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Napalm in War

Napalm appeared fairly late in WWII and was used much more in Korea and later. Napalm was a big hit with the allied forces, who used it extensively in World War II in flamethrowers and fire bombs. The napalm was mixed in varying concentrations of 6% (for flame throwers) and 12-15% for bombs mixed on site (for use in perimeter defense). After the first few months of World War II, napalm was mixed in England and shipped in 55-gallon drums to the Continent, where it was handled by air chemical companies. The most common type of fire-bomb was the napalm bomb, an explosive mix of jellied gasoline which later gained notoriety in the Vietnam War.

The first use of napalm occurred on July 23, 1944, during pre-invasion air strikes on the island of Tinian, part of the Marianas island chain in the Pacific. It was used by the Allied Forces in World War II against cities in Japan. The primary dispersment of napalm was through the usage of 165-gallon containers. The bombs were longer than a tin can, but about as big around. They fell to earth trailing cloth tails that fluttered behind them. A single firebomb dropped from an airplane at low-altitude was capable of producing damage to a 2500-yd2 area. In targeted Japanese cities, napalm bombs burned out 40% of the land area. In a Japanese residential neighborhoods with wood and paper houses, there was no way to fight the fires. On March 9 and 10, 1945, US forces dropped more than 1,500 tons of napalm bombs, all produced at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, on Tokyo. The resulting firestorm destroyed enormous sections of the city. In the battle of Iwo Jima, aircraft from small escort aircraft carriers delivered napalm bombs and rockets to the island and supported US troops.

When indendiary weapons were dropped on bunkers in Germany, the intense heat literally baked and dehydrated the dead, giving rise to the German word "Bombenbrandschrumpfeichen," meaning "firebomb shrunken flesh." Allied bombers dropped an estimated 3.4 kilotons of incendiaries on the German city of Dresden. The attack on Dresden in February 1945 has always been a contentious issue because of the number of lives lost, the lateness of the war, and the cultural significance of the city. The city was a legitimate military target, and the allied air forces did attempt to precisely bomb the city's marshaling yards. In the Dresden bombing attacks of 14-15 February 1945, the American Eighth Air Force and the RAF Bomber Command together employed a total of 1,299 bomber aircraft (527 from the Eighth Air Force, 722 from the RAF Bomber Command) for a total weight, on targets, of 3906.9 tons. Of this tonnage, 1247.6 tons were expanded by the Eighth Air Force, 2659.3 tons by the RAF Bomber Command. The Americans employed 953.3 tons of high explosive bombs and 294.3 tons of incendiary bombs -- all aimed at the Dresden Marshalling Yards. The British employed 1477.7 tons of high explosive bombs and 1181.6 tons of incendiary bombs -- all aimed against the Dresden city area. Military records indicate that about half of the bombs that rained on Dresden were napalm bombs. The exact number of casualties from the Dresden bombings can never be firmly established. Most of the latest German post-war estimates are that about 25,000 persons were killed and about 30,000 were wounded, virtually all of these being casualties from the RAF incendiary attack of 13/14 February 1945. If opprobrium attaches to anyone, it should be Winston Churchill who specifically asked that east German cities be bombed to create refugees and spread havoc. Although Dresden was an unfortunate victim of circumstance, such was not the case for Berlin. The Allies placed the German capital in a different category, ordering attacks on "city center" and employing the maximum number of incendiary bombs.

During the Korean War, the US dropped approximately 250,000 pounds of napalm per day. The napalm-filled bombs were initially made in Japan. They were made of plastic, cost forty dollars each, and held 100 gallons. By 1951, new ones were being made which held 90 gallons. The Navy used Corsairs and dive-bombers to carry their bombs; the Air Force used F-Sls, F-80s, F-86s and B-26s. They experimented at one time with carrying six tanks of napalm on an F-80, but the normal load was two tanks of gasoline and two tanks of napalm. On an average good day, the expenditures of napalm were: Air Force, 45,000 gallons; Navy, 10,000 to 12,000 gallons; Marines, 4,000 to 5,000 gallons. At one time there was considerable difficulty in getting a good mix because there were no thermometers to test the temperature of the gasoline. The personnel mixing the gel would get the current temperature from the weather report, but the gasoline would be from 10 to 15 degrees colder than the air temperature from sitting out in the cold overnight. That problem was solved by using thermometers and the E3R2 mixing unit. The E3R2 is very efficient, and when standardized will alleviate mixing problems. Often, fire-bomb tanks were only half-filled with napalm to lighten the load so that jets could take off from a short runway without difficulty. This required the expenditure of more tanks, but was necessary at times.

The tactics in Korea were much the same as those used during World War II. Napalm fire bombs had been dropped from high-altitude bombers, but with little success. Dive-bombing at very low levels (25 feet) was satisfactory, but the effectiveness of the bomb was reduced to some extent by its skipping when it hit. Napalm was very effective against enemy personnel and as an antitank weapon. A hit anywhere within fifty feet of a tank was effective. It was used widely and successfully against dug-in enemy personnel. When the bomb landed, the burning napalm spread out and dropped down into foxholes. It was especially effective against trenches and improvised protections such as drainage and irrigation ditches where enemy soldiers were spread out along a wide front. The lack of enemy ground fire allowed low-level bombing, even as low as 25 feet. However, a number of duds resulted from drops as low as that. There were three main reasons for duds: extremely low altitudes, failure to arm the bomb, and broken arming wires. The value of napalm was indicated by the great number of requests for its use.

Ground commanders quickly discovered that air strikes were the most effective weapon against enemy positions dug in on the reverse slopes of the ridges. Napalm, dropped from low altitude, was recognized as the most effective air weapon against tanks, troops in trenches, and inflammable targets. Marine pilots' favorite was a mix of high-explosive, incendiary, and armor-piercing 20mm cannon ammunition, which disintegrated vehicles, stopped locomotives, and mowed down enemy troops.

American pilots sometimes attacked civilian-clad groups in South Korea on suspicion they harbored enemy infiltrators. Survivors and other witnesses said as many as 300 civilian refugees were killed in the US air attack at a cave near Youngchoon, 90 miles southeast of Seoul. The attack took place on 20 January 1951, in the seventh month of the Korean War. When the American firebombs hit, hundreds of terrified refugees trapped in the cave rushed for the entrance, but only a dozen escaped.

On 21 March 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea issued a memorandum detailing records of "criminal acts against humanity" committed by United States troops during the three-year Korean War (1950-1953). The DPRK report stated that the United States killed peaceful citizens by indiscriminate bombing and naval bombardment against urban and rural areas in the North. According to the DPRK, from 11 July to 20 August 1951, more than 10,000 United States planes had conducted over 250 air raids on Pyongyang, dropping as many as 4,000 bombs, killing 4,000 civilians and wounding 2,500 more. From 11 to 12 July 1952, 400 United States planes dropped more than 6,000 napalm bombs and time-bombs, killing 8,000 civilians, including women and children. "Town and country were reduced to ashes and several million peaceable inhabitants killed", the Permanent Representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Li Hyong Chol, said. According to the DPRK report, Napalm and other bombs dropped by United States war planes totaled more than 600,000 tons, which was 3.7 times the 161,425 tons dropped over Japan during the Pacific War.

The US used napalm during the Vietnam War [although technically speaking, it was not "napalm" per se because it included neither naphthalene nor palmitate, but instead was the Napalm-B mixture of polystyrene, gasoline and benzene]. To its critics, napalm represented the fiery essence of all that was horrible about the war in Vietnam. Most people still associate napalm with the image of a young girl running with a group of other victims, skin peeling off in layers, after her village was doused with napalm. Images of napalm igniting in jungles, in villages, and on the people of Vietnam are still cultural icons of the era. It is routinely cited along with Agent Orange as an example of American apathy to the cruelty of modern weapons. Nearly 400,000 tons of napalm were dropped on targets in Vietnam, giving rise to the Army marching song which includes the chorus line, "Napalm sticks to kids!". Vietnamese fighter escort aircraft, when using napalm to clear landing zones, often made the strikes just before the helicopters arrived; the resulting fire and smoke constituted a serious hazard to the helicopters. A single CH-47 could drop two and one-half tons of napalm on an enemy installation. Naturally, this method of dropping napalm was only used on specific targets where tactical air could not be effectively used.

Since the US would not attack irrigation dikes in North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese exploited the situation by placing anti-aircraft sites atop or adjacent to dikes. The air defenses threatened US forces, and by degrading bombing accuracy against lawful targets led to greater incidental civilian casualties. The Johnson administration denied repeated requests for authorization to attack these air defense sites. When they were finally authorized for attack during Linebacker I, the targets were attacked with weapons that would minimize the risk of structural damage to the dikes. This was accomplished through the use of napalm, strafing, cluster munitions, and other antipersonnel weapons.

Dow Chemical was responsible for the manufacture of napalm for the US military between 1965 and 1969. Demonstrations against the company stirred public controversy. Harun Farocki's astute 1969 film "Inextinguishable Fire" focused on the production of Napalm B by the Dow Chemical Company. After weighing the moral and practical aspects, Dow decided that its first obligation was to the government.

Israel used napalm during the 1967 war and in the 1980's in Lebanon. On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked the USS Liberty. Thirty-four American soldiers were killed and one hundred and seventy one were wounded. Both the US and Israeli governments have ruled the attack a tragic case of mistaken identity, but many survivors remain unconvinced. The Israeli forces attacked the ship with napalm, with canon fire, and with torpedoes. They did everything they could to blow up the ship; firing, for example, five torpedoes at the ship, one of which blew a forty-foot hole into the ship. This was followed by shots at the life rafts of people trying to escape the ship.

In Angola, the Portuguese military used defoliants and napalm, mined trails, and poisoned water holes as tactics to counter their adversaries.

By 1969, the Biafrans had reassessed the resolve of their Nigerian opponent. The verdict was that the unrestrained aerial attacks on undefended hospitals and markets, especially with napalm, and the tightening blockade were further evidence of the Federal desire to commit genocide, i.e., the eradication of the Ibo population.

In May 1972, when the Brazilian military operation effectively started, FOGUERA had about 80 guerrilla fighters. One of the first operations completed in the area was a clean-sweep action over the only existing mountains in the region, the Andorinhas Mountains, which do not have natural cover. After being bombarded with napalm by the Air Force, the mountains were the object of a vigorous search and encirclement mission conducted by a large force. The results were dismal because the guerrillas were never there.

In the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Moshe Dayan was nearly injured when an Egyptian helicopter dropped a napalm barrel near him at Adan's command post on the east bank.

During the 1982 Falklands conflict, the Argentine PUCARA proved an enduring craft. They were hit numerous times by British small arms fire and by BLOWPIPE SAMS, but were often able to return to their base for repair. They were used to combat British helicopters and shot down two. They also delivered NAPALM against British positions on at least one occasion.

In early November 1994, Serbs from within Croatia launched missile and air strikes on the Bihac pocket. Bosnian Serbs and the rebel Muslim forces attacked the Bihac pocket from Croatia. During an attack on November 18, these forces used napalm and cluster bombs, which the Security Council noted was "in clear violation of Bihac's status as a safe area." The air attacks from Croatia led the Security Council to authorize the use of NATO air power on targets in Croatia.

Napalm was used during the Persian Gulf War. The Marine Corps dropped all of the approximately 500 MK-77s used in the Gulf War. They were delivered primarily by the AV-8 Harriers from relatively low altitudes. During Operation Desert Storm MK-77s were used to ignite the Iraqis oil-filled fire trenches, which were part of barriers constructed in southern Kuwait.

The massive defeat of the Iraqi military machine tempted the Iraqi Kurds to revolt against the Baghdad regime. Encouraged by American radio broadcasts to rise up against their 'dictator', the Kurds of northern Iraq rebelled against a nominally defeated and certainly weakened Saddam Hussein in March of 1991. Shortly after the war ended, Kurdish rebels attacked disorganized Iraqi units and seized control of several towns in northern Iraq. From the town of Rania, this sedition spread quickly through the Kurdish north. Fear of being drawn into an Iraqi civil war and possible diplomatic repercussions precluded President Bush from committing US forces to support the Kurds. Within days Iraqi forces recovered and launched a ruthless counteroffensive including napalm and chemical attacks from helicopters. They quickly reclaimed lost territory and crushed the rebellion.

In late 1997, Turkey launched attacks on Kurdish villages in Northern Iraq. Turkey said that they were pursuing the PKK into Northern Iraq. The use of napalm and cluster bombs against civilians in Northern Iraq was part of Turkey's military efforts against the Kurds.




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