RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The term “Molotov cocktail” has made headlines a few times in recent months when a woman threw one into a Raleigh church in April and again over the weekend when a man was shot and killed while throwing several of them outside a Raleigh police station.
So, what exactly are these “cocktails” and how did they get their name?
In short, Molotov cocktails are known a cheap, light-weight and easy to conceal type of weapon that some describe as a handheld firebomb. Or, more officially, an incendiary weapon.
Live Science says these hand-thrown weapons are one of the most lethal weapons that can be made swiftly from easy-to-attain ingredients. Typically, “Molotovs” consist of glass bottles, or another fragile material, and are filled with a highly flammable substance like gasoline and are equipped with a fuse, such as a cloth wick.
The first known use of a Molotov cocktail was during the Spanish Civil War. Yet, they gained their fame and new name during Finland’s attempts to repel the Russian invasions of World War II in 1939 and 1940, according to the late American historian William Trotter.
The name Molotov is centered around one historic figure—Vyacheslav Molotov. He was a Russian politician who served as the foreign minister of the Soviet Union during World War II.
In his 2000 book called “Frozen Hell,” Trotter recapped that time period. He said Russia had attack Finland because of their refusal to hand over territory that would help protect Russia from potential attacks from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces. The Finns fought bravely, utilizing Molotovs cocktails, but were eventually overwhelmed.
The Finns, as historical accounts show, were the ones to name the destructive weapons after the foreign minister.
The cocktails continue to be used today in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and, more rarely, domestically.
Uses in the United States have ranged from random, individual attacks like those seen recently in Raleigh to the 2020 protests and riots directed at police following the officer-involved death of George Floyd.