German Flechette (aerial dart)

Place Europe: Western Front
Accession Number REL/05361
Collection type Technology
Object type Edged weapon or club
Physical description Steel
Maker Unknown
Place made Germany
Date made c 1914-1917
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

One piece cylindrical aerial dart with pointed tip and four grooved fins in the shaft.

History / Summary

This flechette was collected by an unknown Australian soldier in France during the First World War.

Flechettes, or aerial darts, are essentially short steel rods with a sharp point at one end, and fins at the other. Originally invented by the Italians in 1911-1912, during the First World War they were first said to have been used by the French in 1914, although they were also later used by the British and Germans. The Germans took the opportunity to make a point about the development of the use of flechettes by stamping some of their flechettes (that were the same in style to the French ones), 'INVENTION FRANCAIS, FABRICATION ALLEMANDE' [French invention, German made] in French for their enemy to read.

Flechettes were dropped from aeroplanes or airships in great numbers, each canister holding between twenty and 250 darts. One French airman in March 1915 dropped 18,000 in a single day day over the German lines. The idea was that by dropping them at great heights they would acquire sufficient momentum (like a bullet) to allow them to pierce the heads, or bodies of enemy soldiers or civilians. The canisters were attached under the fuselage. A wire was pulled to open the bottom of the canister, which released the flechettes.

They were also used by the British to try and down German airships by dropping them from aircraft flying above. This failed to work, much in the same way firing normal ammunition at airships failed to work - they may have been able to penetrate the envelope of the airship, but did not cause much damage. Incendiary weapons were generally more successful. Against troops and civilians their success was variable. There are accounts of men being killed by flechettes, which were recorded as making thin, but deep wounds. Flechettes were primarily used early in the war, although some were still being used in January 1917. The British found them to be unsatisfactory - to work they had to score a direct hit, but there was no opportunity to direct them once they had been released from the aircraft. They were regarded as less formidable or effective than a bomb dropped by aircraft, which could inflict a broader range of damage.

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