Bombs

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Bombs Essay, Research Paper

A bomb is a container filled with an

explosive, incendiary matter, or gas that can be

dropped, hurled, or set in place to be detonated

by an attached exploding device. It may range in

design from a homemade device used by

terrorists, assassins, or clandestine raiders to a

sophisticated weapon of war. The original bomb,

an ancestor of the hand-thrown GRENADE, was

a simple container filled with black powder (see

GUNPOWDER), which was set off by a fuse lit

by the thrower. In the 16th century, the Dutch

invented a more sophisticated version, the

MORTAR bomb, a round iron container filled

with black powder that was set off when a fuse

was ignited by the detonation of a propelling

charge in the base of the mortar tube. By varying

the length of the fuse, the bomb’s time of

detonation could be adjusted; thus, a bomb could

burst in air. These bombs were predecessors of

the ARTILLERY shell fired from a field gun with

rifled bore. In the 20th century the aerial bomb

became the most important adaptation of the

weapon. Its construction is similar to that of the

artillery shell. The conventional aerial bomb

consists of an explosive or chemical agent in a

container, one or several fuse-and-igniter

mechanisms, and external fins for directional

stability. Bombs dropped from high-performance

aircraft have an advanced aerodynamic shape.

The ultimate category of bomb is that utilizing

nuclear material as the explosive ingredients–the

ATOMIC BOMB, HYDROGEN BOMB, and

the NEUTRON BOMB. 20th-Century Military

Use The advent of the airplane in warfare led to

the development of new types of bombs. The first

massive aerial bombing took place in 1915 when

German zeppelins carrying more than two tons of

bombs began dropping "terror from the skies" on

the British Isles. In the early stages of World War

I, airplane pilots had their hands full just flying, and

bombing was relegated to observers who merely

tossed small bombs over the side. Aircraft

engineering advanced, however, so that by 1918

multiengine bombers had become a reality and

450-kg (1,000-lb) bombs were in production.

The next major step in the development of aerial

bombing took place on July 21, 1921. Gen. Billy

MITCHELL, a champion of military airpower,

was finally allowed to test his theory that aircraft

carrying bombs could sink major naval units, a

theory that naval officials had considered

ridiculous. On that date, in the first of three such

demonstrations, the captured German

dreadnought Ostfriesland was sunk in minutes by

U.S. Army Air Corps bombers dropping 900-kg

(2,000-lb) bombs. Warfare had been

revolutionized; seapower was in jeopardy. During

World War II, aerial bombardment was

perfected. Massive raids, first by Germany and

then by the Allies, demonstrated the devastating

power of the conventional aerial bomb. As aircraft

size and performance increased, so did bomb size,

ending in the 10-ton (9,900-kg) British

"Earthquake" bomb. Incendiary bombs containing

thermite, a mixture of iron oxide, powdered

aluminum, and magnesium, were dropped nightly

by the thousands to cause fires. Other bombs

were manufactured for exacting tasks; one of the

most unusual was the Wallis "skipping bomb,"

used against German reservoir dams. Others, such

as the British "Tall Boy," were designed to destroy

massive concrete slabs. During the closing stages

of the war, Germany sent more than 8,500 V-1

guided bombs flying across the English Channel to

fall on England. A quantum jump in bomb

manufacture and use occurred in 1945 when U.S.

planes dropped atomic bombs to destroy two

cities, HIROSHIMA (Aug. 6.) and NAGASAKI

(Aug. 9). The bombings led Japan to surrender

and initiated a new era characterized by

NUCLEAR STRATEGIES on which the survival

of whole countries depended. Along with the

development of the high-yield nuclear weapons,

new types of tactical bombs have been developed.

Small antipersonnel and antivehicle bombs, called

bomblets, have been perfected. NAPALM, a

petroleum-jelly incendiary mixture, is an ingredient

used worldwide in tactical bombs.

Experimentation continues with fuel-air explosive

bombs made by dispensing an aerosol mixture of

fuel and air in cloud form and igniting the mixture.

Handmade Bombs The ability to produce simple

bombs has been central to the conduct of guerrilla

and terrorist warfare. Such a bomb can be as

simple as a stick of DYNAMITE with a blasting

cap. The development of plastic explosives during

World War II, however, has enabled terrorists to

produce bombs that are difficult to detect (they

have been smuggled aboard airplanes, for

example) but that have tremendous explosive

power. Letter and car bombs–plastic charges

triggered to explode by the opening of an

envelope or the turning of an ignition key–are

fairly simple bombs. More sophisticated

handmade bombs may use electronic timing and

triggering devices. Using knowledge gathered from

many different public sources, it is conceivable that

terrorists could build a small atom bomb, fueled by

purchased or stolen weapons-grade uranium. In

1975 the United States set up the Nuclear

Emergency Search Team (NEST) to counter

potential A-bomb threats. Russell J. Parkinson

Bibliography: Blow, Michael, The History of the

Atomic Bomb (1968); Hubbard, David G.,

Winning Back the Sky (1986); Jane’s Weapon

Systems (annual); Kennett, Lee, A History of

Strategic Bombing (1983); Lee, R. G., An

Introduction to Battlefield Weapons Systems and

Technology (1981); Ley, Willy, Bombs and

Bombing (1941); (1941); Moss, N., Men Who

Play God (1969); Stoffel, Joseph, Explosives and

Homemade Bombs, 2d ed. (1977).

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