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Jerry Cans by Geoff Wheatley
By Geoff Wheatley

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Jerry Cans by Geoff Wheatley

One of the major problems in any modern warfare is fuel for the trucks, tanks, airplanes etc. In the good old days, the trusty horse was quite adequate to meet most of the battle field needs and only required a few bundles of hay to keep them going.

But not today when a transport vehicle can consume a gallon of gasoline in a matter of a few miles, while a tank needs at least 200 gallons of fuel to travel 200 miles. When Germany was in the process of rearming in the 1930’s the German field staff were very conscious of the need for a regular and reliable supply of fuel especial when the policy of the Blitzkrieg was developed, a policy that swept through Europe in the summer of 1940.

Fast moving panzer divisions that could race through the low country of Western Europe and of course the flat terrain of Poland. Carrying fuel in large drums of fifty gallons or more was both difficult and wasteful as spillage was an expected part of filling your gas tank or whatever else needed to be replenished. What was needed was a simple can that an average man could lift and had its own non-spillage design. A flat storage can could be stacked like a slim box and any vehicle could carry several of these with ease.

The German war industry soon designed such a storage unit that became known as the Jerry Can based on the fact that the Germans invented to design. The British who had been researching some means of carrying fuel into battle soon copied the design in company with the Russians who wanted a simple way to transfer fuel during the winter campaigns. With road transport that was designed for winter use.

For some reason still not clear the US Military did not see the advantage of the Jerry Can and continued to transport fuel in large containers hauled by trucks, resulting in an average loss by spillage etc. of at least 20%. More in other situations like refueling tanks or small boats on the move. The D Day invasion changed this policy once and for all.

There was no way that large fuel drums could be landed on the beach heads in France but the British and Canadians just a few miles up the coast were able to virtually drive ashore carrying their own fuel supply in Jerry Cans, strapped to the vehicles or carried in box form in transport trucks. The Jerry can had various advantages over any type of drum. First you can stack them like chocolate boxes at Christmas. They are easy to carry designed with two carry hand loops, while the weight is acceptable to most individuals.

Their construction is as solid as its possible to be with the box of the carrier wrapped out of one solid sheet with only one seam that Is usually welded. They are cheap to manufacturer compared with the large drums that are difficult to produce. They can carry any form of liquid so if you are in the dessert you have no fear of running out of water , They are easy to transport by air as they pack into a cargo bay with ease. Who would have thought that a simple design like the Jerry Can has now been universally credited with helping any war effort regardless where that may be have been in the world.

A few years ago, in company with a few equally strange car buffs I took off for a two thousand miles drive in North Africa most of the time in dessert conditions and hot, make that very hot conditions. Of course, we did not run out of fuel but we did see our water supply diminishing after a few days. By luck, (life is often based on that situation) we stumbled into a desert patrol who provided us with four full Jerry Cans full of water.

This took us to the nearest civilized location where we filled every can we processed with water. Later we found out that our original water had been evaporating due to poor seals on the filling spout. That only happens once in any situation. A good point to remember should you ever decide to take a long desert drive! So, when you next look at the Jerry Can tucked away in your garage take it out, give it a good clean and place it in a place of honor just in case you may need it one day.

Footnote. President Roosevelt observed in 1944 that “Without these cans it would have been impossible for the allied armies to cut their way across France, that exceeded the German Blitz of 1940.
Geoff Wheatley

PS Now you know why the can is called a JERRY CAN.

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