USS ALABAMA BB-8 as aerial target

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Ulrich Rudofsky
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USS ALABAMA BB-8 as aerial target

Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Tue Sep 04, 2007 1:14 pm

It took the USN brass a while to believe that an Army aircraft could actually hit or sink a battleship. Here is the USS ALABAMA getting hit

http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-u ... /bb8-t.htm

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Post by _Derfflinger_ » Tue Sep 04, 2007 7:35 pm

Ouch! Looks like maybe some WP was in that bomb.

Derf

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Tue Sep 04, 2007 8:00 pm

Yes, that was white phosphorus......

USS Alabama was hit by a white phosphorus bomb in a bombing tests conducted by General Billy Mitchell, US Army Air Corps, 17 September 1921.
http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-u ... /bb8-t.htm
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Post by _Derfflinger_ » Tue Sep 04, 2007 9:30 pm

Ulrich -

Now that I look more closely at the photo, I see that the caption notes it was a phosphorus bomb. Next time I'll read it closer! :stubborn: :wink:

Why would Billy drop a phosphorus bomb on a battleship, given that he was trying to prove that an aircraft could actually sink a battleship by bombing?

All WP would do is make a real mess of things, burn up anything that was combustible, and do horrible things to any on-deck crew that were exposed to the phosphorus spray. It would not do lethal damage to a buttoned up BB.

Fortunately, the US armed forces never used much WP against people, using it mainly for tracer, smoke, and illumination purposes.

I'm very familiar with elemental phosphorus, having worked for 35 yrs for the USA's leading, and only surviving, producer. For several years, I was responsible for our two P4 manufacturing plants.

P4 is amazing stuff - a basic and necessary building block for life and nutrition, yet highly toxic in its elemental form and spontaneously combustible in air.

Congrats for spelling phosphorus correctly in your posting above. Most times people spell it phosphorous, which is totally incorrect. Phosphorous is one of the oxidation states of phosphorus.

Ain't chemistry fun!

Derf

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Re: USS ALABAMA BB-8 as aerial target

Post by Tiornu » Tue Sep 04, 2007 9:39 pm

Hitting and sinking an abandoned antique was apparently easier than finding it in the first place. Army airmen had difficulty navigating over open water. Navy airmen did better, for obvious reasons.

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Tue Sep 04, 2007 9:58 pm

Fortunately, the US armed forces never used much WP against people,
Take a look at the types of bombs used in bombing of the German cities in WWII. A high explosive bomb with a large amount of incindiary phosporus was SOP. My aunt in Cologne was cooked by one. Swimming in some of the rivers after the war was dangerous. Once you came out the water with a bit of phosphorus on you, guess what happens when the oxygen hits the shit? One of my friends got a severe burn in his crotch. Wet mud or back into the water was not always a simple option when you'r in a panic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of ... rld_War_II
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Post by _Derfflinger_ » Wed Sep 05, 2007 3:23 am

Ulrich Rudofsky wrote:
Fortunately, the US armed forces never used much WP against people,
Take a look at the types of bombs used in bombing of the German cities in WWII. A high explosive bomb with a large amount of incindiary phosporus was SOP. My aunt in Cologne was cooked by one. Swimming in some of the rivers after the war was dangerous. Once you came out the water with a bit of phosphorus on you, guess what happens when the oxygen hits the shit? One of my friends got a severe burn in his crotch. Wet mud or back into the water was not always a simple option when you'r in a panic.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of ... rld_War_II
Ulrich - Agree! Phosphorus has the unfortunate property that it will stick to human skin. Therefore, if you get it on you, as in an explosion, or in the case of your comment of swimming in a river with P4 in the mud from earlier bombing, it sticks to you even as it burns. It is very difficult to get off of you. Nice! The flame temp is well over 1000 deg F, so you can imagine what it does. Once out of the cover of water, you do not need a match to ignite it.

My impression is that the dropping of phos on civilian populations during WW2, as in Dresden (?), was largely done by the RAF at night, not the USAAC. Am I incorrect? There were a couple of phos plants in Great Britian, so they had the stuff available during the war.

Phosphorus does not explode, so its value in a bomb to destroy a heavily armoured battleship is very questionable at best. As I said, all it would do is make a mess of anything on deck.

Derf

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Wed Sep 05, 2007 11:17 am

Phosphorus grenades are euphemistically called incendiary devices, although thermite works better. The hand grenades, mortar shells etc. are really meant as anti-personnel devices. Dresden is a good example: 700,000 "incendiary" phosporus bombs, one for every 2 inhabitants! The US used WP in Hamburg and Kassel for example It is said that the US has used phophorus, White Pete, in Iraq, some say it was kerosene.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incendiary_bomb
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Post by lwd » Wed Sep 05, 2007 1:56 pm

WP has been traditionally associated with smoke not incinidary or anit-personel. That said most of those who used it at least as hand grenades knew the other properties fairly well. Especially when you consider that when phosphorus burns it produces diphosphorus pentoxide which is hydroscopic. It's reaction to water produces heat and phosphoric acid so it's not the best thing in the world to breath.

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Wed Sep 05, 2007 2:46 pm

Although the M -34 white phosphorus grenade is labelled as smoke grenade, it was found to be a very effective anti-personnel grenade.

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ ... 0/appe.htm

The stuff stays around a long time when submerged under water. An August 2007 news item warns visitors along the beach of Usedom to be careful when hunting for amber, since WW1 and WW 2 phosphorus pebbles can be mistakenly picked up and set your clothes on fire.
http://www.aet-umweltplanung.de/brandopfer-usedom.htm
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Post by Bgile » Wed Sep 05, 2007 3:49 pm

The US used incendiaries on Tokyo as well.

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Post by Gerard Heimann » Wed Sep 05, 2007 6:26 pm

It was the US strategy to burn Japanese cities one-by-one taking advantage of the tendency to construct its buildings almost entirely with wood. I don't remember the number, but I believe that over 50 cities were so targeted.

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Wed Sep 05, 2007 6:50 pm

@lwd

Here is an asessment from American Heritage.com that supports my belief that calling a grenade "white smoke" is just a smoke screen for what is in fact an effective anti-personnel weapon.
"Shortly before the D-day invasion the British military chiefs began worrying that the decision by Gen. Dwight D. Elsenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, to use white phosphorus would violate the 1925 Geneva Protocol—which Britain, unlike the United States, was bound by—and might unleash German retaliatory gas attacks. “It is difficult,” the Ministry of Defense warned, “to draw a firm line between the use of white phosphorus for smoke and as an incendiary (which is legal) and its use primarily against personnel (which may be illegal).” Elsenhower refused to back down. By the time the issue percolated up to Churchill on June 21, the early assault on Normandy was over, and apparently the prime minister decided aeainst appealing the matter to Roosevelt."
http://www.americanheritage.com/article ... 5_40.shtml
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Post by lwd » Wed Sep 05, 2007 7:59 pm

Hardly a "smoke screen" (was the pun intentional?). It was developed as a smoke weapon. The fact that it was also a very good antipersonel/antimaterial weapon was just a beneficial side effect. Note that direct effects of WP (it the burning) were legal it was the effect of the smoke that made it potentially counter to the conventions and which they were afraid might invite retaliation.

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Post by Ulrich Rudofsky » Wed Sep 05, 2007 8:19 pm

Maybe I did not say that clearly, but that is what I tried to say: Smoke and incendiary is ok by law, but WP is an anti-personal weapon no matter what you call it.....and I doubt very much that that was purely an accidental discovery......These weapons where classified as incendiary and smoke devices to circumvent the Geneva Convention, but even Eisenhower considered them primarily anti-personal weapons.
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