Chemical Warfare and World War Two

Chemical Warfare and World War Two

Developments in chemical warfare were to see new weapons or more sophisticated weapons by the end of the war in 1945. The use of chemicals led to more deadly weaponry being available to the infantry soldier the most famous being the phosphorous grenade/bomb and the use of napalm.  Phosphorous grenades/bombs (see photo below) were used as incendiaries with the sole intention of setting things alight. In ground combat, an infantryman could use a phosphorous grenade to attack a machine gun post. In an aerial attack, bombers could use phosphorous bombs to set buildings alight which would then act as pathfinders for squadrons of follow-up bombers which would the use high explosive bombs as happened in the Blitz.

Why was phosphorous so deadly? As a phosphorous bomb/grenade exploded, fragments of white phosphorous would be scattered over a wide area and the particles spontaneously exploded on contact with air. If these particles came into contact with skin, they had a tendency to stick and cause very painful skin burns with the almost certainty of taking someone out of a combat zone. If the victim was wounded, then looking after him/her would use valuable resources.

An even more effective form of chemical warfare was the development of napalm. This jelly-like substance derived from palmitic and naphthalenic acids, was a high-efficiency incendiary material which burnt fiercely for long periods of time when compared to petrol. On contact with organic materials, napalm continues to burn with a violent intense flame - see photo below. Anybody covered with napalm faced the appalling prospect of becoming a human torch. In World War Two, napalm was used against soldiers in an entrenched position (such as a machine gun post) and also in a general capacity whereby it spread terror amongst those on the receiving end of an attack and thus did a great deal to undermine morale.

Whereas both napalm and phosphorous were used in World War Two, its infamous cousin, poison gas, though developed and researched in depth, was not. 


MLA Citation/Reference

"Chemical Warfare and World War Two". HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. 2006. Web.






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