*** war and social upheaval: World War II -- economics raw materials

World War II Economics: Raw Materials--Oil

World War II oil
Figure 1.--It is said about World War II that the Allies floated to victory on a sea of oil. It needs to be added American oil. The British had developed oil fields in Iraq and Iran, but the great bulk of the oil used by Britain was American oil delivered over the North Atlantic sea lanes. Tankers were a favorite U-boat target. Britain and France could not even have gone to war in 1939 without American oil. This little English boy after the War is enjoying a seaside vacation in Biognor Regis along the English Channel, once heavily fortified and mined, because of that victory. Notice his prized possession -- an Esso (now Exxon) tank truck.

Oil was important in World War I. The navies of the day were shifting from coal to oil, in part because it significantly reduced the smoke trail. Tanks and trucks emerged as militarily important. And planes required high-octane gasoline. But draft animals remained vital to moving armies and artillery. Because of American trucks, the Allies were much more mechanized than the Central Powers. While important in World War I, oil was critical in World War II. Strategic materials played a critical role in World War II, in both the desire to launch the War and in the ability to wage an extended conflict. Several materials were important. The key resource was, however, without doubt oil. The vast mechanized armies, navies, and air fleets mobilized by the combatant countries required vast quantities of petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) products. Modern war was impossible without oil. Much of the German Ostkrieg attempted it and paid a heavy price. The fighting circled the globe and warfare became both mobile and mechanized. Military forces required huge quantities of oil for air, land, and sea operations. Oil was not evenly distributed around the globe. Some countries have a great deal and other countries very little. The two major producers were America and the Soviet Union. America produced vast quantities of oil, to supply its industries and the many civilians who owned cars. Gasoline rationing was the major complaint Americans had on the home front during the War. It has been said that the Allies floated to victory on a sea of American oil. America also exported large quantities. The Soviet Union produced much less, but sufficient for domestic requirements, eve its expanded war-time needs. Production in the Caucuses was especially important. Britain and France had very limited domestic production, but imported from America and American associated countries (Mexico and Venezuela). The Empire provided the rest of what they needed. Fields in Middle east and India supplied British field armies and Indian Ocean Mediterranean fleets, even after Borneo was lost to the Japanese. The Axis on the other hand had very limited domestic oil resources. Japan in particular was almost entirely dependent on American oil. S ome British analysts believed that the Germans could not launch another war because it lacked adequate domestic oil production. They were wrong, but not far off. Oil wold become a major concern for the Axis. The Germans managed to cobble together enough domestic production, synthetic fuel production, and terrestrial imports (primarily from Romania and the Soviet Union--until 1941) to run their war effort, although oil was a serious constraint throughout the War. They even got the Soviets to ship them oil. Oil remained, however, a primary concern for German planners and was one of the inducements in invading the Soviet Union. Oil was even more critical for the Japanese who were dependent on American oil exports. Thus the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ), especially the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (DEI) became a primary objective. Inconveniently for the Japanese, the American controlled Philippines Islands backed by the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor lay between the Home Islands and the DEI. The Axis began the War without adequate domestic oil resources, but a major part of their war strategy was to acquire needed oil supplies. The Allies, especially America, had plentiful sources of oil as did the Soviets. The British with the Royal Navy were able to keep the sea lanes open so they could import oil themselves and blockade Germany's access to maritime imports. Allied war planners understood the vulnerability of the Axis war economy, but at first lacked the military capability to attack the German and Japanese oil industries. Eventually destroying Germany's synthetic oil industry and cutting the sea lanes by which Japan attempted to ship the oil out of the Southern Resource Zone back to the Home Islands became war-winning operations.

World War I

Fuels were also important, especially coal. Then a new fuel began to become important--petroleum. Oil was important as early as World War I. The navies of the day were shifting from coal to oil, in part because it significantly reduced the smoke trail. Tanks and trucks emerged as militarily vital. And planes required high-octane gasoline. But draft animals remained vital to moving armies and artillery, Because of American trucks, the Allies became much more mechanized than the Central Powers. The Allied naval blockade cut the Central Powers off from needed oil imports. German chemists began working on synthetic fuel protection. Allied control of the sea meant that they could import all the oil they needed from America. One observer wrote that "...the Allies floated to victory on a wave of oil." 【Viscount Curzon of Kedleston】 This created a problem for Europe as so little oil was produced in Europe on the Continent, except for poorly developed Russia. Romania and Austria-Hungary (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 urgency 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 guaranteed 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 obtain needed raw materials seriously impacted German industry. Oil was a special problem. German at the time the war broke out was in the process of building the Berlin to Baghdad (Basra) Railway. This would have given the Germans access to vast quantities of oil that could not have been interrupted 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 the German Army arrived. One geologist 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 scenario 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 evaporated 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.


It has been said that World War II was decided by oil. This may be an overstatement, but it is very close to the truth. The Allies had it and the Germans did not, at least in any where near the volumes needed. The war-time strategy of each belligerent power was if not dictated, at least significantly affected by the availability of oil, its quality, and except for the United States, attempts to secure more of it. Even America had to ration it and reduce non-critical uses. There was a very basic calculation. Limiting oil reduced the combat power of a country's fighting forces. World War II unlike World War I was a mechanized war. It was the first fully mechanized war in history. Oil was independence for every aspect of operations, on land, sea, and air. The more mechanized a country's military forces were, the more oil they needed to wage war. Planes, ships, trucks, and tanks required huge quantities of petroleum. Industry required oil. European civilians were not as dependent on oil as Americans because cars were not as commonly owned. But to wage war, countries required much more oil than they did in peacetime. And this effected all combat environments: air, land, and sea. Large mobile armies required massive quantities of fuel and other POL products. Tanks in particular, especially the heavy tanks preferred by the Germans, were fuel guzzlers. The heavier the tanks, the more fuel they needed. Planes needed high octane gasoline. Ships used vast quantities of diesel fuel. German Field Marshal Rommel explained this concisely writing about mobile warfare. Tanks even the medium tanks Rommel was using in North Africa consumed vast quantities of fuel, something like 0.5 miles per gallon. Rommel complained, "... neither guns nor ammunition are of much use in modern warfare unless there is sufficient petrol to haul them around … a shortage of petrol is enough to make one weep." The outcome of the Desert War was largely determined by the fact that the British had a secure pipeline to the Middle Eastern oil fields. Rommel in contrast was dependent on a long insecure truck route which consumed as much petrol as it delivered. And an even more insecure dependence on Italian tanker deliveries across the Mediterranean.

Country Trends

Oil was not evenly distributed over the globe. Some countries had a great deal and other countries virtually none. The two major producers were America and the Soviet Union. America produced vast quantities of oil, to supply its industries and the many civilians who owned cars. It has been said that the Allies floated to victory on a sea of American oil. America not only fully supplied its domestic needs, but exported large quantities and before the War to Germany, Italy, and Japan. . The Soviet Union produced less, but still still enough to supply its domestic needs. Production in the caucuses was especially important. Britain and France had very limited domestic production, but imported from America and other produces in the Empire and allied states. The Axis on the other hand had very limited domestic oil resources. Japan in particular was almost entirely dependent on American oil. Some British analysts believed that the Germans could not launch another war because it lacked adequate domestic oil production. Oil wold become a major concern for the Axis. The Germans managed to cobble together enough domestic production, synthetic fuel production, and terrestrial imports (primarily from Romania) to run their war effort. They even got the Soviets to ship them oil. Oil remained, however, a primary concern for German planners and was one of the inducements in invading the Soviet Union. Oil was even more critical for the Japanese who were dependent on American oil exports. Thus the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ), especially the oil-rich Dutch East Indies became a primary objective. Inconveniently for the Japanese, the American controlled Philippines Islands backed by the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor lay between the Home Islands and the oil they coveted in the DEI.


The automobile and the internal combustion engine appeared in the late-19th century, first in Europe and then in America. It was a relatively small industry dominated by a large number of small companies, more craft shops than industrial companies. The automobile was at first the play thing of the rich and well-to-do. Workers went to work on public transport, often horse-drawn trolleys, and bicycles. Henry Ford changed everything, at least in America. The Model T Ford had been developed before the outbreak of World War I. The Model "T" brought the automobile within the price range of the average American. Ford and other American manufactures began to build cars and trucks in large numbers on efficient assembly lines. One of America's contribution to the Allied World War I war effort was trucks. The Allies were much more mechanized than the Germans by the end of the War. This changed the face of America and cities as was a key step in creating the American car-culture. Not only was it a major cog in expanding American industry, but it created greatly increased demand for oil to produce gasoline and lubricants (POL) products. The first oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, but vast new fields were developed in Texas and Oklahoma. Cities began to develop around the automobile which became the very center of the country's economy. This had profound consequences for the American life style, affecting work, leisure, sexuality, architecture, music, movies, and much more. Both the automobile and mass-consumerism played a key role in making modern America. It meant that the average American worker could afford an automobile and the Model T and other cars were built in the millions, it was an important factor in the expansion of American industry. And an oil industry was developed to supply the needed gasoline and other POL products. American oil production for military use by the end of the War was 18 times greater than in World War I. The production of aviation gasoline about 80 times greater. Incredibly, about half the tonnage of supplies America shipped overseas was gasoline and other petroleum products. America was the largest producer of oil at the time of World War II. It fully supplies American needs as well as other countries. Japan was almost entirely dependent on American oil exports. Allied supremacy in World War II is commonly attributed to the industrial factories of America which overwhelmed the Axis with an incredible output of the instruments of War. They in many cases were not the best weapons, although quality rapidly improved during the War, but the sheer volume of production was decisive, arming not only American armies, but those of it allies. Sometimes neglected in this discussion is the important of American natural resources. The Allies literally floated to victory on a sea of American oil. Even before America entered the War. American oil almost entirely supplied Britain in its life and death struggle with the Germans. And all the mechanized implements of war which flowed out of American factories were powered by American oil. The Soviets had plentiful oil, but needed American high octane aviation fuel. The British had Iraqi oil to supply the Desert Army. Other than this, it was primarily American oil that powered Allied armies.


Britain likes to think of itself as fighting on against the NAZIs alone after the fall of France (June 1940). This was never the case, The Empire and Dominions played major roles before the Soviet Union and American entered the War and forged the Grand Alliance against NAZIism. While America did not immediately enter the War, President Roosevelt was determined to assist Britain. Large quantities of supplies were delivered to Britain as part of Lend Lease, after Britain essentially went bankrupt . The supplies included copious quantities of oil. Britain like Germany had virtually no domestic production of oil. It was virtually all imported. Oil had become important during World War I and British companies developed fields in the Empire and associated countries, primarily Iran and Iraq. The problem for Britain was all these fields were located at considerable distance from Britain itself. Not only did the oil have to be delivered through U-boat infested waters, but as the Mediterranean was closed by the Axis (1940-42), but delivering Middle Eastern oil around the Cape of Good Hope would have required an enormous tanker fleet that Britain did not have. The answer of course was American oil. During the War, however, most of the oil delivered to Britain came from America and American associated companies in Venezuela. Britain has sources of oil in the Empire are closely connected states like Iraq. Getting it to Britain after the outbreak of the War, especially after Italy entered the War, was a logistical nightmare, requiring long voyages over U-boat infested waters. The North Atlantic run in contrast was a elatively short distance. As long as the Royal Navy could keep the vital North Atlantic sea lanes open, the Germans could not knock Britain out of the War. When the Germans failed to invade Britain or to force Britain to accept a negotiated peace after the fall of France, Hitler was left with an armed citadel which became a vast, unsinkable air craft carrier on the western border of his new empire. Despite the disaster in France, the Blitz, and the U-boat campaign, American oil deliveries kept Britain well supplied with oil throughout the War. And the 8th Army in the Western Desert as well as the Royal Navy squadron based in Alexandrina was well supplied with oil from Iraqi fields. Interestingly, the D’Arcy Exploration company, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP), has discovered oil in the middle of Britain (1939). It was located in of all places Sherwood Forest, near Eakring. Shallow walls were developed. Despite the War emergency, no further steps were taken because modern technology and equipment was needed. Finally Oklahoma Roughnecks and the needed equipment was brought in from America (1943). The effort was called the English Project. Using innovative methods and advanced equipment, the Americans drilled an average of one well per week in Dukes Wood, while the British took at least 5 weeks per well. The field began producing small quantities. The American oilmen were credited with 94 completions and 76 producing oil wells (January 1944). The English Project contract was completed (March 1944). The Americans drilled 106 wells with 94 producers. Britain's oil production increased from 300 barrels of oil a day to more than 3,000 barrels of oil a day. Small in overall World War terms, but certainly part of the oil story. 【AOGHS】


France like Britain and Germany had no domestic sources of oil. But unlike Britain had no significant resources within its substantial colonial empire. France had a very limited stake in foreign oil operations, a small share in Iraqi oil production and a few holdings in Romania. Iraqi oil was supplying nearly half of France's oil (1939). Iraqi oil deliveries through the Kirkut Pipeline were of course dependent on the Royal Navy and the French fleet keeping the Mediterranean open and the Middle East out of Axis hands. 【Broich】Romania supplied small quantities, but by 1939 was coming under German control. The other half of French oil imports came from the Western hemisphere. We do not have a breakdown, but presumably came from the United States as well as Mexico and Venezuela. The French Government considered a synthetic oil program using coal as a raw material. They also explored using alcohol as a motor fuel, but neither alternative were viable alternatives. The Germans did not interrupt French oil imports during the short period of the Phony War (September 1939-May 1940). The country fell to the Germans (June 1940) and was occupied until the Allies broke out of the Normandy Bridgehead (August 1944). Hitler had planned to run the NAZI war economy with the Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union and exploiting the resources of the East. This of course did not work out and what happened was the exploitation of the occupied countries in the West, primarily France. Here the Germans had a problem. French economic output plummeted during the NAZI occupation, so the NAZIs had less to plunder. The same dynamic occurred in other occupied countries. A major reason for the economic decline was that fuel was not available. Petroleum products were not just rationed, but virtually impossible to obtain. Some coal was available, but there were severe shortages.


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 (June 1941). 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. The the other prong headed east for Stalingrad. Possession of the city on the Volga would prevent the Soviets from sending reinforcements into the Caucuses to protect the oil fields. The Germans began overrunning Soviet oil fields in the northern Caucuses (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 fer the German synthetic fuel plants. The 8h 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 8h 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).


The British had developed oil fields in Persia (modern Iran) Iran and refinery facilities. The volume of oil and refined products, however, was still very limited.


The British had developed oil fields before the War in Iraq. These were the same fields that had interested the Germans before World War I. Iraq at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire. A pipeline carried the oil it from the Kirkut fields to Haifa (British Palestine) and Tripoli (French Lebanon) on the Mediterranean coast. The volumes were relatively small by American standards, but sufficient to fuel naval vessels and the 8th Army operating out of Egypt. And they would have ample for Germ's war-time needs.【Broich】


Italy entered the World War II as a result of the rash judgement of Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini, anxious to join in the spoils of conquest (June 1940). The country was neither ready or prepared for war. Oil was just one area in which the Italian war effort had been ill conceived from the beginning. Italy like Germany did not have significant domestic sources of oil. They hoped to obtain oil as the result of conquest. If they could defeat the British in Egypt, they would have access to Iraqi oil and there was considerable pro-Axis sentiment in Iraq. Italy did not build up a sufficient reserve of oil before entering the War. Oil shortages impaired the operation of the Italian fleet during the War and was virtually exhausted in little more than a year (late summer 1941). The Navy required at least 0.2 million t a month for active operations. The fleet had to be rationed to less than 0.1 million tons. The situation steadily deteriorated, Italian naval commanders had difficulty obtaining any fuel at all (after April 1942). What was left of The Italian Navy after sharp battles with the Royal Navy was essentially immobilized in port (mid-June 1942). Convoys transporting supplies to the German and Italian Afrika Korps by this time thus received little support from the Italian Navy.


Modern war requires oil. All three Axis countries had a significant problem. They were not self-sufficient in petroleum. Each of the Axis countries attempted to resolve this limitation to varying degrees of success. Japan would require huge quantities of oil of it planned to wage a naval war in the vast stretches of the Pacific. Japan had to import almost all of its oil in peacetime and war would significantly increase the quantities required. Japan was a densely populated, resource poor country. Expansion into Korea and Manchuria (Manchuko) managed to acquire many needed resources. The most critical resource that Japan lacked was oil. And to make matters worse, the United States was the major world producer of oil. America was also Japan's principal supplier--the same country the United States would have to fight if it was to seize an empire in the resource-rich South Pacific--especially the DEI which had developed important oil fields. The United States attempted to dissuade Japan from waging aggressive war in China. The United States began a series of trade restrictions until it became clear with Japan's move into southern Indochina that Japan was preparing to launch a major aggressive war in the Pacific. America responded with an oil embargo. This action made war inevitable. It only became a question of when and where Japan would strike. Japan had oil stockpiles that could supply its normal needs for 2 years, but only about 1 year if Japan went to war because of the huge increased requirements to fight a naval war. This set in motion a timetable. Japan had either to decide to cease aggression in China or go to war before it ran out of oil.


The Mexican government nationalizes the oil industry and revoked foreign, primarily U.S., oil concessions. As in other Latin American countries, the Mexican oil industry was primarily developed with American capital and technology. The U.S. government did not retaliate We note typical anti-American editorializing that this was in part due to 'fears Mexico will align with Germany in World War II'. This is unlikely because the primary orientation was left-wing, not right-wing and the practical knowledge that if Mexico sided with Germany, not only would invite American intervention, but given the strength of the British Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy, it could have nor exported any of its oil. At the time there was only a small domestic market for oil. The American decision to accept the Mexican nationalization, was in keeping with the Roosevelt Administration's Good Neighbor policy and effort to develop a more friendly relationship with the Latin American republics. Mexico's new policy was the beginning of oil nationalizations that would occur following World War II.

(The) Netherlands

The Netherlands like most European countries had no oil resource. Shell Oil (a British-Dutch joint venture), however, was one of the world's major oil companies. And while the Netherlands was occupied by the Germans (1940).. refineries in Curaçao in the Dutch West Indies would refine large volumes of Venezuelan crude for the war effort. The Dutch had also developed fields in the Dutch East Indies, but they would be seized by the Japanese (1942). Conquering the Southern Resource Zone had been a major reason Japan launched the Pacific War by attacking Pearl Harbor. And it was the principal, but not only, objective. The Japanese seized the DEI and Brutish Borneo fields (1942). It did them little good. By the time they got the fields operating, the U.S. Navy had begun interdicting tankers and other marus carrying resources and supplies back to the war industries of the Home Islands.


Romania was a largely agricultural country until World War I. Although occupied by the Central Powers, the Allied victory in the West allowed Romania to emerge as a World War I victor, After the War, Romanian Governments approved radical agricultural reforms and the adopted a new more democratic constitution. The result was impressive economic growth. Industrial production doubled in the inter-War period, albeit from a relatively small base. The country was not as affected by the Great Depression as more industrialized countries like Germany. The country expanded its oil industry and just before the War produced 7.2 million tons (1937). This made Romania the second most important oil producer in Europe, exceeded only by the Soviet Union. It was also an important food exporter. The Government supported the Allies and was part of the Allied effort to keep Germany contained. This changed with the Allied abandonment of neighboring Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference. It became clear to the Romanians that they were on their own, stick between two powerful totalitarian colossus, the Soviet Union to the eat and the Germans to the west. And for the Germans, desperately in need of oil, Romania became a prime objective.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia in the years leading up to World War II established good relations with the European Axis powers (Italy and Germany). Axis propaganda sought to exploit the anti-British and French feeling in the Arab world. NAZI anti-Antisemitism was another factor. The Saudis negotiated an arms agreement with NAZI Germany prior to the outbreak of the War. Abd al Aziz, the founder of the Saudi state, maintained relations with the NAZIs and neutrality through much of the War. Gradually as the War turned against the NAZIs, the Saudis began to favor the Allies. Aziz finally issued a perfunctory declaration of war against NAZI Germany (early 1945). This made the Saudis eligible to become one of the founding members of the United Nations. President Roosevelt met with Aziz on the way back from Yalta. Oil had been discovered in Saudi Arabia before the War. The outbreak of the war stopped oil sales because of shipping difficulties. The importance of oil in the War made Saudi Arabia a country of strategic importance. President Roosevelt declared the defense of Saudi Arabia as of vital interest to the United States (1943). This was a declaration needed to make the Kingdom eligible for Lend-Lease aid. After the War, British influence was declining and the United States became the major force in developing the Saudi Oil industry. By the end of World War II, British power and influence in Arab affairs had begun to wane, and during the late 1940s and early 1950s the United States emerged as the dominant Western power on the Arabian Peninsula. Aziz played a role in establishing the Arab League (1945).

Soviet Union

Other than America, the Soviet Union is the only important World War II belligerent that had significant oil fields within its borders. Britain had oil fields, but located far away from the British Isles. Soviet oil production was adequate to power Soviet military forces, in part because much of the Red Army like the German Ostheer was not fully mechanized. The Soviet oil resources, primarily located in the Caucuses. This resource played a major role in World War II. Not only did it power the Soviet military, but for nearly 2 years of the War it powered the German military. As part of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union shipped vast quantities of oil, grain, and strategic materials to NAZI Germany. These shipments were a major reason that the Germans had significantly expanded their military and was so powerful when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). It was also essentially a giant lure. The Germans desperately needed oil and the Soviets had it. The Caucasus oil fields were a major reason the Germans invaded, lunching the most massive conflict in human history and the decisive campaign of the War. Fortunately for the Soviets and the modern world, because the Germans had such limited oil supplies, Hitler was only able to motorize a small part of the Heer. He sent most of the Ostheer into the Soviet Union on foot with horse drawn carts. This was a major reason for the disaster that followed. While the Ostheer achieved impressive victories, it was unable to destroy the Red Army. Soviet crude oil production was a small fraction of American production, but it was sufficient for the Soviet military's requirements. The Red Army like the Ostheer was not largely mechanized. The Soviets managed to maintain control of the Cacuases where their major oil fields were located. The Germans reached the Maikop field (August 1942), but the field had been destroyed--totally destroyed. (Red Army commanders knew what their fate would be if they did nit execute the orders fully to keep the oil out of German hands. Now it is as open question how the Germans were going get the oil back to refineries in he Reich, but that is not a problem they had to face. An Maikop was as far as they got in the Caucuses. Gronzy and Baku remained securely in Soviet hands. The Soviets also rushed new oil fields in the Volga-Urals region, far away from the fighting, into production. This added production and the arrival of American Lend Lease trucks provided the resurgent Red Army the mobility necessary not only to stop the invading Germans and go on the offensive. Crude oil production of course is only a part of a country's oil industry. Also critical is the production of refined products. Here the Soviets had a serious weakness, the production of high-octane aviation fuel. Fortunately for the Soviets, this was provided by America through Lend Lease.


Efforts to develop an oil industry in Venezuela began before World War I, but significant production and export of crude oil did not begin until after the War. Venezuela has one of the largest oil resources in the world. And in the inter-War period the country emerged as one of the major exporters because the demands for petroleum products in Venezuela itself was very limited. The Germans with the rise of the NAZI Party began planning for War (1933). nd a major concern was access to the oil needed to wage war. German agents attempted to develop allies in the poorly equipped Venezuelan military. 【Leonard】 These efforts largely failed, in part because of American policy. The Venezuelan oil industry was developed by American and British companies which had the needed capital and technology. The Venezuelan oil industry at the time of World War II was largely associated with the American oil industry and would become a critical part of the Allied oil supply during World War II. Venezuela has an obvious strategic goal with the outbreak of World war II, to protect its oil industry. But Venezuela needed to export its oil which had become the primary pillar of the Venezuelan economy. The optimal policy was to remain neutral and out of the War and export to both the Allies and Axis as well as other neutral powers. Of course this was not possible. The British Royal blockaded German ports and the United States while officially neutral was hostile to the Germans. As a result, Venezuela had no choice but to sell only to American and the British. This appears to have been a largely commercially based decision. There appears to have been no real appreciation of NAZI racial doctrine and how that related to Latin Americans as well as what would have happened to the country's oil industry had the NAZIs won the War. The Government used the War emergency to expand its control of the oil industry. An option was to seize the industry as Mexico had done (1938). The reluctance was probably concern over possible American intervention. What the Venezuelans did was to demand an increase in its share of profits. The result was that the Government received a 50 percent profit share. As a result, Venezuela had increased oil income 65 percent (1944) and an incredible 360 percent (1947). Oil turned a dirt poor country into one of the wealthiest in the region.


Oil featured prominently in World War II military campaigns. There was no important World War II campaign that was not affected by oil. The Allies had oil and the Axis powers wanted it. This was especially true of the Germans and Japanese. We do not think that oil was at the top of Hitler's focus when hand Stalin invaded Poland, touching off the War, but it certainly was by 1942 when armored warfare had come to define the Ostkrieg. The Germans had sufficient oil for the Polish campaign because it was so short (September 1939). Even so it depleted much of their strategic reserve for oil and other critical materials. [Tooze] Germany lacked the oil for a repeat of the World War I war of attrition. Here Stalin provided what Hitler lacked. As part of the NAZI-Soviet Alliance (1939-41), Stalin provided Hitler's military, the vast quantities of oil he needed for his western campaigns: Denmark and Norway and then France and the Lowlands (1940). These victories gained them huge stockpiles of oil and other resources--but not important new oil fields. Britain could only continue the War because America provided the oil it needed. Naval warfare between the Royal Navy and the Italian fleet was in part premised on the Italian need to protect covoys carrying oil and other supplies to the Axis armies in North Africa. Oil was more important in North Africa than any other ground campaign, because the forces there were all mechnised. In contrast, some 80 percent of the Ostheer was unmotiorized indantry, on foot and using horse-drawn carts. Middle Eastern oil supplied the British Army and Navy in Egypt, but the Britain itself were supplied by America. A huge advantage in the Battle of Britain was American high-octane fuel (1940). Throughout the Battle of the Atlantic, tankers were the priority U-boat target. Hitler' primary war goal as explained in Mein Kampf was the vast East. Operation Barbarossa (1941) was fueled by the oil the Soviets had delivered to the NAZIs. This powered the Panzers, but most of the Deutsche Ostheer was unmotorized infantry moving east on foot with horse-drawn carts. Hitler believed that the Soviet Union would collapse in a few short summer months. When this failed, oil became a serious problem for the Germans. As a result, Case Blue, was premised on seizing the oil fields of the Caucuses (1942). Too often it is said that the Germans were overwhelmed by Soviet numbers. This is not the case. If you add the NAZI allies, and people who could be recruited in occupied countries, Hitler had the numbers, what he did not have is oil he needed to fully motorize and supply his and the allied armies. And oil was at the top of the supply shortages. It was the poorly supplied allies on the flanks of the Stalingrad Kessel that led to disaster. After Stalingrad the Germans no longer had the ability to win the War and would have to fight it with dwindling supplies as the Western Allies hammered away at the oil and other infrastructure. Here the inability of the Germans to protect its industrial base was undermined by fuel shortages, they lacked the fuel to train pilots. Fuel shortages were not only a battlefield matter. Lack of fuel (oil and coal) for the NAZI Grossraum was one of the reasons that the Germans could not effectively take advantage of the economies in the countries they conquered. The final German offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, was premised on seizing Allied supply dumps (1944). The Allies also had problems of their own. For the Allies it was not access to oil, it was getting the oil from America to the front. There was a perpetual shortage of tankers. After D-Day (1944), there was a major supply shortage, especially oil. The Germans held or destroyed the major Atlantic ports. Gen. Patton complained to berated Eisenhower that 'my men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas.' The British frim the outset of the War understood the importance of oil. They did not, howver, have a boming forces capable of hitting he Reich's oil instrstructure. Ndither did the Americans hen they joined the camoaign (1943). This would not come unyoil late in the war (1944). And when it finall came it came with a vengence. Oil was even a greater problem for the Japanese in he Pacific. Japan not only had almost no oil resources, but they were dependent on America for many of the raw materials the war economy needed, especially oil. For the Japanese, it was central, beginning when President Roosevelt embargoed oil exports to Japan. For the Allies, the Pacigic War was thus touched off by oil. It did not control the land campaigns, but was a cetral part of the naval campaigns, both the Battle iof the Atlantic and the American Pacific submarine camopign which cut Japan off from tge resources of its expanded empire, especially oil. Japan would eventually have to base the Imperial Fleet in Singapore because there was so little oil available in the Home Islsnds. The Japanese after Pearl Harbor in a stunning 6 month military campaign seized what they called the Southern Resource Zone (1942). This included oil fields in the Dutch East Indies and British Borneo. Unfortunately for the Japanese, American naval victories soon cut the war industries on the Home Islands from the oil and other resources of the SRZ. The stunning American victory in the Battle of the Philippines Sea (the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) was largely due to the fact that the Japanese like the Germans no longer had the fuel to train new pilots. In contrast the United States no only had the fuel for the world's largest air force and navy, but to supply its allies as well.


During World War II, oil within a country was primarily transported by rail. This was the case throughout Europe, but domestic production was small among the major belligerents. Very few countries possessed oil fields. Much of world production was in American hands, either in the United States or in countries which America could control (Venezuela and Mexico). The British had smaller fields, but not in Britain. They were in the Middle East, India, and Borneo. The Dutch controlled oil fields in the Dutch East Indies.The Germans had no oil fields to speak of, but built a synthetic fuel industry. It was important, but very expensive and produced only a fraction of what was needed in peace time, let along during the War. The Soviets had oil fields, mostly in the Caucusses. They were relatively small, but sufficient for Soviet domestic needs. This made it difficult during the War to attack unless air superiority was achieved. The Allies did achieve air superiority over the Reich, but relatively late in the War. Most belligerent powers had to import oil. This meant that the oil had to move by sea using tankers, hence the submarine warfare in the Atlantic and Pacific in which oil tankers became a major target. Tankers were a major concern for the Allies as so many were sunk by the German U-boats. This problem was solved by the American Liberty Ship construction program. I was also a problem for the Japanese who were unable to solve the problem when the American submarine offensive destroyed the Japanese marus, including the tankers. The most efficient method of moving oil as we now know as a result of Russia' barbaric invasion of Ukraine is by pipeline. Now while rail and and sea was the primary methods of moving oil, there were some very important pipelines during the War, all controlled by the Allies. One of these, the Kirkut Pipeline was very nearly seized by the Germans which could have had an incalculable impact on the War. This pipeline carried enough oil to have given the Germans the oil they needed to conduct the War. 【Broich】 Not only were the pipelines efficient, but they reduced the need fir shipping--a primary Allied concern throughout the War.


American Oil & Gas Historical Society (AOGHS), "Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest," AOGHS Website (November 28, 2012).

Broich, John. Blood, Oil, and the Axis.

(Viscount) Curzon of Kedleston.

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

Leonard, Thomas M. and John F. Bratzel. Latin America during World War II (Rowman & Littlefield: 2007).

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of th Nazi Economy (Penguin Group: New York, 2007), 800p.


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