World War II Strategic Bombing Campign: The Oil Campign


Figure 1.--.

The Allied World War II Oil Campaign was carried out by the British Royal Air Force and UNited Statesrmy Air Forces in an effort to destroy the facilities supplying the NAZI war machine with petroleum, oil, and lubrication (POL) products. It wasone part of the ioverall strtegic bombing campaign. The British identified oil as a weakpoint in the German war industry even before the War, but until the United States entered the War, had no way a getting at German production as it required daylight precession bombing. Bomber Command night-time opertiins had no way of hitting the synthetic fuel plants. The first step was hitting Ploesti and edin Germany's major accss t natural petroleum. The next step was going after the synthetic fuel plants. And with the destruction of the Luftwaffe, this was finally possible (January-March 1944). Finally the 8th Ar Force went for the German jugular--the synthetic fuel plants deep in the Reich. The 8th Air Force had sustanined substantial losses on trgets in western Germany during 1943. Many of the refineries were in eastern Germany. Long-range fighter escorts finally enabled the 8th Air Force to challenge and defeat the Luftwaffe (1944). It is at this point that the American fighter pilots destroy the Luftwaffe. One factor was the superp P-51 Mustang, a marriage of the North American air frame and the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. A factor here was that fuel shortages made it impossible for the Luftwaffe to adequately train new pilots. The American pilots thus faced a Luftwaffe fighter force now composed of many young, inexperienced pilots. The destruction of the Luftwaffe opened up Germany to an unrelenting bombing campaign by the massive American and British strategic bombing forces built up in Britain as well as additional fiorces flying from liberated Italy. One of the primary targets became the synthetic fuel plants. And while the bombers were shifted primarily to France to support the Normandy landings, attaks on the Reich continued and one of the principal targetswas tghe synthetic fuel plants as they were located. The Pölitz plant was a primary target of the Allied Oil Campaign. Nearly 70 percent of the town were destroyed.[Gallien, and Stutz, p. 503] Speer describes he process. Speer writes, "... after .....the attack, Hitler received me.....I described the situation......'The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, we will soon no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning'." (May 19, 1944) A month and after the Normandy landings he writes, "... the allies staged a new series of attacks which put many fuel plants out of action. On June 22, nine-tenths of the production of airplane fuel was knocked out." (June 24). After another month of bombing he writes that he sent a memorandum to Hitler. "I implored Hitler ... to reserve a significantly larger part of the fighter plane production ... to protecting the home hydrogenation plants ...." (July 28). And finally he writes, "Meanwhile the army, too, had become virtually immobile because of the fuel shortage." (November 10). [Speer] Success in destroying the synthetic fuel plants would prove to be a critical factor in the Allies victory during the bitter-fought Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945).

German Oil Industry

The British as the NAZIs began to prepare for war identified oil as a weakpoint in the German war industry. It did not seem that the NAZIs had the capacity to launch another War because they were depednt on imported oil that the Allis could cut off with a naval blockade. The Germans managed, however, to cobbel together the minimum oil spply they needed, although oil for the Germans would be roblem throughout the War. The NAZIs began to prepare for an Allied naval blockd by developing a synthetic fuel industry. The Astrian Aschluss also gave them access to more oil fild. They also initiated Balkans policy to gain accss to he Rmanian oil fields, The Allies filure to defend Czechoslovakia at Munich led among other matters that ld to the Germansaining access to the Romanian Ploesti oil fieds. The NAZI-Soviet Nonaggression pact creatdan alliance and one of the benefits was Soviet oil deliveries.

British Bomber Command (1940-42)

The British had identified the importance of Germany's oil industry before the war in the Western Air Plan prepared by the Air Ministry. {Hastings, p. 109] The British began bombing Germany early in the War. During the first months the raids were limited, often dropping leaflets for fear of German retalition on France. After the fall of France, Germany was largely beyond the reach of existing British bombers. Bomber Command prioriies varied in 1940. Oil targetsre among the different priorities. The British early in the War did not yet have a feel for its capabiity, his was achieved only after costly lossess and the realization that little was being achived. Sir Charles Portl, Chief of the Air Staff, in particular saw that Bomber Command did not yet have the capacity to even identify oil targets bombing t night, lt alon hit them hit oil trgets . Bomber Command conducted raids, but to little effect. The bomber loads were limited and because of the Luftwaffe's strength had to be conducted at night, RAF planners continud to see German POL targets as ariority, idtifying them s the enemy's 'vital centre'. [Tedder, p. 502.] The British Air Staff made aist of 17 key targets which even if only partially destroyed cold reduce Axis oil production by 80 percent (February 1941). It is at this time that that the British began to better understand the effectveness of Bomber Command raids. The Butt report providing a disappointing assessment of Bombr Command's performance, pointing out the stunning inncuracy of bombing (August 1941). {Hastings, pp. 126-27. The arrival of the Lancaster significantly changed Bomber Command's capabilities (1942). Bomber C\Commad s the Lancs becae available now had a true long-distance bomber that could crry massive bomb loads deep into the Rich. The strength of the Luftwaffe, however, still limited operations to nighttime raids. This meant that Germany's synthetic fuel plants coud not yet be hit. They required percision daylight raids. Bomber Command night-time oopertions could hit cities, had could not hit small targets like the the synthetic fuel plants.

8th Air Force (1943)

Until the United States entered the War, had no way a getting at German production as it required daylight precession bombing. The American build up began within weeks after Pearl Harbor (December 1941). The Americans with their B-17 Fying Fortress were committed to day-light srategic bombing. It took most of 1942 to build uop the forces and infrasructure in Britain. By the end of 1942, the Americans who had carried out some raids into occupied France were ready to begin raids into the Reich. The success with short runs aginst lightly defended targets in France caused 8th Air Firce commandrs to believe that the B-17s with their firepower could successfully hit targers in the Reich on unesciored day-light raids. The British with more experience remained doubtful.

Casablanca Conference (January 1943)

President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill committed to the round-the-clock bombing of Germany at the Casablanca Confrence (January 1943). Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris argued at the Casablanca Conference that POL targets should be a priority.

American Bombing Operations (1943)

The Americans soon found that without fighter escorts that the lossess of planes and crews wre usustainable. And the inital targets were not the syntheic fuel plants. The monbers went after arange of targets, especially auircraft plants, ball bearing pants, ad U-boat pens. These were seen as the most immediate problem, And the size and location of the synthetic fuel plants made them very difficult targets.

Targets

The Allied World War II Oil Campaign was carried out by the British Royal Air Force and UNited Statesrmy Air Forces in an effort to destroy the facilities supplying the NAZI war machine with petroleum, oil, and lubrication (POL) products. It was one part of the overall strtegic bombing campaign. The targets included sites in both the Reich and NAZI-occupied Europe. They included oil fields, synthetic fuel plants, refineries, storage depots, and other POL chemical works. Transportation wasnother set of targets, but this was part of a larger effort to destroy the Germn trasportation system.

Ploesti

The first step was hitting Ploesti and eding Germany's major accss to natural petroleum. This was made possible by te Allied success in North Africa and e acquisitiion of air bases in Libya. Ploesti proved avery difficuklt target. It was one of the most heavily depended sites in Europe. The German air defenses were formidable. The American air force was the Ploiești refineries (June 12, 1942). The oplanes flew from Egypt abnd the damage was negliible. This was the beginning of the Oil Campaign, but except for Ploesti, POL targetswould be a low priority until 1944. Operation Tidal Wave was designed to destroy the refineries (1943). It would not be until the invasion of Italy (September 1943) gave the Americans bases in Italy that the attacks on Ploesti finally began to permanely affect oil production there.

Destruction of the Luftwffe (January-March 1944)

The next step was going after the synthetic fuel plants. This required, however, the destruction of the Luftwaffe. The air war changed dramatically in 1944. The Luftwaffe had bled Bomber Command and the 8th airforce in 1943. Neither forces had achieved the results expected by Round-the-Clock bombing. Considerable damage had been done but the Luftwaffe had not been broken and the German war effort had not been severely impaired. In fact German war production was increasing. A series of devlopments in lte 1943 radically changed the situation in the skies over Germmany. First and most importantly, the Allies had solved the fighter escort problem. P-51s by December 1943 were beginning to reach the 8th Air Force in numbers. Long-range fighter escorts finally enabled the 8th Air Force to challenge and defeat the Luftwaffe (1944). It is at this point that the American fighter pilots destroy the Luftwaffe. One factor was the superp P-51 Mustang, a marriage of the North American air frame and the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. Another factor here was that fuel shortages made it impossible for the Luftwaffe to adequately train new pilots. The American pilots thus faced a Luftwaffe fighter force now composed of many young, inexperienced pilots. Second, the Allies had invaded southern Italy (September 1943). The new 15th Air Force was established at Foggia. This brought outhern Germany within in range, complicating the Luftwaffe's problems in defending the Reich. Third was the scale of the Allied build up in England. The 8th Air Force was beginning to reach parity with Bomber Command. The 8th Air Firce by the end of the year had the capability of staging raids composed of over 700 bombers on a sustained basis. The full extent of the change was not completely apparent because the Allies shifted priorities from Germany to France in preparation for the cross-Channel invasion. Here the Luftwaffe was so devestated that they were a non-factor. Once the invasion had succeeded and the liberation of France in Progress, the Allied renewed the strategic bombing campaign with a unimaginable ferocity.

Plan for Completion of Combined Bomber Offensive (March 1944)

With the destruction of the Luftwaffe (January-March 1944)the strategic bombing campaign could finally be conducted with the frce intially envisioned. HQ USSTAF conceived the Plan for Completion of Combined Bomber Offensive (March 1944). The British Ministry of Economic Warfare approved which would commitRAF Bomber Command. The Plan included a commitment to a Oil Campaign. It was the Ameicans who were conducting the day-light raids, byt the destruction of the Luftwaffe would mean that British daylight raids were now possible as well. And the Allied air forces now began to go for the German jugular--the synthetic fuel plants deep in the Reich. The Plan proposed attacking "fourteen synthetic plants and thirteen refineries" in the Reich. [Williason et. al.-HQ USSTAF.] The American planners estimated the German oil production could be reduced by 50 percent -- 33 perent below the amount the Germany war requirement. [Eiseng\hower, pp. 184-89.] The Plan included other priorities. The priorities in order of importbnce included: 1) oil, 2) fighter and ball bearing industrial production, 3) rubber production (which all meant synthetic fuel plants), and 4) bomber (presumably meaning aircraft) output. isenhiower would assume control of the strategic bomber forces to focus effort on the Trasportatiion Plan to isolate the Atlantuic Wall in preparation or Overlord. The mombrswe also used to attak tlantic Wall fortifications. The Allied bomber firces were, however, so massiv by this time that some raids into the Reich coud be continued. And here POL assetts were a prioity.

The Synthetic Fuel Plants: Kohleverflüssigung

The German synthetic fuel industry using the various processes developed was by 1944 the principal source of oil for what was left of the Wehrmacht. The Germany synthetic fuel industry was producing about 3.7 millio barrels a month by early -1944 and had not yet ben seriosly hit by the strategioc bombing campaign. The Germans took elborate measures to camouflage the plants. There were about 25 such plants scattered throughout the Reich, but many were in eastern Germany and thus difficult targets for the bombers as long as the Lufwaffe remained an effective force. The Pölitz plant alone was especially important, producing 15 percent of the Reich's synthetic fuels, mote than 575,000 tons (1943). [Karlsch and Stokes, pp. 196.] The labor force came from camps (Pommernlager, Nordlager, Tobruklager, Wullenwever-Lager, Arbeitserziehungslager Hägerwelle, Dürrfeld Lager) located nearby. A ship was moored on the Oder River was used as another camp (Umschulungslager Bremerhaven). A subcamp of the Stutthof concentration camp was located in Pölitz itself.

Refineries


Bombing Campaign

The 8th Air Force had sustanined substantial losses on trgets in western Germany during 1943. Many of the refineries were in eastern Germany. The destruction of the Luftwaffe opened up Germany to an unrelenting bombing campaign by the massive American and British strategic bombing forces built up in Britain as well as additional forces flying from liberated Italy. One of the primary targets became the synthetic fuel plants. And while the bombers were shifted primarily to France to support the Normandy landings, attaks on the Reich continued and one of the principal targetswas tghe synthetic fuel plants as they were located. The Pölitz plant was a primary target of the Allied Oil Campaign. Nearly 70 percent of the town were destroyed.[Gallien and Stutz, p. 503] The bombing campaign was conducted by the United States (8th Airfiorce in Britain and 15th Air Force in Italy) and RAF Bomber Command.

May 1944

The Allies had not seriously damaged POL targets in the Reich through early 1944. The Allies main concentation in May was on the Trnsportation Plan to isolate the Atlantic Wall, but attack on POL targets began. Eisenhower permitted Spaatz occassionakl forays into Germany to keep the Germans guessing as long as it did not detract from the Transportation Plan. Spaatz's targets for these raids were invariably associated with Germany's petroleum industry. The attacks on Germany's petroleum infrastrusture were to prove much more effective than the earlier attacks on the aircraft industry. The 8th Air Force carried out 11 raids and the 15th Air Force 10 raids. The Allies launched major attacks on POL trgets (May 12 and 28). These were essetially trial bombings of relativly difficult targes. Photo recomiance confirmed considerable success. Speer describes the process of the bombing. He writes, "... after .....the attack, Hitler received me.....I described the situation......'The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, we will soon no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning'." (May 19, 1944) {Speer]

June 1944

The Normandy landings were successfully conducted at the beinning of the month. Despite extensive activity to support the lndings and bridge head, the Allies continued the Oil Campaign. Given favorable assessments of the May trial runs, the Allies substantially incresed raids on POL targets. The 8th Air Force hit 20 POL targets ahd te 15th Air Force 32 targets. RAF Bomber Command joined the campaign, hitting 10 targets. After the Normandy landings, the Air Ministry was assessing resources and approprite utilization. Bomber Command staff estimated it would take 32,000 tons of bombs to destroy 10 POL targets identified in the Ruhr. Bombr Chief Harris agreed to divert spare effort to POL targets. [Hatings, pp. 371-72.] Speer writes, "... the allies staged a new series of attacks which put many fuel plants out of action. On June 22, nine-tenths of the production of airplane fuel was knocked out." (June 24). [Speer]

July 1944

After another month of bombing he writes that he sent a memorandum to Hitler. "I implored Hitler ... to reserve a significantly larger part of the fighter plane production ... to protecting the home hydrogenation plants ...." (July 28). This was just after the Bomb Plot (July 20). we wonder if Hitler was really able go focus. And Speer seems out of tuch with just hw seriously the KLuftwaffe had been weakend by Allied attacks.

August 1944

When the War began, neiher the Allies or the Germans had anu idea of hiow to conduct a strategic bombing campaign. Gradully as the War oprogressed, the conduct iof the War became increasingly sophisticated. This ws especially true of the Allies whose air surperiority over Germny not only allowed them to bomb at will, but to ssess the dmage done with considerable accurcy, often immediately after the raids. The Allies began using reconnaissance photo information to time bombing with the resumption of production at each facility. il production was so importat that after the raid, the Germans woud do everything possible to repair the damage and restore prodction. The weather caused some problems as did the diversion of bomber strengho support te Overlord ad the esuing breakout from the Nornandy Bridghead. One historian writes, "This was the big breakthrough ... a plant would be wounded ... by successive attacks on its electrical grid—its nervous system—and on its gas and water mains." [Miller, p. 320.]

September 1944

Eisenhower with the Allied armies driving towardcthe Reich, finally released the bombers to his air commanders. Ultra intercepts condirmed just how important the POL targets were. Other intelligence sources confirmed this assessmnent. As a result Allied planners made POL targets the highest priority (September 3, 1944). [Kreis, p. 241.] A reader adds, "The shortage of fuel not only made it impossible to give new pilots adequate training but new aircraft, much of which was being produced in underground factories, were not getting to the Luftwaffe quickly enough to keep up the numbers of available aircraft. Eventually the combination of destroyed aircraft and a lack of replacements left the skies over Germany to be controlled by the Allies."

October 1944

Despite the priority given to the Oil Campaign, because of the weather and number of available targets, much more tonnage was contributed to Transportation Plan targets than POL targets during the fall ad winter.

November 1944

Speer finally writes, "Meanwhile the army, too, had become virtually immobile because of the fuel shortage." (November 10). [Speer]

December 1944

Success in destroying the synthetic fuel plants proved to be a critical factor in the Allies victory during the bitter-fought Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945). Fuel had been a problem for the Wehrmacht from the beginning of the War, but by December 1944 not only was Ploesti not only in ruins and occupied by the Red army, but the synthetic fuel plants were largely destroyed. What had been a problem was now close to immobilizing the entire Germany Army. For the last German offensive of the War, the planners based the success of the offensive on capturing Ameican fuel dumps. The Wehrmacht planners estimated they had the fuel for only about one-third to one-half of the distance to the main objective--Antwerp. To get there they would have to use American fuel. Fuel was so short, that some of the gasoline being stockpiled for the offenive had to be trasportd by horse and cart. The Germans were stopped short of the Meuse and failed to seize the big American fuel dumps. Substantial number of German tanks were not destroyed incombat, but had to be abonded when they exhausted their fuel supplies. Plans for the bttkewere based on capturing Amneruican fuel dumps. When this failed, the Panzers were imobilized at critical points of the battle just as the Germans ewre nearing the Muse.

January 1945

Germany's oil industry was so wrecked by January, that there were few important POL targets left. And te Germans had given up even attemting to repair wreckd plants. The priority of oil targets was as a result lowered.

April 1945

The last major strategic air raid was on a refinery in Norway (April 1945).

Assessment


Sources

Eisenhower, David. Eisenhower: At War 1943-1945 (New York: Wings Books, 1991).

Gallien, Thomas and Reno Stutz, Geschichtswerkstatt Rostock, Landesheimatverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Landeskundlich-historisches Lexikon Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Hinstorff, 2007). After the War, Politz on the Oder was transferred to Poland. The Soviets forced Germans to dismantel the plant for shipment to the Soviet Union where it coukld be reassembled.

Hastings, Max. Bomber Command Pan (1979).

Kreis, John F, Alexander S. Cochran, Jr., Robert C. Ehrhart, Thomas A. Fabyanic, Robert F. Futrell, and Murray Williamson. Piercing the Fog: Intelligence and Army Air Forces Operations in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Air Force Historical Studies Office, 1996).

Miller, Donald L. Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).

Speer, Albert. Inside The Third Reich.

Tedder, Arthur. With Prejudice. (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1966).

Williamson, Charles C., R.D. Hughes, C.P. Cabell, J.J. Nazarro, F.P. Bender, and W.J. Crigglesworth. "Plan for Completion of Combined Bomber Offensive" (HQ USSTAF, March 5, 1944).






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