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A metal fuel jerry can is a robust
fuel container made from pressed steel. It was originally designed in
Germany in the 1930s for military use and holds 20 litres
In 1939, an American engineer
named Paul Pleiss had built a vehicle to journey to India with his
German colleague. After building the car, they realized they didn't
Pleiss told American military
officials about the metal fuel jerry cans, but they ignored him.
Without a sample, he realized he couldn't get anywhere. He
eventually got the car shipped to New York by a roundabout method,
and sent a metal fuel jerry can to Washington. The War Department
decided instead to use the WWI ten-gallon metal fuel jerry can with
two screw closures, which required both a wrench and funnel for
At the beginning of the Second World War, the British Army were equipped with simple rectangular fuel containers: a 2 gallon (9 litres) container made of pressed steel and a 4 gallon (18 litres) container made from tin plate. While the 9 litre - 2 gallon containers were relatively strong, they were expensive to produce. The 18 litre - 4 gallon containers, which were mainly manufactured in the third world, were cheap and plentiful but they were not very robust. Consequently they were colloquially known as flimsies.
While adequate for
transportation by road in Europe, the flimsies proved to be
extremely unsatisfactory during the North African Campaign and
severely hampered the operation of the British 8th Army. The
transportation of fuel over rough terrain often resulted in much of
the fuel being lost as the containers were easily punctured. The
resultant leakages also made the transportation vehicles liable to
The sides of the metal fuel jerry can were marked with cross-like indentations that strengthened the metal fuel jerry can while allowing the contents to expand, as did an air pocket under the handles when the metal fuel jerry can was filled correctly. 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 of the metal fuel jerry can was also lined with an impervious plastic, first developed for steel beer barrels that would allow the cans to be used for either water or gasoline. The metal fuel jerry can was welded, and had a gasket for a leak-proof mouth. The British used cans captured from the "Jerries" (Germans) — hence "metal fuel jerry cans" — 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 metal fuel jerry can. Pleiss ordered the second of his three metal fuel jerry cans flown to London.