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The Jerry Can

Updated on August 16, 2014

Unsung Hero

The jerrycan was invented by the Germans during a secret project ordered by Hitler. The Germans had thousands of jerrycans stockpiled by 1939 in anticipation of war.

The 5 gallon military gas can -- often called a "jeep can", "Gerry Can", "Jerry Can", "army gas can" or "Blitz Can" -- is one of the most ubiquitous items of military hardware in the world.

Image is in the Public Domain

Made from pressed steel, the robust fuel container was designed to hold 20 litres of fuel.

Jerry cans are not only ever-present during military operations, but you will see them regularly in civilian life, mounted on a tow truck, in someone's garage, or on the back of an off-road rig.

Today similar designs are used 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 British Were Impressed

At the beginning of the Second World War, the British Army were equipped with simple rectangular fuel containers: a 2 Imperial gallon (9 liters) container made of pressed steel and a 4 gallon (18 liters) container made from tin plate. While the 9 liter - 2 gallon containers were relatively strong, they were expensive to produce. The 18 liter - 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 fuel fires.

When the British Army first saw the German fuel cans during the invasion of Norway in 1940, the British immediately saw the advantages of the superior design. The containers had three handles on them, which allowed easy handling by one or two people, or to be moved bucket brigade-style; the sides of the can were marked with cross-like indentations that allowed the contents of the can to expand; when filled, the cans retained an air pocket so that they would float on water; and 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. 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 gasoline. The can was welded, and had a gasket for a leak-proof mouth. The British used cans captured from the "gerries" (Germans) - hence "gerrycans" or "jerrycans" - in preference to their own containers as much as possible.


Design Specs - U.S. military steel jerry

  • Length 13 3/4 in.
  • Width 6 3/4 in.
  • Height 18 3/4 in.
  • Weight (empty) 10.5 lb.
  • Weight (full w/gasoline) 41.0 lb.
  • Liquid Capacity 5.05 gal. or 20 litres
  • Volume 1 cubic ft.

How many Jerry Cans do you have in your workshop/garage?

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