Molotov Cocktails Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Molotov Cocktails

3 Conversations


Molotovs are extremely dangerous, both to anyone who may be hit by one, and to someone who makes them or throws them. The scars left can leave someone waking up each and every morning for the rest of their life being afraid to look into the mirror because of the sight that is reflected back at them.

It should not be necessary to say this, but it will be said anyway. The Researchers of this entry do not condone the use of Molotovs in any circumstance whatsoever. There is no cause important enough, no enemy evil enough, to justify causing this level of pain and suffering. Violence is never a solution.

The Molotov cocktail or petrol bomb is a weapon. It is not a beverage, and it is certainly not a toy. Actually, it is not a bomb as such, as a bomb requires an explosion, and combustion is not quick enough to cause an explosion. Come to that, it doesn't have to contain petrol either, so it should be more accurately referred to as an 'inflammable liquid incendiary device'. That doesn't roll off the tongue quite so easily, though...


Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was the head of the Soviet Council of People's Commissars (1930-1941) and Foreign Minister (1939-1949 and 1953-1956), and it is after him that the Molotov cocktail is named. It is unclear how this occurred; either the name was given by the Finnish resistance in 1939, or it was given by Soviet soldiers when Molotov began to mass-produce these weapons.

Whatever the origin, these weapons saw widespread use by all sides in World War Two. They were very effective against light tanks, and very bad for enemy morale. The following is a first-hand description of their effects, written during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943:

The well-aimed bottles hit the tank. The flames spread quickly. The blast of the explosion is heard. The machine stands motionless. The crew is burned alive. The other two tanks turn around and withdraw. The Germans who took cover behind them withdraw in panic. We take leave of them with a few well-aimed shots and grenades.
- Eyewitness Reporting for the Zhydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization), 19 April, 1943

Molotovs have always been popular among revolutionaries, guerrillas, militant protesters, and poorly equipped armed forces. This is because they are so simple to create, and because the ingredients are so easily acquired; the prospective user requires only a bottle, some inflammable liquid, and a piece of cloth soaked in that liquid. In more recent times, people have added various substances to the inflammable liquid to make it burn hotter and harder to put out. In addition, the resulting mixture sticks to pretty much anything. This has been described as 'the poor man's napalm'.

How they Work

When a Molotov hits something hard, like a wall or the ground, the bottle shatters, and the liquid is spilled and covers the nearby area. The burning rag, which has been tied to the neck of the bottle, will then ignite the liquid and cause a fire. The shards of glass can be nasty in themselves, and the resulting fire can cause severe burns.

Until the bottle shatters, the liquid within it is insulated from the heat of the burning rag by the bottle, so it is possible to hold onto a lighted Molotov for some time. However, there is a real danger of the liquid spontaneously igniting, causing untold damage to the hand of the would-be thrower. There is also a risk of dropping the bottle as it heats up, with similar results.

Why they Don't Work

Aside from the risk of it blowing up in your face, Molotovs have a number of other disadvantages as a weapon which restrict their use to revolutionaries and suchlike. The contents may fail to ignite, or the rag may go out as it flies through the air, or the glass may fail to break. In addition, if a mixture of substances is used in the cocktail then they will sometimes separate out if not shaken well. Any of these things will dramatically reduce the damage done by the Molotov.

A separate problem is that the liquids used are often volatile1, causing a room which is being used to store a number of inexpertly made Molotovs to become a lethal death-trap if someone lights a match or creates a spark (for example, by using a lightswitch).

Those who construct Molotovs by relying on online 'cookbooks' are much more likely to meet with failure. These cookbooks are wildly derided by those who work with explosives for a living. Often they are written by disaffected schoolchildren who claim to be anarchists without even knowing what the word means. They tend to be riddled with basic spelling and chemistry errors, some unimportant, some laughable, and many that are downright dangerous. They are also much plagiarised and recopied, printed, summarised, expanded, combined, split, scanned, and edited, with some copies being five generations or more removed from the originals.

Actions on Being a Target or Near a Target of a Molotov

  1. If you are caught in the flames, try to get out of the flames and try not to panic. Being set on fire is very painful and potentially life threatening, so panic is a natural response, but it is important to keep a clear head.

  2. If you are still on fire, roll on the ground repeatedly, as this will starve the fire of oxygen and will put the fire out.

If you are near a target, or anybody is on fire due to the effects of a Molotov it is essential to do the following things:

  1. Run a safe distance away. This is to distance yourself from any danger of further attacks.

  2. Get help from the emergency services, or get someone else to get help.

  3. The next steps of action are very dangerous, and should really not be attempted. If the victim starts to panic, they will run blindly. It is essential to get them on the ground. So with a coat made of leather, or anything that is remotely fire proof, heavy cotton such as denim will do, tackle the victim and force them to the ground.

  4. Roll the victim over and over while smothering them with the coat. Get multiple people to help with this.

  5. If there are any fire extinguishers, water or CO2 based, use them, but be careful as this could cause extreme aggravation of the wounds, and in the case of CO2 extinguishers, suffocate the victim.

  6. Wait for the emergency services, and commence First Aid.

This is not a guide to treating burns in general, these are steps to take in the improbable event you are caught up in a situation which such weapons are used.

1A volatile liquid is one which evaporates significantly at room temperature.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Edited by

h2g2 Editors

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more