Necessity is the mother of all invention, so is the desperation to live. So, if you found yourself in the middle of a battle without your beloved M4 or an Abrams Tank, then you gotta improvise, adapt, overcome. With that, here are some improvised weapons used throughout history (and even now).

Molotov Cocktail

molotov cocktail
A member of a demolition team from Task Force Alpha, 2nd Marine Division, displays a Molotov cocktail that failed to work during Operation Desert Storm.

Perhaps the most famous when it comes to improvised weapons, this incendiary weapon is fairly easy to make. Before this improvised incendiary became the Molotov cocktails, they were already being used in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. They made these “petrol bombs” by filling a jam jar with petrol before wrapping its mouth with fabric before igniting and throwing it on Soviet T-26 tanks. The goal was for the jar to shatter and set fire to the engine compartment or rubber bogey wheels of the tank. It was the Finns who first coined it as the Molotov cocktail during the Winter War of 1939 as the “Molotovin koktaili” in Finnish, as an insult to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov whom they held responsible for starting the war. In the Finnish version, it was made from a bottle of vodka filled with gasoline with two long-burning woodsman matches attached to its sides with cotton strips.

K Pattern Flamethrower 

This simple flamethrower made for the Polish underground was used in the Warsaw Uprising during WWII in 1944. The components were simple: two interconnected cylindrical steel fuel tanks, a compressed air bottle, a rubber fuel hose, and a flaming rope. This design was made in ordinary workshops and was deemed a successful weapon, considering its primitive design.

Blyskawica Submachine Gun

Weapons used by Polish insurgents during the Warsaw Uprising. Upper: Błyskawica SMG, lower: STEN Mk.II.

Blyskawica was a weapon covertly manufactured during WWII. This improvised gun was designed by two Polish engineers, Wacław Zawrotny and Seweryn Wielanier, and was originally produced in Britain. Materials for this gun included waterpipes and some other basic materials joined with machine screws and plumbing micro-groove threads for easier production. Blyskawica was a result of the Polish resistance being underequipped against the Nazis. All in all, around 600 pieces were built in Warsaw.


During the civil war in Syria, improvised weapons were designed mostly by the Syrian opposition forces, and one of them is the hell-cannon. It is a 3-feet-long cannon barrel mounted on wheels. The muzzle is filled with explosives like ammonium nitrate. Its projectile is a re-purposed gas cylinder filled with explosives and shrapnel. When the hell-cannon is fired, the gas cylinder is launched at a high speed before its fuse detonates. Hell-cannon was inaccurate and have killed over 300 civilians according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


Madliena Fougasse
Madliena Fougasse close to the Madliena Tower at Triq Martin Luther King in Pembroke, Malta. Frank VincentzCC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This improvised mortar dating back to 1740 was constructed by making an angled hole in the ground and filling it with explosives. There were different variants of Fougasse, depending on what you’d like to put in those holes. A Stone Fougasse was with large rocks and bricks that would fly in all directions at a high speed once it exploded. The Shell Fougasse used black powder to fire mortar shells, which wouldn’t only send flying mortar shells but would also jets of flame.

Then there’s the flame fougasse that projects a mixture of petrol and oil. During WWII, the British would make flame fougasses using 40-gallon drums camouflaged into the roadside, in preparation for the possibility of a German invasion.