Incendiary device
Incendiary weapons, incendiary devices or incendiary bombs are bomb
A bomb is any of a range of explosive weapons that only rely on the exothermic reaction of an explosive material to provide an extremely sudden and violent release of energy...

s designed to start fire
Fire is the rapid oxidation of a material in the chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products. Slower oxidative processes like rusting or digestion are not included by this definition....

s or destroy sensitive equipment using materials such as napalm
Napalm is a thickening/gelling agent generally mixed with gasoline or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device, primarily as an anti-personnel weapon...

, thermite
Thermite is a pyrotechnic composition of a metal powder and a metal oxide that produces an exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction known as a thermite reaction. If aluminium is the reducing agent it is called an aluminothermic reaction...

, chlorine trifluoride
Chlorine trifluoride
Chlorine trifluoride is an interhalogen compound with the formula ClF3. This colourless, poisonous, corrosive and very reactive gas condenses to a pale-greenish yellow liquid, the form in which it is most often sold...

, or white phosphorus.

Incendiary devices have been used since ancient times.

Development and use in World War I

Incendiary bombs, also known as firebombs, which were finned containers filled with kerosene and oil and wrapped with tar-covered rope, were first dropped in small numbers from Zeppelin
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on 14 March 1899...

 airships on the night 18–19 January 1915 on towns on the southwest coast of England. On 8 September 1915, Zeppelin L-13 dropped a large number of firebombs, but even then the results were poor and they were generally ineffective in ratio to the damage inflicted, but such crude German firebombs dropped during the Zeppelin raids had a considerable effect on the morale of the civilian population.

Development and use in World War II

Incendiary bombs were used extensively in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 as an effective bombing weapon, often in a conjunction with high-explosive bombs. Many different configurations of incendiary bombs and a wide range of filling materials such as isobutyl methacrylate (IM) polymer, Napalm
Napalm is a thickening/gelling agent generally mixed with gasoline or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device, primarily as an anti-personnel weapon...

 and similar jellied-petroleum formulae were used, many of them developed by the US Chemical Warfare Service. Different methods of delivery, e.g. small bombs, bomblet clusters and large bombs, were tested and implemented. For example, a large bomb casing was filled with small sticks of incendiary (bomblets); the casing was designed to open at altitude, scattering the bomblets in order to cover a wide area. An explosive charge would then ignite the incendiary material, often starting a raging fire. The fire would burn at extreme temperatures that could destroy most buildings made of wood or other combustible materials (buildings constructed of stone tend to resist incendiary destruction unless they are first blown open by high explosives).
Originally, incendiaries were developed in order to destroy the many small, decentralized war industries located (often intentionally) throughout vast tracts of city land in an effort to escape destruction by conventionally-aimed high-explosive bombs. Nevertheless, the civilian destruction caused by such weapons quickly earned them a reputation as terror weapons (e.g., German Terrorflieger) with the targeted populations, and many shot-down aircrews were summarily executed
Summary execution
A summary execution is a variety of execution in which a person is killed on the spot without trial or after a show trial. Summary executions have been practiced by the police, military, and paramilitary organizations and are associated with guerrilla warfare, counter-insurgency, terrorism, and...

 by angry civilians upon capture. The Nazi regime began the campaign of incendiary bombings with the bombing of London
The Blitz
The Blitz was the sustained strategic bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941, during the Second World War. The city of London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 76 consecutive nights and many towns and cities across the country followed...

 in 1940–41, and reprisal was exacted by the Allies in the strategic bombing campaign
Strategic bombing during World War II
Strategic bombing during World War II is a term which refers to all aerial bombardment of a strategic nature between 1939 and 1945 involving any nations engaged in World War II...

. In the Pacific War
Pacific War
The Pacific War, also sometimes called the Asia-Pacific War refers broadly to the parts of World War II that took place in the Pacific Ocean, its islands, and in East Asia, then called the Far East...

, during the last seven months of strategic bombing by B-29 Superfortress
B-29 Superfortress
The B-29 Superfortress is a four-engine propeller-driven heavy bomber designed by Boeing that was flown primarily by the United States Air Forces in late-World War II and through the Korean War. The B-29 was one of the largest aircraft to see service during World War II...

es in the airwar against Japan
Air raids on Japan
During World War II the Allied forces conducted many air raids on Japan which caused extensive destruction to the country's cities and killed over 300,000 people. These attacks began with the Doolittle Raid in mid-April 1942, but did not resume until June 1944 when United States Army Air Forces ...

, a change to firebombing tactics resulted in some 500,000 Japanese deaths and 5 million more made homeless. Sixty-seven of Japan's largest cities lost significant area to incendiary attacks. The most deadly single bombing raid in all history was Operation Meetinghouse
Bombing of Tokyo in World War II
The bombing of Tokyo, often referred to as a "firebombing", was conducted by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The U.S. mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942, with large morale effects...

, an incendiary attack that killed some 100,000 Tokyo residents in one night.

The 4 lb (1.8 kg) incendiary bomb was the standard light incendiary bomb used by Bomber Command
Bomber Command
Bomber Command is an organizational military unit, generally subordinate to the air force of a country. Many countries have a "Bomber Command", although the most famous ones were in Britain and the United States. A Bomber Command is generally used for Strategic bombing , and is composed of bombers...

 in very large numbers, declining slightly in 1944 to 35.8 million bombs produced; the decline due to more bombs arriving from the USA. It was the weapon of choice for the British dehousing plan. The bomb consisted of a magnesium body with a cast iron/steel nose, and it was filled with thermite incendiary pellets and was capable of burning for up to ten minutes, the magnesium body added to the incendiary effect. There was also a high explosive version and delayed high explosive versions (2–4 minutes) which were specifically designed to kill rescuers. Other tactics consisted of using explosive bombs in the attack to fill the streets with craters and rubble, hindering rescue services.

Many incendiary weapons developed and deployed during World War II were in the form of bombs and shells whose main incendiary component is white phosphorus
White phosphorus (weapon)
White phosphorus is a material made from a common allotrope of the chemical element phosphorus that is used in smoke, tracer, illumination and incendiary munitions. Other common names include WP, and the slang term "Willie Pete," which is dated from its use in Vietnam, and is still sometimes used...

 (WP), and can be used in an offensive anti-personnel role against enemy troop concentrations, but WP is also used for signaling, smokescreens, and target-marking purposes. The U.S. Army and Marines used WP extensively in WWII and Korea
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

 for all three purposes, frequently using WP shells in large 4.2-inch chemical mortars. WP was widely credited by many Allied soldiers for breaking up numerous German infantry attacks and creating havoc among enemy troop concentrations during the latter part of WWII. The psychological impact of WP on the enemy was noted by many troop commanders in WWII, and captured 4.2-inch mortarmen were sometimes summarily executed by German forces in reprisal
In international law, a reprisal is a limited and deliberate violation of international law to punish another sovereign state that has already broken them. Reprisals in the laws of war are extremely limited, as they commonly breached the rights of civilians, an action outlawed by the Geneva...

. In both WWII and Korea, WP was found particularly useful in overcoming enemy human wave attack
Human wave attack
Human wave attack, also known as human sea attack, is an offensive infantry tactic, in which an attacker conducts an unprotected frontal assault with densely concentrated infantry formations against the enemy line, intended to overrun the defenders by engaging in melee combat.-Definition:According...


Post World War II incendiary weapons

Modern incendiary bombs usually contain thermite
Thermite is a pyrotechnic composition of a metal powder and a metal oxide that produces an exothermic oxidation-reduction reaction known as a thermite reaction. If aluminium is the reducing agent it is called an aluminothermic reaction...

, made from aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

 and ferric oxide. The most effective formula is 25% aluminium and 75% iron oxide. It takes very high temperatures to ignite, but when alight, it can burn through solid steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

. In WWII, such devices were employed in incendiary grenades to burn through heavy armor plate, or as a quick welding
Welding is a fabrication or sculptural process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by causing coalescence. This is often done by melting the workpieces and adding a filler material to form a pool of molten material that cools to become a strong joint, with pressure sometimes...

 mechanism to destroy artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and other complex machined weapons.

A variety of pyrophoric materials can also be used: Selected organometallic compounds, most often triethylaluminium
Triethylaluminium is an organoaluminium compound. This volatile, colorless liquid is highly pyrophoric, igniting immediately upon exposure to air. It is normally stored in stainless steel containers either as a pure liquid or as a solution in hydrocarbon solvents such as hexane, heptane, or ...

, trimethylaluminium
Trimethylaluminium is the chemical compound with the formula Al26, abbreviated as Al2Me6, 2 or the abbreviation TMA. This pyrophoric, colorless liquid is an industrially important organoaluminium compound...

, and some other alkyl and aryl
In the context of organic molecules, aryl refers to any functional group or substituent derived from an aromatic ring, be it phenyl, naphthyl, thienyl, indolyl, etc....

 derivates of aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

, magnesium
Magnesium is a chemical element with the symbol Mg, atomic number 12, and common oxidation number +2. It is an alkaline earth metal and the eighth most abundant element in the Earth's crust and ninth in the known universe as a whole...

, boron
Boron is the chemical element with atomic number 5 and the chemical symbol B. Boron is a metalloid. Because boron is not produced by stellar nucleosynthesis, it is a low-abundance element in both the solar system and the Earth's crust. However, boron is concentrated on Earth by the...

, zinc
Zinc , or spelter , is a metallic chemical element; it has the symbol Zn and atomic number 30. It is the first element in group 12 of the periodic table. Zinc is, in some respects, chemically similar to magnesium, because its ion is of similar size and its only common oxidation state is +2...

, sodium
Sodium is a chemical element with the symbol Na and atomic number 11. It is a soft, silvery-white, highly reactive metal and is a member of the alkali metals; its only stable isotope is 23Na. It is an abundant element that exists in numerous minerals, most commonly as sodium chloride...

, and lithium
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly...

, can be used. Thickened triethylaluminium, a napalm-like substance that ignites in contact with air, is known as thickened pyrophoric agent, or TPA.

During the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, the U.S. Army developed the CBU-55
The CBU-55 was a cluster bomb Fuel Air Explosive that was developed during the Vietnam War, by the United States Army, and was used only once in warfare. Unlike most incendiaries, which contained napalm or phosphorus, the 750 pound CBU-55 was fueled primarily by propane. Described as a "the most...

, a cluster bomb
Cluster bomb
A cluster munition is a form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapon that releases or ejects smaller sub-munitions. Commonly, this is a cluster bomb that ejects explosive bomblets that are designed to kill enemy personnel and destroy vehicles...

 incendiary fueled by propane
Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula , normally a gas, but compressible to a transportable liquid. A by-product of natural gas processing and petroleum refining, it is commonly used as a fuel for engines, oxy-gas torches, barbecues, portable stoves, and residential central...

, a weapon that was used only once in warfare. Napalm proper is no longer used by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, although the kerosene
Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, also known as paraffin or paraffin oil in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros...

-fueled Mark 77 MOD 5 Firebomb
Mark 77 bomb
The Mark 77 bomb is a US 750-lb air-dropped incendiary bomb carrying of a fuel gel mix which is the direct successor to napalm.The MK-77 is the primary incendiary weapon currently in use by the United States military...

 is currently in use. The United States has confirmed the use of Mark 77s in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Incendiary weapons and laws of warfare

According to the Protocol III of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons governing the use of incendiary weapons:
  • prohibits the use of incendiary weapons against civilians (effectively a reaffirmation of the general prohibition on attacks against civilians in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions)
  • prohibits the use of air-delivered incendiary weapons against military targets located within concentrations of civilians and loosely regulates the use of other types of incendiary weapons in such circumstances.

Protocol III states though that incendiary weapons do not include:
  • Munitions which may have incidental incendiary effects, such as illuminates, tracers
    Tracer ammunition
    Tracer ammunition are bullets that are built with a small pyrotechnic charge in their base. Ignited by the burning powder, the phosphorus tail burns very brightly, making the projectile visible to the naked eye...

    , smoke or signaling systems;
  • Munitions designed to combine penetration, blast or fragmentation effects with an additional incendiary effect, such as armour-piercing projectiles, fragmentation shells, explosive bombs and similar combined-effects munitions in which the incendiary effect is not specifically designed to cause burn injury to persons, but to be used against military objectives, such as armoured vehicles, aircraft and installations or facilities.

Use by direct action groups

Incendiary devices have been used by many direct action
Direct action
Direct action is activity undertaken by individuals, groups, or governments to achieve political, economic, or social goals outside of normal social/political channels. This can include nonviolent and violent activities which target persons, groups, or property deemed offensive to the direct action...

 groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front
Animal Liberation Front
The Animal Liberation Front is an international, underground leaderless resistance that engages in illegal direct action in pursuit of animal liberation...

 and the Earth Liberation Front
Earth Liberation Front
The Earth Liberation Front , also known as "Elves" or "The Elves", is the collective name for autonomous individuals or covert cells who, according to the ELF Press Office, use "economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment".The ELF was founded...

 to commit arson
Arson is the crime of intentionally or maliciously setting fire to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion and natural wildfires...

 attacks on their targets. The Molotov cocktail
Molotov cocktail
The Molotov cocktail, also known as the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, Molotov bomb, fire bottle, fire bomb, or simply Molotov, is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons...

 is a classic incendiary device that has been used by insurrectionary anarchists and rioters.

See also

  • Arson
    Arson is the crime of intentionally or maliciously setting fire to structures or wildland areas. It may be distinguished from other causes such as spontaneous combustion and natural wildfires...

  • Bat bomb
    Bat bomb
    Bat bombs were bomb-shaped casings with numerous compartments, each containing a Mexican Free-tailed Bat with a small timed incendiary bomb attached. Dropped from a bomber at dawn, the casings would deploy a parachute in mid-flight and open to release the bats which would then roost in eaves and...

  • Driptorch
    A driptorch is a tool used in wildfire suppression, controlled burning, and other forestry applications to intentionally ignite fires.The driptorch consists of a canister for holding fuel with a handle attached to the side, a spout with a loop to prevent fire from entering the fuel canister, a...

  • Early thermal weapons
  • Fire accelerant
    Fire accelerant
    In fire protection, an accelerant is any substance or mixture that "accelerates" the development of fire. Accelerants are often used to commit arson, and some accelerants may cause an explosion...

  • Firestorm
    A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates and sustains its own wind system. It is most commonly a natural phenomenon, created during some of the largest bushfires, forest fires, and wildfires...

  • Flame fougasse
    Flame fougasse
    A flame fougasse is a weapon. It is a type of mine which uses an explosive charge to project burning liquid onto a target. The flame fougasse was developed by the Petroleum Warfare Department in Britain as an anti-tank weapon during the invasion crisis of 1940...

  • Flamethrower
    A flamethrower is a mechanical device designed to project a long controllable stream of fire.Some flamethrowers project a stream of ignited flammable liquid; some project a long gas flame. Most military flamethrowers use liquids, but commercial flamethrowers tend to use high-pressure propane and...

  • Greek fire
    Greek fire
    Greek fire was an incendiary weapon used by the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines typically used it in naval battles to great effect as it could continue burning while floating on water....

  • High explosive incendiary
    High explosive incendiary
    In warfare, High-explosive incendiary is a type of ammunition specially designed to pierce armor, fragment, and ignite readily combustible materials....

  • Incendiary ammunition
    Incendiary ammunition
    -World War I:One of the first uses of incendiary ammunition occurred in World War I. At the time, phosphorus—the primary ingredient in the incendiary charge—ignited upon firing, leaving a trail of blue smoke. They were also known as 'smoke tracer' for this reason. The effective range of...

  • Meng Huo You
    Meng Huo You
    Meng Huo You is the name given to petroleum in ancient China, which practiced the use of petroleum as an incendiary weapon in warfare.-Historical records of petroleum:...

     (Historic Chinese incendiary weapon)
  • Molotov cocktail
    Molotov cocktail
    The Molotov cocktail, also known as the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, Molotov bomb, fire bottle, fire bomb, or simply Molotov, is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons...

  • Napalm
    Napalm is a thickening/gelling agent generally mixed with gasoline or a similar fuel for use in an incendiary device, primarily as an anti-personnel weapon...

  • Pen Huo Qi
    Pen Huo Qi
    The Pen Huo Qi(Chinese: 噴火器; Pinyin: pen huo qi, "spray fire device") is a double-piston pump naphtha flamethrower used in 919 AD in China, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The flamethrower was carefully documented and illustrated in the Chinese military manual known as the Wujing...

     (Historic Chinese flamethrower)
  • Stinkpot
    Stinkpot (weapon)
    A stinkpot or stink-pot was an incendiary and suffocating weapon used in 19th century China, especially in naval operations.British Admiral Sir William Robert Kennedy recorded the use of the stinkpot in 1856 during the Second China War in his book Hurrah for the Life of a Sailor - Fifty Years in...

    (Historic Chinese incendiary weapon)

External links

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