By chemist Anne Marie Helmenstine, PHD [taken from About.com]
You may have heard about Molotov cocktails on the news or seen them in video games, but do you know what they are? Here’s a description of a Molotov cocktail and a little history of the device’s invention.

What Is a Molotov Cocktail?

A Molotov cocktail is also known as a petrol bomb or alcohol bomb. It is a simple type of improvised incendiary device. The simplest form consists of a stoppered bottle filled with a combustible liquid, such as gasoline or high-proof alcohol, with a fuel-soaked rag stuffed in the neck of the bottle. The stopper separates the fuel from the part of the rag that acts as a fuse. To use a Molotov cocktail, the rag is ignited and the bottle is thrown against a vehicle or fortification. The bottle breaks, spraying fuel into the air. The vapor and droplets are ignited by the flame, producing a fireball and then a burning fire, which consumes the remainder of the fuel.

Origin of the Molotov Cocktail

The Molotov cocktail traces its origins to an improvised incendiary device that was used in the 1936–1939 Spanish Civil War in which General Francisco Franco had Spanish Nationalists use the weapons against Soviet T-26 tanks. In World War II, the Finnish used the weapons against Soviet tanks. Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs claimed in radio broadcasts that the Soviet Union was delivering food to the starving Finns rather than dropping bombs on them. The Finns started referring to the air bombs as Molotov bread baskets and to the incendiary weapons they used against the Soviet tanks as Molotov cocktails.

Revisions to the Molotov Cocktail

Throwing a flaming bottle of fuel was inherently dangerous, so modifications were made to the Molotov cocktail. The Alko corporation mass-produced Molotov cocktails. These devices consisted of 750 ml glass bottles that contained a mixture of gasoline, ethanol, and tar. The sealed bottles were bundled with a pair of pyrotechnic storm matches, one on either side of the bottle. One or both of the matches were lit before the device was thrown, either by hand or using a sling. The matches were safer and more reliable than the fuel-soaked cloth fuses. The tar thickened the fuel mixture so that the fuel would adhere to its target and so the fire would produce a lot of smoke. Any flammable liquid could be used as the fuel. Other thickening agents included dish soap, egg whites, sugar, blood, and motor oil.

The Polish army developed a mixture of sulfuric acid, sugar, and potassium chlorate that ignited upon impact, thus eliminating the need for a lit fuse.

Molotov Season begins ….


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