Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

The Molotov Cocktail

Discussion in 'Russian Light Weapons' started by Jim, Oct 17, 2010.

  1. Jim

    Jim Active Member

    Sep 1, 2006
    Likes Received:
    via War44
    Named in the West after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, this weapon is now more widely known as a petrol bomb. It consisted of a thin-walled 1 litre (2.1 pints) or 0.75 litre (1.58 pint) bottle containing about 0.5 litre (1 pint) of petrol with a rag stuffed into the open neck. The petrol could be thickened with one part oil or raw rubber. Immediately before throwing, the bottle was tipped up so that the rag was soaked with petrol and it was then lit. When the bottle hit the target and shattered, flaming petrol would splash over an area of about 2-3 square metres (6.5-9.8 square feet), burning for up to five minutes. The aim was to pitch the bottle so that it landed on the rear deck of a tank and the burning petrol entered the engine space. Soviet soldiers would sometimes follow up an attack with bottles filled with petrol to stoke the fire started by the Molotov Cocktail. It could look spectacular when it burst, but the lethality varied.

    The first soldiers to use these petrol bombs were the Republican troops during the Spanish Civil War as early as 1936. Burning petrol penetrated the fighting compartment and caused ammunition detonation; when hitting the transmission section, petrol easily set the engine on fire.

    The bottle illustrated is a Japanese beer bottle used as a Molotov Cocktail.


    Later this primitive ignition mechanism was improved through use of an igniting chemical agent, which was a modified Kibalchich fuse for hand grenades. The only difference was that Molotov Cocktails used petrol instead of a solid inflammable substance. The Red Army received two types of petrol bombs: ones with self-igniting mixture KS (a mixture of phosphorus and sulphur, which had a very low melting temperature) and ones with inflammable mixtures Number 1 and Number 3. These mixtures were made of ordinary petrol, thickened by OP-1 hardening powder into a type of napalm.

    KS mixture was normally bottled in 0.5-0.75 litre (1-1.5 pint) containers sealed with rubber corks, which were attached to the bottleneck with wire and wrapped in adhesive tape. Once ignited, the liquid burned with a bright flame for some 1.5-3 minutes, at temperatures of up to 1000º C (1832º F).

    Petrol bombs with inflammable liquids Numbers 1 and 3 were sealed with conventional corks. Ampoules with chemical agents were used for ignition. The liquid ignited when contacting the chemical agent in the ampoules - this Occurred as' both the bottle and the ampoule broke when hitting a tank. The ampoules were attached to the bottle with a rubber band or were inserted in the bottles. Another ignition mechanism used matches, attached to the bottle with rubber bands. These fuse-matches were sticks fully covered with igniting agent. They were set on fire before the bottle was thrown using a friction strip or a regular matchbox. The contents burned for 40-50 seconds at up to 800º C (1472º F) when the bottle hit the tank. When fuse-matches were unavailable, the recommendation was to throw a bottle with KS liquid followed by one or two containing Number 1 or Number 3 solution.

    The Molotov Cocktail, an early anti-tank measure of the Red Army. The aim was to pitch the bottle so that it landed on the rear deck of a tank and the burning petrol entered the engine space.


    The tactics employed by an infantryman armed with a Molotov Cocktail were very simple. He had to let a tank come as close as 15-20m (50ft) and throw a bottle at it, targeting the engine compartment or the area between the turret and the hull. This all sounds easy in theory, but not in the real engagement when the armoured assault is accompanied by an artillery barrage and the enemy infantry follows the tanks. Quite often, when a soldier got up to throw a bottle at the tank, a bullet or a shell fragment hit the bottle, and a soldier would instantly become a living torch.

    One man to whom this happened was Naval Infantryman Mikhail Panikakha. Panikakha prepared to throw a bottle at a German tank in Stalingrad, but a bullet hit the bottle, and the infantryman burst into flames. However, he managed to grab another bottle, ran to the tank and smashed the second bottle against the tank's armour. He was posthumously awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union, albeit in 1990, 45 years after the war.

Share This Page