Flechette: Deadly Darts of War
Flechettes (French for: ‘dart’ or ‘little arrow’) were mass produced steel darts designed to be dropped from aircraft during the First World War with devastating effect before aerial bombs became more widely used.
While based on medieval anti-siege weapons, the modern industrially produced flechette was supposedly invented by the Italians in the early 1910s. However, it was the French who were the first to introduce them as an effective aerial dropped weapon. So great was their early success, that the British and Germans quickly began producing and using their own versions.
Flechettes were stored in boxes of 250-500 with one payload (or box) being able to cover an area of 500 square yards. They would be released as the plane flew over trenches or exposed infantry from either the cockpit or from beneath the aircraft by the pilot pulling a piece of string. In 1915, a French pilot reportedly dropped over 18,000 flechettes on German troops in one attack. Owing to their build-up of kinetic energy on the way down to the ground, they could easily punch through light armour, wood, or bodies without challenge or much resistance.
Flechettes were not only used on the frontline, but were also dropped over British cities by German Zeppelins. As well as being an effective aerial weapon, the threat of the silent flechettes became an equally-effective psychological weapon too. However, as technological progress marched inexorably onwards, and aero-engines grew more reliable and powerful, aerial bombs proved to be more efficient and affordable.
Of note, flechettes are not an obsolete weapon from a bygone era. They have been used in artillery by both sides in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
1992.1153 – Skoda 15cm M14 gun belonging to Turkish forces near Amman in Jordan, 1918. Most likely attacked by flechettes due to the lack of obvious physical damage to the gun and limber.