We have repeatedly written about the supply of fuel to the armies during the Second World War (in particular, see materials “How to fly without fuel?”, “Synthetics on blood”, “The strategic goal of the war”).
Today we continue this almost inexhaustible topic with a story about containers used for army fuel “retail”, or more precisely, about canisters intended for storing and transporting fuel.
Masterpiece of industrial design
The “trendsetter” in this matter was the German Reichswehr. In 1936, the German army announced a competition for the creation of a new canister, which resulted in an efficient and versatile container. The old canisters were parallelepipeds with flat walls, welded together at the corners, or stamped from a sheet of metal with a welded bottom. Handles, as a rule, were made from curved strips of metal, or from wire loops. Such canisters were inconvenient to carry, cut fingers and palms, clung to the corners and, in addition, mercilessly flowed.
Muller from Schwelm (North Rhine-Westphalia) proposed a project that solved all the existing problems. The Wehrmachtkanister held exactly 20 liters and weighed 4 kg. The canister had a flattened shape and was welded with one seam from two stamped halves with rounded corners. The stamping on the sidewalls increased the rigidity of the structure and served as a kind of “radiator” that reduced overheating of the contents (initially, the stamping was a simple cruciform shape, but then it complicated the configuration). A ledge at the back of the canister served as an air pocket to keep the filled container buoyant. The high neck made it possible to do without a funnel, and the lid could be opened by hand without resorting to special tools. Thanks to three handles on top, one soldier could simultaneously carry four empty canisters or two full ones.
In the service of His Majesty
The new canister quickly gained popularity, and by the beginning of the Second World War it became the standard container of the Wehrmacht, used to transport not only fuel, but also water, oils and other liquids. To facilitate the identification of the contents, the canisters were painted in different colors in accordance with the contents (gasoline with an octane rating of 72, which was used by almost all Wehrmacht ground vehicles, was red; low-octane aviation gasoline – blue, high-octane – green).
In 1940, during the war in France, Great Britain received several samples of German canisters, called jerrycan (in literal translation – “Fritz tin”), highly appreciated their effectiveness and quickly launched their exact copy into production.
A year later, the American allies did the same, however, creatively changing several technological processes – instead of two sheets for stamping, one was used, and the bottom and top were welded; the neck was wider, which involved the use of a filling funnel; the hinged cap was replaced with a nut requiring a special tool. It was easier to wash such a canister, it emptied and filled faster, but due to baboutMore seams flowed more.
Trial by Africa
The special importance of high-quality containers for fuel for the Allied troops was realized during the fierce hostilities in North Africa (September 1940 – May 1943). In particular, the inspection that checked the organization of the logistic support of the British army, found that the loss of fuel due to the imperfection of the container reaches 40%! Gasoline was transported to army bases in 200-liter barrels, after which, due to an acute shortage of jerrycan, it was poured into “native” 20-liter canisters, historically used to store lighting kerosene. In such cans, the fuel overheated, spilled and flowed profusely through the seams that parted in the burning African sun.
It is not surprising that German canisters were one of the most valuable trophies for the British in Africa – representatives of motorized formations hunted for them on purpose.
By 1943, the British carried out “work on the mistakes” and launched mass production of high-quality containers, promptly delivering 2 million canisters to North Africa at once. Moreover, until the end of the war, it was the British who almost exclusively produced canisters for all the Allied armies, including the Soviet one; a total of 21 million English jerrycans were produced.
Surprising as it may seem, the German army-style canister … is still being produced! It is perhaps the most common container for fuel, mostly retaining its classic design.
We note by the way that other German fuel containers (in particular, standard 200-liter barrels) were quoted as highly – mainly due to strength, lightness and corrosion resistance. So, German captured barrels “served” in Soviet mechanized units until the 80s.