Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Napalm

Incendiary material made from thickened gasoline. Napalm was developed by American scientists at Harvard University early in the war to improve the performance of petroleum-based incendiary weapons. It was available in late 1942. Napalm powder, an aluminum/soap mix, draws its name from the components naphthene and palmitate combined and mixed with gasoline to create a gel that was then used in bombs or as an improved fuel for flamethrowers. Other nations developed similar materials; the British mix was named Perspex. Liquid napalm was a sticky compound with improved burning characteristics and good stability for safe handling.

Napalm was originally delivered in a 100 lb chemical-weapons bomb, the M47. In the strategic bombing campaign against Japan, napalm incendiaries were responsible for the significant destruction of Japanese cites by fire. Boeing B-29 pathfinder aircraft dropped the M47, and the bulk of the following bombers dropped clusters of 6.2 lb M69 bombs. The M69 ignited and ejected the napalm fill from its tail after a delayed fuze allowed the bomb to penetrate the building that it hit. After mid-1944, the U.S. tactical air forces employed a wide variety of sizes of firebombs or napalm bombs against Japanese forces and defensive positions. These bombs were often auxiliary fuel tanks that were simply filled with the napalm mix and equipped with an igniter. Napalm attacks were often cited for their psychological value as well as for their physical destruction. After World War II, napalm continued to be used as a generic term for fire-producing weapons, even though the original components that provided the name were no longer used.

Jerome V. Martin


Further Reading
Birdsell, Dale, and Brooks E. Kleber. The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals in Combat. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 1966.; Bjornerstedt, Rolf, et al. Napalm and Other Incendiary Weapons and All Aspects of Their Possible Use. New York: United Nations, 1973.; Kerr, E. Bartlett. Flames over Tokyo: The U.S. Army Air Forces' Incendiary Campaign against Japan, 1944–1945. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1991.; Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Incendiary Weapons. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1975.
 

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