The discovery of oil refining methods laid the foundation for a simple but highly effective means of warfare in the 1940s.
For the first time, gasoline bottles began to be widely used during the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, bottles filled with a combustible mixture were used by the Japanese in the battle they lost with the Red Army on the Khalkhin-Gol River, as well as by the defenders of Grodno during the Soviet attack on Poland. Soviet soldiers had to be painfully convinced of the effectiveness of these weapons during the Winter War with Finland.
According to one of the versions, the name "Molotov cocktail" appeared precisely during the battles in Karelia. It was allegedly authored by Finnish soldiers who prepared "cocktails for Molotov." However, the version of the origin of the name from the decision of the State Defense Committee of the USSR on July 7, 1941 "On anti-tank incendiary grenades (bottles)", which was signed by the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov, seems more plausible.
The experience of the Winter War prompted the Soviet command to begin experiments with their own incendiary mixtures. The extent to which the new type of weapon was appreciated is evidenced by the fact that in the new charter of the Red Army infantry from 1940 it was prescribed to organize groups of tank destroyers equipped with bundles of grenades and incendiary bottles. There was no mass production of the latter before the start of the Soviet-German war, and the developed mixtures were perceived, rather, as prototypes that could be useful for other purposes. However, significant losses in the first weeks of the war forced the Soviet command to turn to all available means that could stop the German tanks. And on July 7, 1941, the State Defense Committee adopted the above-mentioned resolution.
In the first months of the war, chemical industries were engaged in the manufacture of mixtures, but it often happened that the soldiers themselves made incendiary bottles from scrap materials. An ordinary bottle was tied with a cloth soaked in gasoline with a wire or cord; for this purpose, glass flasks were also used, to which a piece of cloth torn from footcloths was attached. This "production" continued until the moment when factory-made Molotov cocktails began to enter the combat units.
Dark beer bottles
Mass-produced Soviet incendiary bottles were fitted with a chemical fuse that ignited the mixture after the bottle was broken. Thanks to this, the soldier did not need to be distracted before throwing, and he could concentrate on aiming. The army received several modifications of bottles with mixtures based on thickened oil or gasoline, as well as with the most effective self-igniting mixture - KS, which included white phosphorus dissolved in carbon disulfide in a ratio of 4: 1. Due to the complexity of the technological process, they were produced only in specialized chemical plants. One of them was the famous plant in Stalingrad, where, in particular, modifications of the mixture were developed for the conditions of the harsh Russian winter. The incendiary KS mixture was poured into dark glass bottles, most often beer. Due to the danger of spontaneous combustion, all bottles were carefully checked. even the smallest crack or pothole could lead to an accident. […]
The experience gained during the battles showed that bottles were sometimes a dangerous weapon for the soldiers who used them, especially the modification with the KS mixture that ignited on contact with air. Due to the high risks, much attention has been paid to adhering to the procedures associated with both the use of this specific weapon on the battlefield and how to handle it during transport. According to the instructions, after being removed from the boxes, the bottles should be placed in special bags with partitions, and in their absence, wrapped in a cloth or otherwise protected from accidental damage. The bag with the bottles could be carried on the shoulder, but under fire, for safety reasons, it should be held in the left hand, away from the body. A tragic episode with the participation of the hero of the Soviet Union (he received this title posthumously) Mikhail Panikakha, who burned down alive during the battles for Stalingrad when a machine-gun bullet hit his bag with KS bottles, went down in history. The burning Panikakha managed to run with the remaining bottle to the approaching tank and smash it against the grate of the engine hatch.
Reliable testimony from combatants dispels myths about the effectiveness of incendiary bottles. D. F. Medvedev, commissar of the 2nd battalion of the 30th regiment of the 13th division of the people's militia, who fought in September 1941 in the Smolensk direction, wrote: “We began to collect bottles of fuel, formed a group of 18 people, I was sent with them blow up tanks. We went to the right, to the river, where there was a moat. There, according to our assumption, tanks should have been ferried. We had to light them there. When we crawled to the crossroads, the Germans noticed and opened furious fire from tanks at us. We nevertheless climbed into the anti-tank gap. On one of our men, a bullet caught a fuel bottle. It caught fire. I had to rip everything off him and leave him completely naked. We stayed there until dark. One soldier crept up and threw a bottle. The bottle caught fire, but the tank turned to the wind, set in motion, and the fire was blown away by the wind."
In practice, throwing bottles has proven to work well only when the soldiers using them are well camouflaged and in cover. Such situations primarily occurred during battles in the city. Properly prepared trenches were also a good place to attack. In this case, cover by their own, who kept the enemy infantry following behind the tanks, was of essential importance.
According to the charter, every soldier heading to destroy tanks had to carry at least one bottle of KS mixture. She should have been used first. True, one bottle could not damage the car, but the white smoke resulting from the burning of phosphorus dazzled its crew. The charter clearly stated that at least two or three bottles should be used. The practice of combat has clearly shown that all attempts to throw incendiary bottles by soldiers who were not in cover most often ended in death or severe injury from infantry fire and tank machine guns.
Incendiary bottles, with the exception of isolated cases, were mainly used as an addition to anti-tank grants or bundles of conventional grenades, with which they initially tried to stop the tank, in order to then set it on fire with the help of bottles.
Due to the significant losses incurred in the first weeks of the war, the Red Army faced, in particular, a shortage of mines and sapper charges. Incendiary bottles in this case turned out to be an excellent substitute, which made it possible to effectively strengthen the defense that was being prepared then. One of the simplest uses of the KS Molotov cocktail was to create primitive mines from one or more stacked bottles, on which a stone was placed to make the glass more easily damaged. The design was carefully camouflaged. In theory, stepping on or hitting a stone would break the bottle and ignite the mixture. The development of this simple idea was the vast "bottle fields", consisting of several thousand so-called. "Nests". Each of them contained 4-5 bottles, at least two of which, performing the function of a fuse, had to be filled with KS liquid. […]
Despite the enormous risk and rather low efficiency, incendiary bottles remained the only combat weapon that could stop enemy tanks at least for a certain period of time. According to not very reliable Soviet data, during the entire war, 2429 tanks, self-propelled artillery installations and armored personnel carriers, 1189 field fortifications were destroyed (rather, temporarily damaged) with the help of bottles, more than 2.5 thousand fortified buildings and 65 enemy warehouses were burned.
Weapon of the weak
The transition of the Red Army to offensive operations, as well as the restoration of military potential, and especially the increase in the number of tanks and guns, contributed to the fact that bottles began to be used less and less. But the German army began to use them more. Already in 1942, in the official instructions for the destruction of tanks, clauses appeared on the use of bottles and their "advanced" version - a 20-liter canister with a hand grenade as a fuse.
The end of the widespread use of Molotov cocktails was laid by technical progress. The appearance of such weapons as the German Panzerfaust solved the problems of infantry with tanks, and the development of stationary flamethrowers, for example, such as the Soviet FOG-2, almost completely displaced bottles from use for mining the terrain.
The Molotov cocktail remained a weapon used only by the weaker side of the conflict. With skillful use, especially in cities, the bottle remained a formidable weapon of war. German soldiers could be convinced of its effectiveness in their own skin during the Warsaw Uprising, as well as the Soviet military in battles in Germany, or, later, in 1956, during the suppression of the Hungarian uprising in Budapest.