Bombensturm! (Part II)

The Incendiary Bombs

[Haus Vaterland (“Fatherland House”) burns following a night raid on 22/23 November 1943 by British RAF bombers. The building was a pleasure palace on the southwest side of Potsdamer Platz. At left, a S-Bahn signal post.]

[Photo: Ullsteinbild / Archiv Golejewski.]

Incendiaries (IB), usually small-sized weapons, were carried in an aircraft bomb-bay using Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) and were packed into clusters. The device was not aim able and once dropped often became effected by cross winds. This resulted in incendiary attacks become wide spread downwind of the target and also lead to other bombers being struck by falling bombs. Incendiary bombs function on impact. The heavy reliance of Bomber Command on highly inaccurate incendiaries shows that fire-raising was a major weapon in the strategic air offensive.

[British armourers preparing fire-bombs (of 4-lb incendiaries Magnesium) into Small Bomb Containers (SBCs) at RAF Marham, Norfolk, air base.]

[Photo © IWM (CH 10710).]

[Vickers Wellington B Mark IC (W5690, GR-W) of No 301 Polish Bomber Squadron awaits a mixed load of incendiaries and 500 pounds-GP bombs on trolleys at RAF Hemswell before a night sortie over Germany, July 1941.]

[Photo © IWM (MH 6254.)]

The mainstay of the Command’s incendiary devices was the 4-lb Magnesium (IB) bomb. RAF Bomber Command dropped 80 million of these small incendiary bombs during World War II. In May 1943 efforts were made to developed a delivery device for the ‘four pounder’  IB which would allow for them to be aimed and therefore more accurate during the raids.

[A member of the Luftschutz, Reich Office for Air Protection holds a stick-type incendiary bomb dropped by British bombers during a night raid in Berlin, March 1941. It seems to be a red nose colored 4-lb (1.8 kg) incendiary bomb made from magnesium and thermite.]

Photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo / ALAMY.]

Photo: akg-images (AKG212155).

 [A British 4-lb. Mk IV type incendiary bomb (“Brandbombe”). Top: complete device, nose is red colored. Middle: dud found without the tin plate tail, Bottom: the remains after burning. This bomb was made from magnesium in a hollow body made from aluminium with a cast iron/steel nose, and filled with thermite incendiary pellets. It was capable of burning for up to ten minutes. Its size was 54.35 cm long. This one was dropped over Würzburg in 1945.]

Photo: Wikiwand.

In April 1941, 12 millions incendiaries were ordered for the rest of the year and 36 millions for 1942, but because of magnesium shortages, production just reached ‘only’ 2.2 million in the ninth months of 1941, and 11.8 million in 1942, but these figures were more than enough for a force not yet converted fully to mass incendiary bombing. This very large numbers of production had enormous requirements on the Britain’s war effort.

[The bomb load most commonly used for ‘area’ bombing raids in the bomb-bay of an Avro Lancaster of No 57 Squadron RAF at Scampton, Lincolnshire. Her deadly cargo consisted of 12 SBCs each loaded with incendiaries, in this case, 236 x 4-lb incendiary sticks. In the centre can be seen a 4,000 impact-fused HC bomb (‘Cookie’).]

[Photo © IWM (CH 18371).]

[As war progressed, RAF Bomber Command used several types of containers to drop Incendiary bombs. These are Cluster Projectile 500-lb No.14 Mk I falling on Germany. Two 500-lb incendiary
clusters plunge toward their target over Kiel. At left, one of the containers has broke and scattered the incendiaries like match sticks. The other big bomb has not yet broken but will do so momentarily. They were Dull red overall, one of the tensioning straps painted bright red and each one contained two fagots of 53 bombs each, a total of one hundred and six 4-lb incendiary bombs. Later, Cluster Projectile 500-lb No.17 Mk II tailed bombs and US-made cluster containers were used too.]

[Photo: LancasterArchive.]

The other main type of incendiary-bomb dropped by Bomber Command was the 30-lb J-Type IB phosphorous. The Germans considered this a ‘morale weapon’ because it was impossible to extinguish with water due to its benzon-gel and was more stronger than 4-lb IB. Regardless of its short life span of this type of bomb on the war over 400,000 were dropped.

[The other British main fire-weapon: the 30-lbs. J-Type IB phosphorous.]

[Photo: LancasterArchive.]

[This still from a film shows a 30-lb incendiary bomb exploding over the centre of a factory taken from Avro Lancaster, DV380 AJ-N, of No 617 Squadron RAF, flown by the Squadron commander, Wing Commander G L Cheshire, during the low-level marking of the Gnome-Rhone aero-engine factory at Limoges, France, on the night of 8/9 February 1944. On this occasion, the incendiary bomb was used however as a precision target marker at night for the incoming main bomber force but shows to good effect how an IB explodes, Cheshire tried his low-level marking techniques on this raid, leading 12 Lancasters of the Squadron to the target.]

[Photo: © IWM (HU 93014).]

Handley Page Halifaxes usually carried the main bulk of incendiary bomb load on Bomber Command missions, so when they’re hold on reserve after high losses over Berlin in Fall 1943 the British offensive lost a high percent of fire destruction.

[Photo: © IWM (CH 17362).]

Breakdown, by type, of incendiary bombs dropped by RAF Bomber Command during World War 2. Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

Source: Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.

By 1944, the percent of total incendiary bomb load in a city attack by BC was around 70 percent and this support the claims made by Arthur Harris that the incendiary bomb was the most significant type of munition deployed by Bomber Command.

Of the total percent of bombs despatched by Bomber Command during the war 20.5 % (196,256 tons) were incendiary bombs. The economic cost to Britain of manufacturing incendiary bombs for BC was approximately £73 million, which means that those weapons cost slightly more than 50 percent of the total cost spent on bombs during the entire period of the campaign.



  • Air ministry. RAF Armament Volume I: Bombs and Bombing Equipment. 1954.
  • Air Studies Division Report: The Economic Effects of the Air Offensive Against German Cities,
  • Bolan, G T. The development of British incendiary bombs during the period of the 1939-45 World War. Armaments Design Establishment Technical Report. Ministry of Supply. December 1946. <>
  • Bowman, Martin W. Nachtjagd, Defenders of the Reich 1940-1943. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2016.
  • Bowman. Martin W. Voices in Flight: the heavy bomber offensive of WW2. Pen & Sword Aviation, 2014.
  • Bowman, Martin W. Voices in flight: RAF Night Operations. Pen & Sword Aviation. 2015.
  • Boyd, David. 4lb Incendiary Bomb. <>
  • Burls, Nina. RAF bombs and bombing. ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Journal 45. 2009.
  • Fahey, John. Britain 1939 – 1945: The economic cost of Strategic Bombing. University of Sidney, 2004.
  • Falconer, John. Bomber Command Handbook. The History Press. 1998.
  • Friedrich, Jörg. Der Brand: Deutschland im Bombenkrieg 1940-1945. Propylaen Verlag, Zweigniederlassung der Ullstein. 2002.
  • Overy, Richard. The Bombing War: Europe, 1939-1945. Allen Lane. 2013.
  • Price, Alfred. Kampfflieger. Bombers of the Luftwaffe Volume Three January 1942-September 1943. Classic Publications. 2005.
Using Format