How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II

Added information. History is not always an easy subject.


In last week’s post, we mentioned the use of white phosphorus bombs by the Japanese. We wanted to take a closer look at this weapon that really gained notoriety during the Vietnam War, what it is and how it was used during World War II. White phosphorus bombs have been in use since World War I. The element phosphorus is highly flammable and toxic, and most notable for spontaneous combustion, meaning it will catch fire if it’s left out in the open. As such, any burning bits of phosphorus are very difficult to fully extinguish. For a visual demonstration of its flammability, take a look at the video below.

The U.S. Army Air Force used white phosphorus a couple of different ways. Because this element reacts when it comes in contact with oxygen, it made an excellent smoke screen for disguising troop movements. Another use was as an incendiary against…

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 4, 2018, in Uncategorized, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. If only we could be as creative with things that benefit people as we are with things that destroy them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Grim stuff. E. Michael Helms account above shows what a dreadful material this is/was.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. White phosphorus (or “Willie Peter” as we Marines called it during Vietnam) is real nasty stuff. We often carried WP “grenades” (canisters, much the same as smoke grenades) in combat. I tried my best to avoid carrying them, fearing an enemy round or piece of shrapnel might hit it. On one occasion our artillery were firing spotter rounds of WP. One landed “short” and exploded not far away. A tiny piece of WP landed on my inside forearm. Luckily we were in a rice paddy and I was able to smother it before it burned very far into my arm. I don’t remember it hurting much, but the nickel-size scar is still there, about halfway between my wrist and elbow. Like I said, nasty stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. very sad truth!
    thanks for shining
    a light on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that certainly does compliment it, Koji, thank you. Can’t imagine how he pulled it off. You would think a man’s body would go into shock with all that pain, but he kept on doing his job and then some!!


  5. We always appreciate your reblogs of our posts! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a dreadful weapon! It makes poison gas look positively attractive!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. WP or Wiley Pete is an excellent target marker but a very stubborn substance. When we dropped some large caliber shells on one the gunnery ranges on day, the detonations brought up WP that had been used during practice shoots by the Germans 40 years earlier and it started to burn again. There are some substances that extinguish it (copper-sulfate for instance) but who has a supply of that nowadays? It was a hell of a job to prevent a forest fire. And I’m glad nobody got hurt that day. Another lesson that some legacies of that tremendous conflict are still dangerous.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Willy P … very mixed feelings on its use.

    Great for destroying equipment (melting threw an engine block or something). Pretty nasty when used on human beings. But then, I’d hate to be hit by a flamethrower as well …

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My Dad told me that phosphorus shells were trialled when he was in the Royal Artillery before and during WW2. But the chemical was mainly used in mortar rounds, and hand grenades, usually marked with white, to distinguish them.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I tried something just now on the setting of wordpress and hope it works. I’ll found out on your next post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love the video of the experiment. That thing is potent. Scary!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My science teacher used to do a ‘magic’ trick with silver foil apparently spontaneously combusting. He actually used phosphorus somehow. The IHRA is a great site. Thanks for the link. I wonder whether they’re interested in looking at my theories on WWII Tyneham from an aviation point of view? Can but ask.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Much appreciated, Ian.


  1. Pingback: How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II — Pacific Paratrooper – SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS COVENANT HOUSE

  2. Pingback: FEATURED BLOGGER: How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II By Int’l Historical Research Associates Via Pacific Paratrooper #AceHistoryDesk reports | ' Ace Worldwide History '

  3. Pingback: FEATURED BLOGGER: How Phosphorus was Used in the Pacific Theater During World War II By Int’l Historical Research Associates Via Pacific Paratrooper #AceHistoryDesk reports | ' Ace Worldwide History '

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