Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector

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Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector
Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector 1.jpg
Type Flamethrower
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1916–1917
Used by British Army
Wars First World War
Production history
Designer William Howard Livens
Produced 1915–1916 (?)
Number built at least 5 (?)
Weight 2.5 long tons (2.5 t)
Length 56 feet (17 m)

Livens Large Gallery Flame Projectors were large experimental flamethrowers used by the British Army in World War I, named after their inventor, Royal Engineers officer William Howard Livens.


Four flamethrowers were deployed in 1916 the Battle of the Somme and one in 1917 in an offensive near Diksmuide, Belgium. Two of the weapons at Somme were destroyed by German shelling before they could be used, but the other two were used at the start of the offensive. Their use may have helped the British in those sectors of the front as British losses there were comparatively low.[1]

The weapons were 56 feet (17 m) long, weighed 2.5 long tons (2.5 t), took a carrying party of 300 men to bring them to the front line and assemble them, and were operated by a crew of eight. The Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector was designed to be used from a shallow tunnel dug under no man's land. The weapon consisted of a long chamber containing the fuel, a 14-inch (360 mm) diameter pipe and a nozzle on the surface. The nozzle was hidden in the chamber underground until needed, then pushed upwards through the earth by a pneumatic cylinder. Compressed gas stored in cylinders drove a piston forwards, forcing fuel out of the surface nozzle, to be ignited and directed at the target.[1][2] The maximum range of the weapon was 30 to 40 m (100 to 130 ft).[3]


Historians Peter Barton and Jeremy Banning with archaeologists Tony Pollard and Iain Banks from the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow were successful in May 2010 in finding at Mametz the remains of one of the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projectors. This project was undertaken for an episode of archaeological television programme Time Team first broadcast on 14 April 2011. A full size, working model of the weapon was constructed to prove its efficacy.[4]

Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector -2-

Popular culture[edit]

The Livens flame projector was the inspiration for the cinematographic representation for the fire-breathing of the Smaug principal antagonist character, a "fire breathing drake [dragon]" from the north, in J. R. R. Tolkien story, The Hobbit, as presented by Peter Jackson in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (the second part of his film trilogy based on the book).[5]


  1. ^ a b Copping, Jasper (9 May 2010). "Secret terror weapon of the Somme battle 'discovered'". The Sunday Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Retrieved 11 April 2011. Unleashed at the start of the Battle of the Somme, it produced a terrifying effect the like of which had never before been seen on a battlefield. 
  2. ^ "Breathing Fire – Le dragon de la Somme (videos)". Historial de le Grande Guerre (in French). Retrieved 11 November 2012. 
  3. ^ "Flame-Thrower". Retrieved 2014-08-17. 
  4. ^ Banning, Jeremy. "Channel 4 Time Team Special on archaeological dig for the Livens Flame Projector dig at Mametz, Somme to be aired at 9pm on Thursday 14 April". Retrieved 11 April 2011. 
  5. ^ Jackson, Peter (2013). The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Extended Edition) (plus bonus features!); in "Into the Dragon's Lair" segment. Warner Bothers. Event occurs at 1:04:28. Note: the cited appendix bonus feature presents both graphics of the large gallery flame projector, and footage of the reenactment showing the projector in use. 

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