Home:  Shells and Grenades: WWII INCENDIARY BOMB


View all Shells and Grenades


Incendiary bombs, also known as firebombs, were used as an effective bombing weapon in World War II. The large bomb casing was filled with small sticks of incendiaries (bomblets), and designed to open at altitude, scattering the bomblets in order to cover a wide area. An explosive charge would then ignite the incendiary material, often starting a raging fire. The fire would burn at extreme temperatures that could destroy most buildings made of wood or other combustible materials (buildings constructed of stone tend to resist incendiary destruction unless they are first blown open by high explosives). Originally, incendiaries were developed in order to destroy the many small, decentralized war industries located (often intentionally) throughout vast tracts of city land in an effort to escape destruction by conventionally-aimed high-explosive bombs. Nevertheless, the civilian destruction caused by such weapons quickly earned them a reputation as terror weapons (e.g., German Terrorflieger) with the targeted populations, and more than a few shot-down aircrews were summarily executed by angry civilians upon capture.The Nazi regime began the campaign of incendiary bombings with the bombing of London in 194041, and reprisal was exacted by the Allies in the strategic bombing campaign. In the Pacific War, during the last seven months of strategic bombing by B-29 Superfortresses in the airwar against Japan, a change to firebombing tactics resulted in some 500,000 Japanese deaths and 5 million more made homeless. 67 of Japan's largest cities lost significant areas to incendiary attacks. The most deadly single bombing raid in all history was Operation Meetinghouse, an incendiary attack that killed some 100,000 Tokyo residents in one night.

Your comments:

  • An entire generation was so busy fighting a war that they treated these things with some abandon.

    In Earls Court, London, one of these incendiaries came through the ceiling of my grandfather's office one night, clean through his desk and came to rest where he intended to put his feet the following morning.

    Rather than bother the authorities, the proper action is then of course to stow it in the office broom cupboard for the rest of the war.

    It appears, by and large, that people could and did get away with this in the UK but be aware that there were explosive versions in use during WW2.

    One type is extended in length and as such it is obvious, but there is another, identical to the one depicted, which possesses a bulbous capsule of explosive under the tail fins.

    Whilst I suspect that little was seen of explosive versions in the UK, the correct method of proving the object safe is to ensure that the tail fin has been removed in order that the body beneath may be viewed.

    Two golden rules with this kind of stuff:-
    (1) Check for yourself and be 110% certain it is safe,
    (2) If in doubt, leave it alone
    .......... concordia.victrix, Epsom, Surrey, 14th of November 2017

  • Made from an alloy called ELECTRON, this type of incendiary bomb was dropped in large numbers by the Germans during WW2. My example was dropped on one of the steelworks in Llanelli but turned out to be a 'dud', as it had no striker or inflammable powder filling inside. It was then taken home by a worker on the night shift and kept in a shed for many years, until given to me by the retired steelworker in about 1990.

    It still has the dents in the rear fins from going through the tin roof of the steelworks.
    .......... Malcolm Landeryou, Burry Port, 27th of October 2014

  • I took an incendiary apart during the blitz using a dart. The detonator unscrewed.Both detonator and bomb had small discs inside in the centre of each was a small yellow spot of explosive which when bashed together set off the powdered contents. I exploded the detonator and removed the disc and powder from the body of the bomb. I wanted it as a prized souvenir. How stupid. I was 15. My parents gave it to the police when I was later called up.

    .......... HAWilliams, Woking Surrey England, 4th of April 2014

Add a memory or information about this object


©2007 The Museum of Technology, The Great War and WWII
Company registered in England No. 7452160, Registered Charity No. 1140352, Accredited Museum No. 2221