** World War I: national economies economics








World War I: Strategic Industrial Raw Material

American oil industry
Figure 1.-- At the time World War I broke out, the industrial world was in a transition phase from coal to a new fuel--petroleum. Since the industrial revolution coal had been the primary resource fueling industry. At the turn-of the century, a new fuel began to become important--petroleum. America and Britain were making that transition, but Germany was not. America at the time was the only major industrial power that had important oil fields. In fact America was the largest prooducer of oil and petroleum products. Here is an unidentified new refinery, we think somewhere in souther plains, probably Texas. The snapshot is undated, but was taken in the 1910s, prbavly at the time of World War I. Here a nanny is taking care of some of refinery staff children. A uniformed nanny is something that would have been more likely in a big city.

The world at the time of World War I was strategic mismatch. Europe had industrialized, especially Western Europe. Europe had developed sophisticated industrial secors and scientific establosments to support it. But Europe lacked the raw materials neeed by its increasingly advanced industries. Most Eropean countries had coal, but other than coal, other resources were hopelesly scattered across Europe, but mostly overseas. It seems tat the industrialized countries lacked resources and the countries with resoures lacked industry--with one exception. And that was the United States. American not only had the world's largest industrial plant, but most domestic sources of most of the important raw materials needed by its industry as well. Germany did not even have substantial iron deposits for his vaunted steel industry. The one country in Europe that had copius quantities of raw mterials was Russia, , but it was least indusreialized of the great powers. Britain had dealt with the need for raw materials by constructing a vast empire tied together by the Royal Navy which had ruled the waves since Nelson's great victory at Trafalgar (1805). France also built an empire and its raprochment with Britain also had secure access to raw materials. Germany was late to unify and by the time this was achieved, much of Asia and Africa had been parceled out. In the Scramble for Africa, Germany's aspiring leaders managed to obtain as they saw it only a few crumbs. Worst still in strategic terms, the Germans in a time of crisis could be cut off from its overseas suppliers by the British Royal Navy. Gradualy German leaders seized on an answer--the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. But siting astride the route was Serbia, a sworn enemy of Germany's principal alles, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. This became increasingly important when a new raw material began to become important--petroleum. At the urging of Admiral Jackie Fisher and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Britain began converting its fleet from coal to oil. German strategic thinkers also saw the importance, lending urgeny to the rail connections with the Middle East. Coal continued to be imporanction World War I, but oil was needed for aircraft, tanks, trucks, and U-boats. (All of which became important dyring the War.) America at the time of World War I was the world's greatest oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of the day. The Royal Navy guaranted deliveries of oil from America and other suppliers to Britain, but an embargo enforced by the Royal Navy cut Germany off. Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder. The quick victory did not materialize. In the end the inability to import raw materials and food would be a major factor in the defeat of the short-lived German Empire.

Country Situations

The world at the time of World War I was strategic mismatch. Europe had industrialized, especially Western Europe. Europe had developed sophisticated industrial sectors and scientific establosments to support it. But Europe lacked the raw materials neeed by its increasingly advanced industries. Most Eropean countries had coal, but other than coal, other resources were hopelesly scattered across Europe and oversaes. It seemsgat the industrialized countries lacked resources and the countries wuth resoure lacked industry. Germany did not even hve substantial iron deposits for his vaunted steel insustry. The one country in Europe that had copius quantities of raw mterials was Russia, the least indusreialized of the great powers. Britain had dealt with the need for raw materials by constructing a vast empire tied together by the Royal Navy which ruled the waves since Nelson's victory at Trafalgar (1905). France also built an empire and with its raprochment with Britain also had a secured access with raw materials. Germany was late to unify and by the tome this was achieved, much of the had been parceled out. In the Scramble for Africa, Germany's spiring leders to obtain as he saw it only a few crumbs. Worst still, the Germans in a time of crisis could be cut off its overseas suppliers by the British Royal Navy. Gradualy German leaders seized on an answer--the Berlin-Baghdad Railway. But siting astride the route was Serbia, a sworn enemy of its allies, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires.

Raw Material

Coal and iron were the two most industrial industrial materials at the onset of the indusrtiral revolution. Gradually as industry epanded more and materials were needed. This includes Non renewble materials, renewable materials, and fuels. Non-renewable materials (minerals, both elelents and compounds, chemicals, and other materials) needed for an increasly wide range of products. There were also renewable material (leather, rubber, timber, and fibers). Fuels were also important, especially coal. Then a new fuel began to become important--petroleum. This created a problen for Europe as so little oil was produced in Europpe, except for poorly developmed Russia. Romania and Austria-Hungaey (Galacia) produced small amounts. Thus it had to be imported. Oil became increasingly important when a new raw material began to become important--petroleum. At the urging of Admiral Jackie Fisher and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Britain began converting its fleet from coal to oil. German strategic thinkers also saw the importance, lending urgeny to the rail connections with the Middle East. Coal continued to be important World War I, but oil was needed for aircraft, tanks, trucks, and U-boats. America was the greatest oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of the day. The Royal Navy guaranted deliveries to Britain, but an embargo enforced by the Royal Navy cut Germany off. Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder and in the end consume the short-lived German Empire.

Non-renewable materials: Metals

Non-renewable materials (minerals, both elelents and compounds, chemicals, and other materials) needed for an increasly wide range of products in the developing industrial economy. The world at the time of World War I was bifurcated. Raw materials were vital during World War I. Due to the need to maufacture huge quantities of armamentsn, the belligerent countries needed tosecure s increased quantities of raw material. Here the Allies which controlled the sea lanes could import. The Germans did not haved access to ocedan trans port because of the Royal Navy blockcade. Each country attempted to increase its supply of resourcesd and to use what they had more efficiently. This required massive state intervention to controll the domestic consumption and administer the distribution of what was available. Sone ciuntries did this better thn others. Industry was mostly located in Europe. Resources were mostly located outside Europe. Germany did not even have important iron resources to supply its industry. Neither did Britain, but the Royal Navy guaranteed its ability to import needed resources in time of crisis. There were two outlyers. Russia had resources, but had only begun to devlop its industry. The rapid pace of Russian growth was of concern to the Germans. The major exception was the United States. America not only had the world's largest industrial plant, but also domestic sources of many of the important raw materials needed by its industry.

Non-renewable materials: Fuels

Fuels were also a non-renewable resources, but a very important special case. At the time World War I broke out, the industrial world was in a transition phase from coal to a new fuel--petroleum. Since the industrial revolution coal had been the primary resource fueling industry. At the turn-of the century, a new fuel began to become important--petroleum. This created a problen for Europe as so little oil was produced in Europpe, except for poorly developed Russia. Romania and Austria-Hungaey (Galacia) produced small amounts. Thus it had to be imported. Oil became increasingly important when a new raw material began to become important--petroleum. And here in the European inustrial competition and arms race, Germny was at a severe isadvantage. At the urging of Admiral Jackie Fisher and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Britain began converting the Royal Navy from coal to oil. German strategic thinkers also saw the importance, lending urgeny to the rail connections with the Middle East. Coal continued to be important World War I, but oil was needed for aircraft, tanks, trucks, and U-boats. America was the greatest oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of the day. The Royal Navy guaranted deliveries to Britain, but an embargo enforced by the Royal Navy cut Germany off. Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder and in the end consume the short-lived German Empire. The inability to obrain needed raw materials seriously impacted German indistry. Oil was apecial problem. German at the time the war broke out was in the proces of building the Berlin to Baghdad (Basra) Railway. This would have given the Germans access to vast quabtities of oil that could not have been interupted by the Royal Navy. The Germans hoped to obtained access to the Romanian oil fields, but the British blew up the Ploesti oil fields before te German Army arrived. One gologist writes that winning the First World War had been impossible 'without gasoline for automobiles and airplanes, without oil for lighting in dugouts and on the homeland's flat soil, without diesel oil for submarines, and without lubricating oil for the innumerable machines in industry and transportation.' This would be a senario repeated two decades later, but with the the increasing demands of an enlarged navy, a powerful air force, and an increasingly motorized army made a petroleum-strapped victory even more unthinkable ..." [Friedensburg, p. 445.] Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder. The quick Germany victory evaportated on the Marne only a month into the War. In the end the inability to import raw materials and food would be a major factor in the defeat of the short-lived German Empire.

Renewable materials

Industry was not only depenent on a range of non-renewable materialsm but also a range of renewable materials. These included: leather, rubber, timber, and fibers. These were all available within the borders of the Central Powers. The one exception was rubber. Rubber had to be imported. Here the British and Dutch because of their colonies in Southeast Asia (Dutch East Indies and Malaya) had a near monopoly. Germany and the Uhited States would develop synthetic rubber during World War II, but this process was not available un World War I. And rubber at the time of World War I was becoming increasingly important both with industry and the military. The Germans imported rubber through thev Netherlabds before he War, but with the Royal Navy blockade, even though the Dutch were neutral, this was no longer possible.

Sources

Friedensburg, Ferdinand. "Das Erdöl auf dem Gebiet des galizischen und rumánischen Kriegsschauplatzes, 1914-1918," Militárwissenschaftl iche Mitteilungen Vol. 70 (1939).








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Created: 5:16 AM 1/16/2016
Last updated: 5:45 AM 2/14/2021