AskDefine | Define napalm

Dictionary Definition

napalm n : gasoline jelled with aluminum soaps; highly incendiary liquid used in fire bombs and flame throwers

User Contributed Dictionary



Formed from naphthenic palmitic acid, the two original components of the substance.


  1. A highly flammable, viscous substance, (designed to stick to the body while burning), used in warfare to cause widespread death and destruction, especially in wooded areas.


inflammable substance
  • Croatian: napalm


  1. To spray or attack an area using such substance.



From napalm.


hr-noun m

Extensive Definition

Napalm is the name given to any of a number of flammable liquids used in warfare, often jellied gasoline. Napalm is actually the thickener in such liquids, which when mixed with gasoline makes a sticky incendiary gel. Developed by the U.S. in World War II by a team of Harvard chemists led by Louis Fieser, its name is a combination of the names of its original ingredients, coprecipitated aluminium salts of naphthenic and palmitic acids. These were added to the flammable substance to cause it to gel.
One of the major problems of early incendiary fluids was that they splashed and drained too easily. The U.S. found that a gasoline gel increased both the range and effectiveness of flamethrowers, but was difficult to manufacture because it used natural rubber, which was in high demand and expensive. Napalm provided a far cheaper alternative, solving the issues involved with rubber-based incendiaries. Napalm bombs were first used in the Pacific Theatre during the Battle of Tinian by Marine aviators; however, its use was complicated by problems with mixing, fusing and the release mechanisms. In World War II, The USAAF 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 National army against the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) during the Greek Civil War, by United Nations forces in Korea, by France against the Viet Minh in the First Indochina War, by Mexico in the late 1960s against guerrilla fighters in Guerrero and by the United States during the Vietnam War.
The most well-known method of delivering napalm is from air-dropped incendiary bombs. A lesser-known method is the flame throwers used by combat infantry. Flame throwers use a thinner version of the same jellied gasoline to destroy gun emplacements, bunkers and cave hideouts. U.S. Marines fighting on Guadalcanal found them very effective against Japanese positions. The Marines used fire as both a casualty weapon as well as a psychological weapon. They found that Japanese soldiers would abandon positions in which they fought to the death against other weapons. Prisoners of war confirmed that they feared napalm more than any other weapon utilised against them.
Pilots returning from the war zone often remarked they would rather have a couple of droppable gasoline tanks full of napalm than any other weapon, bombs, rockets or guns. The U.S. Air Force and Navy used napalm with great effect against all manner of targets to include troops, tanks, buildings and even railroad tunnels. The demoralizing effect napalm had on the enemy became apparent when scores of North Korean troops began to surrender to aircraft flying overhead. Pilots noted that they saw surviving enemy troops waving white flags on subsequent passes after dropping napalm. The pilots radioed to ground troops and the North Koreans were captured.
Napalm has been used recently in wartime by or against: Morocco (1976), Iran (1980–88), Israel (1967, 1982), Nigeria (1969), India & Pakistan (1965 & 1971), Brazil (1972), Egypt (1973), Cyprus (1964, 1974), Argentina (1982), Iraq (1980–88, 1991, 2003 - present), Serbia (1994),1993 Angola, France during the First Indochina War (1946-1954) and the Algerian War (1954-1962 ), and the United States.
Napalm can kill or wound by immolation and by asphyxiation. Immolation produces rapid loss of blood pressure, unconsciousness and death in a short time. 3rd degree burns are typically not painful at the time, because only the skin nerves respond to heat and 3rd degree burns kill the nerves. Burn victims do not experience 1st degree burns due to the adhesive properties of napalm that stick to the skin. Severe 2nd degree burns, likely to be suffered by someone hit with a small splash of napalm are severely painful and produce hideous scars called keloids, which can also bring about motor disturbances.
Phúc sustained third-degree burns to half her body and was not expected to live after the attack by South Vietnamese aircraft. But thanks to assistance from South Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut and American doctors, and after surviving a 14-month hospital stay and 17 operations, she became an outspoken peace activist.
International law does not necessarily prohibit the use of napalm or other incendiaries against military targets,
Reports by the Sydney Morning Herald suggested the usage of napalm in the Iraq War by US forces. This was denied by the U.S. Department of Defense. In August 2003, the San Diego Union Tribune alleged that U.S. Marine pilots and their commanders confirmed the use of Mark 77 firebombs on Iraqi Republican Guards during the initial stages of combat. Official denials of the use of 'napalm' were, however, disingenuous, as the Mk 77 bomb that is currently in service at this time, the Mk 77 Mod 5, does not use actual napalm (for example, napalm-B). The last U.S. bomb to use actual napalm was the Mark 77 Mod 4, the last of which were destroyed in March 2001. The substance used now is a different incendiary mixture, but sufficiently analogous in its effects that it is still a controversial incendiary, and can still be referred to colloquially as 'napalm.'
"We napalmed both those (bridge) approaches," said Col. Randolph Alles in a recent interview. "Unfortunately, there were people there because you could see them in the (cockpit) video." (...) "They were Iraqi soldiers there. It's no great way to die," he added. (...) The generals love napalm. ... It has a big psychological effect." - San Diego Union-Tribune, August 2003
These bombs did not actually contain napalm. The napalm-B (super napalm) used in Vietnam was gasoline based. The Mk-77 firebombs used in the Gulf were kerosene based. It is, however, a napalm-like liquid in its effect.
Some weapons utilize a pyrophoric variant, known as TPA (thickened pyrophoric agent). Chemically it is a triethylaluminium thickened with polyisobutylene.

In popular culture

Napalm itself became well-known by the American public after its use in the Vietnam war. Since then, it has been mentioned in the media and arts on numerous occasions. In the film Apocalypse Now, Airmobile Infantry Colonel Kilgore declared "I love the smell of napalm in the morning... It smells like... victory" following a nearby napalm strike. In An Officer and a Gentleman, Sgt. Foley led a quick-step march with a cadence call that had the chorus, "Cause napalm sticks to kids!", representing a cadence call common in the U.S. military at the time.


External links

napalm in Arabic: نابالم
napalm in Bulgarian: Напалм
napalm in Czech: Napalm
napalm in Danish: Napalm
napalm in German: Napalm
napalm in Spanish: Napalm
napalm in Esperanto: Napalmo
napalm in Persian: بمب‌ ناپالم
napalm in French: Napalm
napalm in Ido: Napalm
napalm in Italian: Napalm
napalm in Hebrew: נפלם
napalm in Lithuanian: Napalmas
napalm in Dutch: Napalm
napalm in Japanese: ナパーム弾
napalm in Norwegian: Napalm
napalm in Norwegian Nynorsk: Napalm
napalm in Polish: Napalm
napalm in Portuguese: Napalm
napalm in Russian: Напалм
napalm in Simple English: Napalm
napalm in Slovak: Napalm
napalm in Slovenian: Napalm A
napalm in Finnish: Napalm
napalm in Swedish: Napalm
napalm in Vietnamese: Bom napan
napalm in Turkish: Napalm bombası
napalm in Chinese: 凝固汽油弹
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