Mini Flares

Mini flares are tiny flares that can be carried in the pocket and launched as a signal or distress beacon. They are commonly used by sailors and kayakers for emergencies and the British Army issues them to soldiers for battlefield use. Although treated as pyrotechnics under British Civilian Law, they are still treated as a weapon by the Army and have to be signed out and signed back in again. The flares themselves are issued in small green plastic containers:

The flares come in a variety of colours, with the appropriate shape moulded into the outer packaging, here triangles for green. The front of the packaging is marked up with details of its contents, date of manufacture, NSN code etc:

The signals come in two parts, with the flares kept inside the packaging under a flap:

The contents and patent number are moulded into this lid:

The launcher, a black pencil like device, stored in a slot underneath. Sadly I am missing the launchers on my examples:

The flares themselves are small metal cylinders with a screw thread at one end to attach to the launcher and a small .22 blank cartridge within to launch the flare itself:

These examples have been used, as witnessed by the empty interior of each flare:

The instructions on how to use the mini flares are printed on the rear of the outer packaging:

Mini flares have been used by the military for decades and have saved lives on occasion, as recalled by Tony Mathias whose Wasp helicopter ditched into the sea in 1967:

I tried a swift exit from the cab only to be brought up to a full stop – after releasing the seat belt !!!!! – tried again to exit the cab only to find my leg had fouled on something – took a deep breath and reached down my leg to extract the survival knife, as I did so the leg was released and I swam out.  I wanted to find out what had happened and climbed-out onto the engine but could see nothing obvious that could have caused the shut-down. I dropped down into the water and swam clear before inflating my dingy and firing off a mini flare. (Apparently the old man, Captain Peter Anson saw the flare and muttered “Thank God he is OK”).


  1. A great many of us carried the launcher on a cord attached to and tucked into our flight jacket pockets, not so many carried the flares too. The flares shown appear to be identical but if I remember correctly they came in plastic strips of five that were in a ‘sardine tin’ until a packaging very similar to this came along.

    I have a launcher or two in a box somewhere, I must get around to digging some things out and sending them in so they don’t get thrown out just after I do 😉

    There were many other different pyros issued for flight and other uses, we always had a great time on the EOD range when various lots went TX, we’d save them all up and then have our own fireworks show ‘disposing by functioning’.
    Smoke markers, pen flares, bigger ‘survival kit’ flares(one was dual ended smoke/flare), star shells and smoke puffs from the signal pistols, aerial flares; trip flares, smoke grenades and other pyros the militia (territorials) left behind or abandoned after their ‘exercises’; and pretty much anything that made coloured lights, smoke or noise 😉
    The finale was usually a LUU-2B flare or two, set off on the ground so we could see to clean up.

  2. My suspicion is that the military miniflare kit is considered a section 1 firearm. The MoD refer to the launcher as a ‘pistol’ in the directions for use, and the flares are in a thick-walled aluminium (looks like) tube (smooth bored), so let’s revise that to section 5 (prohibited weapon) – a short-barreled shotgun (barrel less than 24 inches in length) or a pistol depending on how the police want to play it.

    The civilian version is virtually all plastic, brightly coloured, and obviously designed to look as harmless as possible (which it isn’t).

    Years ago, I had a visit to the Enfield Pattern Room, and one of the things shown to us was a prototype flare launcher with all the flares contained in a sealed plastic disk. Our guide pointed out that the disk was considered to be a magazine or cylinder and that was enough to get it classed as a prohibited weapon under the old rules of the 1968 act. A pity really, since in an emergency there was no fiddling around needed, just rotate the disk to the position you wanted, hold it above your head and fire it.

    Anyway, probably best to not acquire any of the kit contents for your collection.


  3. The ones we used some 30+ years ago were as you describe, knurled metal with a spring-loaded, ‘pull back to cock’, firing pin.
    At one time there was a commercially available (or you could make it yourself without much effort) ‘barrel’ that could be threaded into the front end in place of a flare and would hold a .22 cartridge; logical since the flare was hoisted by a .22 blank.
    Then again, you could simply drill a hole in a chunk of broomhandle, or use a piece of 1/4″ pipe and hit the exposed base of the cartridge with a hammer for the same accuracy and less work.
    Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it’s worth doing.
    Those who make the ‘rules’ rarely understand what they’re making the rules for or how what they’re making them against works and this is a prime example.

  4. As Chris has pointed out its my understanding that the projectors for these military kits are classified as a Section 1 firearm, and are listed as ‘mini flare signal pen’ in the government statistics.

    Until a few years ago I believe that the ‘military’ and ‘civilian’ versions of the projector and flares were identical in design, but changes in the law, possibly in part resulting from the availability of the adaptors which Oldarmourer refers to (which I have seen available in the UK) necessitated a change.

    Unauthorised possession of the military flares and projector is an offence as this report details

    Where the acquisition of some types of in-service items obtained through nonmilitary channels is sought, and their possession falls outside of the scope of the jurisdiction of the mandatory declaration given after range or dry training periods, I think it would be advisable for serving members of HM Armed Forces to seek advice in writing on this, and where ownership is permitted, I would always keep paperwork (receipts/order/seller or exchanger details) as evidence of how the items came into their possession and when later selling/exchanging them.

    • Argh. What were they thinking? (On second thoughts, don’t bother answering that; the stupid things people get up to with energetic devices have to be seen (usually in “accident” reports) to be believed, but there are plenty of them on the internet.)

      • Instant promotions all around for ‘ingenuity’ o.O
        There was a similar incident some 30+ years ago involving C3 paraflares…
        By the grace of G-d, one missed and the other struck a hard plastic web belt buckle.
        No serious injuries but that’s just one of the many, many ones we got each month in the CFTO listing them all and were required reading (with a signoff sheet) for everyone EOD qualified.
        Every time you said you thought you’d seen it all, someone took that as a challenge…

        Oh, just to clarify, I’m in Canada, not the UK.
        When our troops screw something up, they’re serious about it 😉

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