A napalm bomb relic from the Greek Civil War, 1946-1949

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos © Ntinos Mpampakos, submitted to www.ww2wrecks.com and used by permission

Mr. Ntinos Mpampakos29 years old, has shared the photos he has shot, during his numerous visits on the mountains, on the northwestern borders of Greece with Albania, showing the beauty of Nature, but also the relics of War.

Mr. Mpampakos’ friend Antonis Kioutsoukis found a war relic on Vitsi mountain, in northwestern Greece, reminding us of the brutality of warfare.

During the Greek Civil War 1946-49, the Royalist Government forces used napalm incendiary bombs against the Communist Democratic Army bunkers and mountain fortifications in the northwestern Greece theatre of operations, resulting in heavy losses among the defenders.

Hellenic Royal Air Force Spitfires and Helldivers delivered their fiery load on the communist-backed soldiers, inflicting mayhem on them.

A Hellenic Royal Air Force Spitfire is loaded with napalm bombs during the Greek Civil War. Source of photo: Athens War Museum
A Hellenic Royal Air Force Spitfire is loaded with napalm bombs during the Greek Civil War. Source of photo: Athens War Museum

According to a paper by Marine Guillaume, the creation of napalm on 4 July 1942 by Louis Fieser crowned a succession of experiments on the Harvard campus beginning in 1940 under the direction of the National Defense Research Committee.

The purpose of the experiments was to improve the efficiency of incendiary agents that on the eve of World War II, had been ‘banished’ to the ‘periphery’ of US military doctrine. This relegation can be explained by two facts.

Bomb craters from the aerial bombardment are still visible on the mountains, nearly 90 years after the Greek Civil War
Bomb craters from the aerial bombardment are still visible on Vitsi mountain, nearly 90 years after the Greek Civil War

First, for a long time, incendiary weapons represented a major technical challenge, mostly because of the ineluctable trade-off between destruction and precision its users had to face. Second, the development and research on incendiary weapons were neglected, to the advantage of chemical weapons, which were perceived as far more efficient than incendiary weapons, such as flamethrowers. Things changed with the development of napalm.

The remains of the napalm bomb
The remains of the napalm bomb on Vitsi mountain

Napalm is a specific type of incendiary, a “thickened oil incendiary agent” whose composition and name changed over time (i.e. napalm, napalm B and MK77) and was rapidly recognized as a highly efficient incendiary weapon for three reasons. First, it greatly increased the probability of igniting other inflammable materials in the target area.

Second, napalm has great visco-elasticity, which extends the range of the jet of flaming fuel projected by flamethrowers.

Third, napalm is not self-igniting and therefore can be more easily handled than other incendiary agents. These factors explain why the US military deployed napalm shortly after its creation.

The Battle of Grammos-Vitsi was fought during the Greek Civil War between the country’s National Forces and the communist Democratic Army of Greece.

On August 25, 1949, the national forces consisting of five divisions, one brigade, several infantry support units, tanks and aircraft, launched the final assault against the remaining 12,000 men of the DSE.

The following day, the national forces succeeded in securing Porta Osman – the main passage of the communist fighters into Albania. Faced with the danger of total annihilation, the political leadership of the Communist Party of Greece ordered all its fighters to abandon their positions and flee into Albania through the Bara pass, the last remaining route into that country.

The battle of Grammos-Vitsi ended on August 29, 1949 with the National Army of Greece in full control of the country. The Greek Civil War was for all practical purposes, over.