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Molotov Cocktail

Written by Валерий Потапов
Published on Monday, 25 April 2005 17:50
Last Updated on
Read 15704 times
Ignition bottle with KS mixtur...
Ignition bottles with winter m...

The bitter days of 1941…The German Panzers, employing flank attack tactics, cut our defense in pieces. The Red Army units start to suffer «ammo starvation», as most of the ammo depots located in border areas have been captured by Germans. In this critical situation on the 7th of July 1941 GKO makes the decision to employ petrol bombs as an anti-tank weapon. This allowed providing the Army with quite efficient anti-tank weapon in very short time. Like many other weapons, the petrol bombs were quickly dubbed Molotov cocktail. Nickname tells that it was dubbed so by Finnish soldiers during the Winter war. During that period Molotov held the office minister for foreign affairs and was perceived by Finns as largely responsible for the war. However, the first ones to use the petrol bombs were the Spanish republican troops, who used them to burn tanks during the Civil war as early as 1936. The Spaniards filled a glass bottle with petrol, sealed the bottle and wrapped the bottleneck with tow. Before throwing it at the tank, the tow was set on fire. Burning petrol penetrated the fighting compartment and caused ammo detonation; when hitting the transmission section, petrol easily set engine on fire.

Later this primitive ignition mechanism was improved through use of igniting chemical agent, which was actually a modified Kibalchich fuse for hand grenades. The only difference was that Molotov cocktails used petrol instead of solid inflammable substance. The Red Army received two types of petrol bombs: with self-igniting mixture KS (mixture of phosphorus and sulphur, which ha very low melting temperature) and the ones with inflammable mixtures #1 and #3. These mixtures were made of regular car petrol, condensed by OP-1 hardening powder – actually this was prototype of what is now called napalm. KS mixture was normally bottled in 0.5–0.75 liter bottles and sealed with rubber corks, attached to the bottleneck with wire and wrapped in scotch. Once ignited, the liquid burnt with bright flame for some 1.5–3 minutes, at the temperatures up to 1000° C. Petrol bombs with inflammable liquid #1and #3 were sealed with regular corks. Special 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 belt or were inserted in the bottles. Another ignition mechanism used special matches, attached to the bottle with rubber belts. These fuse-matches were large sticks fully covered with igniting agent. They were set on fire before the throw with a special grater or with a regular matchbox. The contents of the bottle, when hitting a tank burnt for 40–50 seconds at the temperatures of up to 800° C. When fuse-matches were unavailable, the recommendation was to do the following: first throw a bottle with KS liquid, and later one or two bottles with #1 or #3 solution.

Tactics of an infantryman armed with Molotov cocktail was seemingly simple. One had to let a tank come as close as 15–20 metres and throw a bottle at it, targeting the engine compartment or the area between the turret and the hull. This all looks easy on the paper, but not in the real engagement when armour assault is accompanied with 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 consequently become a living torch. One of them is marine Mikhail Panikakha, who was posthumously awarded with the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for his heroic action in Stalingrad (however, officially he was awarded much later, 45 years after the war, in 1990). However most of the soldiers, who have fulfilled their duty, remain unknown.

Petrol bombs were used in roles other than the short-range anti-tank weapon. Minefields, complemented by KS bottles used as mines protected tank-passable terrain and possible directions of enemy armour assaults. To protect themselves from the enemy infantry, our infantry used so called «flame landmines». The holes dug in the no-man’s land were filled with up to 20 bottles and small explosive charges serving as remote controlled detonators. The area covered by flame of this landmine was on average 250 m2. Americans, who considered petrol bombs a primitive weapon for the first time, having analysed the experiences of WWII, started to employ them in post-war military conflicts. Using napalm as the contents, Americans widely used them as anti-infantry landmines during the Korean War (1950-1953). Soviet tank crews themselves had to experience the effectiveness of Molotov cocktail in 1968, when Soviet troops entered Prague. The stand-off between Yeltsin and the Supreme Soviet in Moscow in October of 1993 also reminded many of the fiery cocktail, and it was only well coordinated work of the police that prevented the «mass consumption» of this «drink».

Source: «Oruzheiny Dwor» magazine, #2 1996
Translation by: Bair Irincheev

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