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The Molotov cocktail, also known as the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, or Molotov bomb, or simply Molotov, is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapon. They are frequently used by rioters due to the relative ease of production.

The bombs were derisively named after the then Foreign Minister of the Soviet Unionmarker, Vyacheslav Molotov, by the Finns during the Winter War.


In its simplest form, a Molotov cocktail is a glass bottle containing petrol fuel usually with a source of ignition such as a burning cloth wick held in place by the bottle's stopper. The wick is usually soaked in alcohol or paraffin, rather than petrol.

In action the fuse is lit and the bottle hurled at a target such as a vehicle or fortification. When the bottle smashes on impact, the ensuing cloud of petrol droplets and vapor are ignited, causing an immediate fireball followed by a raging fire as the remainder of the fuel is consumed.

Other flammable liquids such as wood alcohol and turpentine have been used in place of petrol. Thickening agents such as tar, strips of tire tubing, sugar, animal blood, XPS foam, egg whites, motor oil, rubber cement, and dish soap have been added to help the burning liquid adhere to the target and create clouds of thick choking smoke.

Development and use in war

During World War II, the Soviet Unionmarker attacked Finlandmarker in November 1939, after the shelling of Mainila. The Finnish Army, facing Red Army tanks in what came to be known as the Winter War, borrowed an improvised incendiary device design from the 1936–1939 Spanish Civil War. In that conflict, General Francisco Franco ordered Spanish Nationalists to use the weapon against Soviet T-26 tanks supporting the Spanish Republicans in a failed 1936 assault near Toledomarker, 80 km south from Madridmarker.

During the Winter War, the Soviet air force made extensive use of incendiaries and cluster bombs against Finnish troops and fortifications. When Sovietmarker People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov claimed in radio broadcasts that the Soviet Unionmarker was not dropping bombs but rather delivering food to the starving Finns, the Finns started to call the air bombs Molotov bread baskets. Soon they responded by attacking advancing tanks with "Molotov cocktails" which were "a drink to go with the food". At first, the term was used to describe only the burning mixture itself, but in practical use the term was soon applied to the combination of both the bottle and its contents. This Finnish use of the hand- or sling-thrown explosive against Soviet tanks was repeated in the subsequent Continuation War. Molotov cocktails were eventually mass-produced by the Alko corporation at its Rajamäki distillery, bundled with matches to light them. Production totalled 450,000 during the Winter War. The original design of Molotov cocktail was a mixture of ethanol, tar and gasoline in a 750 ml bottle. The bottle had two long pyrotechnic storm matches attached to either side. Before use one or both of the matches was lit; when the bottle broke on impact, the mixture ignited. The storm matches were found to be safer to use than a burning rag on the mouth of the bottle.

They also saw use during the Battle of Khalkhin Golmarker, a border conflict ostensibly between Mongoliamarker and Manchukuo that saw heavy fighting between Japanese and Soviet forces. Short of anti-tank equipment, Japanese infantry attacked Soviet tanks with gasoline-filled bottles. Japanese infantrymen claimed that several hundred Soviet tanks had been destroyed through the use of Molotov cocktails, though Soviet loss records do not support this assessment.

The Polish home army developed a version which ignited on impact thus avoiding the need to light the fuse before throwing. Ignition was caused by a reaction between concentrated sulfuric acid mixed with the fuel and a mixture of potassium chlorate and sugar which was crystallized from solution onto a rag attached to the bottle.

The United States Marine Corps developed a version during World War II that used a tube of nitric acid and a lump of metallic sodium to ignite a mixture of petrol and diesel fuel.

While Molotov cocktails may be a psychologically effective method of disabling tanks and armoured vehicles by forcing the crew out or damaging external components, most modern tanks cannot be physically destroyed or rendered completely inoperable by Molotov cocktails; only "disabled." It should be noted that early Soviet tanks had poorly designed engine louvres which allowed the admission of fuel - this design fault was quickly rectified, and subsequent armoured vehicles had engine louvres which drained fuel (as well as rain water and dust) away from the engine. Most tanks and IFVs of the 21st century have specially designed nuclear, biological and chemical protective systems that make them internally air-tight and sealed; they are well-protected from vapors, gases, and liquids. Modern tanks possess very thick composite armour consisting of layers of steel, ceramics, plastics and Kevlar, which makes them extremely difficult to destroy by Molotov cocktails alone, as these materials have melting points well above the burning temperature of gasoline. Damaging external components such as optical systems, antennas, externally-mounted weapons systems or ventilation ports and openings is however possible and can make a tank virtually "blind" or allow burning gasoline to seep into the vehicle, forcing the crew to at least open the hatches or perhaps abandon the vehicle. If thrown into a tank, it would, like most other grenades, kill the crew inside. Modern tanks of the U.S. and its NATO allies have onboard fire suppression systems. Should a fire start in an area occupied by the tank crew it will be automatically extinguished with Halon.

They are used by paramilitary groups in Northern Irelandmarker to throw at the police during riots. They are also used to throw at peoples houses to intimidate them or burn their house down.


As incendiary devices, Molotov cocktails are illegal to manufacture or possess in many regions. Their use against people is typically covered under a variety of charges, including battery, actual or grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, attempted murder, and murder, depending upon their effect and upon local laws. Their use against property is usually covered under arson charges. In the United States, Molotov cocktails are considered "destructive devices" and regulated by the ATF.

See also


  1. *
  2. Coox, Alvin, 1990, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939
  3. Petrol Bomb Thrown at House

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