Front Page
Whats New
Search the Site!!
For Sale
Guest Book
The Kaisers Cross
Fake Documents.
Which Unit?
Uniforms + Militaria
The Raiders
Sturmbataillon Rohr
A. Breuer: Stormtrooper
Flamethrower troops
Schratzmännle Raid
S.B. Rohr, mid 1916
S.B. in the Champagne
S.B. at Craonne
Sturmbataillon Rohr Docs
Sturm Batl Rohr Militärpass1
Sturm Batl Rohr Militärpass2
Sturm Batl Rohr Militärpass2
Sturmpanzer 1918
Hartmannsweilerkopf Raid
Flammenwerfer/SB 3
Sturm Abt. Oberrotweil
155 IR Höhe304 Verdun
159 I.R. trench raid
Somme patrol
Avocourt Bombardier
Raid at Kakamas
11. RIR Karpathen
Assault Troopers
Assault Troop Postcards
Sturmbataillon Nr. 7 (a)
Sturmbataillon Nr. 7 (b)
Sturmbataillon Nr. 7 (c)
In the Trenches
Mobile warfare
The Casualties
The Battles
The German Army
Bavarian Army Photos
The Weapons
Photo Corner
The Croix de Guerre
The Men
German DSWA
South Africa: WW1 in Africa
Harry's Africa
Harry's Sideshows...
Stars and Hearts
Freikorps Documents
French Colonial Awards
GSWA History 1914-15
The Boer war
British Groups
Research Links
Assorted maps/Photos
Whats New to end mar
GMIC Newsletters
The EK1

The flamethrower, for the trench fighter of WW1 and for soldiers of later generations may be the most fearsome weapon they could come up against on the battlefield.

For the German army the flamethrower troops were the men of the Garde Reserve Pionier Regiment, the “Totenkopf Pioniere” or “Deathshead Pioniers”

Thomas Wictor, author of German Flamethrower Pioneers of World War I, was kind enough to provide the following brief history of the Flammenwerfer troops during the First World War. Tom is working on Flamethrower Troops of World War I: The Axis and Allied Powers, which will be published by Schiffer later this year.

Pre War

Berlin mechanical engineer and inventor Richard Fiedler was studying nozzle designs for spraying liquids when he realized that gasoline fired from a pressurized tank could be ignited and used as a weapon. On April 25, 1901, he patented his first flamethrower, a “Method for Producing Large Masses of Flame” (Verfahren zur Erzeugung grosser Flammenmassen.) That year he also approached the Supreme Army Command (Oberste Heeresleitung or OHL) and was awarded funds to continue developing his prototype.

In 1905 Fiedler presented his flamethrower to the Prussian Engineer Committee (Preusisches Ingenieur-Komitee) on the training grounds of the Garde-Pionier-Bataillon in Berlin. The Engineer Committee suggested several improvements, which Fiedler incorporated. In 1908 the Fiedler flamethrower was assigned to the Pioneer Experimental Company (Pionier-Versuchs-Kompagnie), the de facto 5th Company of the Garde-Pionier-Bataillon. The Pioneer Experimental Company tested a small, backpack model of flamethrower called the kleine Flammenwerfer or Kleif and a large apparatus called the grosse Flammenwerfer or Grof.

Fiedler demonstrated both flamethrowers to representatives of the War Ministry, the General Staff, and the Engineer Committee in September of 1909. Flamethrowers were judged superior to the other major pioneer incendiary weapon, the fire tube (Brandröhre), a short sheet-metal tube filled with combustible material and ignited with a friction fuse. Producing clouds of smoke and a flame seven feet long, fire tubes were attached to long poles and held to the openings of bunkers and other strong points to clear the installation of its personnel.
Nearly concurrent with Fiedler's work were the efforts of Bernhard Reddemann, an engineer, soldier, and professional firefighter from Posen. He became interested in flame weapons after reading about the siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. Japanese combat engineers used hand pumps to spray kerosene into the Russian trenches and then threw bundles of burning rags to ignite the liquid. Reddemann realized that he could convert fire-brigade steam pumpers into flamethrowers, which he demonstrated at Fort Fort Glowno of Fortress Posen in 1907. He also used hand pumps in his experiments.

Reddemann and Richard Fiedler met in 1908 and remained in contact, cooperating on flamethrower development a few months after the start of the war.
In 1912 Fiedler produced a small flamethrower that was assigned to pioneer siege trains (Pionier-Belagerungstrains) of the German army as a weapon for reducing fortresses. The Grof M.1912 appears not to have been widely issued before the war.

Left: Pionier of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment wearing the M.1915 Friedensrock with the dove-gray or white version of the Totenkopf badge.  This badge appears to be an officially sanctioned variant, as it appears in several photos.  The photographer, Otto Hoeffke, was a favorite of the flamethrower regiment.


At the beginning of position warfare, individual pioneer formations received flamethrowers as offensive weapons kept in pioneer parks. Each platoon of selected pioneer companies, battalions, or regiments was issued a Kleif M.1912, operated by a two-man squad. Pioneer officers consulted with regimental and battalion infantry commanders to formulate orders for the flamethrower squads, which were not given direct supervision by pioneer NCOs.
According to United States Minister to Belgium Brand Whitlock, the Germans who burned the Belgian city of Louvain on August 25 were equipped with “apparatus for the purpose of firing dwellings, incendiary pastils, machines for spraying petroleum, etc.” At least one contemporary French postcard shows German troops burning homes with Kleif M.1912.

Flamethrowers were first used in combat at Bagatelle-Pavillon in the Argonne on October 4 or 5. The 4th Company of Posensches Pionier-Bataillon Nr. 29, attached to the 27th Division, carried out the unsuccessful attack against emplaced French troops. On October 10 Hauptmann Bernhard Reddemann, commander of the 2nd Company of Pioneer Battalion No. 29, traveled to Berlin to lobby the OHL for the creation of a flamethrower unit.
The Headquarters of the German Second Army issued Note 32, “Arms Available to the Pioneers for Close Combat: Projectors for Flame and Smoke-producing Liquid,” dated October 16, 1914.

“The commander-in-chief will place these arms at the disposal of the army corps according to their needs. At the same time, the corps will receive the absolutely essential personnel educated in the usage of these devices, who will have to be reinforced by pioneers of the field companies after they receive the necessary instruction for this purpose... The flame projectors will be used mainly in house and street fighting and will be held ready at the position from where the assault will be launched.”

Soon afterward the War Ministry ordered that special weapons of the pioneers such as trench mortars and ammunition, flamethrowers, hand grenades, rifle grenades, and smoke charges be exclusively at the disposal of the OHL. Flamethrowers and accessories would be held by the Acting Engineer Committee (stellvertretendes Ingenieur-Komitee) in Berlin. The OHL determined which pioneer units received flamethrowers and were sent into combat and/or trained other pioneers.

At the end of 1914 flamethrowers were mostly recalled from service, although many line-pioneer formations retained them well into 1915. The OHL reported to the War Ministry that the apparatuses were unusable. They were completely new weapons that required extensive training and understanding of their capabilities. Also, the Kleif M.1912 was too fragile, too unwieldy, and did not maintain pressure.


On January 18 the War Ministry and the Acting Engineer Committee ordered the establishment of Flammenwerfer-Abteilung Reddemann, the first unit armed exclusively with flamethrowers. The commander, Haupt. Bernhard Reddemann, would develop the weapon technically and create new tactics. Flammenwerfer-Abteilung Reddemann consisted of a Posen Fire Brigade Feldwebel as Offizier-Stellvertreter and 48 Posen firefighters and young war volunteers. The unit was formed in Berlin and assigned to the Fifth Army. It took to the field on February 1, accompanying the VI Reserve Corps to Romagne sous Montfaucon to prepare for its first action.

Right: Flamethrower platoon attached to an unidentified assault unit in 
Italy, 1917.

Flammenwerfer-Abteilung Reddemann carried out its first attack at Malancourt on February 26, using 12 small hand-pumped flamethrowers and two Grof M.1912 to drive the French from their trenches. After a reserve officer of the Leipzig Fire Brigade and two NCOs and 20 men of an unidentified unit were assigned to the Abteilung, a second flame attack was carried out at Vauquois, near Verdun.

On March 15 the OHL ordered that a flamethrower battalion be established under the command of Haupt. Reddemann. It was raised in Berlin around a core of men from the Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon. The III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon was comprised of the 9th through 12th Companies and the Experimental Company (Versuchs-Kompagnie). On June 1, 1915, the Replacement Company (Ersatz-Kompagnie) was added.

The III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon had an initial strength of 800. NCOs and men were drawn from the Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon, fire brigades, 16 different pioneer battalions, and most other branches of the service, volunteers from all over the empire. The battalion was under the direct control of the OHL. Reddemann was ordered to present written reports every two or three months, describing the organization and state of the unit, its engagements, new experiences and extensions of this form of attack, and new experiments and equipment. At the end of each month he delivered an oral report to the Operations Detachment (Operationsabteilung) of the OHL.

The four field companies of the battalion had 139 men each. A field company contained three combat platoons (Kampfzüge), each armed with four to six Grof and six Kleif. On May 15 the 9th Company of the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon was sent to Douai to reinforce Flammenwerfer-Abteilung Reddemann; the three remaining companies soon followed.

Left: Leutnant of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment wearing the M.1910 Waffenrock with the officers' Totenkopf badge embroidered in silver bullion.  He holds a dummy grenade used in training.

During the spring of 1915 some German divisions on the western front began deploying Sturmtrupps, ad-hoc units created to overcome French strong points such as shelters and blockhouses hidden in woods. Sturmtrupps were typically comprised of one to three infantry groups and one line-pioneer group armed with machine guns, trench mortars, and Kleif M.1912.

The III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon saw its first action at Neuville, west of Douai, on May 22. Although the mission was successful, the flamethrower pioneers suffered relatively high casualties, leading Haupt. Reddemann to pull the battalion from the field and create more effective assault tactics. The Germans resumed large-scale flame assaults on July 13, after retraining the flamethrower pioneers. One of the new tactics was to advance in shock troops (Stosstrupps), a term coined by Reddemann to describe small groups of flamethrower pioneers who went in ahead of the regular infantry to hit enemy strong points.

On July 30 at 3:25 A.M. the 9th Company of the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon launched a flamethrower attack against the British at Hooge, using nine Grof and 11 Kleif. This was the first time the British faced flamethrowers. They retreated from their front-line trenches but gained back the lost ground by August 9.

During a September 9 flamethrower attack against the French at the Hartmannsweilerkopf, carried out by the 9th and 10th Companies of the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon, five large flamethrowers called “gasoline sprayers” were used in addition to Grof and Kleif. Designed by Leutnant Schlayer of Kavallerie Kraftwagen-Kolonne 24, the sprayers each consisted of one tank that held 69 gallons of gasoline connected to two propellant bottles. A nozzle sprayed the gasoline 115 feet; it was ignited with a thrown fire tube (Brandröhre). Men of the 1. Landwehr-Pionier-Kompagnie XIV. Armee Korps operated the weapons.

On September 13 Hauptmann Willy Martin Rohr took over as commander of the Sturmabteilung of Armee Abteilung Gaede. About a month later he was assigned a flamethrower platoon from the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon. This platoon saw action throughout the war, receiving its replacements from both Garde Pionier and infantry Ersatz formations that provided flamethrower pioneers. Men were transferred from the many incarnations of Rohr’s Sturmabteilung into Reddemann’s flamethrower battalions and later regiment, but the reverse does not appear to have taken place. While serving with Roh'rs unit, flamethrower operators wore the uniform of the Garde Pioniere, with a number "5" on their shoulder straps.

The 13th and 14th Companies and a recruit depot were added to the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon on October 6, and the 15th and 16th Companies were added in December. In 1915, the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon launched a total of 32 attacks on the Meuse, in the Priesterwalde, the Argonne, Flanders, the Vosges, and the Champagne.

Right: A special print Iron Cross 2nd class document for the Flamethrower Regiment. To see an earlier version with an account of the action in which it was awarded go


Early in the year a Reserve Company was formed in the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon from the battalion recruit depot and the Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon in Berlin. The plan for the Verdun offensive required that the III. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon provide a flamethrower company for each of the six infantry divisions taking part. In addition, two companies armed with large and small flamethrowers would attack in the woods of Consenvoye, and another company would assault in the Champagne. Nine companies altogether were required.

In early February the number of Kleif in each flamethrower company was tripled from 18 to 54, and the personnel of each field company were increased from 139 to 200. More officers and men of the battalion recruit depot and the Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon were brought in, along with 360 handpicked infantrymen. Each of the three combat platoons of a flamethrower field company were organized into five flame detachments, one machine-gun detachment on loan from the infantry, and one replacement detachment; each flame detachment was armed with two Kleif. The number of Grof per company remained unchanged at 22.

Each infantry company that would attack in Verdun formed a shock troop composed of 16-20 infantrymen with one rifle and three hand grenades each; one pioneer group equipped with axes, hatchets, saws, wire cutters, and concentrated and elongated charges; and one Kleif squad armed with two flamethrowers, incendiary grenades, and hand grenades. In February the IV. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon was also established. It consisted of one staff and the 1st and 2nd Companies.

The Battle of Verdun began on February 21. Between February 21 and April 27, ten flamethrower companies armed with 400 devices carried out 57 attacks, 33 of which were judged to be successful. To provide replacement flamethrower operators for the two flamethrower battalions and the flamethrower platoon of Sturmabteilung Rohr, the II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon was established on February 25. It was based in Berlin.

Sturmabteilung Rohr officially became Sturmbataillon Rohr on March 11. Its flamethrower troops continued to be drawn directly from the II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon. After serving with the assault battalion, these pioneers were transferred into Reddemann’s two flamethrower battalions.

On April 20 the III. and IV. Garde-Pionier-Bataillone were merged into the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment. It consisted of the 1st-4th Companies in the 1st Battalion, the 5th-8th Companies in the 2nd Battalion, the 9th and 10th Companies, an Experimental Company (Versuchs-Kompagnie), a recruit depot, and three battalion staffs and workshops. Individual flamethrower companies were initially attached to various army corps. However, this was soon abandoned, as some companies became degraded through too much combat, while others saw no action at all.

Each field company of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment had 200 men in three combat platoons. A combat platoon was comprised of five flamethrower detachments of two Kleif squads each, one machine-gun detachment on loan from the infantry, and one replacement detachment. Each combat platoon was armed with six to eight Grof and 54 Kleif.

According to Major Reddemann’s history of flamethrower troops, the 3rd Battalion of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment was added in June; however, the death book of the regiment--written by former members--gives the regiment three battalions from its inception. Initially the 3rd Battalion had only two companies, the 9th and 10th, formerly the 1st and 2nd Companies of the IV. Garde-Pionier-Bataillon.

On July 8 Brandenburgerisches Jäger-Bataillon Nr. 3 was transformed into Jäger (-Sturm) -Battalion Nr. 3, the only other assault battalion besides Sturmbataillon Rohr which had a flamethrower platoon as a permanent component. Flamethrower operators were transferred from the II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon. The new battalion was composed of four assault companies, one machine-gun company, one trench-mortar company furnished with eight light weapons, one infantry-gun battery equipped with six small field pieces captured from the Russians, and one flamethrower platoon armed with six Kleif. Unlike the men of the flamethrower platoon of Sturmbataillon Rohr, the flamethrower pioneers of Jäger (-Sturm) -Battalion Nr. 3 were listed in the death book of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment. On July 25 the flamethrower platoon of Jäger (-Sturm) -Battalion Nr. 3 was strengthened with an additional officer and 25 NCOs and men from the II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon.

Major Reddemann (left) with two of his officers

The death’s head sleeve badge was awarded to the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment by the Crown Prince on July 28. Worn on the lower left sleeve, on or directly above the cuff, it gave the regiment its informal name of the Totenkopfpioniere. The men in the flamethrower platoon of Sturmbataillon Rohr displayed their badges directly below the elbow of the left sleeve. When they transferred out of the assault battalion into the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment, they moved the emblem to the lower position.

On September 26 the 11th and 12th Companies were added to the flamethrower regiment, using officers and men from the recruit depot and the II. Garde-Pionier-Ersatz-Bataillon. In addition the Fifth Army High Command transferred 500 young infantrymen into the regiment. This brought the number of effectives to about 3000, including support personnel and staff.

November 9 saw the Germans launch the largest mass-flamethrower attack in history at Skrobova, Russia. An entire flamethrower battalion of four companies used 24 Grof and 216 Kleif in the “Knife Tactic” (Messertaktik) devised by Major Reddemann to cut through extensive Russian defenses of hardened concrete bunkers, blockhouses, and flanking installations. The flamethrower troops were organized into long, snaking formations of Kleif squads, hand-grenade throwers, light machine gunners, and automatic riflemen who fired on the run. They were followed by infantry shock troops and six battalions of regular infantry; the operation was coordinated by intelligence officers in aircraft with two-way radios, who dropped fresh orders to the troops below.

Left: A grimy Totenkopf Pionier

The Germans took an area 1.9 miles wide by over 1000 yards deep, along with over 3500 prisoners. They reported that the use of flamethrowers led directly to victory. According to the Russians, however, the effects of the flamethrowers were negligible. In addition, the Germans allegedly used portable flamethrowers to spray acid, although no German records have yet been found to support this claim. German flamethrowers had rubber hoses, which would have been unable to withstand spraying corrosive substances.

On December 4 the War Ministry ordered the formation of infantry assault battalions that would include attached flamethrower platoons from the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment.

The field companies of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment were reorganized into five combat platoons and one replacement platoon (Ergänzungszug) each. Four combat platoons were each composed of four Kleif squads and either a machine-gun or grenade-launcher squad. Two of these platoons also included a squad of hand-grenade throwers. The fifth combat platoon was detached for duty with the emerging assault battalions; it had six Kleif squads but lacked hand-grenade throwers and machine-gun or grenade-launcher squads. By this time the regiment had been given its own MG08 heavy and MG08/15 light machine guns, operated by flamethrower pioneers.

In 1916 the Germans carried out a total of 158 flamethrower attacks, 34 of which were not successful.


The spring of 1917 saw the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment adopt tactics and lighter equipment that allowed for increased speed. On April 3 the 3rd, 4th, and 7th Companies of the regiment attacked the Toboly bridgehead in Russia. Ten flamethrower shock troops armed with 64 Kleif penetrated up to 3300 yards along a front of 4400 yards, taking over 10,000 prisoners. The flamethrower troops were organized into half-Kleif squads (Halbkleiftrupps) whose weapons were only half filled with oil. These squads moved very quickly, at the cost of a drastically reduced number of flame bursts from the lightened devices.

During assaults, the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment fielded flamethrower shock troops armed with two portable flamethrowers, carbines, pistols, hand grenades, and sharpened spades. When rolling up trenches, the shock troop advanced single file in the following order, the men two yards apart:

first Kleif squad (lance operator, carrier, assistant)
first hand-grenade thrower
second hand-grenade thrower
first shock-troop leader
third hand-grenade thrower
fourth hand-grenade thrower
second Kleif squad (lance operator, carrier, assistant)
second shock-troop leader.

In May the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment deployed the Wechselapparat (Wex) M.1917, a small ring-shaped device that became the new kleine Flammenwerfer. The Kleif M.1917 became the mittlere Flammenwerfer or medium flamethrower.

During 1917 the flamethrower regiment fought 169 times on the western and eastern fronts. Twenty-four operations were not successful. In order to maximize the effects of flamethrower assaults the firepower of flame shock troops was increased dramatically by adding more machine-gun squads, grenade-launcher squads, pioneers with explosives, and infantry hand-grenade throwers.


From January 1 to March 20 the Germans conducted 49 flamethrower attacks on the Western Front, mostly reconnaissance in force aimed at identifying enemy units in preparation for the spring offensive.

In February the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment was reorganized into March Companies (Marsch-Kompagnien) that would allow the men to remain in the field longer and advance more quickly.

Each March Company contained three March Platoons (Marsch-Züge) and one Ordnance Platoon (Gerät-Zug.) A March Platoon was comprised of a combat platoon (Kampfzug), a replacement troop (Ersatztrupp), and a maintenance section (Gefechtstross). The combat platoon was made up of four Wex squads (Wextrupps), one machine-gun squad, and one grenade-launcher squad. Each Wex squad was armed with two flamethrowers and reinforced with additional men. The grenade-launcher squad could be converted to a fifth flamethrower squad by arming it with the two reserve devices, bringing the total number of Wex per March Platoon to ten.

Each March Company was equipped with three horse-drawn carts for the flamethrowers and three trucks that carried oil, nitrogen, igniters, and reserve equipment. Trucks of the company Ordnance Platoon carried more supplies and members of the regimental Experimental Company, who repaired weapons.

From March 21 to July 17 the Germans launched five offensives on the western front, all of which failed. The first, Operation Michael, saw the insertion of the 1st, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th March Companies. Each was armed with 30 Wex flamethrowers, three light machine guns, and three grenade launchers divided among its three March Platoons. The March Companies were attached to attack divisions (Angriffsdivisionen) which distributed them by platoon to their infantry regiments. There was a total of 21 flamethrower platoons for the 42 attack divisions of the Second, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Armies. From May 27 the 3rd, 5th, and 7th March Companies were brought in for single engagements.

The Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment carried out 105 attacks on the western front during this period, the Death’s Head Pioneers serving either as shock troops that spearheaded frontal attacks to break through the enemy line, or as flame-accompanying squads (Flammenbegleittrupps) that escorted the infantry, mopped up, or were sent against specific points of resistance. The remaining March Companies and flamethrower platoons attached to infantry assault battalions took part in 49 attacks on other fronts. Nine of these missions were unsuccessful.

From July 17 to August 12 the March Companies and the flamethrower platoons attached to infantry assault battalions fought 19 times on the western front. After August 12 there were no more large-scale flamethrower attacks.

In the summer a German aerial flamethrower was used in combat, date and place unknown. An eyewitness account by an American soldier of the 371st Infantry Regiment described low-flying aircraft spraying troops with liquid fire, which comports with German patent No. 325694, filed by Robert and Richard Bunge on February 15, 1918. No further information has yet been found.

On September 28 pioneer companies on the western front received six portable flamethrowers each. The line pioneers were organized into special units and trained by the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment to use the devices in antitank warfare.

The American Lost Battalion--elements of the 77th Division that included companies of the 307th and 308th Infantry Regiments and the 306th Machine Gun Battalion--was attacked in the Argonne by flamethrower operators on October 6 and 7. This mission was carried out by Sturmbataillon Nr. 2. Although flamethrower pioneers were killed in the operation, they were not members of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment, indicating that by this point in the war some flamethrower troops may have been granted autonomy.

Following the Armistice of November 11, the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment destroyed most of its flamethrowers and retreated to Germany. It was disbanded in Berlin in January of 1919.

Left: Men of the disbanded/Soon to be disbanded Flamethrower regiment, drinking to their friendship.

During the war Reddemann's flamethrower battalions and regiment carried out 653 flamethrower attacks, of which 535 were successful. A total of 890 flamethrower pioneers were killed in action or died of wounds, accident, or disease. Fourteen men of the flamethrower platoon of Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr) were killed in action or died of wounds, accidents, or disease. The total casualties of flamethrower operators serving in line-pioneer formations are unknown.

The Totenkopf

Right: A sleeve Totenkopf belonging to Pionier Johann Meyer of the 3. Kompanie of the Flamethrower Regiment

The Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment was awarded the death's head in an AKO dated July 28, 1916, to commemorate the regiment's 150th flamethrower attack. Crown Prince Wilhelm announced the emblem in a letter to the regiment.

"His Majesty the Kaiser and King has, at my recommendation, decreed that the Guard Reserve Pioneer Regiment, which has been developed under my eyes, should wear during the war on the left sleeve of its uniform an insignia in the form of a death’s head. In recognition of its outstanding achievements I wish to congratulate the flame projector regiment on the award of this insignia.

Always placed into action in the most difficult places, both officers and men everywhere brought their arm into play both effectively and quickly, and became one of the most fearful opponents in close combat the French had.

I am convinced that the outer insignia of the young arm will always be an exhortation to continue to develop in the spirit of death-defying joy of combat."

For enlisted men the badge was cut from medium-gray cloth; for officers it was embroidered in silver bullion. Both versions had black velvet eye and nose holes and ten teeth embroidered in white thread, separated by black thread. The badges were usually mounted on field-gray cloth ovals of no fixed size, although some men sewed them directly to the sleeve.

At least one officially sanctioned variation of the badge exists. It was of a much lighter color and a slightly different shape. Like the other emblem, it had black velvet eye and nose holes and ten teeth of white and black thread. Photos show that both officers and men wore this badge. It appeared during the war years but is much less common in photos than the other version.

Officers wore the badge above the cuffs of their M.1910 Waffenrock and M.1915 Bluse. For enlisted men the badge was sewn above the cuff of the M.1910 Waffenrock and on the cuff of the vereinfachte Waffenrock and Bluse. The officers and men of the flamethrower platoon of Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr) wore the badge directly below the left elbow. When members of Rohr's battalion transferred into the flamethrower regiment, they were required to move the badge into the lower position, on or directly above the cuff.

The death's-head badge was considered an official award; the flamethrower pioneers were authorized to wear it only for the duration of the war. For this reason most postwar photos show former members of the Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment displaying a non-regulation version of the badge, usually in white and of a different shape, worn to show their previous membership in the elite formation.

The Garde-Reserve-Pionier-Regiment and the flamethrower platoon of Sturmbataillon Nr. 5 (Rohr) were the only units awarded the death's head during the war.

Left: The Militärpaß of a Garde Pionier (Courtesy Tom W.)

To return to the page on assault troops, please go