Biggles, Flaming onions.

#1
In one of my old Biggles books in the glossary there is mention of ''Flaming onions'' which are described as a string of near vertical balls of fire the actual launcher was not discovered until after the end of the great war.
Does anyone have any idea as to what they might have been, or are they like the scarecrow shells of WW II which British bomber crews thought were special shells designed to look like n exploding bomber, in the eponymous book Len Deighton points out
''There were no scarecrow shells , just exploding bombers''
 
#2
Remembering back to the contents of my Biggles books (I have 82 of them!), flaming onions were described as a series of magnesium flares joined by a length of wire.

The plan was that an aircraft flying into the wire would pull the flares onto its fabric-covered wing, setting fire to it.

I believe the launcher was a bit like an oversized mortar.
 
#3
Of course, Wiki gives a different answer:
Flaming onions were the rounds launched by a revolving-barrel anti-aircraft gun used by the German army during World War I. This gun had five barrels and could launch a 37mm artillery shell about five thousand feet up. Because most other rounds were fired slowly due to the nature of anti-aircraft artillery at the time, this gun's rapid rate of fire left many fliers thinking that the rounds were attached to a string and they feared being shredded by it.[1]

The actual weapon was a Gatling type, smooth bore, short barreled automatic revolver called a 'lichtspucker' (light spitter) and was designed to fire flares at low velocity in rapid sequence across a battle area. When fired vertically they presented a threat to any aircraft operating at relatively low level (below 1,500 metres). To maximise the chance of a strike all five rounds were discharged as rapidly as possible - giving the 'string of flaming onions' effect. The American 'balloon-buster' ace Frank Luke was a prominent victim of this device. It was only ever a stop-gap weapon and its role was taken over by light automatic cannon - which are still used today. Because all launchers were located well behind the lines no launcher was captured until the last days of the war on the Western Front. Because the weapon was not designed for anti-aircraft use it did not have purpose designed ammunition, but the flares would have been dangerous to fabric covered aircraft. It appears that the design of specialist ammunition took place in tandem with design of higher velocity automatic anti-aircraft weapons; which may explain why the standard heavy automatic AA gun used by the Germans in World War II was of 37mm calibre.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flaming_onions

It could be that WE Johns was wrong, then again, he was there at the time.
 
#4
IIRC they were incendiary rounds/flares but fired at a very high speed so that from above they did look like they were on a 'string'. Some sort of revolving action smoothbored launcher jobbie, superceded by 'normal' light AA.

Must have been a buttock-clencher to see those heading in your direction as you flew your fabric-covered, flammably doped aircraft with it's wooden structure and lots of petrol on board... with no parachute. Spherical objects of steel.

Edit to say Wiki is your friend! I was sure they were mentioned in 'Sagittarius Rising' by Cecil Lewis as well, plus the fictional series about WW1 flyers featuring a horsefaced canadian bod whose title I can't remember...

Edit again. The Bandy Papers (various volumes) by Donald Jack. The Flashman of the RFC.
 
#6
Many thanks for the info!!!
I knew putting Biggles at the front of the title would catch the eye.
 

Similar threads

Latest Threads

Top