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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELL
New Georgia, 1943: a rifle grenadier from the 27th Division helps a comrade down the muddy trail. The tommy-gunner (note 50-round drum) wears the one-piece camouflage suit; the taller GI has a rubber shock- absorbing boot on the butt of his M1903 Springfield. Strangely, the tommy-gunner wears a rifleman's cartridge belt and the other GI carries a large gasmask bag.
The US Army of 1939 had no flamethrowers, but they were quickly developed by the Chemical Corps and issued to the combat engineers. The first model (E1-R1) came into use in 1942 in New Guinea but proved very weak and unreliable: '... Cpl Tirrell crawled through the underbrush to a spot some 30 feet from a Japanese emplacement. He stepped into the open and fired his flamethrower. The flaming oil dribbled 15 feet or so, setting the grass on fire. Again and again Tirrell tried to reach the bunker, but the flame would not carry. Finally a Japanese bullet glanced off his helmet, knocking him unconscious.' Poor design, fragility of fittings and the heat and humidity of the Pacific were hard on the E1-R1 and M1 models. The use of gasoline also caused projection problems. Dogged attempts to improve it paid off in the steadily more reliable M1A1 (1943) and M2 (1944) models.
In 1942 just 24 flamethrowers were assigned to a division; by 1944 they had become a key weapon in the Pacific, and the divisional scale of issue had reached 192. The successful M1A1 and M2 used one cylinder of propellant nitrogen and two cylinders of 'napalm' - jellied gasoline, with an improved range of 40-50 yards. The M1 and M1A1 flamethrowers weighed about 701bs (31.7kg), and their 5gal fuel capacity gave all models only eight to ten seconds of fire. An assistant accompanied the flamethrower operator to turn on the tanks from the rear just before use; by 1944 the assistant was to carry a jerrycan of additional fuel. The E1, M1 and M1A1 had electrical spark ignition problems, so some teams carried WT/thermite grenades to insure that the target 'cooked off'. The M2 had a range of 50 yards and an improved pyro ignition system based on a Japanese method. Stuart and Sherman flamethrower tanks were also to be seen in the Pacific in 1944-45. (Flamethrowers were available in Europe, but not used in such numbers.)
Lone flamethrowers deployed without protection were usually suppressed or destroyed with little impact. By 1944 many Army (and Marine) divisions were organising specially equipped bunker-busting teams of 15-25 men who used 'corkscrew and blowtorch' tactics. These teams were formed around two flamethrowers and included riflemen, BARs, demolitions men and bazookas. They used flamethrowers to burn off jungle cover to expose Japanese-held caves and log bunkers. Then riflemen, BARs and bazookas laid down suppressive fire as the flamethrowers approached. Flame shot across the gun slits forced the enemy back as the demolition teams closed; then combinations of thrown demolition charges, bazooka fire and close-range flame finished the job. Near the front lines, jeep-mounted refill/repair positions supported the still short-winded and fragile flamethrowers. These integrated teams proved highly successful, but not all divisions organised them.
Okinawa, 1945: an M4 Sherman flame-tank ('Zippo') of the 713th Tank Bn hoses down a cave entrance in support of the 7th Division's advance. Shermans modified to take flamethrowers became available in mid-1944 and were heavily used on Okinawa; they could shoot flame up to 65 yards and sustain fire for about one minute. Although flame-tanks in the Pacific were quite widely dispersed in small numbers, the 713th was the only complete battalion.
In the Pacific, Mediterranean and North-West European theatres successful amphibious operations would prove critical to winning the war. Fortunately, in the 1930s the US Marine Corps - with very limited assistance from the Navy and Army - pursued doctrine and hardware to make these operations possible. A waterborne assault is among the most difficult manoeuvres an army can attempt. The costly failure of the British/Canadian 'raid in force' at Dieppe in 1942 foreshadowed disaster for any opposed amphibious landing. By 1943 the US was able to prove their amphibious equipment and doctrine to be sound and viable, and in the last two years of the war American strength and expertise in this challenging form of warfare became unsurpassable.
Bougainville, 1944: a 37th Division flamethrower man checks out a burned Japanese bunker. By 1944 the improved M1A1 and M2 flamethrowers had become a integral part of small unit tactics for neutralising Japanese positions - the so-called 'corkscrew and blowtorch' method. Operators sometimes 'hosed down' targets to soak them with fuel before lighting them up.
The standard landing craft of the war was the 'Higgins boat', designed by that company at the behest of the Marine Corps (over the objections of the US Navy). The Higgins boat or LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle/Personnel) in all its variants was said by Eisenhower to have been one of the three tools that won the war for the Allies (the others being the C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and the jeep). This floating shoebox with a front ramp carried approximately 36 combat-loaded soldiers. More than 22,000 LCVPs were produced before VJ-Day.
Primary among the Army's amphibians was the six-wheeled DUKW (universally known as the 'duck', although the title code letters officially stood for '1942 - amphibious - all wheel drive - dual rear axle'). Essentially an amphibious 214-ton truck with a rudder and propeller for water travel, it could simply drive down into the water and then drive out again on the other side. Developed in 1940-41, it came into Army service in 1942. The DUKW could travel at 45mph on land and 6 knots in the water, carrying 25 men or 2.5 tons of supplies. It gained early fame for an incident off Cape Cod in 1942 when an '... Army truck rescues men from a stranded naval vessel'. The Allies rapidly became dependent on the logistical link it provided between ship and shore. In the Pacific, the Army operated several amphibious brigades of DUKWs; US Navy-crewed DUKWs also supported landings in the Mediterranean and Normandy.