Incendiary ammunition

Incendiary ammunition

Incendiary ammunition contains a compound that burns rapidly and causes fires.cite web|url=|title=Bullets for Beginners||accessdate=2008-04-11]

World Wars

One of the first uses of incendiary ammunition occurred in World War I. At the time, phosphorus—the primary ingredient in the incendiary charge—burned upon firing, leaving a trail of blue smoke. The effective range of this bullet was only 350 yards, as most of the phosphorus would burn out by then. [cite book|url=,M1|title=America's Munitions: 1917–1918|author=United States War Department|year=1919] While European powers had been using incendiary ammunition before the United States' entry into the First World War, the American military had no experience with them, having used only lead bullets. The manufacture of several new types of ammunition—including incendiary—began soon after in the United States. [cite book|url=,M1|title=The Armies of Industry: Our Nation's Manufacture of Munitions for a World in Arms|last=Crowell|first=Benedict|year=1921|publisher=Yale University Press|page=p. 250]

Incendiary rounds were supplied to early British fighter aircraft during the First World War, for use against Zeppelins trying to bomb the British Isles. Filled with hydrogen gas, the Zeppelins were susceptible to fire. Similarly, incendiary ammunition was used against observation balloons, near the front lines. Although using hot air instead of hydrogen, their fabric could be set alight, causing far more damage than bullet holes. [cite web|url=||title=Zeppelins and balloons]

During World War II, incendiary rounds found a new use: they became one of the preferred types of ammunition for use in interceptor fighters. They were nearly as effective at puncturing enemy bomber aircraft as armor piercing rounds, but were far more effective than standard rounds because they could also ignite fuel when they came into contact with a fuel tank or pipeline. [cite book|url=,M1|title=Despatch on War Operations|publisher=Routledge|isbn=071464692X|last=Harris|first=Sir Arthur T.] One fighter pilot, who was shot down by incendiary rounds while flying in the Battle of Britain, describes his experience: "I could smell powder smoke, hot and strong, but it didn't make me feel tough this time. It was from the cannon shells and incendiary bullets that had hit my machine...Bullets were going between my legs, and I remember seeing a bright flash of an incendiary bullet going past my leg into the gas tank...Then a little red tongue licked out inquiringly from under the gas tank in front of my feet and became a hot little bonfire in one corner of the cockpit." [cite book|url=,M1|last=Kershaw|first=Alex|title=The Few: The American "Knights of the Air" Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain|year=2006|publisher=Da Capo Press|isbn=0306813033]

According to Joseph Folino of the 691st Tank Destroyer Battalion, he and his men were equipped with both high-velocity armor piercing and incendiary shells. When they mistakenly fired an incendiary shell at a tank, he described it as "the best thing that could have happened." The phosphorus exploded inside the tank, and raised the temperature so much that its crew surrendered immediately. He also said that their phosphorus rounds could burn through anything, even steel. [cite book|url=,M1|title=They Say There Was a War|last=Wissolik|first=Richard D.|coauthors=Katie Killen|year=2005|publisher=SVC Northern Appalachian Studies|isbn=1885851510|accessdate=2008-04-13] Phosphorus rounds also became a favorite of tankers, who used them both in the Normandy hedgerows and to deal with larger German tanks. Phosphorous rounds could easily clear out machine-gun nests, or other light emplacements. American tankers also discovered that a phosphorous round that struck near the air intakes of a German tank engine would fill the interior with smoke, fooling the crew into believing their vehicle was aflame and abandoning it.


Incendiary projectiles, in particular those intended for armor penetration, are more effective if they explode after penetrating a surface layer, so as to explode inside the target. Also, shells with onboard electronics or computers can be damaged by metal fragments when they explode on the surface. Ignition is often delayed by varying means until after impact.

Some explosive projectiles, such as high-explosive incendiary rounds, contain an incendiary charge, intended to ignite explosives within the shell. They may also be used to deplete the oxygen inside a tank. [cite web|url=|title=United States Patent 3948181|accessdate=2008-04-13]

ee also

*Tracer ammunition


External links

*US patent|2398287
*US patent|3948181

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