Fire Smashing

Fire Smashing

Firing from Shmel rocket flamethrower

History knows multiple cases when people attempted to harness flame and turn it upon their enemy. It all started from flaming arrows, and nowadays, rocket flamethrower systems are used for combat operations. Such system was developed in the 1970s by Shipunov Instrument Design Bureau. Currently, the weapon using fire power shows itself to the best advantage and is continuously improved. The most prominent representatives of this formidable kind of weapon are discussed below. 

Flamethrowers similar to modern types were used as far back as during World War II. Several types of flamethrowers were fielded in the Soviet Army, including ROKS (Kluev-Sergeev portable flamethrowers). These were jet flamethrowers, i.e. they engaged a target with a fire jet built up at the flamethrower muzzle face. Such flamethrowers had a deterrent effect and helped to achieve the goal. However, they had some disadvantages, for example, a part of flame mixture burned out uselessly in flight. Moreover, such “shot” had a short range – about 40m.

A group of flamethrower operators moves to a firing position. The soldiers are armed with ROKS-3 portable flamethrowers

During defence, flamethrower operators defended flanks, while during attack, when it was necessary to literally smoke out the enemy from cover during city and fortified area assaults, their missions included suppression of enemy's gun positions.

The end of World War II was far from meaning that search for new types of weapons, including flamethrowers, was terminated. Instead, efforts in this area were picking up pace. The 1950s were marked by heavy infantry flamethrower (TPO-50) and light infantry flamethrower (LPO-50) fielded in the Soviet Army. The TPO-50 weighed about 170kg and consisted of three changeable barrels and carriage. Such weapon could provide flamethrowing at a range up to 180m using dedicated ammunition. The LPO-50, by contrast, had a loaded weight of only 23kg and could be carried and used by one soldier in combat. The weapon was most effective at 40 to 50m, though it could also engage a target at 70m.

The LPO-50 in service

The next step, a revolutionary one, was the emergence of Rys rocket multishot flamethrower that allowed to do away with the disadvantages of the previous-generation models. The credit for its development belongs to the designers from Tula-based instrument design bureau currently forming a part of Rostec State Corporation.

The weapon is unique in its way: it uses a capsule-jet flamethrowing concept for the first time. In other words, flame mixture is placed in a capsule to which a solid rocket engine is attached. When shot, the flame mixture capsule achieves the target and ignites on impact with it. Such weapon was already able to effectively hit targets at much longer ranges up to 190m.

But, as is often the case, the innovation suffered “childhood diseases”. In the 1980s, the professionals from Tula-based Instrument Design Bureau developed a unique flamethrower at that time – Shmel single-use rocket infantry flamethrower.

This weapon implemented a capsule flamethrowing concept, when a flame mixture capsule is delivered to the target in “cold” condition. The flamethrower itself consists of a single-use plastic tube where a rocket is placed – an aluminum capsule containing a dedicated mixture, and an engine connected to the capsule. 

After rocket detonation, an explosive cloud is formed and ignites immediately – giving no chances to escape this sea of flame. However, this rocket is able to pierce light armor and some fortifications and only after this the deadly cloud occurs. RPO-A Shmel flamethrower boasts high accuracy: Its effective range is up to 600-800m. 

Flamethrower operators from the combined-arms army of the Western Military District engaged the “enemy’s” fortified permanent fire positions using Shmel-M improved rocket flamethrowers

The weapon is complete with a sling used to tie two Shmels together. The resulting load that should be carried on back weighs a little more than 20kg – it is not the heaviest load for a trained person. 

Speaking about flamethrowers, a highlight of Russian Armed Forces – heavy flamethrowing systems – should not go unmentioned: TOS-1 Buratino, TOS-1A Solntsepyok and TOS-2 Tosochka which is a consecutive of its predecessors.