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"Blowing up a car is a lot harder than it looks in the movies. Puncturing both sides of a fuel tank to draw in the proper amount of oxygen is a million-to-one shot. Thankfully, I'm a pretty good shot."
Cyclops, X-Men

In fiction, shooting a fuel tank makes it explode. This makes for an effective tactic in battle, as it's filled with nitro, in addition to the gas.

This myth was busted by MythBusters, as they proved that in most cases it simply will not work. A real-life fuel tank explosion was only possible when they used a minigun armed with incendiary rounds which, suffice to say, is generally unlikely. Besides, if you have a minigun then you're not going to need to shoot the fuel tank anyway. Even if (against all odds, logic, and reason) the fuel tank does explode, the result is rarely the spectacular car-flipping fireball that Hollywood promises. An ordinary passenger car's gas tank with unleaded gasoline will produce a "POP" and a quick (and anticlimactic) flash of flames underneath the vehicle with all four tires remaining firmly planted on the ground, though the resulting fire may consume the vehicle pretty quickly. Diesel pretty much won't blow at all unless you light a fire under it and keep it burning until it causes a BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion), which will take a while to accomplish. Jet fuel's extremely-high ignition temperature causes it to behave a lot like diesel. Avgas (aviation gasoline, the super-high-octane blend used in piston-engined aircraft) can blow up like this (with a very Hollywoodish fireball), which is why airplanes since the 1920s have things like self-sealing fuel tanks and inert-gas-pressurization for their tanks.

It is important to note that, while conventional bullets or even tracer bullets do not often generate the heat required or have enough surface area to diffuse this heat fast enough to ignite fuels like diesel or jet fuel, white phosphorus rounds, like those shot from the Lahti L-39 Finnish 20mm Anti-tank/Anti-aircraft sniper rifle (more commonly known as the "Elephant Gun") or the minigun wielded by the Mythbusters, are more than capable of both penetrating the outer shell and fuel-tank wall of the vehicle they are hitting and delivering enough heat to cause an explosion. Of course, the behavior of the vehicle during the explosion is still the same, aside from getting quite a significant jolt from the impact of a 20mm rifle round traveling at 800m/s (similar to the muzzle velocities of some naval cannons).

This is about deliberately shooting a fuel tank. For vehicles that explode on any kind of incidental impact, see Every Car Is a Pinto. This trope also has some overlap with Bullet Sparks; see that page for the fairly limited number of ways this can be a Justified Trope. When this happens to a flamethrower's fuel tank, this is Flamethrower Backfire. If shooting or otherwise rupturing a pressurized tank sends it streaking away like a meteor, that's Gas-Cylinder Rocket. Compare Pop the Tires for a more practical method of disabling a vehicle.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Girls und Panzer: Subverted in the practice match against Saint Gloriana. The Volleyball Team's Type 89 ambushes a Matilda II from behind and shoots its fuel tank, which explodes in a large fireball. However, once the smoke and flames clear, the Matilda II is completely unharmed (which is Truth in Television, see the Real Life entry below) and returns fire, disabling the Volleyball Team.

    Comic Books 
  • In Jon Sable, Freelance #18, Ana decks Jon with a kick and runs off, holding a transmitter. She gets into a car and Jon fires his Hand Cannon out the window and hits the car, igniting the fuel tank. Ana presses her detonator and the rocket launcher fires its rocket, which turns out to be a heat seeker and swerves to hit her burning wreck, utterly destroying it and her.
  • Judge Dredd: Averted in the Spin-Off, The Streets of Dan Francisco. Francisco gets into a firefight with some perps and shoots a fuel tanker behind them. When they're drenched in fuel and start complaining, Francisco convinces them to surrender by threatening them with an Incendiary round from his lawgiver. It works.
  • The Punisher: Garth Ennis' rebooted series has Frank blowing up a car with nothing more than a few handgun bullets. At least it pays lip service to reality by having him almost empty his clip with direct hits to the tank while his internal monologue hoped for one to spark.
  • Sin City had a scene in which the Old Town girls opened fire on a cop car with machine guns. Eventually, it blew up, implying this trope.
  • X-Men: Quite possibly justified, since Cyclops is a pretty good shot with his eye beams. However, he does discuss it, saying that blowing up a car is a lot harder than movies make it look. Though Cyclops's optic blasts are explicitly kinetic energy without any heat, so they shouldn't be able to ignite anything.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cars 2: At the very beginning, Finn McMissile launches a bomb at several oil barrels while escaping the Lemons' oil rig in order to stave off his archnemeses, the Lemons.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Bourne Identity: Bourne shoots a propane tank with a shotgun to distract the enemy/provide some smoke cover.
    • A particularly egregious example of Shotguns Are Just Better. You might ding the paint on a propane tank with shotgun, but that’s about all you could do.
  • The Colony (2013): When Mason makes his Last Stand against the horde of cannibals, he shoots a propane tank in the room with him to take them with him.
  • In Drive Angry, Milton tricks a car of cultists into jumping over the top of him, and then shoots the fuel tank as the car is overhead. It explodes into a fireball.
  • Escape Plan: While hanging from the helicopter ladder, Breslin fires several shots into a group of fuel drums sitting on the deck of the ship: directly under the platform Hobbes is standing on. Hobbes looks confused till he notices the spreading pool of fuel under the drums. Breslin then fires a final shot that ignites the whole lot into a gigantic fireball.
  • In Headless Horseman, the sheriff shoots the gas tank of his own truck to stop the teens escaping: blowing up the truck and killing himself in the process.
  • In Iron Eagle, Doug Masters blows up an oil refinery as part of his scheme to force the bad guys to release his father. Cluster munitions will make fuel tanks burn quite nicely.
  • Italia A Mano Armata: Played straight, even though it takes seven bullets to make it happen.
  • The Jackal: The assassination involves a remote-controlled gun in the back of a station wagon. A police sniper destroys the weapon (and the vehicle, and everything around it) by firing a shot into the fuel tank, then a second shot to ignite the leaking fuel after a sizeable puddle has formed.
  • James Bond:
    • In Casino Royale (2006), Bond makes his escape in the opening sequence by shooting a propane tank with a handgun. Later averted when an airport fuel tanker is riddled with holes and weeping fuel everywhere but doesn't burn.
    • Quantum of Solace: Near the end, Bond sets off a hydrogen tank in this manner. That one gets a pass, though, as the building was already on fire.
  • Last Action Hero: Subverted. When Jack Slater enters the real world, he chases Benedict until Benedict hops into a taxi. When Slater shoots at the cab, he's surprised to find that it doesn't explode.
  • Lone Hero: When bikers are circling Gus's trailer, Gus shoots the fuel tank on one of the bikes, causing it to explode.
  • Lone Wolf McQuade: Justified: the opening scene has Chuck Norris loading his sniper rifle from an ammunition case of 7.62mm Armor-Piercing Incendiary rounds.
  • The Matrix Reloaded: Played straight (and in slow motion) by Morpheus during the freeway chase. Strange, when you consider this is averted in the first movie, though that was with a helicopter and not a car. The only effect shooting the fuel tank had was an empty tank a few moments later. Hell, it was averted a few minutes earlier when Morpheus' Cadillac was shot about 1500 times from all directions during the car chase, which must have hit the fuel tank at least once, and nothing happens to it.
  • The Mechanic (2011): Justified. The shooter lets the fuel spill out over the ground before igniting it with a shot from his pistol.
  • Shoot 'Em Up: Subverted in the opening gunfight. Mr. Smith is trapped in a garage by a large number of mooks, so he aims at the tank underneath a car and punctures it. Instead of fuel bursting into flames, the tank leaks oil which Smith uses to slide along the floor and shoot all the mooks.
  • Showdown in Little Tokyo. After Kenner flips a car on its side with his bare hands, he shoots the fuel tank as he escapes to make it explode.
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2's "Bingo!" scene (which immediately follows the infamous "GARBAGE DAY!").
  • Speed: Averted when the cop trying to defuse the bomb by suspending himself near the undercarriage of the speeding bus accidentally stabs the fuel tank with a screwdriver... which only causes the bus to leak fuel.
  • Terminator:
    • The Terminator: Kyle Reese crouches down and fires his shotgun at the gas tank underneath a car in a vain effort to slow down the T-800.
    • Terminator 2: Judgment Day: A gas tank does explode after a crash, but that's only because a live wire sparked next to the leaking fuel. (Also impossible, diesel fuel doesn't explode even when a blowtorch is pointed at it.) Averted later during the Cyberdyne shootout, where the T-800's minigun does not ignite any of the police cars it's fired at.
    • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines: The T-800 fires 750 rounds into the police cars, but only one of them explodes. All police cars have a serious amount of bullet holes in them after the shooting. Maybe the Terminator doesn't like the Chevrolet Caprice.
    • In Terminator Salvation, he shoots a tanker with a shotgun in an attempt to stop a harvester. It doesn't work. However it did cause the tanker to start leaking, and he then uses a flare on the puddles of fuel, which proved to be MUCH more effective.
  • Thelma & Louise: Not just the fuel tank but the whole damn truck. Subverted in that the girls were actually playing at shooting his tyres out, one by one.

  • Alectors Choice: Mykel detonates a barrel of oil being dropped on a battering ram with a bullet. Subverted in that he had to use magic powers to actually make the barrel explode. His superior (Who didn't know about the magic) later told him that he was extremely lucky: The odds of actually starting a fire with a bullet are low to the point of virtual impossibility.
  • Dreamcatcher: this is how Henry blows up one of the two Hummers to kill the final shit-weasel. Double-subverted, since at first nothing happens and Henry even laments that in Real Life this kind of thing apparently doesn't work the way it does in Hollywood movies, but then fuel tank explodes after all.
  • Generation Kill: Corporal Burris gets assigned to take down an Iraqi T-72 tank, with the expectation that his anti-tank missile, being incapable of penetrating the tank's hull, would be used to blow off one of the treads and stop it from escaping (while, presumably, a more permanent solution is devised). Upon getting closer, he notices the rear-mounted fuel tanks and decides to target those instead. The Iraqi tankers apparently did not drain them before entering combat, leading to the missile causing a huge explosion that blows the tank to pieces and knocks Burris flat on his ass from the force.
  • Rated R (2014): Sid destroys Lily's car this way. Lampshaded when she outright tells him Mythbusters proved you can't blow up a car like that. Then he does it anyway. He just uses a regular .45 handgun.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: Averted when one of the Cousins shoots a parked truck's fuel tank — and it just results in gas spilling from the tank. After a while, however, he tosses a lit cigarette into some nearby dry grass, and after the brush catches fire...
  • Burn Notice:
    • Subverted. Turns out that shooting a car's gas tank mostly just results in an empty gas tank. Shooting a gas tank with plastic bags full of acetone peroxide taped to it, on the other hand...
    • In another episode, shooting a propane tank merely results in a cloud of cold gas, unless there happens to be an open flame nearby...
  • Cannon: Cannon does this to his own car in "Girl in the Electric Coffin"; causing it to blow up and drive out the hitman who was taking cover behind it.
  • Due South: This is the fate of one of Vecchio's Buick Rivieras. A Discussed Trope, the characters have to figure out just the right part of the vehicle to shoot in order to set it off.
  • Hogan's Heroes:
    • In one episode, Carter attempted to shoot a German fuel truck with a flaming arrow as it passed by the camp. He shot the arrow into the wall beside the window instead. Newkirk took the bow from him and did it properly.
    • Invoked in another episode as part of a clever ploy by the POWs to save a defector when they make Major Hochstetter the man was escaping in car they had rigged with a time bomb. When Hochstetter attempted to disable the car by shooting out the tires, the bomb went off at the same time, leading Hochstetter to think he had shot the gas tank instead and accidentally blew up the defector.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Averted when Mac and Charlie attempt to fake their deaths to avoid Charlie's father. They decide to stage a car crash and destroy the car so that the Police will think their bodies were incinerated in the explosion. When the crash leaves the car mostly intact, they try shooting the gas tank and using a grenade. Neither idea works.
  • Kadenang Ginto: In the final episode, outgunned and surrounded in the middle of a bridge, a defiant Daniela Mondragon takes cover in an SUV as both the police and relatives are urging her to surrender peacefully. Daniela refuses, leading to a brief shootout which results in the cops perforating the fuel tanks and thus blowing up the vehicle. Daniela somehow manages to survive the encounter, Niki Lauda-style Facial Horror and all.
  • Lost: in "The Variable", Jack fires at a gas tank to escape Dharma security. Averted in season 4, though. The helicopter survives a massive firefight with several leaking holes in the gas tank but never explodes.
  • MythBusters bust this until they try special rounds, and a lot of them. They still don't get an explosion, just a fire. They also test the "explode a gas cylinder with a bullet" variant and fail completely. They have to detonate explosives under the cylinder to make the gas catch fire.
  • NCIS: Done by Gibbs in one episode to take out a heavily-armed suspect who's shooting at his team. (After he saves the suspect's dog, of course.)
  • Person of Interest. As Reese drives away from him in a taxi, a government assassin armed with a bolt-action rifle fires two aimed shots; one to puncture the fuel tank, the other to ignite it. The assassin was mentioned as being equipped with armour-piercing ammunition in a previous incident, so it's likely he used the appropriate incendiary round this time.
  • Sense8: Justified. Kala shoots at the fuel tank of a car, but it doesn't explode — Wolfgang even sighs that cars don't explode like in movies. She was only shooting at it to get the gasoline to trickle down towards them, which she then lit on fire...causing the car to blow up.
  • Torchwood: Children of Earth: Done when the bad guys are pursuing, Gwen uses this tactic to buy themselves some time. It works.
  • The Transporter has a variant where Frank Martin rams a hydrogen-fueled car, then throws his car lighter out the window as he drives off, igniting the fuel.
  • Vagabond: Tae-ung manages to take out a good chunk of Lily the assassin's hit squad by shooting some fuel tanks that just happen to be there, sitting on a flatbed truck in the street.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Ork Burna Boyz carry their flamers' fuel in large tanks strapped to their backs, and prefer to haul around as large a tank as possible to be able to flame for a long while before running dry. This carries a significant risk for them, though, as their fuel is extremely volatile and, should an enemy round find the Ork's tank, will go up in a violent and very lethal explosion.

    Video Games 
  • Borderlands: In the DLC The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, Lance Troopers carry fuel tanks on their backs, which explode if you deal enough damage. Also seen in the original game, where Jakobs fuel storage tanks will explode if shot up enough. Strangely enough, you can't do this to the cars.
  • Command & Conquer:
    • The Red Alert series has missions which feature explosive fuel barrels that are often conveniently placed next to key targets.
    • The second game of the Tiberian series does this with less-explosive ammo crates.
  • The Far Cry series of games have this as a gameplay element, usually to show off the dynamic fire effects in-game. Dotted around enemy outposts and towns are a variety of tanks to shoot, ranging from the standard Exploding Barrel to a large propane tank. It should be noted that some of the tanks don't immediately explode when shot; they rather emit gouts of flame from the bullet holes, or in some cases fly around like rockets before exploding. While Every Car Is a Pinto, they don't blow up when the gas tank is shot, curiously.
  • First Encounter Assault Recon: Flamethrower-wielding enemies in F.E.A.R. 2 can be insta-killed by shooting their backpacks.
  • Final Fantasy Type-0: The Milites Empire has the only real vehicles around, and so Militesi territory tends to have a few fuel tanks lying around for any soldiers who happen to run out of gas. Class Zero can exploit them to create a sizeable explosion by hitting them with any attack. And any attack — not just Fire or Thunder spells, but Blizzard spells, Non-Elemental magic, King's bullets, Cater's magicite pistol, Trey's arrows, or Ace's cards. Or even a melee weapon from the other eight members of Class Zero, although that tends to add to their casualties.
  • In From the Depths, fuel tanks will explode when destroyed, though the primary advantage of attacking fuel tank is to cause the enemy to run out of fuel and lose power rather than for the explosion itself, which is fairly weak compared to an ammunition explosion. On the other hand, mobile fuel refineries go off like a bomb when damaged, tipped over, or allowed to generate excessive dangerous gas byproducts.
  • Gears of War: The first game has the player shoot propane tanks to light paths to get around the Kryll. The second one has the first battle against Locust take place near a pile of these, shooting these will usually clear the area of any enemy (and you are far enough away from them when this battle happens, anyway...).
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas allows you to instantly detonate a car if you aim for the gas cap. Even if you can clearly see the rest of the tank, as on lorries, only the cap will set it off.
  • Half-Life had a warhead that could be shot to explode and get a Non-Standard Game Over, and at least Half-Life 2 and the episodes have Exploding Barrels.
  • Halo: From Halo 2 onward, shooting a Ghost's gas tank will cause it to explode. Of course, a Ghost's "gas" is actually pressurized hot plasma.
  • Left 4 Dead has fuel canisters and propane tanks that can be set down and shot to create a wall/sea of flames to kill the infected with.
  • Lethal Enforcers: Subverted. While you could shoot the gas tank cap on a car stage, doing so only caused flames to shoot out for a while instead of destroying the car.
  • Mad Max (2015) uses this as a gameplay mechanic. Pulling your shotgun on an enemy vehicle is a good way to destroy it more easily. Helps that most vehicles have very exposed fuel tanks. The only real drawback is that shotgun ammo is hard enough to come by until you develop ammo benches for strongholds and have a bandolier large enough to carry more rounds. It may be justified to some extent in this case, as the post-apocalypse vehicles are running on very crudely refined "guzzoline," which might be closer to avgas than unleaded.
  • In Mafia II, shooting the fuel caps causes cars to explode reliably after 2 shots with any weapon. Shooting right next to the fuel cap, or into the fuel tank from any other angle has no effect.
  • Mass Effect: A viable tactic. In the first game, there are little plasma, ion, and cryo tanks all over a ton of different battlefields, and an occasional big one with fuel in it. While facing Blood Pack Pyros in the second game, shoot the (rather obvious) tank with a lower damage weapon and will light then explode. Shoot it with a high powered weapon such as the Widow sniper rifle or zap them with an Overload or Incinerate tech attack and it explodes immediately.
  • River Raid: Fuel tanks are high-scoring targets in the two games, and they explode when you shoot them (but won't destroy any nearby enemies).
  • Sniper Elite: You can cause enemy trucks and tanks to explode by sniping the caps on their fuel tanks; it's pretty much the only way to defeat a tank. As with the San Andreas example, this is despite the fact that you can very clearly see the entire fuel tank on all these vehicles, though in this case, the fuel tanks in question all seem to be made of metal thick enough for bullets to bounce off harmlessly. It's also how Karl destroys the last V2 rocket. You even have to wait for the enemies to finish fueling it because only a full tank will create an explosion big enough to wipe out every last trace of the deadly chemical agent it's carrying.
  • Star Fox 64: In the train level, shooting a fuel car will detonate all adjacent train cars.
  • In Time Crisis 2 you can clear an area of mooks by shooting a parked oil tanker in the background.
  • True Crime has an unlockable feature that allows you to lock on to gas tanks in Bullet Time for easier destruction.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has a few sequences where Nathan shoots propane tanks in order to cause explosions. One instance where he's hurling them at the enemy and shooting them in the air was a big pain for Nolan North who was performing the motion capture and voice acting at the same time. He had to repeatedly hurl an empty propane tank, which isn't exactly lightweight, across the studio to act out the sequence.
  • Valkyria Chronicles: The Boiler of a Steampunk tank does this, though that's not the fuel tank but rather the unarmored radiator. The principle is still the same: shoot it for massive damage, or even semi-decent damage from small-arms.
  • In Warframe, maps are littered with explosive canisters that will detonate nigh-instantly upon being shot, clubbed, cut open, or otherwise. This can be a good thing (shooting a canister to blow up and knock over enemies near it), or a bad thing (knocking yourself down by hitting one absentmindedly while surrounded will ensure a swift death).
  • World of Tanks: Shooting another tank's fuel tank won't make it explode unless your gun was actually enough to kill it but, if the enemy doesn't die from it, it will immobilize it until its crew can fix it. This often has he side effect of setting the tank on fire which, with the current patch, will randomly damage modules, injure crew members and possibly cook the ammo for massive damage. Soviet tanks are especially vulnerable to this tactic, due to many of them mounting external fuel tanks. One shell and it explodes into flames, exactly like how diesel fuel doesn't.

    Web Original 
  • Averted in The Hire story "Ticker". A helicopter gunship shoots up the Driver's car and punctures the fuel tank, but while there's a Vapor Trail that ignites the Driver speeds away before his car goes up. However, the punctured fuel tank does add to the subsequent Race Against the Clock, as he races to get the MacGuffin to its destination before his fuel runs out.
  • We're Alive: Subverted twice. First in Chpater 13 when Burt, Angel, and Riley try to use gas canisters as explosives to ward off zombies while they try to get a fire truck started. The tanks don't ignite when Burt tries to shoot them. (Lampshaded by Datu who told them it wouldn't work before they tried it.) The second instance happens in Chapter 24, when the Mallers have a fuel truck rigged with explosives driving toward the Tower and Burt tries to blow it up while it's still far enough away to not cause any damage, but once again his shots fail to blow it up. (Again lampshaded, this time by Angel who screams "This is just like the gas cans all over again!"
  • The Kalashnikov Group of AK-47 notoriety did similar tests to the MythBusters above, with different types of fuels and bullets. And as with the MythBusters, the results were far from explosive.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer: Subverted. In the episode "The Rules of Extraction", Archer tries to shoot a gasoline tank with an M-16 in order to set a fire to scare some alligators. It doesn't work, the tank just end up with some holes in it.
  • In DC Showcase: Green Arrow, Merlyn tries to kill Green Arrow and Princess Perdita by shooting a flaming arrow into a fuel tanker which then explodes.
  • Justice League: Vigilante runs his motorcycle off a hill at the enemy, jumps off, then while flying backwards in mid-air shoots the gas tank with both revolvers akimbo to make it explode at precisely the right time to hit the enemy. Remember, this is an episode devoted to the Badass Normals of the Justice League. Totally a Moment of Awesome for Vigilante.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • "Duel of the Droids": Rex takes out a group of battle droids by shooting a fuel cell hurled at the droids by Anakin.
  • In "The Mandalore Plot", Obi-Wan defends himself against Mandalorian insurgents by shooting a jetpack he threw at them.
  • In "Missing in Action", Gregor blows up some battle droids by shooting several containers of explosive Rhydonium fuel.
  • Star Wars Rebels: In "Out of Darkness", Hera and Sabine, stranded at the abandoned Fort Anaxes during an eclipse with ravenous, light-avoiding creatures, set up a minefield of rhydonium canisters that they shoot out to destroy waves of the creatures while waiting for rescue.

    Real Life 
  • Aversion: Interestingly, most dangerously pressurized material is kept in cylinders which tend to not only be easier to store, but also tend to burst with a vertically aligned rupture which produces little shrapnel. Spherical containers are more likely to explode. This is due to a principle known as hoop stress.
  • The preferred way for many fire departments to deal with acetylene tanks (and some other compressed gas cylinders) in a fire is, in fact, to shoot them to keep them from exploding. Shooting them lets the gas out in a semi-controlled manner, and the released gas can be burned off instead of collecting and possibly causing an explosion. Furthermore, if the tank isn't already surrounded by fire, FD manuals state that you need to keep shooting at the gas cloud - with tracer rounds - after you've already put a hole in the tank to ignite the gas.
  • Most definitely Truth in Television, if not for your average gun, nor your average fuel tank. Various military forces often utilize incendiary rounds for the purpose of setting fuel reserves alight, while various vehicles can be surprisingly easy to set aflame, either due to bad design, or a design necessity, such as the highly flammable fuel and lightweight materials used by jet aircraft. A hit to a fuel tank with an incendiary, or occasionally even a high explosive round tends to lead to quite the fireworks display—the heat of the blaze is often enough to set ammunition off as well, completely wrecking the aforementioned vehicle and usually killing everyone inside.
    • The Soviet BMP-2 armored personnel carrier/infantry fighting vehicle was notorious for its poorly-protected fuel tanks mounted around and above the passenger hatch. Although rifle rounds wouldn't do it, and the fuel wouldn't necessarily explode per se, any hit from a heavy weapon to the rear of the vehicle could flood the passenger compartment with flammable liquid, barbecuing ten poor Slavic bastards inside with no way out.
    • The most common way for aircraft carriers to sink in WWII - by far - was by igniting the vapors from ruptured aviation gasoline tanks, which would lead to a colossal explosion and lots of fires. Generally averted with the fuel for the ships' own engines, as bunker oil is inert enough that if that's on fire, so is everything else.
    • Jet fuel is way less flammable than regular piston-engine fuel. It's more akin to diesel than gasoline. The problem isn't that it explodes, but that once the tank is punctured and the fuel ignited, the plane is now hemorrhaging fuel, and quite likely the burning fuel is igniting other parts of the aircraft, such as the control systems, structural components, or the cockpit.
      • Indeed, the plane with the worst reputation for catching fire when hit was the Zero, Japan's famous WWII fighter. To give it its excellent maneuverability in dogfights, the designers didn't include any armor or self-sealing fuel tanks and used cloth instead of metal to cover the exterior. This combination meant that only a few bullets in the fuel tank could easily set it on fire and destroy the plane.
      • Early marks of Me-109 had a similar problem; the internal tanks were properly self-sealing, but the expendable drop-tanks were not. Most Luftwaffe pilots flat-out refused to fly with them attached, which often put them at a marked disadvantage when escorting bombers, as they'd often be perilously close to "bingo fuel"note  by the time they reached targets in London and the Midlands.
      • This was, in essence, the only reliable way to shoot down airships and balloons during World War I. Simply shooting them full of holes (hard enough given that many airships of the era could fly higher than airplanes) didn't really work because it was more akin to trying to sink a ship by punching a bunch of little holes in it. Instead, pilots had to use incendiary ammo, which still wasn't always effective at lighting off the hydrogen. And of course, trying the same trick on helium airships and balloons in World War II was even less effective since helium is inert and won't ignite.
    • During the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Second Pacific Squadron fell afoul of this due to two reasons: The Imperial Japanese Navy used a type of high explosive with incendiary traits in their shells, and the Russians, lacking friendly bases to resupply from on the way, had their decks piled up with extra coal that they had purchased from merchant ships during their voyage. In this case, it was less a problem of the fuel bunkers being hit, but that extra fuel stored outside the ship's armor protection was hit instead, setting everything else on fire. A similar problem was faced by German tanks in World War II when Allied fighters would use Incendiary ammo to light off drums of extra fuel the tanks carried with them due to their horrible fuel mileage.
  • Richard Marcinko maintains that it can be done, using special tracer ammunition, but in Real Life, it's more effective if there is something in the vehicle that can spark and blow the fuel tank that way, much like the trick in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
  • Of course, the fuel tank doesn't have to explode to kill the occupants of a vehicle. A tank full of holes isn't a tank. A vehicle with no fuel is a dead vehicle. (Excluding heavy tanks which can be a bunker if it ever ran out of fuel.) An airplane with no fuel is, more often than not, a plane crash that just hasn't happened yet. If nothing else, losing a fuel tank can encourage an enemy to break engagement and get away while he still can.
  • Subverted with the WWII British Matilda II tanks. Their external fuel tanks were arranged so they could get shot, blow up, and the tank could still keep fighting.
  • Also subverted by the many protection systems used by warships that used their coal or oil fuel as protective layers.


Video Example(s):


Sniper Elite III

In the intro slash tutorial level "Siege of Tobruk", the game gives Karl Fairburne a target to shoot at: an Opel Blitz truck armed with AA guns. Shooting the fuel tank of this truck is necessary to kill the final artillery spotter hiding behind said truck. Also demonstrated is the series' staple, the sniper bullet cam, which shows the bullet traveling from the rifle to its intended target.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShootTheFuelTank

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