Oil was a problem for Germany from the first day of the War. Germany had very limited oil resources. NAZI diplomats worked to develop trade relations with the Balkan countries and to bring the countries in the region into the Axis. This included Romania which had fought with the Allies in World War I. Romania was critical because of the vital Ploesti oil fields. Ploesti would be the only important oil fields that Germany could utilize. Hitler was aware that when war broke out that the Allies would again blockade Germany. Thus maritime oil imports would be ended. Thus the NAZIs well before the War gave considerable attention to developing a synthetic oil industry. The Soviets as part of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) delivered oil to the NAZIs. This of course ended when the NAZIs invaded the Soviet Union. When Barbarossa failed before Moscow (December 1941), Hitler designed the 1942 Summer offensive to seize the Soviet Caucasan oil fields. To do this he had to split his forces. One prong headed south for the oil. The their prong headed east for Stalingrad. Possession of the city on the Volga would prevent the Soviets from sending reinforcements into the Caucasus to protect the oil fields. The Germans began overrunning Soviet oil fields in the northern Caucuseses (summer 1942), but were unable to bring them on line or hold them very long. The division of forces, however, led to the disaster at Stalingrad. Oil played a key role in the destruction of the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. A large portion of the Italian supply convoys were destroyed through British air and submarine attacks, Here Malta played a key role. And American carriers were diverted to make sure that aircraft and supplies (especially oil) got through to Malta. The Allies made a major effort to destroy the Ploesti airfields. It was one of the most heavily defended targets in Europe, but the refineries were finally destroyed after a prolonged and costly effort. Finally the 8th Ar Force went for the German synthetic fuel plants. The 8th Air Force had sustained substantial losses on targets 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). A factor here was that fuel shortages made it impossible for the Luftwaffe to adequately train new 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 forces flying from liberated Italy. One of the primary targets became the synthetic fuel plants. Success here would prove to be a factor in the Allies victory during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945).
Germany had in the early-20th century meager domestic oil resources. As Germany industrialized in the 19th century, this was not a problem. The country had abundant coal resources, especially in the Ruhr. Coal as in Britain fueled the industrial revolution. Germany's industrial development was based on coal. After the turn-of-the 20th century, however, industrial energy requirements began to change. The new vehicles of the 20th century, automobiles, trucks, and airplanes all needed gasoline rather than coal. Even shipping began to shift to diesel oil. It became obvious that oil was the fuel of the future. As oil became more important, this development put Germany at a serious disadvantage, both economically and strategically. [Stranges] The other great powers had sources of oil. Russia had vast resources and began to develop fields in the Caucuses. The British at the time also had no oil, but with the Royal Navy could import oil from fields being developed in the Middle East or the United States. The developing Anglo-Franco cooperation meat that oil was available to the French as well. The Germans were developing an empire of their own, but none included oil finds and with the Royal Navy control of the Sea, there was no way of getting oil back to Germany even if there were oil discoveries.
While Germany did not have much oil, it did have coal and the the most advanced chemical industry in the world. And German chemists and engineers set out developing chemical processes to convert the abundant coal resource into a liquid fuel. The Germans developed several processes. The first and perhaps most successful process proved to be high pressure coal hydrogenation. The process was the direct conversion and was developed by Friederich Bergius (1884-1949) just before the War (1913). The Bergius process was later enhanced by Matthias Pier. Bergius won a Nobel Prize for his work.
With the German invasion of Belgium, the British declared war and with French cooperation instituted a naval blockade of Germany. It was a relatively simple matter as Germany had only a few North Sea ports and the Baltic ports led only to Sweden and Norway. Sweden was important because of iron ore, but Germany needed much more to wage a protracted war. If the Schliffen Plan had succeeded, the blockade would have been of no importance. The French, however, stopped the Germans at the Marne. As the War developed, the inability to import oil and other raw materials began to cause serious problems with both German industrial production and the food supply. The naval blockade thus proved a critical component of the Allied victory. More has been written about the German U-boats than the Allied naval blockade, but the U-boats failed and the Allied blockade succeeded. Oil was not yet as important as it would be in World war II, but is was increasingly important even in World war I. Friederich Bergius had developed the direct process for converting coal to a synthetic fuel just before the War. Actual industrial production was adifferent matter. Karl Goldschmidt offered to build an industrial plant as part of his Th. Goldschmidt AG (now Evonik Industries) (1914). Converting a laboratory process into actual industrial production proved complicated. Production did not begin until after the War (1919).
German researchers Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch after World War I developed another process of converting coal to oil (1923). They used an indirect process, meaning the coal is gasified and then converted to liquid fuels. These processes provided a way for Germany to become energy independent. They were working at the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (now the Maz Planck Institute) invented the process because of a petroleum shortages during the War, increased demand and skyrocketing prices. The process involved reacting the carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane obtained from coal. The product was then refined to create a synthetic liquid fuel. It was too late to have much impact on the German war effort and oil was not as important at the time as it was to become in World War II. The problem after the War was that the resulting synthetic oil was more expensive than imported oil. It was needed in war time when cost was not very important. After the War cost became important and neither of the two main processes were competitive with imported oil. This changed with the NAZI seizure of power. Military preparedness became increasingly important and overrode commercial concerns.
German diplomats worked to develop trade relations with the Balkan countries and to increase influence in the region. NAZI diplomacy continued this effort. With the signing of the Pact of Steel (May 1939), German diplomats began working to bring the countries in the region into the Axis Alliance. This included Romania which had fought with the Allies in World War I. Romania was critical because of the vital Ploesti oil fields. Ploesti would be the only important oil fields that Germany would have access to during the War.
Given the likelihood of an Allied naval embargo, the NAZIs well before the War gave considerable attention to developing a synthetic oil industry. A major problem was the relatively low octane of synthetic fuel. This was a particularly serious problem for the Luftwaffe which needed high octane aviation fuel. This was addressed by German researchers and they gradually managed to increase octane levels. The Germans began building synthetic plants using the Bergius process (from coal), the Fischer-Tropsch process (water gas), and other methods (Zeitz used the TTH and MTH processes). [Schroeder] The Bergius process proved to be the most important. The Bergius process plants were Germany's primary source of high-grade aviation gasoline and synthetic oil as well as synthetic rubber, synthetic methanol, synthetic ammonia, and nitric acid. Synthetic rubber was important because Germany had no sources of natural rubber and because of the blockade could not import rubber, although a few Japanese shipments got through. About one third of the Bergius production was produced by plants in Pölitz and Leuna, another third in five other plants. Ludwigshafen had a small Bergius plant, but produced high quality gasoline by dehydrogenation using the DHD process. [Miller, pp. 314 and 461.] The Pölitz plant, Hydrierwerke Pölitz AG. was opened by IG Farben, Rhenania-Ossag, and Deutsch-Amerikanische Petroleum Gesellschaft (1937). [Karlsch and Stokes, pp. 196.]
The Germans did what they could to maximize output from their domestic oil fields. The German fields were primarily located in northwestern Germany. The Austrian Anschluss added more fields (1938). These fields were poorly developed and much of the increased German production was achieved in Austria. The Germans managed to increase production from 3.8 million barrels in 1938 to nearly 12.0 million barrels in 1944. [Birkenfeld, p. 217.] This was a major achievement, but it was not the most important domestic source.
Seven major oil companies dominated the production and export of oil at the time Hitler and Stalin launched World War II. These companies came to be called the Seven Sisters oil companies. Italian state oil Company ENI Chief and Italian businessmen Enrico Mattei coined the phrase after the War. The only major oil exporter not part of the Seven Sisters was the Soviet oil industry. The United States was the major oil producer and exporter at the time and much of the production was by companies that had been created by the break up of John D. Rockefellers Standard Oil monopoly. The companies included: Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (this was a British company, now BP), Gulf Oil (split between BP and Chevron), Royal Dutch Shell (a Dutch-British company), Standard Oil Company of California (SoCal, now Chevron), Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (Esso, later Exxon, now part of ExxonMobil), Standard Oil Company of New York (Socony, later Mobil, now part of ExxonMobil), and Texaco (now part of Chevron). These companies controlled approximately 85 percent of the global oil reserves. They would form the 'Consortium for Iran' cartel, a role that OPEC would later play. At the time of World War II, the Iranian fields were just being developed, but fields in Iraq controlled by the British would ply an important role in the War. It was from this international network that Germany before the War was getting most of its oil.
Germany was a highly industrialized nation. Even so, large areas of the economy was not mechanized. This included the agricultural sector. And very few Germans owned private automobiles. As a result, oil demand was modest compared to many other countries. Germany was dependent on external sources for most of its oil supply. Germany consumed about 44 million barrels of oil in the last year of peace (1938). Other major countries consumed more. Britain consumed 76 million barrels, the Soviet Union 183 million barrels, and the United States an incredible 1 billion barrels even with the Depression still in progress. Of course after launching a war, Germany would require much greater fuel resources to support the mobile war operations contemplated by the rapidly expanding Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe. [USSBS, p. 74.] The Germans had three sources of oil.
First, they imported both crude and finished petroleum products from abroad. Nearly 32 million barrels were imported or over 70 percent. Most of this came from the United States or countries like Venezuela where American oil companies dominated the industry. Most of this was imported by sea, but 3.8 million was imported from terestrial sources, by rail or barge. Most of this came from Romania. USSBS, p. 73.]
Second, the Germans had some small domestic oil fields. Hitler recognized the importance of oil and ordered and the danger of relying on imported sources. He ordered the nationalization of the industry and the search for new fields in the Reich. The Germans found small fields in the northwest, especially at Reitbrook and Heide-Meldorf. It was not a major field, but helped. The nature of German crude, however, meant it could not be used in the refining of motor and aircraft fuel which Hitler badly needed for the growing Wehrmacht. It could be used for lubricating oils needed by both the Wehrmacht and industry. [Stokes] Fields in the Reuch produced about 3 8 million barrels.
Third, the German synthetic fuel industry produced about 9 million barrels. Coal was a rare natural resource that the Reich had in abundance, Some 90 percent of Germany's energy consumption was produced by coal. And the raw material for synfuel was coal.
The Germans increased fuel imports in the months leading up to the War to build up stockpiles, knowing that maritime sources would soon be severed by the British Royal Navy. [USBSS, pp. 73-74.]
Oil was a problem for Germany from the first day of the War. When Hitler launched the Panzers across the Polish frontier (September 1939), Germany had stockpiled 15 million barrels of fuel. As Hitler did not expect the British and French to declare war, he did not think oil would be a problem. Even when the Allies did declare war, oil was still not an immediate problem. Rather than consuming their stockpile, the Germans actually increased it by seizing the stockpiles of the defeated nations: Denmark and Norway (April 1940) and then the Netherlands, Belgium, and France May 1940). This added added another 5 million barrels to the German reserves. This was, however, a one-time bonanza, as these countries imported oil and because of the Royal Navy blockade, further maritime imports were cut off. The NAZI-Soviet alliance which made the War possible, however, added a whole new source of desperately needed oil for the Germans.
The Allies calculated that without oil and other strategic materials that Hitler could not launch a major war. The Royal Navy would simply implement another naval blockade as they had in World War I. Hitler was aware that when war broke out that the Allies would again blockade Germany. Thus maritime oil imports would be ended. He did not, however, expect the Allies to declare war over Poland. He expected them to back down as they had over Czechoslovakia. Britain declared war (Septemnber3, 1939) and France followed suit. The blockade in World War II proved more difficult. First Germany invaded and seized Norway, complicating the North Sea blockade because of Luftwaffe air bases there (1940). Second France fell to th Germans, providing first Atlantic ports (1940) and then Mediterranean ports (1942). The fall of France also mean that the Royal Navy no longer had the support of the French fleet and would have to go it alone. And to do so with a fleet that had been sharply reduced from the Grand Fleet of World War I. Third, Germany had access to Italian ports. Some blockade runners made it through early in the War, but as anticipated, Germany no longer had the ability to import oil by sea. And because Britain did not seek peace hen many thought that she was defeated in 1940, that embargo would continue throughout the War.
The Soviets as part of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) delivered oil to the NAZIs. The arrangement was that Soviets would deliver grain and raw materials and the Germans manufactured goods desired by the Soviets. As it worked out, the Soviets immediately began delivering large quantities of critically needed raw materials to the Germans. The Germans were to deliver the industrial goods on a longr time frame, but fell behind on even this schedule. The Soviets delivered 4 million barrels of oil in 1940 and 1.6 million barrels during the first half of 1941. This was just part of the vast quantity of critical materials the Soviets delivered to the Germans. These deliveries temporarily alleviated one of the most serious problems faced by the Wehrmacht. of course this bonanza ended when Hitler launched the Barbarossa invasion of the the Soviet Union (June 1941). Ironically a rail transport of Soviet tankers was crossing the border at the very moment that the Wehrmacht launched Barbarossa.
There was an alternative to Barbarossa to the extent that oil was the main objective. This was a southern strategy championed by Admiral Raeder and others. That was to force Spain into the Axis and then seize Gibraltar--Operation Felix. With Gibraltar in their hands, the Mediterranean would be essentially an Axis lake. Most of North Africa was already in Axis hands. Libyan Italian colony. And Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco were controlled by Vichy France, intent on collaborating with the Germans. The British would be forced to withdrawal or surrender Malta. Te British force in 1940 was very small and poorly armed. Only Italian incompetence enabled the British to hang on. Then once the Mediterranean was in Axis hands, the Germans could proceed to drive on British-held Suez from Italian Libya. From there there was nothing standing between the Germans and the oil resources of the Middl East, both in Iraq and Iran. And there was considerable pro-German feeling not only in Egypt, but Iraq and Iran as well. Given the relatively small British force in Egypt, this could have been accomplished with a modest force. And it would have provided the Germans all the oil they needed and with the Mediterranean in their hands, a safe route to Italy and the Reich. Hitler rejected the whole idea out of hand. His focus was firmly set on the East and he wanted no distractions or diversion of force. He clearly spelled out that Germany's destiny in Mein Kampf and the needed Lebensraum lay in the East. Now was his opportunity to seize it. And thanks to Stalin, this time there was no longer a French Army in the West to divert resources.
Hitler had assumed that the British would be sensible and sign an armistice after the fall of France (June 1940). This would have solved the fuel problem because Germany could then import fuel by sea again. The British, however, were not very sensible, now fully understanding just what appeasing Hitler meant. At the time the SS was preparing a plans on how to deal with the British if an invasion was necessary--NAZI occupation plans. And once the British were dealt with, then he could finally turn east and deal with the Soviet Union. The British did not, however, cooperate. And while Soviet oil deliveries helped, the oil situation remained precarious. Moreover Stalin could at any time stop the oil deliveries. An OKW study made a disquiting assessment (May 1941). OKW annalists calculated that with monthly military requirements of 7.25 million barrels and imports and home production of only 5.35 million barrels, German oil stocks would be exhausted by August 1941. This 25 percent shortfall could only be supplied with Soviet oil deliveries.
This was all part of Hitler's decision to invade the Soviet Union. From a very early point, the East was Hitler's central strategic goal. It was just a matter of when. Possession of the Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus would permanently solve Germany's petroleum and these were supplies that could not be interdicted by the Royal Navy. There were of course many other inducements, including Ukrainian grain and Donets Basin coal, but oil was the most pressing problem. Hitler launched World war II without the resources needed to wage global war. There is no doubt that oil was an important inducement as was the grain of the Ukraine and other needed resources. It is very clear in Mein Kampf, however, that Lebensraum and race were the primary factors. Hitler was determined to destroy what he described and the Jewish-Bolshevik Soviet regime. And killing Jews was only one of his murderous objectives, the other was to significantly reduce the Slavic population. Unlike the Jews, not all the Slavs were to be killed. One third were to be killed outright, one third were to be driven beyond the Urals into Asia (where most would perish), and one third were to become a slave labor force for German colonists. Too often World War II scholars try to think logically about Hitler and to forget how his mind was warped by race. NAZI goals in the East are clearly spelled out by Generalplan Ost. And these were not just dreams. The NAZIs had already begun to proceed with these objectives in Poland, but were to a degree put on hold so as not to disrupt the war effort. Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). Hitler with aeries of impressive victories was convinced he could destroy the Soviet Union in a short summer campaign. The Red Army despite monumental losses, not only stopped the Germans just short of Moscow and the Caucuses, but inflicted massive losses on them.
When Barbarossa failed before Moscow (December 1941), Hitler designed the 1942 Summer offensive to seize the Soviet Caucasian oil fields. To do this he had to split his forces. One prong headed south for the oil. This initially was the principal objective of Case Blue. The other prong headed east for Stalingrad. Possession of the city on the Volga would have prevent the Soviets from sending reinforcements into the Caucasus to protect the oil fields and to get the oil north. The Germans began overrunning Soviet oil fields in the northern Caucuses (summer 1942). The Germans succeeded in capturing smallest of the Russian oil fields at Maikop (August 1942), but the Soviets disabled it so it was of no immediate use. The Germans then drove further south to the larger fields and refineries at Grozny and Baku. This would have permanently solved the German oil problem. Soviet production at these fields was immense: Maikop (19 million barrels), Grozny (32 million barrels). and Baku (170 million barrels). [USBSS] Hitler at this point began diverting forces to the developing Stalingrad caldron. This division weakened the drive south as the focus shifted to Stalingrad. Soviet forces in the Caucuses managed to stop the German drive in the mountainous terrain short of Grozny. Maikop alone would have given the Germans what they needed. The Germans had expected Soviet demolition of the oil fields and refineries and rushed specialists to Maikop to repair the damage. But the field was very effectively demolished. And substantial repairs were needed requiring a great deal of equipment and material. The entire southern operation was being run on a shoe string and the German logistical system was barely supplying the minimum needs of the front-line soldiers, Thus getting large quantities of drilling equipment and other supplies through to Maikop proved impossible. In addition the small German oil industry had only a small number of qualified men who were capable of redrilling the wells. And there was the additional problem of bringing the refineries back on line. The Germans had only begun this process when the Soviet launched Operation Uranus, surrounding the 6th Army in Stalingrad (November 1942). As a result of this and further Red Army offensives, the Germans were forced to withdraw from Maikop (January 1943). Not a single barrel of oil had been raised. The Germans were able to extract about 4.7 million barrels from other Soviet sources. [Petzina, pp. 143-44.]
The Wehrmacht was constantly attempting to adjust to the fuel shortages. Tanks and other vehicles were primarily transported by rail. German locomotives were coal fired. From the rail heads one source reports that it was not unusual for German tanks to drive or be towed to the battlefield using flammable gas made from wood. This worked, but it did not provide the energy needed for high performance. The tanks only moved slowly. Once at the front, the tanks were then converted to use synthetic fuel in combat where high performance and speed was needed.
Oil played a key role in the destruction of the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert. The supply problem was manageable when the fighting was in Libya. When the fighting moved to Egypt the supply problem escalated. The British Royal Navy and Royal Air Force meant that most of the oil and other supplies had to be landed in Tripolli and trucked east. Bengazzi would have been much closer to the front, but insecure. Thus much of the fuel landed had to be used to transport fuel and supplies to the front. By the time of El-Alamein, this meant a logistical train of over 1,000 miles. And getting water to the troops mean huge quantities of fuel also had to be expended. All of the fuel had to be shipped from Italy to Libya, primarily Tripoli by sea convoy. This exposed the the fuel and other supplies to interdiction by the Royal Navy. A large portion of the Italian supply convoys were destroyed through British air and submarine attacks, Here Malta played a key role. And precious American carriers badly needed in the Pacific were diverted to make sure that aircraft and supplies (especially oil) got through to Malta. But getting oil and other supplies to Tripoli was only half of the problem. The Germans then had to be trucked to Egypt--consuming a vast expenditure of oil in the process.
The Romanian oill fields, especially Ploesti, was Germany's principal source of oil during the War. German had purchased 2.8 million barrels (1938). As part of its foreign policy, Germany steadily increased its influence in Romania. Romania declared its neutrality at the outbreak of World War II. The Allies' failure to support Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference (1938) made it clear to the Romanians that they were on their own. The country was targeted by the Soviet Union as part of its series of Eastern European aggression, part of the arrangements under the terms of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. The Soviets seized the provinces of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina (1940). This essentially forced Romania into the NAZI camp. German troops were allowed to move into Romania, taking over the rail system (October 1940). Hitler was desperate to prevent Soviet seizure of the oil fields. The Germans began enlarging he oil fields. Romanian shipments to Germany increased to 13 million barrels (1941). The Germans were, however, no longer paying for the oil in any meaningful way. It was considered prt of Romania's contribution to the war effort. Romanian deliveries continued at the 1941 level in both 1942 and 1943. [Tomberg, p. 79.] This amounted to about half of Romania's total production, but the Germans wanted more. Here the Romanians were not overly cooperative. The increase in production meant that the fields were being rapidly depleted. In addition the Germans were not paying for the oil and promised deliveries of coal and other items were not arriving. Ultimately the flow of oil was cut off by American bombing. The Allies once they had the bombers and bases in Libya made a major effort to destroy the Ploesti airfields. Ploesti was one of the most heavily defended targets in Europe. The initial raids were ineffectual and there were aircraft heavy losses. The refineries were finally destroyed after a prolonged and costly effort. Air raids on Ploesti destroyed 50 percent of the Romanian refinery capacity (August 1943). An with the invasion of Italy (September 1943), Allied air attacks intensified. Aerial mining of the Danube River caused further problems for the Germans. Romanian deliveries still totaled 7 million barrels in the first 6 months of 1944. Further American raids hammered Ploesti (late spring and summer of 1944). [USSBS, pp. 74-75.] By this time the Luftwaffe defenses had been largely depleted. When the Red army arrived, the plesti fields and refineries were left a total wreck.
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 million barrels a month by early -1944 and had not yet been seriously hit by the strategic bombing campaign. The Germans took elaborate 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 Luftwaffe 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.
General Patton's Third Army after sweeping through France (July-August 1944) began to experience fuel shortages. The allies still did not have functional ports and were still landing supplies on the beaches. The advancing units were outrunning supply lines. General Eisenhower in part because of the V-2 attacks, gave priority to General Montgomery to cross the Rhine in the Netherlands with Operation Market Garden. This left Patton's tankers for several months desperately short of fuel as they approached the West Wall/Siegfried Line (September 1944). Patton reportedly experimented with captured German fuel by having a few Sherman tanks and armored personnel carriers converted.
The British identified oil as a weak point in the H\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 precision bombing. Bomber Command night-time operations had no way of hitting the synthetic fuel plants. The first step was hitting Ploesti to destroy Germany's major access to 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--th synthetic fuel plants deep in the Reich. The 8th Air Force had sustained substantial losses on targets 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 superb 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 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, attacks on the Reich continued and one of the principal targets was the 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).
Fuel had been a problem for the Wehrmacht from the beginning of the War, but by December 1944 not only was Ploesti in ruins and occupied by the Red Army, but the Germany's synthetic fuel plants were now also largely destroyed thanks to the Allied strategic bombing campaign. 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 American fuel dumps. The Americans had huge supply dumps stockpiled with gasoline (petrol) for their highly mechanized army. Thus a key element in the German battle plan was to seize their dumps, conveniently located on the way to Antwerp. The Wehrmacht planners estimated they had the fuel for only about one-third to one-half of the distance to the main objective--Antwerp. Tanks are gas guzzlers, especially the heavy German tanks. To get to Antwerp, the German tankers would have to get a hold of the American fuel dumps. Fuel was so short in Germany that some of the gasoline being stockpiled for the offensive had to be trasported by horse and cart. This delayed the launch which was initially set for November 27. The Germans began the Bulge Offensive (December 16, 1944). The Ardennes was hardly the perfect location for an armored offensive--especially for the large German Panthers and Tigers. The narrow roads and bridges created massive traffic jams which were poorly managed, thus consuming some of the precious fuel reserve. Peipher's 6th SS Panzer Army seized a U.S. fuel depot at Bellingen (December 17). Once the element of surprise was lost, as the Americans retreated, they blew up bridges and fuel dumps, denying the Peipher's men the fuel they needed. The German advance had reached their maximum western positions. They were stalled stopped short of the Meuse River. Units of the British XXX Corps were holding the crucial bridges at Dinant, Givet, and Namur. U.S. units were about to move into those positions. The forward German units had outrun their supply lines and shortages of fuel and ammunition were becoming critical, leaving Panzers unable to move forward. The German man losses for the first week had been fairly limited. Except for Peipher almost no Panzers were lost. But now the weather as changing and American air power came into play, wreaking havoc with the Panzers and other vehicles. General Hasso von Manteuffel recommended to Hitler's Military Adjutant a halt to the offensive and a withdrawal back to the protection of the West Wall. Hitler was having none of it, realizing that this was the last desperate action that could have saved the NAZI Third Reich. The German Bulge had separated The British in the North and the Americans in the south by about 40 km. As the Americans slowly reduced the Bulge, the Germans executed a fighting withdrawal. There were substantial losses, but there were no units of any size bagged in the Bulge. Fuel shortages meant that it was largely a withdrawal on foot. Much of the German armor had to be abandoned on the battlefield. Hitler finally agreed to withdraw from the Ardennes, including the SS Panzer Divisions now de fanged with the loss of their armor (January 7, 1945).
The Americans joined by the reconstituted French Army after the Bulge pressed forward to the Rhine. They faced a largely immobilized German Army. The Germans resisted, but without mobility and over powered it was a fruitless effort as they fell back to the Rhine. The Americans made a terrible mistake fighting in the Hertgen Forrest. Only here where mobility was not a factor and air power difficult to use could the Germans effectively resist. The Rhine was a substantial barrier and could have stopped the Allied invasion of Germany if the Wehrmacht had the mobility to concentrate forces and heavy weapons at crossing points and bridgeheads, but without fuel and air power this was not possible. The Rhine crossing, aided by taking the Remagen Bridge, proved anti-climatic. In the North, Montgomery staged a major set-piece offensive with a huge D-Day-like airborne drop (Operation Plunder). In the south the Americas simply rowed across. The Germans fought hard in place, but without fuel lacked the mobility to use the potential of the Rhine as a natural barrier. And they were easily surrounded and cut off. And the Rhine was the last natural barrier to the Allied advance. The major formation was Field Marshal Model's Army Group B in the Ruhr. The Americans crossed the Rhine and surrounded his immobile forces. Model had been one of the Wehrmacht's great masters of mobility ob the Eastern Front. Hitler ordered Model to create a fortress enclave and was done in eastern Germany and Poland. Hitler also ordered Model to destroy the industry and anything else in the Ruhr of use to the enemy--the Nero Order. Model was one the Hitler's most loyal generals and committed to the NAZIs, but ignored the Nero Order. And unwilling to surrender, but not willing to sacrifice his men in a useless fight ordered Army Group B to dissolve and then shot himself. This was the last major German formation resisting the Western Allies. The advance to meet the Russians would be resisted by small units in towns an villages, but there would be no coordinated effort to stop the Allied advance. Major units were mostly interested in surrendering the Western Allies to avoid the hell of the Soviet Gulag.
Today the Fischer-Tropsch process can be used to produce synthetic fuels. It was used by the South Africans when anti-Apartheid embargoes made it difficult to import oil. A wide variety of similar processes can be used to convert coal, biomass and other carbon intensive feed stocks into usable products such as diesel and jet fuel. The problem continues to be the cost of the process.
Birkenfield, Wolfgang. Der synthetishe Treibstoff 1933-1945 (Göttingen, 1964).
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 could be reassembled.
Hettlage, Karl Maria. Report on the condition of the war economy (November 7, 1942). This was data compiled by Dr. Hettlage, an economic adviser to German Armaments Minister, Albert Speer.
Karlsch, Rainer and Raymond G. Stokes. Faktor Öl: die Mineralölwirtschaft in Deutschland 1859-1974 (C.H. Beck, 2003, pp. 193ff.
Miller, Donald L. Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Petzina, Dieter. Autarkiepolitik im Dritten Reich: Der nationalsozialistische Vierjahresplan (Stuttgart, 1968), pp. 143-44.
Schroeder, W.C. R. Holroyd, R.. ed. Report On Investigations by Fuels and Lubricants Teams At The I.G. Farbenindustrie, A. G., Works, Ludwigshafen and Oppau. (United States Bureau of Mines, Office of Synthetic Liquid Fuels. August 1946).
Speer, Albert. Inside The Third Reich.
Stokes, Raymond G. "The oil industry in Nazi Germany, 1936-1945," Business History Review Vol. 59 (summer 1985), pp. 254-77.
Stranges, Anthony N. "Friedrich Bergius and the rise of the German synthetic fuel industry," Isis Vol. 75, No. 4 (December 1984), pp. 642-67.
Tomberg, W. "Wehrwirtschaftliche Erkenntnisse von 5 Kriegsjahren," (November 1944).
United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS). The Effects of Strategic Bombing on the German War Economy (Washington, 1945).
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