Uzair Ali describes the ravages caused by incendiary weapons
The most reviled yet potent weapons of war are the incendiaries that bring in their wake fire storms ravaging both life and property in their areas of target. The widely reported event revealing the ferocity of incendiary weapons came to the fore when the American bombers bombed the large area. The Japanese had managed to disperse other industries all around their country but that in the last stages of the Second World War this was chosen a decisive target. The American bombers dropped their payload leaving behind them 16 square miles of homes and businesses ablaze as a result of a fire storm rated to be one of the biggest in history.
The incendiary weapons are capable of creating a fire storm occurs because when a conflagration becomes so big and hot that it creates a powerful updraft over the center of the fire, consumes all the oxygen in the affected area and draws so much cool air to the center of the fire that winds reach gale force. The winds make the fire more intense as was described that the heat in Tokyo was so intense that the water in the city’s canals boiled. In places, the fire took all the oxygen out of the air. Many of those caught in the firestorm, even though sheltered from the flames, suffocated for lack of oxygen. In this raid, some 86,000 people, almost all civilians died. The devastation caused by such weapons was described as unprecedented and a completely new form of enemy war in which enemy fights in unconventional ways.
It was later reported that the kind of weapons that made possible conflagrations such as the Tokyo-Yokohama fire and the fires that destroyed all of the largest cities of Japan was based on an incendiary substance known and used by a quintessential American item: gasoline. It was jellied by mixing it with aluminum naphthenate, a naphtha-based soap, and aluminum palmate, a palm-oil-based soap. The thickened gasoline was programmed to cling to whatever it touched and burned more fiercely. Because of their thickening, flamethrowers projected in a narrow stream with greater range than would have been possible with gasoline. The jet of fire could be made to ricochet around corners.
In this context, newer fire bombs use a liquid, not a gel, called napalm B, composed of polystyrene, benzine and gasoline. It is said to burn three times longer than the older mixture and cause more destruction. The idea of napalm bombs came from fighter-bomber pilots who discovered that if one of their auxiliary gas tanks were dropped while still loaded, it ignited spontaneously. That made it a potentially deadly weapon and substituting napalm for aviation gas made it even more deadly. Most napalm bombs were quite large, in contrast to the thermite bombs that initiated this horrible form of warfare, first by the Germans, then by the British.
Thermite, too, is a combination of common materials—powdered aluminum and ferric oxide—better known as rust. Neither component, though, is generally considered a fire-starter. Thermite had been used to an extent in the First World War when German zeppelins bombed cities. At that time, it formed the centre of a cone of resinous material bound with tarred rope. The weapon made on this pattern looked like a magnesium rod with tail fins, each consisting a thick-walled casing of magnesium with a core of thermite. The thermite ignited the magnesium that burned so intensely it could not be extinguished with water. Water only made it burn more fiercely, because the hot magnesium took oxygen from the water, which, of course, is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen.
Responding to an attack by such weapon the rescuing agencies were encouraged to cover the burning bombs with sand or else spray them with a fine spray of water to make them burn themselves out more quickly without spreading the fire. The longer the bomb burned, the more likely it was to cause a bigger fire. Thermite and magnesium burned hot enough to melt any metal and pulverize several inches of concrete. Such weapons were refined and one of them was a bomb that parachuted to Earth and on landing, the tail blew off, forcibly ejecting seven thermite bombs over a period of 10 minutes while thermite in its nose burned where it landed.
Moreover, artillery formations of the army on the ground Artillery used a variety of incendiary shells containing thermite, white phosphorus and some other chemicals. In addition, small arms also shoot incendiary ammunition such as tracer bullets that are incendiaries having small amount of white phosphorus or an explosive in the nose. One high-tech incendiary is depleted uranium solid shot that is used against armour during which its sparks have an extremely high temperature making them to ignite anything inflammable, such as gasoline vapour in the interior of a tank. These weapons have gained wide currency and were considered potent. TW