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The molotov cocktail was named after a Soviet foreign minister during World War 2, and is technically defined as simply any inflammable liquid in a glass bottle. The device was first used during the Spanish Civil War.

There are two competing histories of the origin of the name; one holds that it was so called by Russian troops against the Nazi panzer invasion. The more likely story places its origins with the impoverished Finnish military during the Winter Wars, when equipment was scarce and gasoline was still plentiful. Finnish public opinion largely blamed Molotov for the war.

Either way, a tow cloth wrapped around the bottle is lit, then thrown, in the hopes of shattering the bottle and spreading the contents. Against tanks, the targets are the engine compartment and the gap between the turret and hull, in hopes of spreading the flame into and igniting either the ammunition or fuel reserve. This sounds much easier than it is, and often resulted in the soldier attempting this with a bottle shot out of his hand, turned into a human torch.