White phosphorus munitions
White phosphorus is used in smoke, illumination and incendiary munitions. It is commonly the burning element of tracer ammunition. White phosphorus is pyrophoric, burns fiercely, and can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition, and other combustibles. The word ‘WP’ is a contraction of phosphorus pentoxide vapor.
About White phosphorus munitions in brief
White phosphorus is used in smoke, illumination and incendiary munitions. It is commonly the burning element of tracer ammunition. White phosphorus is pyrophoric, burns fiercely, and can ignite cloth, fuel, ammunition, and other combustibles. The British Army introduced the first factory-built white phosphorus grenades in late 1916 during the First World War. During the war, white phosphorus mortar bombs, shells, rockets, and grenades were used extensively by American, Commonwealth, and, to a lesser extent, Japanese forces. The Royal Air Force based in Iraq also used white phosphorus bombs in Anbar Province during the Iraqi revolt of 1920. In the interwar years, the US Army trained using white phosphorus, by artillery shell and air bombardment. The US Army and Marines used M2 and M328 WP shells in 107mm mortars. Smoke was also used to blind Shermans to a range where their armour-piercing rounds could not penetrate at long range from rounds fired at close range from WP rounds. Smoke grenades were also used in Vietnam for destroying tunnel complexes, with rounds dropped behind them to produce a better contrast for better gunnery. White phosphorous was used extensively in Korea and Chechen War and later by Russian forces in First Chechen and Second Chechen Wars. It was used to destroy tunnel complexes in Vietnam and Chechnya as well as in the Second World War and the Second Korean War. It can also be used to create smoke screens to mask friendly forces’ movement, position, infrared signatures, or shooting positions. The most common name for white phosphorus munitions is WP and the slang term ‘Willie Pete’ or ‘Peter’ derived from William Peter, the World War II phonetic alphabet for ‘WP’, which is still sometimes used in military jargon.
The word ‘WP’ is a contraction of phosphorus pentoxide vapor, which is a highly efficient smoke-producing agent, reacting with air to produce an immediate blanket of phosphoruspentoxide vapor. It’s believed to have been first used by Fenian arsonists in the 19th century, in the form of a solution in carbon disulfide. In 1940, when the Nazi invasion of the British home islands seemed imminent, the phosphorus firm of Albright and Wilson suggested that the British government use a material similar to Fenian fire in several expedient incendiary weapons. At the start of the Normandy campaign, 20% of American 81 mm mortar ammunition consisted of M57 point-detonating bursting smoke rounds using WP filler. At least five American Medal of Honor citations mention their recipients using M15 white phosphorus hand grenades to clear enemy positions, and in the 1944 liberation of Cherbourg alone, a single US mortar battalion, the 87th, fired 11,899 white phosphorus rounds into the city. In 1916, 12 members of the Industrial Workers of the World, a workers union opposed to conscription, were arrested in Sydney, Australia and convicted for using or plotting to use incendiary materials, including phosphorus. It is believed that eight or nine men in this group, known as the Sydney Twelve, had been framed by the police.