flamethrower, mechanism for shooting a burning stream of liquid or semiliquid fuel at enemy troops or positions. Primitive types of flamethrowers, consisting of hollow tubes filled with burning coals, sulfur, or other materials, came into use as early as the 5th cent. B.C. Modern flamethrowers were introduced by the Germans in 1915 during World War I. They were not widely used, however, until World War II, when the Americans found them especially useful, either hand-carried or mounted on tanks, in attacking Japanese fortifications in the Pacific Islands. After World War II improved flamethrowers, lighter in weight and with greater range, were developed and used in combat.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.