Military


Napalm


Kim Phuc was the subject of a Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph during the Vietnam War taken in 1972, when she was a child, running naked down a road, screaming in pain from the napalm that was burning through her skin. The photograph has come to epitomize the tragedy of the Vietnam War. Ironically, this incident did not involve any American participation, and their impact in Vietnam was minimal. In the United States, however, the impact of this scene was tremendous, and uniformly negative. Practically everyone old enough to have viewed the news during those years remembers this scene, and others like them, with a combination of revulsion and disgust.

There are many types of napalm, with dozens of different compositions. Napalm (trade name) is a powder. Mixed with gasoline, it is a tactical weapon used to remove vegetative cover and instill fear. Fire bomb fuel gel mixture, the new nomenclature for napalm, is a mixture of fuel and gelling solution that are combined to produce a thickened mixture. The fuel gel mixture is stringy and sticky, and readily adheres to most surfaces. The fuel gelling system consists of a fuel gelling unit, drums of gelling solution, and aviation gas, mogas, JP-4, or JP-5 fuels.

Incendiary munitions can kill or wound by immolation and by asphyxiation. Burn victims of napalm do not experience 1st degree burns due to the adhesive properties of napalm that stick to the skin. Immolation produces very rapid loss of blood pressure, unconsciousness, and death in a short time. Third degree burns are typically not painful at the time, since only the cutaneous (skin) nerves respond to heat and full-thickness (third-degree) burns kill the nerves. Severe second-degree burns such as likely to be suffered by someone hit with a small splash of napalm are the severely painful ones, the ones likely to be survived, and likely to produce hideous scars called keloids [which also bring about motor disturbances].

Napalm Composition

A large amount of carbon monoxide is produced once a napalm bomb is set off, which makes it hard for people to breathe, causing them to pass out and burn. When Napalm ignites, it rapidly deoxygenates the available air. Oxygen is replaced with carbon monoxide (CO) as a result of incomplete combustion. As little as 0.4 percent CO is fatal in one hour because of the high affinity between carbon monoxide and hemoglobin. Napalm creates a localized atmosphere of at least 20 percent carbon monoxide.

During World War I, both Germany and the US used an early form of napalm in combat flamethrowers, but the substance burned out too quickly to be very effective at igniting targets. Gasoline alone is not an effective burning agent, as it will splash off of the target on impact, and will then flow away from the target like water. What is needed is a thickening agent so that the fuel will stick to it�s intended target for a more complete burning effect. During the early months of World War II, the US Chemical Warfare Service used latex from the Para rubber tree to jell gasoline. This jelled gasoline shot further from flamethrowers, stuck to the target better, and burned longer. But when the US entered the war in the Pacific, natural rubber was in short supply. Research teams at Harvard University, Du Pont and Standard Oil engaged in a Government competition to develop a replacement.

Napalm was developed at Harvard University in 1942-43 by a team of chemists led by chemistry professor Louis F. Fieser, who was best known for his research at Harvard University in organic chemistry which led to the synthesis of the hormone cortisone. Napalm was formulated for use in bombs and flame throwers by mixing a powdered aluminium soap of naphthalene with palmitate (a 16-carbon saturated fatty acid) -- also known as napthenic and palmitic acids -- hence napalm [another story suggests that the term napalm derives from a recipe of Naptha and palm oil]. Naphthenic acids are corrosives found in crude oil; palmitic acids are fatty acids that occur naturally in coconut oil. On their own, naphthalene and palmitate are relatively harmless substances.

The aluminum soap of naphtenic and palmitic acids turns gasoline into a sticky syrup that carries further from projectors and burns more slowly but at a higher temperature. Mixing the aluminum soap powder with gasoline produced a brownish sticky syrup that burned more slowly than raw gasoline, and hence was much more effective at igniting a target. Compared to previous incendiary weapons, napalm spread further, stuck to the target, burned longer, and was safer to its dispenser because it was dropped and detonated far below the airplane. It was also cheap to manufacture.

Modern day napalm uses no Napalm (naphthalene or palmitate) -- instead using a mixture of polystyrene, gasoline and benzene. After the Korean War a safer but equally effective napalm compound was developed. This new formulation is known as "napalm-B", super-napalm, or NP2, and it uses no napalm! Instead, polystyrene and benzene are used as a solvent to solidify the gasoline. This modern napalm is a mixture of benzene (21%), gasoline (33%), and polystyrene (46%). Benzene is a normal component of gasoline (about 2%), while the gasoline used in napalm is the same leaded or unleaded gas that is used in automobiles.

Napalm-B had one great advantage over the original napalm -- ignition can be readily controlled. Napalm is less flammable than gasoline and therefore less hazardous. The more polystyrene in the mixture, the harder it is to ignite. Napalm is actually harder to ignite than might be expected. A match or even a road flare will not ignite napalm. A reliable igniter is used to start napalm-B burning. Thermite is typically used to ignite napalm. Some forms of modern napalm cannot be ignited by a hand grenade.

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.

The Palm Enterprises Treatment Facility is an abandoned hazardous waste treatment facility located at the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Detachment Fallbrook military installation. The Palm Enterprises Treatment Facility was issued a hazardous waste facility permit on 31 March 1988, which authorized Palm Enterprises to demilitarize and recycle the Navy�s napalm canisters stored at three (3) locations at the Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Detachment Fallbrook. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) permit authorized the use of two (2) units at the Palm Enterprises Treatment Facility. The permitted units consisted of a 12,000-gallon underground storage tank (Chemical Solution Storage Tank) and a Gasoline Separator Tank. Several pieces of ancillary equipment were also used in the treatment process. During 1989, the Palm Enterprises Treatment Facility was deactivated permanently when Palm Enterprises operations were discontinued due to the failure of the facility equipment to induce adequate throughput of the napalm through its distillation process to separate the benzene and polystyrene from the gasoline.

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.

The US stockpile of napalm had been kept at the naval weapons station in Fallbrook, CA since 1973. For 25 years, the napalm washas been stored there at an ammunition depot. Concern was minimal until it started leaking out of the canisters into the soil and into the air, giving way to rising concern to the Navy.

In 1997, Pollution Control Industries, an East Chicago waste management firm, signed a $2.5 million subcontract under which 3.3 million gallons of napalm would be turned into fuel for cement kilns over two years as part of a $24 million recycling program. By April 1998, the company wanted out of the deal. Rep. Jerry Weller, an Illinois Republican, raised questions about the incinerator's past problems with destroying cancer-causing PCBs and suggested that the Navy find a California incinerator to handle the project. Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) opposed the recycling of napalm in East Chicago. Chicago residents protested and stopped a shipment of napalm from coming through their area.

By June 1998, the Navy's general contractor was close to letting subcontracts to one or more disposal operations in Deer Park, Texas, as well as San Leon, Texas, Port Arthur, Texas, and Andrews County, Texas. The concern of the the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, and the Governor of Texas, was that the Navy had not done a very adequate job of notifying the public of their intention. This came on the heels of their earlier intent to dispose in East Chicago.

On 04 April 2001, at Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station, the US military sent the last two canisters of napalm to be burned as additives at coal and natural gas plants in Texas and Louisiana. After more than two decades, the last of the nation's inventory of napalm was erased from the history books. This project has made headline news across the country. The public did not always support the project because napalm's Vietnam War legacy. Eike Hohenadl, the then disposal plant's site manager, was quoted as saying that "Napalm is a memory of a war that most Americans would like to forget. I'm glad we are at an end."

Navy budget program decreases for FY2002 included $11.1 million related to termination of the NAPALM disposal program.

There was a report on Al-Jazeera on December, 14, 2001 that the US was using napalm at Tora Bora in Afghanistan. In response, General Tommy Franks said "We're not using -- we're not using the old napalm in Tora Bora."

The US Department of Defense denied the use of napalm during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A rebuttal letter from the US Depeartment of Defense had been in fact been sent to the Australian Sydney Morning Herald newspaper which had claimed that napalm had been used in Iraq.

An article by the San Diego Union Tribune revealed however, on August 5, 2003, that incendiary weapons were in fact used against Iraqi troops in the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as Marines were fighting their way to Baghdad. The denial by the US DOD was issued on the technical basis that the incendiaries used consisted primarily of kerosene-based jet fuel (which has a smaller concentration of benzene), rather than the traditional mixture of gasoline and benzene used for napalm, and that these therefore did not qualify as napalm. But the official Department of Defense definition of napalm is "1. Powdered aluminum soap or similar compound used to gelatinize oil or gasoline for use in napalm bombs or flame throwers. 2. The resultant gelatinized substance."