Gunner)|
|Propulsion||Maybach HL230 P30 TRM 700 hp Petrol engine|
|Speed||38 km/h (road)|
|Armament||Heavy flamethrower – 140 m range|
|Armor||Glacis 150 mm at 50 deg., lower front hull 100 mm at 50 deg., front hull roof 50 mm, casemate roof 40 mm, engine deck 40 mm, hull lower sides 80 mm vertical, hull upper and casemate 80 mm at 25 deg., casemate front 250 mm at 15 deg., casemate rear 80 mm at 5 deg. Hull rear 80 mm at 30 deg., front hull floor 40 mm, rear hull floor 25 mm|
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