Phosphorous is an element, which is never found freely on the earth’s surface, as it is highly reactive. It exists in two major forms: white phosphorous and red phosphorous. White phosphorous, also known as Willie Pete, is a colorless-to–yellow, translucent, wax-like substance with a pungent garlic smell. It emits a faint glow when exposed to oxygen. It is a common allotrope of phosphorous. It oxidizes speedily when exposed to air. Since white phosphorous spontaneously ignites, it is used by the military as an incendiary agent in weapons. It is employed as an igniter in a majority of ammunitions. White phosphorous is the highly common and highly reactive form of phosphorous among the two reactive allotropic forms. It is commonly used in hand grenades, mortar and artillery rounds, and smoke bombs for signaling, screening, and incendiary purposes. As an incendiary weapon, white phosphorus burns fiercely and can ignite clothes, fuels, ammunitions, and other combustibles.
White phosphorous, the first form of elemental phosphorous, was produced in 1669. It was first used by the Fenian arsonists to cause destruction. It was often used during World War I and World War II to produce smoke screens, as incendiaries, hand grenades, colored flares, and tracer bullets. During war time, white phosphorous is employed to destroy the enemy’s equipment such as vehicles as well as storage areas for petroleum, oil, lubricants, and ammunition. White phosphorous is also a highly efficient smoke-generating agent. White phosphorous burns instantaneously, producing a blanket of smoke, which helps in masking from the enemy’s movement and position, infrared signatures, or the origin of fire.
After the two world wars, white phosphorous was extensively used by Korea, Vietnam, and Russia. In 1998, white phosphorous was employed by the Iraqi Air Force to bomb Halabja. Iraq used it again in 2004 during the Battle of Fallujah. Israel used white phosphorous during the 2006 Israel–Lebanon conflict. Thus, white phosphorous has been in use continuously, despite being banned by several military regulations. Recently, white phosphorous was used during Armenia–Azerbaijan clashes.
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