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Mechanized Flamethrowers in Canadian Service

Mechanized Flamethrowers in Canadian Service Book Review

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review March 2009 Title Mechanized Flamethrowers in Canadian Service
Author Roger V. Lucy Publisher Service Publications
Published 2009 ISBN 1-894581-49-3
Format 24 pages, softbound MSRP (CDN) $9.95


While first appearing during WW I, flame weapons did not truly capture the interest of the major nations until the 1930s, and most of them eventually fielded self-propelled armored versions. The Italians had the CV3/35 flamethrower tankette, the Soviets the T-26 based variants, but the rest of the nations found use for them only after World War II started. The Soviets, Americans, Germans and British all developed tank-mounted heavy flamethrowers (many still mounting their cannon and machine guns) and the Canadians and Germans also went for lightweight armored vehicles mounting them (the Canadians with the Universal Carrier, the Germans with the Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack).

This book covers the development of the Commonwealth light flame weapons beginning with the UK forming the Petroleum Warfare Directorate (PWD) in July 1940. Working with the Lagonda company – best known for their prewar luxury cars – PWD came up with two variants mounted on Bren Carrier light tracked vehicles. Neither one was successful, and it was only with Canadian participation a Mark III that showed more promised came forth. Dubbed F.U.L. (no one knows the reason why or its expansion) it proved a success and the Canadians then dubbed the weapon the “Ronson” (the cigarette lighter that “lights every time”) in the same manner the US Army called some of its similar concepts in Vietnam “Zippos” (after that lighter).

1,000 Ronsons were built in Canada, but 182 were lost to the U-Boats during shipping. But the Ronson was replaced before it saw widespread service by the Wasp II. (Some also went to the USMC and they used them with success in the Pacific mounted on LVTs.)

The design evolved first to the Canadian “Hornet” and “Barracuda” but finally the “Wasp” was developed in a joint effort with Lagonda and the Canadian Army Overseas (CAOS for short). While the Canadians continued work on flame weapons, it was the Wasp Mk. IIc which saw the most service.

Several fuel mixtures were developed for varying conditions, but the main problem with all flame weapons is how to get the mixture to the target. A Soviet computation showed that a 40 liter “squirt” of flame material could only put 15% of that amount on target at 250 meters, as the rest would drop off or burn up on the way. But here the goal was a consistent 100 yards and as a result it was difficult to achieve.

Training with the Ronsons the Canadians were able to achieve good results, and after reequipping with the Wasps they took it into the ETO for combat. While the flame units had to both train and battle the usual bureaucratic indifference, once ashore with the 1st Canadian Army they showed their worth and were able to achieve a high level of success. But all of this came in the form of small unit tactics and not the massive use of track-to-track flame projectors foreseen by some in their chain of command.

Later the famous Ram “Kangaroo” APC was fitted with a Wasp, armored cover and commander’s cupola for close range use of the weapon under fire, the resulting system being dubbed the “Badger”.

The book also covers some of the postwar variants developed, such as the Iroquois and Cree, but by this time the advent of better close combat equipment such as the RPG-2 and even early ATGMs meant that the flamethrowers could not get within range before being knocked out.

Overall this is a nice little book and handy for anyone wanted to convert a Universal Carrier model into a Wasp or other flamethrower carrier.

Thanks to Clive Law of Service Publications for the review copy.