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Other meanings:-

  • Napalm is a card game based on poker.
  • Pro-Napalm is a high-energy isotonic drink which some athletes use. This usage of the word is a tradename.

Napalm is a flammable, gasoline-based weapon invented in 1942. The name is short for naphthenic palmitic acids. It produces horrific wounds, and although its use is not specifically prohibited by the laws of war, most nations no longer use it.


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 naphthene and palmitate (naphthenic acid and palmitic acid) 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 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. It was used by United Nations forces in Korea, by Mexico in the late 1960s against guerilla fighters in Guerrero and by the United States during the Vietnam War.

The use of napalm and other incendiaries against civilian populations was banned by a United Nations convention in 1980 [1] . The United States did not sign the agreement, but claimed to have destroyed its arsenal in 2001.

The United States has reportedly been using napalm in the 2003 invasion of Iraq [2] . In August 2003, the Pentagon stopped denying the charge, admitting it did use "Mark 77 firebombs".

"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 and polystyrene. [3]

A generic form of napalm can be produced with gasoline and polystyrene. A common recipe circulated on the Internet for a thickened gasoline substance (technically not napalm but considered similar), involves mixing gasoline and styrofoam. Actually producing such a substance is highly dangerous and may be illegal.

The United States destroyed its last container of napalm in a public ceremony in 1991.

See also

Last updated: 02-08-2005 09:26:43
Last updated: 02-26-2005 12:51:44