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Crusader tank being refueled from a 4 gallon petrol tin
Spitfire being refueled from 4 gallon petrol tins at Luqa, Malta

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 (18 l; 4.8 US gal) of fuel, which allowed them to be moved by a single person.[1][2]

The flimsy was well known for leaking; when used in the North African Campaign, some flimsies leaked 20%, and in some cases over 50% of the fuel they carried over a journey.[3][4] One quartermaster reported that his 70,000 imperial gallons (320,000 l; 84,000 US gal) of fuel had been reduced to just 30,000 imperial gallons (140,000 l; 36,000 US gal) over the journey - and was informed that even this was a "good effort".[5]

The problem with the containers was the crimped or soldered seams, which easily split during transportation, especially over the rocky desert terrain in North Africa.[1] Containers were stacked on top of each other during shipping, and the upper layers crushed those below, resulting in fuel flowing freely in the bilges, with the resulting poisoning and fire risks.[2]

The favoured use by soldiers for the flimsy was as a small stove which could be used to heat meals and tea for the crews.[4] A soldier would cut the flimsy in half, fill the bottom half with petrol-soaked sand and balance the other half on top, filled with water. This was known as a Benghazi Boiler or Benghazi Burner, after the embattled town of Benghazi.[2]

Both 4 gallon flimsies and the original 2 gallon cans were replaced by the jerrycan, copied from the much better German design of fuel container. This happened gradually from late 1940, first from captured stock of German jerrycans, then with British-made copies.


  1. ^ a b Norris, John (2012-09-01). World War II Trucks and Tanks. History Press. ISBN 9780752490731.
  2. ^ a b c Hanson, Jonathan (2012-07-17). "Irreducible imperfection: The flimsy". Exploring Overland. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  3. ^ Dowling, Timothy C. (2005-01-01). Personal Perspectives: World War II. ABC-CLIO. p. 70. ISBN 9781851095759.
  4. ^ a b Jarymowycz, Roman (2008-12-17). Tank Tactics: From Normandy to Lorraine. Stackpole Books. p. 102. ISBN 9781461751786.
  5. ^ Deighton, Len (2007-11-01). Blood, Tears and Folly: An Objective Look at World War II. Random House. p. 299. ISBN 9780099520498.