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A North American F-100 drops napalm during an exercise.

Napalm is an incendiary weapon with the main component gasoline , which is gelled with the help of additives . This ensures that napalm adheres to the target as a viscous, sticky mass and develops a strong burning effect. The name napalm is a combination of the initial syllables of the starting materials naphthenic acid and palmitic acid .


Even small splashes of burning napalm can cause severe and poorly healing burns on the skin . Because of its hydrophobic properties, napalm is difficult to extinguish with water or wash off the skin. Even if it is not hit directly, napalm is extremely destructive against living beings and heat-sensitive material. Depending on its composition, it reaches a combustion temperature of 800 to 1200 ° C.

Napalm bombs, the most common form of fire, are metal canisters filled with napalm. Detonators at both ends release small explosive charges on impact, which spreads the contents of the canister over a large area. Napalm can also be used with the help of flamethrowers .

There are comprehensive publications on the toxicity of napalm.


The principle of an adherent, slowly burning incendiary material was first realized in the early Middle Ages in the form of the Greek fire . In modern times, the first attempts at the beginning of the Second World War were carried out with a mixture of gasoline, soft soap and aluminum powder . Mixtures of gasoline and rubber were also tested. The actual formulation for napalm was developed in 1942 at Harvard University by Louis Frederick Fieser .

Napalm is an oil-based fuel. There are two types:

  • Conventional napalm: oil-based incendiary agent with aluminum soaps as a thickener
  • Napalm-B: oil-based incendiary agent with polymers as a thickener

Conventional napalm consists largely of gasoline or petroleum . Adding a thickening agent, usually aluminum soaps (Al (OH) (OOCR) (OOCR ')), naphthenic acids and palmitic acid , creates the viscous and sticky napalm gel. The concentration of the thickener powder in the gasoline influences the viscosity and burning properties. Napalm in flame throwers therefore contains a smaller amount of thickener.

The aluminum soaps can simply z. B. from aluminum hydroxide , naphthenic acid and palmitic acid. Naphthenic acids are a technical mixture of alkylated cyclopentanoic and cyclohexanoic acids, which are obtained by alkaline extraction of petroleum and acidification of the solution obtained. Palmitic acid can be obtained by saponification of e.g. B. coconut oil and is known in the form of its sodium salt as curd soap .

The thickeners are coded M1, M2 and M4 in the United States Armed Forces and are characterized by the following standards:

M1 Thickener
Incendiary Oil, MIL-T-589A, August 26, 1953
M1 Thickener is a mixture of aluminum soaps in which the fatty acids come from about 50% coconut oil, 25% from naphthenic acids and 25% from oleic acid.
M2 Thickener
Incendiary Oil, MIL-T-0903025B, April 13, 1954
M2 Thickener is a white powder with a similar composition to M1, but contains degassed silicon dioxide as a release agent (anti- agglomerant ). A release agent prevents the powder from sticking together.
Hydroxylaluminum bis (2-ethylhexanoate), main component of the M4 Thickener
M4 Thickener
Incendiary Oil, MIL-T-50009A, May 22, 1959
M4 Thickener is a fine powder made from aluminum isooctanoate (hydroxyl aluminum bis (2-ethylhexanoate)) and a release agent. Aluminum isooctanoate is an aluminum salt of isooctanoic acid . An addition of 2% Santocel C or Attzorb clay served as a release agent.

Napalm-B, a later developed variant of napalm, consists of 50% polystyrene , 25% benzene and 25% light petrol . With Napalm-B, polystyrene also acts as a flammable thickener. Napalm-B is more damaging and less flammable. Napalm-B is more viscous than other yellow substances, which improves the adhesive effect on target surfaces and reduces the fireball effect. It burns hotter than normal napalm and develops a characteristic odor when burned.

designation Combustion temp. Solvent Thickeners and additives application
Napalm NP-1 800 ... 1000 ° C 91… 98% petrol 4… 8% M-1 or 2… 4% M-4 Incendiary bombs, incendiary containers, flamethrowers
Napalm NP-2 800 ... 1000 ° C 91… 96% petrol or kerosene 3 ... 6% M-2 Incendiary bombs, incendiary containers, flamethrowers
Napalm NP-3 800 ... 1000 ° C 89… 90% petrol or kerosene 3… 4% M-1 or M-4 Incendiary grenades
Napalm IM > 1000 ° C 89… 90% petrol 10… 11% of a mixture of 5% isobutyl methacrylate (or natural rubber), 2% stearic acid and 2% calcium oxide Incendiary bombs
Napalm B up to 1200 ° C 25% gasoline, 25% benzene 50% polystyrene Incendiary bombs
Pyrogel PT-1 up to 1600 ° C 30… 60% petrol 3… 5% isobutyl methacrylate, 10% magnesium powder, 3% kerosene and crude oil residues, asphalt , activated carbon and sodium nitrate Incendiary bombs, incendiary containers, incendiary grenades
Pyrogel PT-2 1600 ... 2000 ° C 60% gasoline 5% isobutyl methacrylate, 10% magnesium powder, 3% kerosene as well as asphalt, barium nitrate Incendiary bombs, incendiary containers, incendiary grenades
Pyrogel PT-V 60% gasoline 5% polybutadiene , 6% sodium nitrate, 28% magnesium powder and some p- aminophenol Incendiary bombs

Table taken from NVA service regulation A 053/1/003 "Incendiary weapons".

The use of natural rubber or isobutyl methacrylate as a thickener achieves particularly strong adhesion. The addition of magnesium powder increases the combustion temperature. The Russian gel burn mixture ONP-605 also adheres to wet and snow-covered surfaces and is also suitable for use at low temperatures from −30 ° C.


Second World War


Napalm deployment on April 15, 1945 in Europe

The first recorded war use of napalm took place in July 1943, as part of Operation Husky on the landing in Sicily . US troops used napalm there with the M1A1 flame thrower. The first large-scale air attack with napalm bombs took place on 9 October 1943 the assembly plant of Focke-Wulf in Marienburg . Here came AN-M47 bombs filled with napalm and white phosphorus used. The factory was almost completely destroyed in this attack. The next documented air raid with napalm took place on October 14, 1943 during a bombing raid on the ball bearing works in Schweinfurt . In this attack, AN-M47 bombs filled with napalm and white phosphorus were again used. After that, napalm was repeatedly used by fighter-bombers for close air support in the European theater of war . Another documented large-scale operation (with incendiary bombs of the type AN-M76 with the thickener PT-1 (pyrogel)) was carried out by the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) over Berlin on March 6, 1944. Further saw the operation on July 14, 1944 by fighter bomber De Havilland DH.98 Mosquito FB Mk.VI of the Royal Air Force against the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Götz von Berlichingen" in Bonneuil-Matours , as a retaliatory attack for the murder of including 33 British prisoners of war (soldiers of the Special Air Service ), the use of bombs of the same type. Napalm was also used on April 15, 1945 by the USAAF over the port city of Royan on the French Atlantic coast. For this purpose, additional tank containers of fighter bombers were filled with napalm-like substances ("jellied gasoline") and large areas were dropped from B-24 bombers. Royan and the region around the submarine base La Rochelle were held by remnants of German troops far away from the front line until April 1945, shortly before the German surrender.

Pacific Rim

The first recorded use of napalm by the United States against Japanese forces occurred in December 1943 at the Battle of Arawe . In the fighting on Pilelo Island , US troops again used the Napalm-filled M1A1 flame thrower. Air raids with improvised napalm bombs also took place in these fights. The first large-scale air raid with napalm bombs took place in the context of island hopping on February 15, 1944. Between February 15 and 26, US bombers of the 7th Air Fleet dropped napalm cluster munitions of the type AN-M69 on targets on the Pacific island of Pohnpei for the first time . Napalm was then used in the bombing of Tinian Town (now San Jose) during the Battle of Tinian on July 23, 1944. Further missions took place at the Battle of Peleliu in September 1944 and at the Battle of Iwojima . From January 31 to February 15, 1945, B-24 Liberator bombers dropped 1,111 napalm tanks on Japanese positions on Iwojima.

At the beginning of 1945 there were enough napalm bombs ready for the attacks on the cities on the main Japanese islands. For these attacks, the napalm should cluster munitions of the type AN-M69 and AN-M74 are used. These small bombs weighed 2.8-3.7 kg and contained 1.0-1.18 kg of napalm. The small bombs were dropped in cluster bombs and cluster containers. The series of devastating napalm attacks on Japanese cities began in early 1945. The attack on Kobe began on February 4th . Thereafter, the cities of Osaka , Kobe, Yokohama , Tokyo , Kawasaki and Nagoya were repeatedly bombed with napalm. On the night of 9./10. March the 21st US Air Force launched another air strike against Tokyo. 334 B-29 bombers dropped around 1,500 tons of napalm bombs on the Japanese capital. 41 km² of urban area were completely destroyed. According to Japanese figures, 267,171 houses were victims of the flames. 1,008,000 people were left homeless. Officially, the losses are given as 83,793 dead and 40,918 injured (see air raids on Tokyo ). By June 1945, over 34,355 tons of napalm bombs had been dropped on major Japanese cities, which laid down a total of 82 km² of urban area in rubble and ashes. The United States produced over 36,287 tons of napalm during World War II.

Korean War

Korea 1951

The next large-scale use of napalm came during the Korean War . In the first year of the war, 30 million liters of napalm were used. According to Jörg Friedrich , 32,357 tons of napalm were used throughout the war. The Chongsong, Chinbo and Kusu-dong sites were almost completely destroyed by napalm. The cities of Pyongyang , Hoeryong and Hnamngnam were also bombed several times with napalm. The bomb damage record on which the ceasefire negotiations were based shows that at least half of 18 of the 22 largest cities had been destroyed. For example, around 80 percent of the two large industrial cities Hamhŭng and Hungnam were destroyed, Sinŭiju 100 percent and Pyongyang 75 percent. The air strikes on the cities were carried out by B-29 and A-26 bombers . Again, the napalm was brought into action by means of cluster bombs. Mostly, napalm cluster munitions of the type AN-M69 and AN-M74 were used. The AN-M47 and AN-M76 bombs , which contained a mixture of napalm, phosphorus and magnesium, were also used. The most massive napalm attack during the Korean War was against the city of Sinŭiju. On November 10, 1950, 79 American B-29 bombers dropped a total of 550 tons of incendiary bombs on the industrial site. The 85,000 AN-M69 Napalm bombs dropped caused enormous losses among the population and almost completely destroyed the city. Napalm canisters were preferably used against tactical targets. There were various canisters with a capacity of 270 to 870 liters. These were mostly dropped by fighter-bombers at low altitude. Used in this way, a canister with 624 liters of napalm could set fire to an area of ​​around 23 × 90 meters (25 × 100 squareyards / 2500 yd²).

Vietnam War

Flamethrower on a "Zippo Monitor" in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War , napalm was used to the greatest extent possible. The US armed forces used nearly 400,000 tons of napalm during this conflict. They were mostly used by fighter-bombers in low-level flight against area targets. Again, napalm was dropped in canisters. The canisters of the types BLU-10 (125 liters), BLU-11 (245 liters), BLU-23 (254 liters), BLU-27 (380 liters) and BLU-32 (254 liters) were used most frequently , whereby a BLU-10 - roughly estimated - an area of ​​around 500 yd² (approx. 10 × 40 meters), the BLU-11, BLU-23 and BLU-32 1000 yd² (approx. 14 × 60 meters) and the BLU-1 or The BLU-27 was able to set fire to an area of ​​approximately 1500 yd² (approx. 18 × 70 meters). Towards the end of the Vietnam War, however, the napalm canisters were increasingly replaced by cluster bombs with fragmentation effects.

Further missions

During the Greek Civil War , the Greek armed forces used napalm against the Democratic Army of Greece from 1948 onwards .

Indochina 1953

France used napalm against the Việt Minh in the Indochina War from 1951 . France also used napalm from 1954 in the Algerian War , in 1961 in Tunisia and in 1977 in Western Sahara .

The United Kingdom used napalm in the Mau Mau War in Kenya from 1952 to 1960 .

The Israel Defense Forces used napalm against Egypt during the Suez Crisis in 1957 . Israel also used napalm in the Six Day War in 1967, in the War of Attrition in 1969 and in 1973 in the Yom Kippur War .

During the Cuban Revolution Cuba in 1958 put in operation Verano napalm against the July 26 movement of Fidel Castro a.

Portugal used napalm against insurgents in Angola from 1961 to 1962 .

In 1962, Egypt used napalm in the Yemeni civil war.

During the Cyprus conflict in 1964, Turkey bombed cities and villages in Cyprus that were home to both civilians and soldiers with napalm. This led to diplomatic tensions and a military power play with Greece. In 1974 Turkey bombed a United Nations Peacekeeping Force vehicle in Cyprus with napalm. Three Austrian blue helmet soldiers burned in the vehicle.

Peru used napalm against insurgents in 1965.

In 1967 Bolivia used napalm against insurgents.

The massive napalm operations of the Nigerian government in the Niger Delta during the Biafra War from 1967 to 1970 gained international attention. The area bombing with incendiary agents was also used specifically to kill civilians.

The Iraq continued in 1969 and 1974 napalm against the Kurdish one in their own country.

In the Second Indo-Pakistan war in 1965 and in the conflict of 1971, both countries Napalm began.

Brazil used napalm against insurgent Maoists in the Amazon basin from 1970 to 1974 .

In 2006 the East Timor Reception, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CAVR) documented reports of the use of napalm by Indonesia in East Timor during the occupation (1975–1999). In a statement, Indonesia denied having had the opportunity to use napalm at all, but documents released by the Australian secret service in 2015 confirm both the capacities and plans for the use of napalm by Indonesia.

Napalm was also used in large quantities during the First Gulf War , by both Iraq and Iran . Iraq also used it against insurgent Kurds in their own country.

In 1980, San Salvador used napalm against insurgents.

Argentina sat in the Falklands War in 1982 napalm against the British Armed Forces one.

Libya presumably used napalm in 1983 in the Libyan-Chad border war .

South Africa is believed to have used napalm during Angola's civil war .

During the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan , the Soviet armed forces repeatedly used napalm from 1979 to 1989. Their version was called Opalm .

The USA used napalm and napalm-like substances in 1990/1991 in the Second Gulf War , in the Iraq War in 2003 and in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan .

During the Bosnian War, the Serbs bombed the city of Bihać with napalm in November 1994 .

Russia presumably used napalm in 1995 in the First Chechen War .

Classification under war and international law

Since napalm causes extremely poorly healing burns and great pain, according to some recent interpretations it falls under the excessive suffering banned weapons of Article 23 of the Hague Land Warfare Regulations . The use of incendiary weapons against the civilian population was prohibited by Protocol III of the United Nations Convention on the Prohibition of Inhuman Weapons in 1980.

The United States claims to have destroyed its napalm stocks in 2001. The USAF used the Mk-77 incendiary bomb against the Republican Guard during the 2003 Iraq War . According to the United States Department of Defense , the Mk-77 contains a mixture of kerosene and should not be classified as napalm. The substances used are remarkably similar, but the kerosene-based substance causes less damage to the environment. Similar incendiary bombs are also based on phosphorus incendiary devices, which were also tested in Iraq.

On January 21, 2009, the United States conditionally ratified Protocol III.

In 2012, the Federal Republic of Germany participated in an initiative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations Development Program to support the Serbian government in the destruction of napalm powder and ammunition containing the toxic white phosphorus. With the German contribution, 110 tons of napalm powder were destroyed.

See also


  • Leo P. Brophy, Wyndham D. Miles, Rexmond C. Cochrane: The Chemical Warfare Service: From Labratory to Field. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington DC, 1988 ( PDF ).
  • Louis Frederick Fieser among others: Napalm. In: Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. Volume 38, 1946, pp. 768-773, doi: 10.1021 / ie50440a010 .
  • Leo Finkelstein: Rheological properties of incendiary gels. In: The Journal of physical and colloid chemistry. Volume 52, 1948, pp. 1460-1470, doi: 10.1021 / j150465a004 .
  • Karol J. Mysels: Napalm. Mixture of Aluminum Disoaps. In: Industrial and Engineering Chemistry. Volume 41, 1949, pp. 1435-1438, doi: 10.1021 / ie50475a033 .
  • Robert M. Neer: Napalm. Harvard University Press, 2013, ISBN 0-674-07545-5 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  • Description of the Cleveland plant of Ferro Chem. Co. for production of napalm. In: Chemical engineering. Volume 58, 1951, ISSN  0009-2460 , 11, pp. 162-163.
  • AP 2,763,621 (12/7/1951; 9/18/1956) to Pfister Chemical Works Inc.
  • Hans-Joachim Töpfer: Incendiary means . Lesson 1: Characteristics of incendiary agents . Military publishing house of the GDR, Berlin 1981. (For use in the NVA.)
  • Robert M. Neer: Napalm. An American Biography , Harvard University Press 2013. ISBN 978-0-674-07301-2
  • Paul McCue: SAS Operation Bulbasket: Behind the Lines in Occupied France . Pen and Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, S. Yorks, UK 2009, ISBN 978-1-84884-193-2 , p. 232.
  • Kleber, BE and Birdsell, D. [1966]: The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals in Combat ( en ) (= United States Army in World War II / The Technical Services), Volume CMH Pub 10-3. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, USA, p. 697.

Web links

Wiktionary: Napalm  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Napalm  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Guldner GT, Knight C: Napalm Toxicity. , StatPearls, Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan, PMID 30725812
  2. Louis F. Fieser and the history of napalm development. In: Wissenschaft & Frieden , accessed on January 23, 2015.
  3. a b c Napalm . In: . Retrieved February 11, 2010.
  4. Brent Starkey: US Army Industrial Operations Command, Attn: AMSIO-ACA-R, Bldg. 350, 5th Floor, Rock Island, IL 61299-6000 . February 5, 1998 ( [accessed November 3, 2019]).
  5. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 106.
  6. Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic, Ministry for National Defense (ed.): Instructions A 053/1/003 “Fire Weapons” . May 31, 1988, p. 9-10 .
  7. ^ Leo P. Brophy, Wyndham D. Miles, Rexmond C. Cochrane: The Chemical Warfare Service: From Laboratory To Field . In: . United States Army in World War II S. 179–181 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  8. ЗБ-500. In: . Retrieved January 7, 2015 (Russian).
  9. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, pp. 137 + 139.
  10. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 141.
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  12. glue u. Birdsell, p. 158.
  13. ^ McCue, P., p. 104.
  14. The Zinn reader: writings on disobedience and democracy Howard Zinn p. 267 ff. & 276 ( online in the Google book search)
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  19. a b Summary Technical Report of Division 11, National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), Volume 3: Fire Warfare, Incendiaries and Flame Throwers , Washington DC 1946, pages 8-94.
  20. ^ Jörg Friedrich: Yalu. On the banks of the third world war . Propylaen Verlag, Munich 10/2007, ISBN 978-3-549-07338-4
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  27. ^ A b Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 404.
  28. ^ A b c Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 216.
  29. a b c d Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 212.
  30. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 190.
  31. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 211.
  32. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 213.
  33. ^ A b Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 217.
  34. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, pp. 216 + 217.
  35. "Chapter: Violations of the Laws of War" ( Memento from September 5, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 534 kB) from the "Chega!" Report of the CAVR (English).
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  37. ^ Philip Dorling: Australia knew about Indonesia's napalm plans in Timor Leste. In: Sydney Morning Herald , accessed May 13, 2015.
  38. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 403.
  39. ^ A b Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 405.
  40. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, pp. 391 + 392.
  41. "Part 3: The History of the Conflict" , p. 81 (PDF; 1.4 MB), from the "Chega!" Report of the CAVR (English)
  42. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, pp. 383 + 384.
  43. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 407.
  44. ^ Robert M. Neer: Napalm. 2013, p. 406.
  45. When heat gets under your skin Report on, episode 306, edition 6/2008 , accessed on December 29, 2017.
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