Somebody once said that you can tell humanity is making progress because every new war that comes along they find a new way of killing you. The fléchette (Fr. ‘dart’) was one of the more original methods adopted by nascent air forces of all the main combatants in World War I.
Bucket loads of pointed steel darts were emptied over enemy troop concentrations to cause maximum death and injury. First used by the French, they were soon copied by the Germans who enjoyed inscribing them with the phrase “Copied from France, made in Germany”. It was estimated that the tip of a single dart dropped from sufficient altitude would generate a force of 200kg. Small wonder that the stoutest metal helmets were no match for a direct hit, often piercing some poor unfortunate from head to foot.
The greater accuracy and power of conventional air-dropped explosives meant that they were soon obsolete but these were a much-feared weapon on account of their silent arrival giving soldiers no warning. An interesting footnote to their use can be seen in the postcard (below) of 1914 showing the devastation wrought by some fléchettes on the Germans. This may have bolstered contemporary stories about the Angel of Mons.
The legend, described by Arthur Machen in a newspaper story entitled ‘The Bowmen’ was supposedly based on accounts he’d heard from retreating British soldiers. One desperate Tommy is said to have called on the spirit of Saint George to help. An army of phantom bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt then appeared and protected their rearguard with volleys of arrows fired at the enemy. Of course, it’s all very fanciful propagandist nonsense but no less charming for all that.