Soon Finns began building bombs from gasoline-filled glass bottles with a stick as a fuse, calling them “Molotov cocktails,” according to historian William R. Trotter. The weapons proved effective even against Soviet tanks.
Similar handmade bombs go back at least as far as Spain’s Civil War (1936-1939). Spanish Nationalist troops used them against Soviet tanks supporting the Spanish Republicans; later, both sides deployed them.
In 1939 in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, a series of Soviet-Japanese border conflicts, more than 100 Soviet tanks or armored cars were destroyed by similar weapons. In the early 1940s, improvised bombs were stockpiled in Britain to be used against German tanks in case of a Nazi invasion.
Last week, as Russian troops advanced on Kyiv and other cities, Ukrainians used resources in innovative ways to build and maintain ammunition. Civilians turned a public park in Dnipro, in central Ukraine, into an open-air Molotov cocktail factory. Military instructors taught civilians how to use the weapons in an abandoned factory in Kyiv. Employees at the Pravda Brewery in Lyiv halted beer production and manufactured makeshift bombs instead. In restaurants, according to a New York Times report, bottled water is being served exclusively in plastic bottles. The glass ones are being used to make Molotov cocktails.
IREM OZTURAN, an intern at Retro Report, is a journalism and economics student at Northwestern University. This article was produced in partnership with the Global Reporting Centre. It first appeared in Retro Report’s free weekly newsletter. Subscribe and receive lessons from history in your mailbox. Follow us on Twitter @RetroReport.