Military and War Weapons Napalm

About the military and war weapon napalm, origins and history, first used in World War II, the use of napalm today.

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NAPALM

Description. Napalm is a flammable gel which is sprayed from flamethrowers or encased in incendiary bombs. Scientifically, napalm is an aluminum soap that thickens gasoline and is composed of organic hydrocarbon acids. Also, napalm is the name given to the gasoline which is thickened by this aluminum soap. The word napalm is derived from two of its principal components, naphthenic acid and palmitic acid.

Origin. At the beginning of W.W. II, Great Britain developed an effective incendiary substance by mixing rubber and gasoline. However, after Japan seized the world's major rubberproducing regions, the Allies were forced to invent a new incendiary weapon. In the U.S., this task was assigned to researchers at Harvard University, Arthur D. Little, Inc., and Nuodex Products Company.

Working together, the scientists from Harvard and the two companies investigated a multitude of hydrocarbon acids. After more than a year of study, they came up with a formula for napalm, consisting of 25% oleic acids, 25% naphthenic acids derived from crude oil, and 50% palmitic acids derived from coconut oil. Next, they mixed napalm with aviation gasoline to produce an incendiary jelly. The U.S. Army was highly pleased with napalm, because it was easy and inexpensive to manufacture. Also, initial tests showed that napalm burned at a much higher temperature and for a much longer time than any other incendiary composition. Furthermore, napalm adhered to whatever it struck until it completely burned out, thus making it an excellent means of killing enemy personnel.

The U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service constructed a large napalm bomb named the M-69. This bomb was dropped from a high altitude, but at a few hundred feet above the ground, it burst open and scattered hundreds of smaller napalm bombs over a wide area.

First Notable Use. The first major employment of napalm occurred on the night of Mar. 9-10, 1945. After high-explosive bombs failed to demolish Japanese cities, Gen. Curtis LeMay decided to use the new M-69 napalm bombs against them. On Mar. 9, without notifying Washington, LeMay ordered 279 B-29 bombers to attack Tokyo with napalm. That evening, the B-29's took off from the islands of Guam, Tinian, and Saipan and headed north for Tokyo.

Before midnight, air raid sirens blared in Tokyo, but the city's residents, who had become accustomed to the nightly visits of B-29's, paid little attention to the warning. At 12:15 A.M. on Mar. 10, two B-29's flew over Tokyo and dropped their napalm payloads, which created a flaming X, marking the center of the city. Guided by the X, three formations of bombers flew over and unloaded 1,900 tons of M-69 napalm bombs on Tokyo.

Tokyo's crowded wooden buildings erupted into flames, and strong winds spread the conflagration through central Tokyo out toward the suburbs. The firestorm lasted for days, reaching temperatures of 1,800 deg. F and totally destroying 15 sq. mi. of Tokyo. A quarter of the city was burned to the ground, a million people were left homeless, and more than 80,000 charred corpses littered the ruins.

Weapon Today. Napalm continues to be an important weapon today, especially in guerrilla wars. In the Vietnam War, the U.S. extensively and rather indiscriminately utilized napalm as an antipersonnel weapon. Also, napalm has been widely used by both sides in the Arab-Israeli wars and in countless anti-insurgency campaigns around the world. Presently, napalm is used in grenades, aerial bombs, and missile warheads, and is sprayed from flamethrowers and tank cannons.

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