Despite the simplicity of their construction, the Molotov Cocktails are one of the most effective weapons in guerilla warfare. The device consists of nothing more than a glass bottle filled with flammable fluid and a wick that is used to light the fuel.
Components of a Molotov Cocktail
Any type of glass bottle can be used to make Molotov Cocktails. The bottle should have walls with just enough thickness to ensure they break when striking the target.
The best flammable fluids include alcohol, kerosene, and gasoline. If drinking alcohol is used, it must be a high-proof variety to ensure there is enough flammable alcohol present in the mixture.
Gasoline works well but burns quickly. Other flammable liquids such as diesel fuel, methanol, turpentine, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and E85 can also be used. Still, gasoline is an easy fuel to find and the solution most commonly used in Molotov Cocktails. If gasoline is used, roofing tar or motor oil can be mixed with the gas to create a thicker solution that burns longer and adheres to the target. Other potential thickening agents include baking soda, tar, strips of tire tubing, blood, XPS foam, egg whites, rubber cement, and even dish soap. Some additives have the added advantage of creating thick, black smoke (e.g., motor oil).
Another option is to create a solution similar to that used in napalm. To do this, melt Styrofoam in acetone to create a thick, pudding-like solution. Then mix this with equal parts of gasoline. The resulting mixture burns well and also adheres to the target.
The ideal solution (perfected by the Finns) would consist of gasoline, kerosene, tar, and potassium chlorate. Of course, it’s likely difficult to find all these components in a war zone, and gasoline works almost as well.
The wick is used to light the fuel without harming the thrower. A rag or other natural fabric material (avoid synthetic materials if possible) can be cut into strips and attached to the bottle using tape.
How to make a Molotov Cocktail
Fill the bottle about 3/4 full of fuel. Insert the wick so that about half of the wick extends into the bottle, enough to dip into the liquid inside. When you light the wick, the flame does not travel down the wick and immediately ignite the mixture. Instead, the wick burns slowly, allowing the thrower to hold the bottle without it exploding in their hand. When the bottle is thrown and breaks, the burning wick ignites the rest of the fuel as it spreads.
You only need about a finger’s length of wick protruding from the bottle. Next, stuff more material around the wick so it is held tightly in the bottle’s neck. Wrap the neck of the bottle with a rag and tape it. This rag provides a grip to hold onto when you light the wick and throw the bottle. It also catches fire and produces an extended burn.
Here are the steps repeated:
- Fill a glass bottle about 3/4 full of fuel
- Insert the wick far enough to dip into the fuel solution
- Leave a finger-length of wick protruding from the bottle
- Stuff more material inside the mouth bottle
- Wrap the bottle with a rag and tape
Throwing a Molotov Cocktail
To use the Molotov Cocktail, approach the target until you reach the throwing distance. Quickly turn the bottle over so that fuel settles around the mouth of the bottle and slightly soaks the material. Turn the bottle back upright, light the wick, and throw.
Of course, a Molotov Cocktail is not intended to be thrown at a person but rather thrown at or onto a hard surface sufficient to break the glass bottle. This could be, for instance, the hard metal surface of an armored vehicle or solid asphalt around the target.
Special cases and considerations
Rather than using a small rag around the neck of the bottle, some have tied heavier material around the neck, such as a curtain or light blanket. Some believe this may be more effective on vehicles such as tanks. The material can get caught in the cogs or tracks and produce a longer burn.
Lighting Molotov Cocktails can be a dangerous moment. It may help to have a partner who lights the wick for the thrower. Be attuned to wind conditions too, which could frustratingly snuff out a match or lighter before the wick catches fire, leaving the thrower in a vulnerable position.
When choosing a target, don’t focus entirely on the flame that is produced. Remember that the liquid will penetrate spaces and carry fire into those voids. For instance, a good target for a tank would be air intakes, grills, or other openings that the flammable solution could seep into. However, modern tanks are built to withstand chemical (even biological) attacks. You may have to simply attempt to disable the armored vehicle and force the crew to open the hatch.
Remember too, you don’t have to position yourself and wait for a random target to fall into place. It may help to put up obstacles that can funnel vehicles into a “kill zone,” a position where Molotov Cocktails (or several cocktails at once) can be thrown onto the vehicle.
The History of Molotov Cocktails
Molotov cocktails were first used during the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1939-1940. The Finnish soldiers used these weapons to great effect against the Soviet tanks, which were unable to handle the fiery explosions.
The name “Molotov cocktail” is believed to have originated in Finland, where it was named after Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister at the time. The Finns used this name as a sarcastic reference to Molotov’s propaganda broadcasts, which claimed that the Soviet Union was not attacking Finland but rather was simply “assisting” the Finnish people.
The Molotov cocktail gained further notoriety during World War II, when it was used by resistance fighters against the Nazi occupation forces. The resistance fighters would often use Molotov cocktails to destroy tanks and other military vehicles. This was because the Molotov cocktail was an effective weapon that could be made with readily available materials.
Since then, the Molotov cocktail has been used in numerous conflicts around the world, from the Vietnam War to the current conflict in Syria. It has been used by both state and non-state actors and has been responsible for significant loss of life and property damage.
Although the Molotov cocktail is a relatively simple weapon, it can be highly effective when used in the right circumstances. However, it is also highly dangerous, and its use is illegal in most countries. The use of Molotov cocktails is considered a war crime and a violation of international humanitarian law.
Special note about the legality of Molotov cocktails
Lest you think it fun to create Molotov cocktails for grins, understand that in the United States, Molotov cocktails are considered “destructive devices” under the National Firearms Act and regulated by the ATF. Possession of one is illegal.
In-Article Image CreditsA burning Molotov cocktail via Ministerie van Defensie with usage type - GNU Free. 2/2/2021
Canadian Forces soldier throwing Molotov cocktail via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Public Domain. 7/5/2007
Kyiv civilians making Molotov Cocktails to be used against Russian troops via Voice of America News by Yan Beochat with usage type - Public Domain. 2/26/2022
Molotov cocktails bottles and rags via Wikimedia Commons by Mstyslav Chernov with usage type - Creative Commons License. 1/21/2014
Featured Image CreditA burning Molotov cocktail via Ministerie van Defensie with usage type - GNU Free. 2/2/2021