Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Remind me again what a Molotov Cocktail is.

As I watch the unfolding of events in Egypt, I've come across a couple of things that are suitable fodder for this blog. Tonight, or early this morning, really, the pro and anti Mubarak forces have been hurling Molotov Cocktails at each other. Obviously, these are incendiary explosives. But what exactly is such a cocktail composed of?

I remember, or think I remember that Molotov was a Soviet or Russian general. And it's clear that if people on the street have access to them, they've got to be a kind of homemade explosive. Are they standardized in formula, or are a lot of things that fit the description? Let's find out...

Okay, a Molotov Cocktail describes a wide range of incendiary devices. Basically, all it takes is a glass bottle, some gasoline or some other flammable liquid and a cloth wick, often soaked in kerosene or alcohol. The wick is set on fire and the bottle is thrown and on impact ignites into a fireball. Pretty much what you thought, right?

Here's the interesting part, though. Molotov was indeed a Russian. He was actually the Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs. In 1939, the Soviets, after being unsuccessful in convincing the Finns to cede territory to them, launched a full out offensive, which later became known as the Winter War. Molotov announced over the radio airwaves that they were not actually bombing the Finns, but delivering food. These bombs were RRABs, or rotationally dispersing aviation bombs. Basically, the bombs had a device that dispersed a hundred incendiary bombs through centrifugal force. The Finns, with gallows humor,sarcastically named these bombs "Molotov bread baskets". Molotov cocktails, which had actually been used already in the just finished Spanish civil war, were dubbed so by the Finns, who when throwing them at advancing Soviet tanks called them "a drink to go with the food".

Although the original tanks were vulnerable to this kind of assault, their design flaws were soon rectified. It's something to think about when you're dealing with tanks... and power.


  1. Thanks for the definition and the history. A college pal now reporting for the BBC notes that Internet service and tv coverage in Egypt miraculously returned in time to cover the violence...but not the peaceful, nonviolent protests of the day before. Alas.

  2. Very interesting, although Molotov Cocktail sounds more nefariuos than Molotov Bread Basket. Petrol Bomb sounds pretty evil as well.

  3. It does, but on the other hand, I think I would rather have one incendiary device hurled at me, that theoretically I might be able to dodge, rather than a hundred incendiary devices whirling down out of the sky. I think the Bread Basket name shows a certain jaunty defiance in the Finns. And I'm a bit sorry that Molotov has been memorialized at all.

  4. ... the Finns, who when throwing them at advancing Soviet tanks called them "a drink to go with the food".

    More evidence to rebut the proposition that Nordic peoples have no sense of humor.

    I confess I was ignorant of the Finnish role in naming the poor man's explosive. Thanks.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  5. Nordic humor is underrated by the nonNordic, I think.

    Glad to hear that you hadn't heard of the origins of this one, Peter, as it's not much fun if it turns out that the ignorance is all mine in cases of historical fact.

  6. I can assure you from ample experience reading this blog that the ignorance is not all yours.