On May 8, 1967, North Vietnamese Army commandos attacked the Marine Corps base at Con Thien, using flamethrowers for the first time in the war. The Marines, forced out of their positions by streams of burning fuel, came under machine gun and mortar fire. Although the attack failed, the Chinese-built Type 74 flamethrowers’ appearance was a harbinger of unpleasant things to come for those on the receiving end.
The Type 74 was a license-built copy of the Soviet LPO-50 that entered service in 1953. It had three tanks, each containing a pressure cartridge and about a gallon of special diesel fuel. The tanks were topped by a pressure relief valve and a filling aperture with screw cap. They were mounted in a canvas backpack-style harness.
Each tank connected to a manifold via a fuel line with a one-way valve to prevent “flare back.” A hose connected the manifold to the “flame gun,” which contained four 1.5-volt batteries. The trigger was near the muzzle and had a safety catch to prevent accidental discharge. Squeezing the trigger sent an electric current to the tanks’ release valves and the ignition cartridge in the muzzle, creating a 1,200-degree Fahrenheit stream of burning fuel. With its three tanks, the LPO-50/Type 74 could fire three “shots” lasting 2 to 3 seconds.
Two-man NVA teams employed flamethrowers against key enemy positions during an assault. The flamethrowers were also used to drive enemy soldiers from cover in a firefight. The NVA’s integration of flamethrowers, machine guns and mortar fire was a rare but deadly combination. NVA flamethrower teams figured prominently in attacks on firebases during the communist offensives in 1972 and 1975. The Type 74 remains in service with Chinese and Vietnamese forces to this day.
This article appeared in Vietnam magazine’s April 2020 issue.