From Academic Kids

Missing image
A napalm airstrike during the Vietnam War

Napalm is a flammable, gasoline-based weapon invented in 1942. The name is a portmanteau word for naphthenic palmitic acids. It was developed during World War II by the United States. In 1980, its use against civilian populations was banned by a United Nations convention.



During World War I both the Allies and Germany used gasoline as a weapon in flamethrowers, but gasoline burns itself too quickly to be an effective incendiary device. A substance was needed which would produce a powerful and persistent fuel but would not consume itself too quickly.

Though researchers had found ways to make jellied gasoline earlier, many of them required rubber as a principal component, which during wartime was a scarce commodity. In 1942, researchers at Harvard University (led by Dr. Louis Fieser) and the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service found a rubber-less solution: mixing an aluminum soap powder of naphthalene and palmitate (naphthenic acid and palmitic acid, sodium palmitrate) with gasoline. This produced a substance which was highly flammable, yet slow burning. In World War II, incendiary bombs using napalm as their fuel were used against the German city of Dresden and during the firebombings of Japan.

After World War II, further refinement and development of napalm was undertaken in the United States by the government and its affiliated laboratories. Modern "napalm" contains neither naphthenic nor palmitic acids (despite the name), but often uses a bevy of other chemicals to stabilize the gasoline base. It is manufactured by Dow Chemical Company.

See Bombing of Tokyo in World War II and Bombing of Dresden in World War II for more information on the usage of napalm in the Second World War and chemical warfare for more details on chemical weaponry.

Usage in warfare

In World War II, Allied Forces bombed cities in Japan with napalm, and used it in bombs and flamethrowers in Germany and the Japanese-held islands. It was used by the Greek army against communist guerilla fighters during the Greek Civil War, by United Nations forces in Korea, by Mexico in the late 1960s against guerrilla fighters in Guerrero and by the United States during the Vietnam War.

Riverboat of the U.S.  deploying napalm during the
Riverboat of the U.S. Brownwater Navy deploying napalm during the Vietnam War

“Napalm is the most terrible pain you can imagine,” said Kim Phuc, known from a famous Vietnam War photograph. “Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. Napalm generates temperatures of 800 to 1,200 degrees Celsius.” [1] (

Like many Vietnamese children before and after her, Phuc sustained third-degree burns to half her body and was not expected to live. But thanks to assistance from an American photographer, and after surviving a 14-month hospital stay and 17 operations, she became an outspoken peace activist.

The use of napalm and other incendiaries against civilian populations was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980 [2] ( The United States did not sign the agreement, but claimed to have destroyed its napalm arsenal by 2001.

The United States officially destroyed its last container of napalm in a public ceremony in 1991, however it had reportedly been using napalm-like incendiaries in the 2003 invasion of Iraq [3] ( In August 2003, the Pentagon confirmed the use of Mark 77 firebombs (codenamed MK77s).

"We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches," said Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11. "Unfortunately there were people there ... you could see them in the cockpit video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."

These bombs contain a substance "remarkably similar" to napalm. This substance is made with kerosene, a polystyrene derivative, and other additives. [4] (

Recipes for crude napalm-like substances are commonly circulated on the Internet. These typically purport to produce a thickened gasoline-based substance using soap or polystyrene as a jellying agent. The methods described for producing such a substance are often dangerous, as is its use (due to flammability, adhesiveness, and poisonous fumes from burning polystyrene). It is also highly illegal to produce incendiary weapons in most countries.

See also

Other meanings of the word

Other meanings of Napalm include:

  • Napalm is a card game based on poker.
  • Pro-Napalm is a high-energy isotonic drink which some people use. This usage of the word is a tradename.
  • Napalm Man is a boss in the Video Game Mega Man 5.
  • Napalm Death are a band of musicians that formed in Birmingham, England in 1982 and are hailed as being responsible for taking 'Metal' and regenerating it as 'Grindcore'. The band's membership has constantly changed, with previous members moving on to form bands such as Godflesh, Cathedral, Carcass, and Scorn.da:Napalm

de:Napalm es:Napalm fr:Napalm nl:Napalm ja:ナパーム弾 pl:Napalm sl:Napalm fi:Napalm


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