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Livens Projector (Mortar)


FGM Lieutenant General
Oct 11, 2010
Castelar, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina.
The Livens Projector was a simple mortar-like weapon that could throw large drums filled with flammable or toxic chemicals.

In the WW One, the Livens Projector became the British Army's standard means of delivering gas attacks and it remained in its arsenal until the early years of the WWII.

The Capt. William Howard Livens (1889 – 1964) was the son of the Chief Engineer at Ruston & Hornsby in Lincoln (England). He experimented with weapons for trench warfare. Gas warfare was very primitive early in the war.

William H Livens & the Livens Projector

The Livens Projector provided troops with an apparatus to launch canisters of boiling oil and poison gas into the German trenches.

With the help of his father, Fredrick Howard Livens, the projector went from idea to production in just one week. It was cheap to make and deploy. Ruston’s factory in Lincoln went on to make a quarter of a million parts for poison gas and flame projectors.


The initial range of the Livens Projector was 180 metres. Later models reached distances of 1,200 metres.

The 'gun' consisted of a simple steel tube of 22 cm (about 8.5 in.) diameter, 95 cm long (3' 1.5") The bottom end was spherical. Weight : about 48 kilogrammes (105 pounds). It was not supported by a bipod, but was installed in a little trench of about 1.5 feet deep, at an angle of 45°, directed towards the enemy, with the mouth of the tube just jutting out of the ground.


To improve stability, and especially to catch up the recoil, the spherical bottom end was embedded in a metal curved disc, weighing 13 kilogrammes (28.5 pounds), 0.5 cm (2 inches) thick, and looking like a Mexican hat or sombrero.

After being dug into the ground the tube was covered with earth again, for stabilisation. This means that, once dug in, the barrel's position could not be altered. A charge of dynamite was in the tube, with an electical detonator. The wires went through the mouth of the projector.

And then the projectile. This was a cylinder weighing about 27 kilogrammes, half of its weight phosgene, liquid gas. (Not the chlorine gas that had been used by the Germans in April - May 1915, and not the later mustard gas or yperite.) A TNT charge was attached to it with a delay mechanism detonation. Maximum range was 1.6 km (1 mile). (There were also Livens Projector types that were a bit shorter (84 cm) or longer (122 cm), with about the same range or a bit less.) A shorter range could be obtained by diminishing the charge, or by digging in the Projector more backward, farther away from the target. Not a flexible system, but it worked.

The Livens Projectors were used in batteries, of 25, but sometimes a lot more, hundreds in line. Generators provided the electric current, and when the switches were turned on for the detonators the projectiles were blasted off. The safety detonation was acitivated and 30 to 35 seconds after being shot, and having come down, the projectile exploded, releasing the phosgene gas.


These were massive amounts of gas - sometimes thousands of projectiles were fired - and the effect was that enemy territory really was flooded with the gas, with a high lethal concentration. These large quantities often made it impossible for the men to put on their masks, or protective clothing.

The Livens Projector was primitive, but it was a major improvement. The troops who used it no longer depended on the wind direction. It was possible to make the projectiles come down with an effect of surprise - very often at night, when there was no wind - with a relative accuracy, at a relatively larger distance, and in larger quantities.

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