A flechette is a pointed steel projectile, like a dart with a vaned tail for stable flight. They were as long as a pencil and ten times more deadly than conventional ones and were considered dangerous as hell. The flechettes were essentially made of steel with a sharp pointy end and fins on the other end to facilitate a smooth flight. They contained no explosive charge, but as they decent, they would develop the significant kinetic energy to easily penetrate soft targets.
Despite their blatant inaccuracy, they instilled a significant fear in the enemy ranks for their surprising ability to damage a human body resulting in gruesome bodily mutilations. The small arrows were packed in boxes of 500 and placed in a suitable container in the cockpit. A small canister was also attached to the bottom of the container, which could be controlled by a thin string. As and when a target is fixed, the pilot released them by simply pulling the string. The lethal little arrows dropped from the sky on the enemy troops, could cover a wide area of five hundred square yards in a single delivery.
The flechettes were developed during the early stages of the World War One, when proper anti-personnel weapons were yet to take shape. Probably, Italians invented these deadly darts between 1911 and 1912. However, the French deployed them in 1914. Later, the British and the Germans troops also used the same kind of weapons, as they were proved highly effective and less expensive. Usually, each canister used to contain around 200 to 250 flechettes. However, on one occasion, a French pilot reportedly dropped as many as 18,000 flechettes over the German troops in 1915.
With the progress of the Great War, the flechettes were appeared to be less effective, much less below the level of expectations. As a result, all the countries involved in the War adhered to the more precise and more effective mean of destruction by the devastating bombs.
It is interesting to note, the use of fléchettes did not end with the end of World War One. They were used by the US troops as artillery rounds in Vietnam. During that time they were known as ‘beehives’ as they sounded like a swarm of bees as they approached.