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napalm(nā`päm), incendiary material developed during World War II by Harvard scientists cooperating with the U.S. army and used in bombs and flame throwers. Napalm is based on a mixture of gasoline, sometimes mixed with other petroleum fuels, and a thickening agent. The thickener, to which the term napalm was originally applied, turns the mixture into a thick jelly that flows under pressure, as when shot from a flame thrower, and sticks to a target as it burns. One of the first thickeners used was an aluminum soap (a salt of aluminum and certain fatty acids). Later thickeners have been based on polystyrene and similar polymers.
See R. M. Neer, Napalm: An American Biography (2013).
a combustible product used as an incendiary and flame-thrower mixture. It is produced by adding a special powder thickening agent, consisting of a mixture of aluminum salts of organic acids such as naphthenic and palmitic acids, to a combustible liquid (gasoline, kerosine, or other petroleum products). For gasoline the quantity of thickening agent is 4—11 percent of the weight of the fuel, and the consistency of the napalm varies from a viscous liquid to an almost solid jelly.
Napalm ignites easily, burns slowly, giving off thick, pungent black smoke (the temperature of the flame is 900°-1100°C, depending on the type of fuel), and adheres well to targets, including vertical surfaces. A new napalm (napalm B), which even sticks to moist surfaces, has been developed in the USA on the basis of polystyrene. If magnesium and inorganic oxidants are added to napalm, the flame temperature of the resulting incendiary mixture rises to 1600°C. The cinders that form during combustion can burn through metal elements. If alloys of light metals are added, the mixture self-ignites on the target, especially when the target is wet or covered with snow. Such mixtures are called supernapalms and cannot be extinguished with water.
Napalm is used in aerial bombs, flame traps, portable and mechanized flame-throwers, and incendiary antipersonnel cartridges, and for destruction of combat materiel. It is also used to cause fires. Napalm was adopted by the US Army in 1942 and was used by American aviation during World War II (1939–45), the war of aggression against the Korean people in 1950–53, and, on a particularly broad scale, in the aggression against Vietnam from 1964 to 1973.
M. I. PROSTOMOLOTOV