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PNG images: Jerry Can

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. 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.

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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. 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. 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.

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. The US can could be stacked interchangeably with German or British cans. The weld was replaced with rolled seams which were prone to leakage. For fuel cans, the lining was removed and a wrench and funnel were required. 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. In the European Theatre of Operations alone, over 19,000,000 were required to support US forces by May 1945.

The jerrycan played an important role in ensuring fuel supply to Allied operations. A single standard US 2.5 ton truck could carry 875 gallons of fuel loaded in jerrycans.  US logisticians requested over 1,300,000 per month to replace losses; these cans were provided by US and British manufacturers, but supply could not keep up with demand. Loss of jerrycans in units was severe, with 3,500,000 reported 'lost' in October 1944, for example. 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. 

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).  These fuel containers were subsequently used in all theatres of war around the world. Such was the importance of the cans in the war effort that President Roosevelt 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."