04 April 2010

The Petrol Bomb, AKA The Molotov Cocktail

Dear Reader,

Today's post is more a bit of trivia about an oft-sighted object: The Petrol Bomb, Also Known As The Molotov Cocktail.

Introduction: Vyacheslav Molotov

The name "Molotov" refers to Vyacheslav Molotov, the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars from December 1930 to May 1941. He was a protege of Joseph Stalin and one of the participants in the Great Terror of 1936-1938, in which Joseph Stalin killed more than one million people. [Interested readers can read more about the executions at ExecutedToday.com, 15th March 2008. 1938: Seventeen former Bolshevik officials from the Trial of the 21) It is said that Stalin had also managed to seduce away one of Molotov's girlfriends. (Ref: Daily Mail UK, 11th May 2007. Stalin and his lover aged 13.)]

Curious readers can view pictures of Vyacheslav Molotov at the following links:
  1. RT.com (previously Russia Today), Russiapedia entry on Vyacheslav Molotov. Accessed 3rd April 2010.
  2. New York Sun, 5th Sept. 2007. Clash of Evils.
  3. Tate Etc. magazine, Issue 8 / Autumn 2006. The Revelation of Erasure. Found via Wikimedia Commons.
  4. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 21st August 2009. Molotov-Ribbentrop: The Night Stalin And Hitler Redrew The Map Of Europe.
  5. A Teacher's Guide To The Holocaust, by University of South Florida. German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact.

Back To The Bomb

Just how exactly did the name Molotov come to be applied to a petrol bomb? The moniker was coined by the Finnish army in 1939, during the Winter War with the Soviet Union.

On 30 November 1939, the Soviet Union launched a war against Finland after a futile year and a half campaign to persuade the Finnish government to cede territory to the Soviet Union and give up some sovereignty by conceding specific military and political favors. The Finnish Army, facing Red Army tanks in what came to be known as the Winter War, borrowed the design of an improvised incendiary device that had been used for the first time in the just-concluded Spanish Civil War (July 1936—February 1939). In that conflict, General Francisco Franco ordered Spanish Nationalists to use the weapon against Soviet T-26 tanks supporting the Spanish Republicans in a failed 1936 assault on Seseña, near Toledo, 80 km south from Madrid.

During the Winter War, the Soviet air force made extensive use of incendiaries and cluster bombs against Finnish troops and fortifications. When Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov claimed in radio broadcasts that the Soviet Union was not dropping bombs but rather delivering food to the starving Finns, the Finns started to call the air bombs Molotov bread baskets. Soon they responded by attacking advancing tanks with "Molotov cocktails" which were "a drink to go with the food". At first, the term was used to describe only the burning mixture itself, but in practical use the term was soon applied to the combination of both the bottle and its contents. This Finnish use of the hand- or sling-thrown explosive against Soviet tanks was repeated in the subsequent Continuation War between the two countries.
(Source: Wikipedia, entry on Molotov Cocktail. Accessed 3rd April 2010.)

Here are some videos on Molotov cocktails courtesy of Youtube.

Molotov Cocktail In The News

Molotov cocktails have been reported in the news. Because they are easily created, it is normal to expect that gangsters, hoodlums and aggressors will rely on molotov cocktails as part of their arsenal of weapons. Here are a few news incidents, sourced from recent Malaysian newspaper reports.

  1. 7th March 2010: Three Molotov cocktails were hurled at the headquarters of the Hindu Sangam in Petaling Jaya. Two vehicles were damaged. It was believed to have been caused by allegations that its followers had been duped into donating large sums of money. (Ref: The Star, 7th March 2010. Arson attack on Hindu Sangam's members.)
  2. 1st March 2010: An Indian man in Penang and his family received a shock when an unexploded Molotov cocktail was thrown into their front lawn. He suspected that it was caused by the misunderstandings between him and his neighbour. (Ref: Bernama.com, 1st March 2010. Six In Family Traumatised By Molotov Cocktail Attack.)
  3. 11th January 2010: Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the 122 year old All Saints Church in Taiping, causing the staircase to burn. A Molotov cocktail thrown at SMK Convent in Taiping failed to explode. This was part of a series of events following the controversial "Allah" ruling. (Ref: The Star, 11th January 2010. New cases of attempted arson and vandalism being probed.)
  4. 20th November 2009: Molotov cocktails were thrown at the house of lawyer Manjeet Singh Dhillon, damaging the garage wall. Police investigated whether the matter had anything to do with P. Balasubramaniam, a material witness in the Razak Baginda case. (Ref: The Star, 20th November 2009. Molotov cocktails thrown at lawyer’s home.)
  5. 20th August 2009: In Klang, at least six Molotov cocktails were thrown, damaging a Nissan X-Trail belonging to the MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission). This was probably caused by public anger at MACC following the death of political aide Teoh Beng Hock. (Ref: The Star, 20th August 2009. MACC vehicle damaged by Molotov cocktail (update no. 2)).
  6. 2nd August 2009: In Sitiawan, unknown assailants flung Molotov cocktails at ATM machines, setting them alight. (Ref: Bernama.com, 2nd August 2009. Unknown Assailants Throw Molotov Cocktail On Three Atm Machines.)
  7. 9th June, 2009: The Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching, Chong Chieng Jen, found several broken 'molotov cocktail' bottles in the compound of his house. The MP may have riled supporters of Taib Mahmud by referring to a news report by Aljazeera. (Ref: Bernama.com, 9th June 2009. Molotov Cocktail Shock For Bandar Kuching MP.)
  8. 11th October 2008: Two arsonists, driving in the early hours of the morning, set fire to eight cars in Petaling Jaya. The incident took place in SS3, SS4, SS5 and Sunway. One of the accomplices drove a four-wheel drive while the other threw Molotov cocktails. Police investigated whether security services had been offered by any company or individual at these locations immediately preceding the arson attack. (Ref: The Star, 11th October 2008. Arsonists torch eight vehicles in Petaling Jaya.)
  9. 27th September 2008: Two molotov cocktails were thrown into Teresa Kok's home in Taman Rainbow, Jalan Ipoh at 2:55 in the morning. A threatening note was attached to one of the bottles. The incident followed Kok's release pursuant to a habeas corpus application by Karpal Singh. Kok, along with Sin Chew reporter Tan Choon Heng, had been arrested under the ISA. (Ref: The Star, 27th September 2008. Molotov cocktails thrown into Teresa's family home (update 2))
  10. 9th August 2008: Two petrol bombs were hurled at the residence of Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil. The bombs were thought to be aimed at then Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, whose family had stayed in the house three years before. Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, then the Home Minister, opined that incident was linked to a forum on religious conversion organised by the Bar Council. (Ref: The Star, 11th August 2008. ‘Incident linked to Bar’s forum’
  11. 10th September 2007: In Kuala Terengganu, Molotov cocktails were reportedly hurled at the police when the police attempted to disperse a ceramah (public talk) organised by the opposition. (Ref: The Star, 10th September 2007. Ceramah clash in Terengganu.)
  12. 22nd April 2006: A disgruntled employee of the Myanmar embassy was burnt to death, after the Molotov cocktail he was holding fell and exploded. Over 80% of the Myanmar embassy was destroyed in the ensuing fire. (Source: The Star, 22nd April 2006. Embassy worker killed in Molotov cocktail tussle.)
  13. 19th March 2006: Two Molotov cocktails were hurled at the house of Ahmad Aznan Nawawi, (then) executive director of KFC Holdings (M) Berhad. (Ref: Bernama, 19th March 2006. KFC Executive Director's Home Hit By Molotov Cocktails.) It later transpired that 15 minutes before the incident, a similar incident had taken place at the home of a senior manager of KFC. Reports noted that there was a boardroom tussle. KFC was also (then) suing its former managing director for "alleged breach of fiduciary and trust duties". (Ref: Bernama, 20th March 2006.Molotov Cocktail Attack On Another KFC Executive.)

Other Petrol-based Weapons

The Molotov cocktail is probably the easiest petrol based weapon to manufacture. For this reason, it has been featured in many a war ever since its introduction by the Finnish army (see above). It is not, however, the only petrol-based weapon. Other weapons which utilize petrol as a fuel for their flames, include:

  1. Flamethrower - Entries at Wikipedia, HowStuffWorks, DiggerHistory
  2. Fougasse - Entry at Wikipedia
  3. Napalm - Entry at Wikipedia.
  4. Greek Fire - Entry at Wikipedia.

Etymology, Anyone?

The Molotov cocktail is only one of many loan-words in the English language. Interested word-smiths who plan to win their next game of Scrabble would do well to learn up these interesting words. The art of knowing When and How a word comes to be incorporated as part of a language is known as etymology. For those would-be budding linguists (and etymologists), here are a few good links:

  1. Online Etymology Dictionary - maintained by one Douglas Harper, self-described "historian, author, journalist and lecturer based in Lancaster, Pa."
  2. The Star, 3rd April 2009. From Kalashnikov to nunchaku.


Under the Penal Codes of India, Singapore and Malaysia, a person can be charged for voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means (Section 324 in Malaysia). The charge can be escalated to one of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapon (Section 326). A person can be charged for any act which vitiates the atmosphere in any place so to make it noxious to the health of any living persons (section 278). Further, the possession of corrosive and explosive substances is criminalised under the Corrosive and Explosive Substances And Offensive Weapons Act 1958. Under the Arms Act 1960, it is a crime to possess and/or use arms and ammunition without a permit or licence. (Source: Malaysia's 2005 paper for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention website.)

The text of the Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act 1958 can be found HERE and HERE.