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How we can defeat the Fire Attack.
When the Enemy Plane throw Fire.
Ammanford Appliances.
 
When the Crowd Panic.
Trapped by Fire.
If the House Catches Fire.

 
Retirement of Captain David Davies.
Is Poison Gas a Weapon.
Former Auxiliary fire hero George medal
 

1st April 1940

 

A.R.P. and the Citizen.

WHEN ENEMY ‘PLANES THROW FIRE.

THE INCENDIARY BOMB MENACE.

By R. C. COTTON

Editor A.R.P. News, National Journal of Civil Defence

 

The idea of using fire to destroy one's enemies in war-time is very old. The incendiary bomb is simply the latest development of it.

Thousands of years ago, man dreamed of all the modern weapons. The Hindoos have ancient pictures which show men in flying machines throwing down missiles and flames on a city.

In the Middle Ages, Greek fire was used — a mixture of naphtha, sulphur, and nirtre, manufactured in secret at Constantinople. The compound was hurled in flaming barrels or poured out of ladles on to the heads of soldiers attacking a castle. Even the Red Indians of America had their incendiary bombs. They fastened burning brands to their arrows and in this way set fire to the log houses and the crops of the white settlers.

The modern incendiary bomb is a much more terrible weapon than any of these. On the other hand our methods of dealing with the menace are more efficient, too.

HOW THE BOMB WORKS.

There are several kinds of fire bombs in use today. Experiments have been made with one that burns for a time and then cause an explosion. This would, of course, harass the fire-fighters and make it unsafe to attack the bomb in its early stages. But the one most likely to be used, because of its superior powers of destruction, is the thermite-magesium, or electron bomb.

This is filled with thermite, a substance which burns rapidly and develops tremendous heat. In about a minute the thermite has burnt itself out, but by this time it has melted or ignited the bomb's magnesium casing, and it is the casing which really does the damage.

The casing of a small bomb goes on burning for ten or fifteen minutes, producing intense heat and all the time throwing off a kind of fire spray. Anything inflammable within range is nearly sure to be set on fire.

The bombs weigh from about 2 to 60lbs., but unless the enemy is aiming at some big military objective, the small kind (the kilo bomb, weighing just over 2lbs.) is most likely to be used. A modern bomber can carry between 1,000 and 1,500 of these.

When you work out that a small formation of nine planes could carry well over 10,000 bombs, the menace seems very alarming. At the first thought you might imagine the attackers starting 10,000 fires

HITTING THE HOUSE

The incendiary bomb, however, has a weakness which the high explosive kind does not possess. Unless it scores a direct hit the fire bomb will probably prove quite harmless. To be effective it must fall into a building or on to crops or other stuff that will burn easily.

It will crash through most roofs, but after that it is not likely to penetrate the top floor. In the average house the fire would be started in the attic or bedroom. Five inches of reinforced concrete will stop the bomb altogether, leaving it to burn itself out harmlessly on this obstacle.

A great many of the bombs will be wasted. They will fall in roads and open spaces. Of those released so that they fall on to well-populated towns, not more than one in six will find an objective. Official figures show that in the average town the proportion of built-up areas to open spaces is one in five.

AN ENGLISH WEAKNESS.

In a raid of any intensity, however, enough bombs find billets to do considerable damage unless the fires are checked in their early stages. The big danger is that the fires will get out of hand. Spreading from one building to another, the flames could carry colossal destruction.

Many authorities on A.R.P. have, in my opinion, underestimated the menace of the incendiary bomb. In Spain, fire was proved less effective than explosives,, and from this it has been argued that the incendiary bomb is not likely to be used.

In the more modern Spanish towns, however, the conditions were very different from those in England. There was a greater use of concrete, and building materials generally were less easily set on fire.

England is particularly open to the attack by fire. We have not got the Continental system of flats. Our residential districts, especially working-class areas, cover much more ground than in Germany or Spain, for example. Wood and other highly inflammable materials are freely used in building our houses.

THE PLAN TO DESTROY LONDON

The Germans fire plan in the last war was much nearer success in London than is generally realised. Between 1915 and 1917 several attempts were made to destroy our capital by fire. The failure of the schemes was due to two causes: the magnificent work the London fire brigades, and the comparative inefficiency of the incendiary bomb available in the Great War.

The blaze started by a small fire bomb can be put out by one man if it is tackled in time and with the right equipment. The hope of the attackers is that they will start so many fires that some at least will get thoroughly hold and will spread from one building to another.

The theory is that to disorganise the fire fighters they will drop both explosives and gas before the final wave of planes swoops with the incendiary bombs.

But the Government wisely decided to leave little to chance in its preparations for dealing with the incendiary bomb. One of the most expensive A.R.P. services is the A.F.S. ? the Auxiliary Fire Service. In my next article I shall explain how this service operates.

Our A.F.S. system is soundly conceived, but in fighting the incendiary bomb the A.R.P. worker needs the intelligent co-operation of the house-holder more than he does in any other branch of his duties. This is why, at the beginning of the series. I am dealing in considerable detail with the fire menace.

 

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