VAW Flare - California State Fire Marshal

Hello everyone,
At a recent gun show, I picked up this red flare below. The only reason I purchased this flare was because of the writing, and stamp on the side of the case. I know very little on the subject of flares, so I thought I would ask the experts!

The headstamp reads “VAW 08 III”, and after searching the IAA Forum, I found out that VAW stand for Vereinigte Aluminium-Werke, out of Germany. But other than that, I don’t know what the other part of the headstamp means, or how to date this flare, as the expiry date is worn off.

I also find it odd, that the flare case was made in Germany, but marked with a California Fire Marshal stamp. Could the flare be military issue?

Any comments are appreciated!




(Case Writing)


Just out of curiosity, is this a 26.5mm / cal.4 ?

as an outsider I find it odd that a cartridge for the Coast Guard, strictly for Marine use, ends up with fire marshals. I wonder if the fire marshals used it for starting (counter-)fires, instead of signalling purposes.

Jochem, counter fires are set with fuel (special mix) spray canisters (from my TV knowledge). Doing this with flare cartridges would become quite expensive.

EOD - You are correct. Sorry i did not give the measurements earlier. It is a 26.5mm, and OAL is approx. 67.3mm. I take it you know exactly what its purpose was intended for?


That is a standard 25mm marine flare that was sold commercially for use in an aluminum framed signal pistol often found in complete signal kits for private and commercial use. I don’t know if that round is completely interchangeable with the 26.5mm flare cartridge. Perhaps someone could elaborate on that.

At some point, the Olin product line of signal devices seems to have changed to the Orion brand who still markets the identical flare pistol but the flare rounds are now plastic cased. There are also 12 Ga. flare rounds from Olin/Orion that are low base 2" cartridges for use in a smaller, plastic framed flare gun.

Dave E.

Dave, what would be a “25mm”? As per the case head it looks like a 26.5mm (German design).
A 1" (British design) is a 25.4mm but has a different case head.


The Olin product shown is marked “25mm” (see second photo from bottom) as would be the (3) round packaging they were typically sold in and the flare pistols as well. This may well be completely identical to the 26.5mm cartridge dimensionally, though I have no information to confirm this. These Olin/Orion marine signal products have been around for a long time and as far as I know, always designated 25mm, at least in the US.

Perhaps when Pepper is not too busy patching up football players he can enlighten us on any differences between the two calibers…


I always thought ‘VAW’ is Vereinigte Aluminium-Werke AG, a German aluminum producer and processor.
Isn’t it?

Dave, yes, it seems the “25mm” is a US generalization for both the 26.5 and the 1".
Basically both calibers are different and even worse it is with the “cal.4”. There are about half a dozen different cartridges hiding behind and in particular before WWII there were lots of “national” variations which made it often impossible to interchange them. After WWII for kinda obvious reasons most of the variations had died as the world was flooded with German 26.5mm and British 1". This then lead in some places to a merged designation both calibers as just one - in the US seemingly “25mm”. Also there are cartridges with minor adaptions which are declared to be of caliber <26.5mm - 1">.
BTW: Next year there shall be a book about European flare gun cartridges in this caliber range. As far as I know there will be a clarification of all measurements and calibers in this range.

Defender, yes, I thought the VAW was not in question for being anything else but German.

DaveE & EOD:

Thank you for identifying this signal flare for me. All information provided is truly wonderful!

(Especially EOD’s mini history lesson on the variations of cartridges!)

Best Regards,

Dave, the actual story is far from “mini” and is some sort of a brain twister. Of course I am unable to tell nor am I supposed to do so as this is not my specialty (if I have any).

The 26.5mm for example (that exact German design - as per measurements) is named differently in different regions of the world like “26mm” in Russia (and Warsaw Pact) and “27mm” in other places (which I do not remember) and as we see now “25mm” in the US. In Norway they wer also called 1" (and later 26.5mm).

In the “true” 1" (25.4mm) range there are countries like Italy who used 1" Nordenfeldt cases (original design) and then Norway who used the same cases but without the taper to keep them cylindrical and called them 28mm then.
The 1" (British design) is named like 28mm in Portugal for example. The Belgians called it a 25mm.

If we’ll keep digging there will be many more odds to find.

Unfortunately the one (the book author Horst Thielbörger) who knows about all that in detail is on hollidays right now. He could correct me if I was wrong on any subject mentined above.
Also if anyone else finds the weak spots in my memory on anything I wrote above please correct me.

EOD, my mistake. It’s definitely not an open shut case with regards to caliber. And regardless of your specialty, you have shed some light on this subject of 26.5mm flares for me (as I knew zero on the subject until now). And now, I know a little more than I did before. Much appreciated!

(I am also looking forward to hearing more about this subject, if anyone else has more input.)


Here another “25mm” cartridge with the seal of the Californian (CA) State Fire Marshall. This seal is to certify conformity to legal regulations of CA as they do apply to Emergency Signaling Devices (as maked on the seal).
For example the attached silver colored badge is fitted to the box of a Japanese made flare gun designated “Mayday Pistol”.
Means items (commercially sold) bearing this seal are “approved for the designated purpose” and are not part of any officially adopted equipment of any state or govt entity.
All seals are featuring a unique certification number below the seal (or in the lower section of it) as can be seen in all images here.

The caliber designation of “25mm” in the US goes back to the days of WW1 when the US adopted plenty of French material in cluding the French flare guns in caliber 4 which there were designated as 25mm.

Images to this posting will be posted later on by EOD.

Best regards

Here the images to Horst’s posting above:

The badge of the Japanese made Mayday Pistol (of the box actually):

Horst, thank you for the clarification on the California State Fire Marshal seal! I now understand why the seal is used.
EOD, thank you for the photos!

Best Regards,

Here the site of the CA Fire Marshall with some more clarifications: … 2630-12637