WW2 Incendiary Device help

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Whitefire13's picture
WW2 Incendiary Device help

My oldest knows lots about WW2 and there was a cursory part in his Social Studies which he found “light” ... we’ve discussed various topics (moral) which led me to the 1945 bombing of Dresden.

Started looking at pics of victims - OK...why isn’t the hair and clothes burned?

Many of the pics are what I expected but some are not what I expected. So I started to research the types of materials used in these particular bombs (or mix of bombing?) I feel like I’m at a dead end. Any chemists or military can direct me? I checked napalm... there’s a mention of “thermite” but from my understanding this would still incinerate hair/clothes...

It almost looks like it “targeted biological matter”

Fuckin fascinating



I just pasted the few link but I have tried other searches and come up empty. I’m missing something...



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Nyarlathotep's picture
You sure that damage to the

You sure that damage to the flesh isn't from decomposition? Just a guess.

Whitefire13's picture
I thought of that. I googled

I thought of that. I googled more pics and they seem to be taken shortly thereafter - but I’ll see if I can get a more accurate time for picture taking.

I hate assuming - it’s fucking hard to think of all the angles ...

Nyarlathotep's picture
I know we have some medical

I know we have some medical professionals here on AR who have much more experience with dead bodies than most of us have (or would ever want to have). Maybe one of them knows how long it takes a corpse to show that kind of damage through decomposition.

/e: I did a little reading about it and I guess there are lots of variables that determine that kind of thing; making it even more confusing to a lay person like me.

Whitefire13's picture
Found this:

Found this:


“Decomposing Nazi”.

The bombing also creating a “suffocating” ....
hard to find dates on photos taken.

I was reading what is under the photos...assuming taken around the same time?!?


Anyway - thanks. Decomposition. Makes sense.

Cognostic's picture
What came to mind for me was

What came to mind for me was suffocation. Gasses released from napalm can lead to RTDB (Respiratory Tract Damage due to Burns) and suffocation.

"When used as a part of an incendiary weapon, napalm can cause severe burns (ranging from superficial to subdermal), asphyxiation, unconsciousness, and death. In this implementation, napalm fires can create an atmosphere of greater than 20% carbon monoxide[2] and firestorms with self-perpetuating winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h)."


I was thinking of the blast of a volcano when I researched this. The blast of hot air and gas kills more people around the volcano than does the lava.

Just a thought!

David Killens's picture
The bombing of Dresden was a

The bombing of Dresden was a war crime. It target civilians.

But the goal was to set the city on fire, and most of the victims died of smoke inhalation. Then they laid there while the heat cooked off all the soft tissue and fluids. They were not consume by fire, they were slow baked.

Whitefire13's picture
Cog - I thought of the

Cog - I thought of the suffocating too...and it’s there. Images of Pompeii popped into mind. I just saw that one ladies hair and didn’t think decomp. because of the dates under the pics.

Sometimes I can be as dumb as I am smart.

Whitefire13's picture
Fuck me - slow baked. Gross!

Fuck me - slow baked. Gross!

David Killens's picture
They were not consumed by

They were not consumed by fire but suffocated and cooked.

My father-in-law was a Dane working in Hamburg during WW2. He personally witnessed the fire bombing of that city.

algebe's picture


Have you ever read "Slaughterhouse-Five"? It's based on Kurt Vonnegut's experiences as POW in Dresden during and after the bombing. It describes the way people in underground shelters were suffocated and cooked during the firestorm.

Dresden was one of the worst atrocities people ever inflicted on other people. The Tokyo air raid in March 1945 was equally horrible, but I think Dresden was condemned more because the victims were European Christians.

boomer47's picture


"Dresden was one of the worst atrocities people ever inflicted on other people"

Hardly. Far worse crimes have been committed over centuries in wars, as well as during and since WW2 .

As far as I know, no member of any victorious government has ever been tried for war crimes. Who would try them?

Imo the Nuremberg Trials were a stunning example of hypocritical victor's justice. Before that time, no defeated enemy had ever been tried for crimes committed in war.

Stalin and Churchill both wanted to summarily execute defeated enemy leaders, at least . That would have had the virtue of honesty AND would probably have resulted in a LOT more executed war criminals.

The statutes of the Nuremberg War Trials were written by the victors, especially the US, and were made retroactive,


From just after WW2, there was an 'unofficial' a Jewish Brigade called 'the Nakam' which went quietly around Europe killing any targeted Nazis they could catch.

It was part of the Tilhas Tizig Geshelten (Kiss My Arse) Brigade.

Whitefire13's picture
@Algebe...no I haven’t.

@Algebe...no I haven’t. Unfortunately I hadn’t even heard of Dresden before. It’s the oldest that got me searching for things beyond a cursory understanding. Now I actually may have heard of Dresden, but it never “stuck”. Watched lots of documentaries and of course movies.

algebe's picture
There is a movie of


There is a movie of "Slaughterhouse-Five". I thought it was very good, but it flopped at the box office.

One of the creepiest incendiary devices used in WW2 was the bat bomb. It consisted of a cylindrical metal cage packed with bats, each carrying a small incendiary charge. The idea was to release the bats mid-air above Japanese cities. The bats would instinctively fly to roost in dark places, such as the eaves of wooden houses. Timers would then detonate the little fire bombs, incinerating the bats and setting fire to the houses.

A dentist in Pennsylvania came up with the idea after observing bats at Carlsbad. He shared the idea with his friend, Eleanor Roosevelt. The government decided to try it and asked a Harvard chemist to come up with an incendiary light enough for a bat to carry. The result was napalm, for which Harvard still holds the patent.

watchman's picture
Whitefire …..

Whitefire …..

Algebe has it right ….

My understanding is that Dresden and to a lesser extent Hamburg were deliberate acts , not random or accidental.... the idea being to build a fire storm.... which becomes so powerful it creates its own system of winds at ground level ,so power full that the fire becomes self sustaining (sucking in fresh fuel from its immediate surroundings) turning the very air into a weapon.

The allies used a constant bomber stream over the targets thus continually adding to the fire until the fire became self sustaining.
A very specific mix of bomb types was required to effect this …..
"The use of incendiaries alone does not generally start uncontrollable fires where the targets are roofed with nonflammable materials such as tiles or slates. The use of a mixture of bombers carrying high explosive bombs, such as the British blockbuster bombs, which blew out windows and roofs and exposed the interior of buildings to the incendiary bombs, is much more effective. Alternatively, a preliminary bombing with conventional bombs can be followed by subsequent attacks by incendiary carrying bombers. "

and a vary specific set of circumstances...….
"based on World War II experience with mass fires resulting from air raids on Germany and Japan, the minimum requirements for a firestorm to develop are considered by some authorities to be the following: (1) at least 8 pounds of combustibles per square foot of fire area (40 kg per square meter), (2) at least half of the structures in the area on fire simultaneously, (3) a wind of less than 8 miles per hour at the time, and (4) a minimum burning area of about half a square mile."

Apparently many casualties were suffocated as the fire consumed the oxygen …( an effect seen also in the use of flame throwers on troops in pill boxes and other fortifications) .

There are accounts of people being caught up by the up draughts and pulled into the flames also horses and some light vehicles.

The controversy around the use of this tactic came about because of the somewhat doubtful military value of Dresden.
Dresden was not a great industrial centre ,it had no docks like Hamburg and only a small railway connection plus at the time of the raid it was crammed with refugees fleeing before the advancing Soviet armies.

According to my father (who was in bomber command during the war although not in Europe ..) the consensus at the time was this raid was intended not primarily to hit the Germans but to leave a marker on the ground for the advancing Russians to see as their armies were advancing and many would pass through this devastation.



boomer47's picture


No expert either. It is my understandings that many victims are not killed by fire, but by asphyxiation. A firestorm fire sucks up all of the available oxygen.

Firestorms were relatively rare in WW2 . Places and events which are usually mentioned are the fire bombing of Dresden and of Tokyo, also the Atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima .

Interesting and horrible to note that the fire bombing of Tokyo killed more people than the atomic bomb blast over Hiroshima.

Today firestorms can occur during a bushfire.

The above was gleaned from a few minutes of browsing the net.I started with "what is a firestorm " and narrowed my search after that. There's a LOT of information available on line.


algebe's picture
@cranky47: the fire bombing

@cranky47: the fire bombing of Tokyo killed more people than the atomic bomb

Yes. Everyone remembers Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but March 1945 in Tokyo is being forgotten as the older generation of Japanese shuffles off. A mostly wooden city was carpet bombed with incendiaries. There wasn't much underground space, so people fled to parks and river banks, but the firestorm generated fire tornadoes that swept over them. Bomber crews near the end of the raid reported an overwhelming smell of burning human flesh.

Public opinion at the time was that the Japanese deserved it for what they did in Nanking. There were also strategic reasons, because the Japanese had distributed a lot of their military production capacity to the suburbs. There's also the justification that an invasion of Japan would have resulted in a million deaths. I don't understand people who can make that kind of calculation.

Yet most of the civilians killed had little or no say in the deeds of their government and armed forces. A sizable percentage weren't even born at the time of Nanking.

It's easy to sit in judgment 75 years on. But the real lesson of Nanking, Dresden, Coventry, Tokyo, and Hiroshima is that war only proves might, not morality.

David Killens's picture
The man who ordered the fire

The man who ordered the fire bombing of Tokyo was General Curtis E LeMay. He was a hard-nosed SOB who went on to form and develop Strategic Air Command, the outfit designed to drop nuclear weapons with long range heavy bombers.

But he also commented "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal."

He was also he one who argued to Kennedy that the US should nuke Cuba during the missile crisis.

He was the hawk of hawks.

boomer47's picture


"Public opinion at the time was that the Japanese deserved it for what they did in Nanking."

Yair. The moral bankruptcy of tit for tat comes in really handy during war.

Simply reinforces my view that there is rarely any morality in war once the shooting starts---at the very best it is highly selective, .

The bombing of Dresden was in retaliation for the German bombing of Coventry and Churchill made no bones about it.

It's been often said that in war, truth is the firsts casualty. Part of that response to demonise the enemy . All army chiefs are aware how hard it is to train a man to kill another man. It's a bit easier if the trainee can be convinced the enemy is a monster, sub-human . Another is to brutalise the soldier and train him i to OBEY INSTINCTIVELY. That is why I have always thought "I was only following orders "can be a valid defence, especially for grunts and NCO's.

I was conscripted during the Vietnam war. (but mercifully was not sent there ) During basic and corp training, we were taught a few things relating to the Viet Cong: cunning and evil, less than human . That "'The Australian army DOES NOT TAKE PRISONERS unless specifically ordered". And a platoon sergeant actually said to in training (how could I ever forget?). 'Your first kill is like having two Sunday dinners"

I have often wondered how much PTSD is caused by the guilt from having killed another human being? There is no doubt in my mind that such guilt would have destroyed me.

In WW2 between 15- 25% of soldiers ever fired their weapon. Tactics changed in Vietnam. During a firefight , that figure rose to around 100%.

Whitefire13's picture
...” most of the civilians

...” most of the civilians killed had little or no say in the deeds of their government and armed forces.”

And this was the heart of our Social Studies today.

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