During medieval age and earlier in Earth's history, oil was used as an incendiary weapon to burn animals, people, wooden fortifications and well anything that could burn.

It's speculated that one of the earliest incendiary weapons, greek fire, was based on oil.

I don't have significant knowledge in military weaponry and tactics but as I understand it oil was abandoned in modern weaponry and replaced by refined petroleum and other chemical products.

Napalm for example, (which has similar properties to greek fire) was based on gasoline and plastic polystyrene.

In my world, petroleum is extremely rare and only a few countries have access to this resource.

I know that petroleum is pretty useful for many things other than producing (and if it's rare you can just sell it) incendiary weapons but that is not my concern.

If a country has access to petroleum, why would they abandon it as an incendiary weapon?

What are the disadvantage or using oil?

In our modern society for example, why was oil abandoned as an incendiary weapon?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ If you want answers that discuss why it happened, this might be better off on History. (Note that questions about real-world history and events are explicitly off topic here.) If you want answers that discuss how to make it happen in a world of your own, then we can probably help, but in that case I think this needs better framing as a worldbuilding question. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jul 8, 2016 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling You know as framed or at least if you only read the title it does seem off topic but it doesn't seem like the title question is what Gary is really asking. I am going to try and edit to clarify and get this on the correct side of OT. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jul 8, 2016 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @James If you get this to the point where it's clearly on topic for us, remember to vote to reopen if you don't edit after it gets put on hold. (Gary, this question currently has four close votes. Not to worry; if it gets edited during the on hold grace period, it will automatically be nominated for reopen review.) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jul 8, 2016 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Gary, I did some not insignificant editing. I attempted to retain the intent of your question but if I have altered it in a way you disagree with feel free to roll back my changes. The question now feels quite on topic to me. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Jul 8, 2016 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ @James Thank you very much, english is not my native language and I have some difficulties to explain myself clearly. Your editing is perfect, thanks again. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2016 at 13:52

1 Answer 1


1) Basically because of the amount of energy release that burning vegetal oil is less than burning gasoline.

If petroleum is really rare in your world, I don't think that will matter, U-238 is really rare here and we waste that to produce energy in the most inefficient way ever conceived by mankind. And also making bombs out of it.

So, if you want o make a weapon, you probably want to make the most efficient one.

2) Because blowing up is always better than burning up.

Lets see an example.

You are conquering a City, you have your army ready, you have your airforce ready, your navy. You are good to go. So one of your generals says, "lets burn up the whole thing!". Your aircrafts flew up, and bombard the city with huge amount of napalm. Now you have to wait several hours to the fire extinguishes or do another fly by to extinguish the fire, so your troops can get into the city and conquer.

Now, lets pretend that your general said, "lets blow the thing up!". Again your aircrafts flew, drop bombs, creates a lot of havoc, you get the benefit of destroying only strategic targets and preserving what you want to preserve. And as soon the bombing stops, you can conquer the city with your troops.

In the end, napalm and bombs are both effective weapons, but with different practical uses.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "U-238 is really rare here and we waste that to produce energy in the most inefficient way ever conceived by mankind" What? $\endgroup$
    – AstroDan
    Jul 8, 2016 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AstroDan LWR uses just about 0.5% of uranium energy value. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2016 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @LucasLeite And even counting that it is ~20 million times as energy dense than the runner up. xkcd.com/1162 $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jul 8, 2016 at 13:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKarnerfors yes, it is. And just by that is worth of using it. BUT, just use 0.5% of uranium energy value. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2016 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @LucasLeite A little math later and it turns out that burning (anything) releases a mere 1.11259E-08% of the energy in that anything. $\endgroup$
    – AstroDan
    Jul 8, 2016 at 16:01

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