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Incendiary weapons, incendiary devices or incendiary bombs are bombs designed to start fires or destroy sensitive equipment using materials such as napalm, thermite, chlorine trifluoride, or white phosphorus.
Incendiary devices have been used since ancient times.
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 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.
Incendiary bombs were used extensively in World War II 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 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 by angry civilians upon capture. The Nazi regime began the campaign of incendiary bombings with the bombing of London in 1940–41, and reprisal was exacted by the Allies in the strategic bombing campaign. In the Pacific War, during the last seven months of strategic bombing by B-29 Superfortresses in the airwar against Japan, 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, 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 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 (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 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 both WWII and Korea, WP was found particularly useful in overcoming enemy human wave attacks.
Modern incendiary bombs usually contain thermite, made from aluminium 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. In WWII, such devices were employed in incendiary grenades to burn through heavy armor plate, or as a quick welding mechanism to destroy artillery and other complex machined weapons.
A variety of pyrophoric materials can also be used: Selected organometallic compounds, most often triethylaluminium, trimethylaluminium, and some other alkyl and aryl derivates of aluminium, magnesium, boron, zinc, sodium, and lithium, 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, the U.S. Army developed the CBU-55, a cluster bomb incendiary fueled by propane, a weapon that was used only once in warfare. Napalm proper is no longer used by the United States, although the kerosene-fueled Mark 77 MOD 5 Firebomb is currently in use. The United States has confirmed the use of Mark 77s in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
According to the Protocol III of the UN Convention on Conventional Weapons governing the use of incendiary weapons:
Protocol III states though that incendiary weapons do not include:
Incendiary devices have been used by criminal, terrorist and direct action groups to commit arson attacks on their targets. The Molotov cocktail is a classic incendiary device that has been used by insurrectionary anarchists and rioters.
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