Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Ampulomet

Today's subject of discussion is the Ampulomet- a Soviet anti-tank weapon from WWII. The word ampulomet comes from the (Greek- I believe) words "ampula" for a hermetically sealed glass container (as in a medicine ampule) and "metainie"meaning throwing. Therefore it is an ampule thrower. Which is exactly what it does. Except its ampules contain very flammable liquids. Also in Russian military lexicon there are the words "oghnemyot" meaning flamethrower and "granatomyot" for grenade launcher.

These weapons were used to stop the Nazi advance into Soviet Russia and then to push the Germans all the way home. Obviously, it is not the most advanced of weapons and likely was developed to give the Soviet forces in the period of Operation Barbarossa some rudimentary way to attack the Nazi fleet of vehicles. Its effectiveness is probably all over the board. It was likely very effective against the troops or open topped half tracks and kubelwagons (German jeep-type vehicles). However, I can see the ampulomet possibly being completely ineffective against a buttoned up tank, depending on how it was hit. I don't particularly like thinking about being a tank driver who has burning liquid streaming down the vision slits, though. That would be really bad.

The ampulomet rounds were, as you see above, made from spherical glass.I haven't found much information on how they were ignited, but it is possible that there were different systems as the war progressed and the Soviets became better supplied through Lend/Lease and their factories in the east. The rounds were apparently usually ignited in some fashion that did not involve use of an open flame. One ignition system was said to incorporate phosphorus pellets within the liquid so that it would ignite upon breaking. Another source states that a length of slow match with an igniter attached there are also reports of some ampulomet projectiles with a standard fuze lit with a match. Given the fact that WWII Soviet quality control was generally pretty poor, I would not want to be very near one of those.

I can only speculate on range and propulsion method. I imagine that the range was under 300 meters, probably more like 100-150, which would make it pretty dangerous to use, considering the other side had all those quick-firing MG42s and so-accurate 98ks, both with a longer effective range. There does not seem to be any apparatus to launch via compressed air, and that might not be the most efficient method in any case. Since the projectile is glass, I think that a gunpowder charge might be too strong for the glass. Accordingly, Internet rumor brings us a tale from a gentleman who purportedly witnessed an ampulomet demonstration and stated that about half of the projectiles burst upon firing, creating a huge ball of fire. Which would have the dual poor result of possibly showering the crew with burning gasoline and giving everyone on the other side something very attractive to shoot at.

edit: An alert reader (from the country that invented Molotov Cocktails) brought up the fact that a potato gun-like system would probably be the best way to launch the projectiles. Since I doubt the Soviet Union had ample supplies of hair spray, one of the most common propellant for simple, modern spudguns, I suppose they might have used some type of alcohol or maybe even gasoline or aviation gas.

A pretty neat weapon, not what one would want on a wish list, but a damn sight better than nothing and I for one am pretty impressed by the "out of the box" thinking that inspired the ampulomet.


  1. It was fired bu using 12 guage shotgun shells as the means of flinging it out of the tube.



  2. I love weapons like this! thanks! Kevlar!

  3. Russians did not invent Molotov Coctails, look it up.

  4. Of course not, never said they did. My buddy is a a very proud Finn.

  5. The British had something similar early in the war . . . I believe it was called a Holman Projector and it fired soda-pop type bottles filled with a mixture of petrol, raw rubber and white phosphorus . . . self-igniting napalm.

    And tanks of that era were gasoline-fueled, and not very well sealed. They tended to "brew up" (burn) if you splashed a burning liquid on them, or it would get inside and either drive the crew out or explode the ammunition.

    In fact, they had a tendency to catch fire anyway. -Webfoot Logger