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German containers for 20 litres of fuel. left: former container, right: Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister of 1941, manufacturer: Nirona Wehrmacht-einheitskanister.jpg
German containers for 20 litres of fuel. left: former container, right: Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister of 1941, manufacturer: Nirona
The stamped indentations on the sides serve two purposes: to stiffen the side sheet metal and to allow greater area for expansion and contraction of the contents with heat and cold. Different colours designate the contents. Jerrycan.JPG
The stamped indentations on the sides serve two purposes: to stiffen the side sheet metal and to allow greater area for expansion and contraction of the contents with heat and cold. Different colours designate the contents.

A jerrycan (also written as jerry can or jerrican) is a robust liquid container made from pressed steel. It was designed in Germany in the 1930s for military use to hold 20 litres (4.4 imp gal; 5.3 US gal) of fuel. The development of the jerrycan was a significant improvement on earlier designs, which required tools and funnels to use, and it contained many innovative features for convenience of use and robustness. After widespread use by both Germany and the Allies during the Second World War, today similar designs are used worldwide for fuel and water containers, some of which are also produced in plastic. The designs usually emulate the original steel design and are still known as jerrycans. The original design of jerrycan and various derivatives remain in widespread military use.



Jerrycan Einmann Tragweise.JPG
Carried by one person
Jerrycan Zweimann Tragweise.JPG
Carried by two people

The cans were originally intended to be used as fuel containers, but uses for the cans have expanded beyond this. Today, a can's use is denoted by its colouring, affixed labels and, occasionally, imprinted labelling on the container itself. This is to prevent contamination of the can's contents by mixing different fuels or mixing fuel with water.

The US version of the jerrycan is covered by military specification MIL-C-1283 F [1] and has been produced since the early 1940s by a number of US manufacturers, according to a current manufacturer, Blitz. [2] The National Stock Number is 7240-00-222-3088. It is considered obsolete by a new A-A-59592 B specification, having been replaced with high-density polyethylene versions. [3]

Jerrycans typically have a rounded rectangular cross section with package handles. Most have three handles: a center handle for one person carrying a lightweight can, two handles for a person lifting a full can, or two handles for two people to carry. The configuration of the three handles allows two empty jerrycans to be carried in one hand.


The name of the jerrycan refers to its German origins, Jerry being slang for Germans. [4] [5] The design was reverse engineered and subsequently copied, with minor modifications, by the Allies during the Second World War.

German invention

The Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister, as it was known in Germany, was first developed in 1937 by the Müller engineering firm in Schwelm to a design by their chief engineer Vinzenz Grünvogel. [6] A similar design was used in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, [7] where they had a company logo for Ambi-Budd Presswerk GmbH. Among others, the Wehrmacht had specified that a soldier should be able to carry either two full containers or four empty ones, which is the reason the triple handles were fitted. To achieve the required filling and draining speed, it was fitted with a large spout and flip top closure. A hole in the closure retainer made it possible to fit a securing pin or wire with a lead seal. The rectangular shape made it stackable. The recessed welded seam stiffened the container and protected the seam from impact damage. The indentations ensured a full can would not be severely damaged when falling from a vehicle, while a dip coat of paint on the inside protected it from corrosion.

By 1939 the German military had thousands of such cans stockpiled in anticipation of war. Motorised troops were issued the cans with lengths of rubber hose in order to siphon fuel from any available source, a way to aid their rapid advance through Poland at the start of the Second World War. [8]

American adaptation

A quantity of US-style jerrycans at Savannah Quartermaster Depot, Savannah, Georgia, 1943. "... women employed at Savannah Quartermaster Depot, Savannah, Georgia.", ca. 1943 - NARA - 522887.jpg
A quantity of US-style jerrycans at Savannah Quartermaster Depot, Savannah, Georgia, 1943.

In 1939, American engineer Paul Pleiss had built a vehicle to journey to India with his German colleague. After building the car, they realised they did not have any storage for emergency water. The German engineer had access to the stockpile of jerrycans at Berlin Tempelhof Airport and managed to take three of them. They drove across 11 national borders without incident until Field Marshal Göring sent a plane to take the engineer home. The German engineer also gave Pleiss complete specifications for the manufacture of the can. [8] Pleiss continued on to Calcutta, put his car in storage, and flew back to Philadelphia, where he told American military officials about the can. He could raise no interest. [8] Without a sample, he realised he could not get anywhere. He eventually shipped the car to New York by a roundabout method, and sent a can to Washington. The War Department decided instead to use World War I ten-US-gallon (38 l; 8.3 imp gal) cans with two screw closures, which required both a spanner and funnel for pouring. [8]

The one jerrycan in American possession was sent to Camp Holabird, Maryland, where it was redesigned. The new design retained the handles, size and shape, but is most easily distinguishable from the German original by the simplified 'X' - stiffening indentations in the sides of the can. The US can could be stacked interchangeably with German or British cans. The German recessed welded seam was replaced with rolled seams which were prone to leakage. For fuel cans, the lining was removed and a spanner and funnel were required. [8] A similar water can was also adopted, with a flip-top lid and enamel lining.

The US-designed jerrycan was widely used by US Army and Marine Corps units. In all overseas theaters, fuel and other petroleum products represented about 50% of all supply needs, measured by weight. [9] In the European Theatre of Operations alone, over 19 million were required to support US forces by May 1945. [9]

The jerrycan played an important role in ensuring fuel supply to Allied operations. A single standard US 2.5 ton truck could carry 875 US gallons (3,310 l) of fuel loaded in jerrycans. [9] US logisticians requested over 1.3 million per month to replace losses; these cans were provided by US and British manufacturers, but supply could not keep up with demand. [9] Loss of jerrycans in units was severe, with 3.5 million reported 'lost' in October 1944, for example. [9] At one point in August 1944, lack of cans (caused by losses) actually limited the supply of fuel that could be brought forward to combat units, even though the fuel was available in rear areas. [9]

The US design was slightly lighter than the German can (10 pounds (4.5 kg) vs. 11.5 lb (5.2 kg) for the German version). [9] These fuel containers were subsequently used in all theatres of war around the world. [8] Such was the importance of the cans in the war effort that the President Roosevelt administration noted "Without these cans it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace which exceeded the German Blitzkrieg of 1940." [6]

British necessity

At the beginning of the Second World War the British Army was equipped with two simple fuel containers: the 2-imperial-gallon (9.1 l; 2.4 US gal) container made of pressed steel, and the 4-imperial-gallon (18 l; 4.8 US gal) container made from tin plate. The 2-gallon containers were relatively strong, but were expensive to produce. Manufactured primarily in Egypt, the 4-gallon containers were plentiful and inexpensive, but they had a tendency to leak after minor damage. Early 4-gallon containers were packed in pairs in wooden cases. When stacked, the timber framing protected the tins and prevented the upper layers of tins from crushing the lower. As the war progressed, the wooden case was replaced with either thin plywood or cardboard cases, neither of which provided much protection. [10] 4-gallon containers carrying fuel were hazardous to the cargo ships carrying them. The leaking fuel would accumulate in cargo holds. At least one such ship exploded. [9]

Though adequate for transport along European roads, the 4-gallon containers proved extremely unsatisfactory during the North African Campaign. The crimped or soldered seams easily split during transport, especially off road over the rock strewn deserts of North Africa. [11] In addition, the containers were easily punctured by even minor trauma. Because of these problems the troops referred to the 4-gallon containers as flimsies . Transport of fuel over rough terrain often resulted in as much as 25% of the fuel being lost through seam failures or punctures. [10] Fuel leaks gave vehicles a propensity to catch fire. The containers were routinely discarded after a single use, and severely hampered the operation of the British Eighth Army. [10] A more successful and popular use for the 4-gallon container was to convert it into a cooking stove, referred to as the 'Benghazi burner'.

When the British Army first saw the German fuel cans during the Norwegian Campaign in 1940, they immediately saw the advantages of the superior design. The three handles allowed easy handling by one or two people, or movement bucket brigade-style. The handle design also allows for two empty cans to be carried in each hand, utilizing the outer handle.

The sides of the can were marked with cross-like indentations that strengthened the can while allowing the contents to expand, as did an air pocket under the handles when the can was filled correctly. This air pocket allowed the container to float if dropped in water. Rather than a screw cap, the containers used a cam lever release mechanism with a short spout secured with a snap closure and an air-pipe to the air pocket which enabled smooth pouring (which was omitted in some copies). The interior was also lined with an impervious plastic, first developed for steel beer barrels, that would allow the can to be used for either water or petrol. The can was welded and had a gasket for a leak-proof mouth.

The British used cans captured from the "Jerries" (Germans) – hence "jerrycans" – in preference to their own containers as much as possible. Later in 1940, Pleiss was in London and British officers asked him about the design and manufacture of the jerrycan. Pleiss ordered the second of his three jerrycans flown to London. [8] After the second capture of Benghazi at the end of 1941, large numbers of Axis jerrycans were captured, sufficient to equip some units such as the Long Range Desert Group. [10]

British companies such as Briggs Motor Bodies, Vauxhall Motors and the Pressed Steel Company manufactured copies of the German design.

Russian usage

The strength of the Wehrmachtskanister was determined in the Soviet Union. Its design was later copied and the Soviet Army accepted it as the standard container for liquids. This container is still being produced and used in modern Russia. In civilian use this container is used primarily for automotive fuel and lubricants. [12]

Modern usage

A U.S. Blitz can attached to a holder at the rear of a Mitsubishi Type 73 Light Truck Mitsubishi Type 73 Light Truck rear.jpg
A U.S. Blitz can attached to a holder at the rear of a Mitsubishi Type 73 Light Truck
A Swedish adaptation of the jerrycan stored on each side of the Stridsvagn 103 Strv 103c a.jpg
A Swedish adaptation of the jerrycan stored on each side of the Stridsvagn 103

The German design jerrycan is still a standard fuel and other liquids container in the armies of the NATO countries.

Finnish designer Eero Rislakki designed a plastic jerrycan in 1970 with a small screwable stopper on the top side behind the handle to allow air flowing in to ensure smooth fuel outflow. It is lighter than the original design yet almost as sturdy. It was quickly adopted by the Finnish armed forces, and is commercially available.


Current US regulations

The Jerrican is defined by the Code of Federal Regulation, 49 CFR 171.8 as "a metal or plastic packaging of rectangular or polygonal cross-section". [13]

As of January 10,2009 all portable fuel containers are required to conform to two new regulations: [14] [ failed verification ]

  1. They must meet new federal Mobile Source Air Toxic regulations, based on the California Air Resources Board's regulations. [15]
  2. They must meet the requirements of the Children's Gasoline Burn Prevention Act. [16]

These new regulations do not apply to OSHA-approved metal safety containers, but rather to the common red plastic, portable gas cans. The regulations apply only to newly manufactured petrol cans, and there is no requirement on the part of users to discard their existing cans or to upgrade, although the EPA provides informational resources for implementing community Gas Can Exchange Programs. [17]

Furthermore, in the state of California, the following colours are mandated: [18]

Per ASTM F852, the particular shades should be "medium yellow" and "medium blue". [19]

Current European regulations

The transportation of dangerous goods (which includes liquid fuels) within Europe is governed by the UN European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR). [20] The term "jerrican" is defined within Chapter 1.2 of the 2011 ADR as "a metal or plastics packaging of rectangular or polygonal cross-section with one or more orifices", a definition which includes the traditional jerrycan but which also covers a wide range of other packagings.

The ADR sets performance standards for packaging and specifies what standard of packaging is required for each type of dangerous good, including petrol and diesel fuels. The traditional jerrycan is available in UN-marked approved versions which satisfy the requirements of the ADR.

Related Research Articles

Gallon Units of volume

The gallon is a unit of measurement for volume and fluid capacity in both the US customary units and the British imperial systems of measurement. Three significantly different sizes are in current use:

Gasoline Transparent, petroleum-derived liquid that is used primarily as a fuel

Gasoline or petrol is a transparent, petroleum-derived flammable liquid that is used primarily as a fuel in most spark-ignited internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. On average, a 160-liter (42-U.S.-gallon) barrel of crude oil can yield up to about 72 liters of gasoline after processing in an oil refinery, depending on the crude oil assay and on what other refined products are also extracted. The characteristic of a particular gasoline blend to resist igniting too early is measured by its octane rating, which is produced in several grades. Tetraethyl lead and other lead compounds, once widely used to increase octane rating, are no longer used in most areas. Other chemicals are frequently added to gasoline to improve chemical stability and performance characteristics, control corrosiveness, and provide fuel system cleaning. Gasoline may contain oxygenating (oxygen-enhancing) chemicals such as ethanol, MTBE, or ETBE to improve combustion.

Petrol engine Internal combustion engine designed to run on gasoline

Petrol engine or gasoline engine is an internal combustion engine with spark-ignition, designed to run on petrol (gasoline) and similar volatile fuels.

Barrel Hollow cylindrical container

A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical container with a bulging center, longer than it is wide. They are traditionally made of wooden staves and bound by wood or metal hoops. The word vat is often used for large containers for liquids, usually alcoholic beverages; a small barrel or cask is known as a keg.

Operation Pluto Undersea oil pipeline operation in World War II

Operation Pluto was an operation by British engineers, oil companies and the British Armed Forces to construct submarine oil pipelines under the English Channel in support of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy during the Second World War.

Drum (container)

A drum is a cylindrical shipping container used for shipping bulk cargo. Drums can be made of steel, dense paperboard, or plastic, and are generally used for the transportation and storage of liquids and powders. Drums are often stackable, and have dimensions designed for efficient warehouse and logistics use. This type of packaging is frequently certified for transporting dangerous goods. Proper shipment requires the drum to comply with all applicable regulations.

Drop tank External tanks used to carry extra fuel

In aviation, a drop tank is used to describe auxiliary fuel tanks externally carried by aircraft. A drop tank is expendable and often jettisonable. External tanks are commonplace on modern military aircraft and occasionally found in civilian ones, although the latter are less likely to be discarded except in the event of emergency.

Fuel tank

A fuel tank is a safe container for flammable fluids. Though any storage tank for fuel may be so called, the term is typically applied to part of an engine system in which the fuel is stored and propelled or released into an engine. Fuel tanks range in size and complexity from the small plastic tank of a butane lighter to the multi-chambered cryogenic Space Shuttle external tank.

Gas cylinder Cylindrical container for storing pressurised gas

A gas cylinder is a pressure vessel for storage and containment of gases at above atmospheric pressure. High-pressure gas cylinders are also called bottles. Inside the cylinder the stored contents may be in a state of compressed gas, vapor over liquid, supercritical fluid, or dissolved in a substrate material, depending on the physical characteristics of the contents. A typical gas cylinder design is elongated, standing upright on a flattened bottom end, with the valve and fitting at the top for connecting to the receiving apparatus.


A keg is a small barrel. Traditionally, a wooden keg is made by a cooper and used to transport items such as nails, gunpowder, and a variety of liquids.

Tank truck

A tank truck, gas truck, fuel truck, or tanker truck or tanker, is a motor vehicle designed to carry liquids or gases on roads. The largest such vehicles are similar to railroad tank cars which are also designed to carry liquid loads. Many variants exist due to the wide variety of liquids that can be transported. Tank trucks tend to be large; they may be insulated or non-insulated; pressurized or non-pressurized; and designed for single or multiple loads. Some are semi-trailer trucks. They are difficult to drive and highly susceptible to rollover due to their high center of gravity, and potentially the free surface effect of liquids sloshing in a partially filled tank.

Intermediate bulk container

Intermediate bulk containers are reusable, multi-use industrial-grade containers engineered for the mass handling, transport, and storage of liquids, semi-solids, pastes, or solids. The two main categories of IBC tanks are flexible IBCs and rigid IBCs.

A shipping container is a container with strength suitable to withstand shipment, storage, and handling. Shipping containers range from large reusable steel boxes used for intermodal shipments to the ubiquitous corrugated boxes. In the context of international shipping trade, "container" or "shipping container" is virtually synonymous with "intermodal freight container," a container designed to be moved from one mode of transport to another without unloading and reloading.

Flame fougasse Anti-personnel and anti-tank mine

A flame fougasse is a type of mine or improvised explosive device which uses an explosive charge to project burning liquid onto a target. The flame fougasse was developed by the Petroleum Warfare Department in Britain as an anti-tank weapon during the invasion crisis of 1940. During that period, about 50,000 flame fougasse barrels were deployed in some 7,000 batteries, mostly in southern England and a little later at 2,000 sites in Scotland. Although never used in combat in Britain, the design saw action later in Greece.

The Petroleum Warfare Department (PWD) was an organisation established in Britain in 1940 in response to the invasion crisis during World War II, when it appeared that Germany would invade the country. The department was initially tasked with developing the uses of petroleum as a weapon of war and it oversaw the introduction of a wide range of flame warfare weapons. Later in the war, the department was instrumental in the creation of the Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation that cleared runways of fog allowing the landing of aircraft returning from bombing raids over Germany in poor visibility; and Operation Pluto which installed prefabricated fuel pipelines between England and France soon after the Allied Invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

Gasoline pump machine at a filling station that is used to pump fuels

A gasoline pump is a machine at a filling station that is used to pump gasoline (petrol), diesel, or other types of liquid fuel into vehicles. Gasoline pumps are also known as bowsers or petrol bowsers, petrol pumps, or gas pumps.


The flimsy, officially known as the Petrol, Oil and Water can, was a World War II fuel container used by the British Army. They held 4 imperial gallons of fuel, which allowed them to be moved by a single person.

Package handle Packaging component

Package handles, or carriers, are used to help people use packaging. They are designed to simplify and to improve the ergonomics of lifting and carrying packages. Handles on consumer packages add convenience and help facilitate use and pouring. The effect of handles on package material costs and the packaging line efficiencies are also critical. A handle can be defined as “an accessory attached to a container or part for the purpose of holding or carrying.” Sometimes a handle can be used to hang a package for dispensing or use.

Packaging waste

Packaging waste, the part of the waste that consists of packaging and packaging material, is a major part of the total global waste, and the major part of the packaging waste consists of single-use plastic food packaging, a hallmark of throwaway culture. Notable examples for which the need for regulation was recognized early, are "containers of liquids for human consumption", i.e. plastic bottles, tetrapaks and the like. In Europe, the Germans top the list of packaging waste producers with more than 220 kilos of packaging per capita.

Fuel container

A fuel container is a container such as a steel can, bottle, drum, etc. for transporting, storing, and dispensing various fuels.


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