Incendiary Bomb

Incendiary Bomb

In Portsmouth alone some 6,600 buildings, nearly a tenth of the city, were destroyed.

This incendiary bomb is one of an estimated 38,000 dropped on the City of Portsmouth by the German air force between 1940 and 1944. It was intended to burn whatever building it fell on, killing anyone trapped inside and causing great destruction.

These bombs contained thermite, which burned at a very high temperature, with a casing of magnesium. There are still traces of the sand used to extinguish the fire attached to the metal.

Incendiary bombs were used by all nations involved in World War II – casings for ‘baskets’ of the bombs were made in Portsmouth.

The firestorms the British and American air forces created with incendiaries in Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo and Kobe, killed thousands. Across Europe and Japan the bombs destroyed acres of buildings; more than any other single weapon they changed the face of cities worldwide, suddenly and dramatically.

Quick Facts

  • Accession number DD/2009/39
  • Made in Germany
  • Found in Portsmouth, Hampshire
  • Period World War II
  • Date between 1940 and 1944


  • Among the buildings destroyed in Portsmouth was the Guildhall. A stick of firebombs fell across its roof on the night of 10 January 1941. The firewatchers on the roof extinguished most of them, but some incendiaries lodged unseen in ventilators. When PC Ken Hampton was sent to investigate a glow reported by firewatchers on the post office opposite he could at first see nothing suspicious, but by his second visit to the leads the flames had firm hold. The fire was fought floor by floor through the Guildhall, but before long the water supply dried up. German high-explosive bombs had wrecked the water mains and the Guildhall was doomed.

Did you know?

In Portsmouth alone some 6,600 buildings, nearly a tenth of the city, were destroyed by incendiary bombs.

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