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January 31, 2021

Early Cluster Bomb: The Molotov Bread Basket

The RRAB-3, nicknamed the Molotov bread basket (after Vyacheslav M. Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister) was a Soviet-made droppable bomb dispenser that combined a large high-explosive charge with a cluster of incendiary bombs. It was used against the cities of Finland during the Winter War of 1939–1940. The bomb consisted of a cylinder 2.25 meters (7.4 ft) long and 0.9 meters (3.0 ft) in diameter.

As it fell from an aircraft, a small turbine on the nose turned to release a spring loaded casing which, on opening, scattered 100 or more incendiary bombs; the main HE charge in the tail of the weapon continued to fall as a conventional bomb.

Other descriptions make no mention of a main charge and instead describe a large cylinder with vanes at the back that open out when the weapon is dropped. The vanes cause the bomb to spin and this has the effect of opening the sides and scattering the submunitions by centrifugal force.

Molotov diagram

In 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov claimed the Soviet Union was not dropping bombs on Finland, but merely airlifting food to starving Finns. The Finns were not starving, and they dubbed the RRAB-3 cluster bomb “Molotov’s bread basket.” They also named the improvised incendiary device that they used to counter Soviet tanks, commonly known as the Molotov cocktail, “a drink to go with the food.”

The Soviets had several versions: RRAB-1, RRAB-2, RRAB-3, with capacities of 1000, 500, and 250 kg respectively, each capable of holding various types of submunitions including HE, incendiary, and chemical.


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