Napalm is a thick, sticky substance that became popularly known because of its use in the Vietnam War.
As an incendiary weapon, it causes a tremendous amount of damage.
The purpose of this article is purely for academic reasons and not to create a weapon to do harm; with that said let’s continue.
What is Napalm?
According to Global Security,
“There are many types of napalm, with dozens of different compositions. Napalm (trade name) is a powder. Mixed with gasoline, it is a tactical weapon used to remove the vegetative cover and instill fear. Firebomb fuel gel mixture, the new nomenclature for napalm, is a mixture of fuel and gelling solution that are combined to produce a thickened mixture.”
That thickening mixture sticks to anything it touches, causing a deep burn at high temperatures that incinerates anything it comes into contact with. This type of substance kills or wounds by immolation and asphyxiation, Global Security notes.
Type of burns it produces
Burn victims experience 2nd or 3rd-degree burns due to the adhesive properties of napalm that stick to the skin. 1st-degree burns are usually not seen because of this.
Third-degree burns typically are not painful at the time as the burn kill the nerves because they go so deep. Second-degree burns are usually the painful ones, and the type of burns you see produce hideous scars called keloids.
History of Napalam
Napalm was deployed in modern use on the battlefield of Papua New Guinea on 15 December 1943 using flamethrowers. The first use of incendiary napalm bombs occurred against Berlin in 1944 by the US Army Air Force.
It became widely used during the Vietnam War when the Americans used it to devastating effect and became a symbol of disgust of the horrors of war.
Napalm’s origins go much further back, as the term “sticky fire” is mentioned in Greek warfare. This substance is believed to have had a petroleum base and was used in maritime war to set fire to enemy ships.
The Byzantines used it in naval battles with a great effect as it devastated enemy ships and still burned while floating water.
Napalm was widely used in WWII, was developed in a Harvard Lab and used as a tactical weapon for clearing large swaths of rainforest via incendiary bombs and flamethrowers. It was used to clear brush so that the enemy could not hide or engage in surprise guerrilla attacks.
Napalm, being a thick sticky substance, has the ability to not just set fire to anything it comes into contact with but continue to burn until there is nothing left.
Napalm use in Vietnam
Napalm became synonymous with Vietnam thanks to the film Apocalypse Now which brought to light in the big screen some of the darker realities of war.
“Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like – victory”
Apocalypse Now (1979).
The horrors epitomized by the use of napalm became emblazoned in the now-famous Pulitzer prize-winning photograph showing a young Vietnamese girl
This US military reframing of napalm – from a “strategic asset to a liability as a weapon” during WWII and Vietnam – coincided with the criticisms of napalm by activists and civil society.
Although it was used in Vietnam for much of the war, Americans began losing their appetite for it’s all-out war campaign after many of the horrors were brought to light.
One of those horrors that captured the war dramatically was a photograph showing a little Vietnamese girl running from a Napalm bombing. She is pictured running naked, burned and in tears with American G.I.’s in the background along with the smoke coming from her destroyed village.
This picture marked a turning point. The American public could no longer support such a war of atrocity.
How to make napalm?
Napalm is made by combining gasoline with a thickening agent, such as soap or styrofoam. Napalm is highly flammable and dangerous to handle, so it should be used in a well-ventilated area and with caution.
Making napalm is actually an easy and straightforward process that only requires a few ingredients that you probably already have around the house.
All you need is some gasoline, a container, and some styrofoam.
Step by Step Process
1. Find a container for the gasoline.
This can be any type of container, but it needs to be able to hold the gasoline without leaking. I would first start small before going and making a large tub of it.
2. Add gasoline to the container.
The amount of gasoline you’ll need will depend on how much napalm you want to make. Start with a small amount of gasoline before doing any in bigger batches.
3. Add a thickening agent to the gasoline.
Add some styrofoam to the bucket or bowl. Add a small handful of styrofoam to begin. You will begin to see the styrofoam dissolving as you add gasoline. Styrofoam contains a chemical called polystyrene that makes the styrofoam sticky when you add the gasoline.
4. You now have napalm
After combining the two ingredients, wait for a bit and you will see the styrofoam getting dissolved. To test it make it into a ball and take it outdoors. Light the napalm away from anything that might catch on fire. Once it gets burning, it will burn at sweltering temperatures ranging from 800 to 1,200 °C (1,470 to 2,190 °F).
What’s the purpose of napalm?
Napalm is a sticky, flammable liquid that is often used for war in incendiary bombs and flame throwers. Its main purpose is to burn at high temperatures and for long periods of time. When napalm burns it doesn’t go out as easily as traditional fire.
There really is no household use for napalm, and since it is banned for military use, there is no real use for it today.
With that being said, there are a few practical purposes where it still can be employed in survival situations.
Napalm can be used as:
- A fire starter. In damp conditions, it can be very difficult to get a fire going this substance can help keep the blaze going.
- Napalm could be used to burn a hole through thick material if you have no other tool.
- It could also be used for weed and pest clearing especially if there is a lot of undergrowth that is difficult to cut.
Napalm is banned
The United Nations banned napalm usage against civilian targets in 1980.
Although the traditional method of making napalm has generally ceased, there are many modern variants that are still used.
Even though it is banned, by using different methods for production countries can claim that they do not use napalm in war. America has been accused of employing such tactics in the Iraq war in 2003, where it is claimed they used a napalm derivative against Iraqi troops.
Types of Napalm
There are two main types of napalm:
- Napalm-A (Oil-based with aluminum soap thickener) – “consists of co-precipitated aluminum salts of naphthenic and palmitic acids.” The term napalm comes from naphthenic and palmitic.
- Napalm-B – (Oil-based with polymeric thickener) – Also known as super-napalm. This is the homemade napalm that you see people talking about. This is the one that was demonstrated in the video and the how to in this article and consists of petroleum mixed with (styrofoam) polymeric thickening agent. This is the most common and known form. It consists of “46% polystyrene, 33% gasoline and 21% benzene.”
- Store napalm in a safe place, away from heat or open flames.
- You’ll want to keep it in a cool dark place that is not easily accessible to children or pets.
- It is highly flammable though less flammable than gasoline
- Make sure to use it in a well-ventilated area and take precautions when handling it.
- Do not inhale the smoke as it is very toxic
- When it catches fire, it is difficult to extinguish, so watch out
If napalm lands on your skin, it will stick and cause nasty burns. The combustion of napalm generates large amounts of carbon monoxide, which is very toxic.
Keep a fire extinguisher and a bucket with sand nearby for safekeeping.
Store in metal containers if you must. Do not store in plastic. The bottle should be sealed.
Napalm wastes release toxic fumes and should be burnt in a remote location and disposed of properly.
Napalm has a troubled history, like most questionable tactics of war should be approached with caution. While napalm is easy to make, it’s important to take some precautions if you decide to make a little napalm experiment yourself.