** World War I: national economies economics non renewablke materials fuel








World War I: Non-renewable Materials--Fuels

American oil industry
Figure 1.--Here we see an oil gusher somewhere in Pennsyvania about the time of World War I. At the time the United States and American companies after the Spinfle Top duscovery controlled much of the world's oil supply. The Germans had access to very liile oil. A factor in the lack of German mechanizatiion -- a problem that would be repeated again in World War II.

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

Coal: Dominant Fuel

Coal dominated the 19th century. The Industrail Revolution began in Britain with warter wheels driving machiery producing textiles (mid-18th century). After the turn-of-the 19th century coal fired steam engings were developed that dominated the century. Steam engines. All the major industrail powers were countries that had an abundanbt cpal resource. Coal-fired steam enhines powered first rail roads and then ocean-going shipping. And they pwered factorices as industry increasingly focused on iron and steel. This was the case at the turn of-the 20th century even as oil was begining to become imprtant. It was coal that still dominted industry. None other than Lloyd George (at the time British Minister of Munitions) in 1915. "Coal is the most important element in the industrial life of this country. The blood which courses through the veins of industry in the country is made of distilled coal. In peace and in war King Coal is paramount Lord of Industry. It enters into every article of consumption and utility; it is our real international coinage. When we buy goods, food, and raw material abroad, we pay not in gold but in coal.' [Redmayne] Britain had the coal needed to fight the War. There were three primary coal producers around the World in the early-20th century: America (351 million short tons), Britain (236 million st), and Germany (154 million st including lignite). [Bauerman, p. 579.] It is no accident that these three countries were also the world's three major industrial nations. Germany was clearly a junior partner despite the fact that its industrial out out exceeded that of Britain. But even these numbers do not paint the full picture. What was needed for industry was antrhacite oir hard coal. And Germany had to import much of its antracite coal--and most importantly imprt it from of all places--Britain which produced large quantities of antracite coal. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest energy density of all types of coal. Given these facts one might think it was suisiude for Germany to go to war against Britain in 1914. But the Kaiser and his generals possssessed the most powerful army in the world and saw the small British Army as 'pathetic'. This was the calculatioin they made. During the War, Britain had a had a surplus of coal. It lost custimers in Scandanavia becise German dominated the Baltic Sea. Coal was the one resource Germany had, but not in the quantyity and the quality needed. As a result several problems developed for the Germans which became increasingly ser, many of the same issues that would be repeated two decades later. First, Germany before the War was not self suffucent in coal production. It had to import coal. And these imports were cut off by the Allies. this meant that shortages developed. Second, as a result of the war, demand for coal increased, creating additional shortages. Third, large numbers of miners volunteered for military service. This reduced the work force lowered coal prodycriin, again adding to shortages. The Government put POWs to work in the mines, but they never replaced the numbers and skills of the miners or the health needed for hard work. The conditions that the POWs used for mining were deplorable, leading to charges of war crimes. Fourth, there were transportation issues. Fifth, the need to supply other countries, many of which had been cut off from British coal. This same dynamic occurred again in World War II. By the last year of the war Gerrmany was not fulfilling coal contracts with several countries (Sweden, Austria-Hungary, and Denmark. These contract were not gratuitous acts. But without these shipments, desperately needed supplies from other countries would have ceased. [Bell, p. 351.] Thus is a good indicator of the impending collapse of the German war economy. Sixth, the German coal mines during the War, had been functioning at a high level and using their equioment without the normal ability to replace wornout outequipment. A British assessment reads, "During the War the [German] mines. while suffering from lack of material as well as labor, had to produce the highest possible output. Any thought for the future has to be set aside; the machinery was all worn to the outmost limit." [Luebsen] The Gernmans attempted a range of conservationv effort but they had only a minimal impact on the increasingly serious coal shortages. A British imtelligence report descrubed the siutution in November 1917: "With the advent of winter the coal shortage has assumed a still more serious aspect. Factories in all parts of Germany are greatly hampered by the lack of coal, and many works have been forced to restrict their output[...]There are daily queues of men and women [...] in front of the coal-dealers’ shops in Berlin, but so small are the stocks in hand that they frequently have to go away without any coal after hours of waiting. Dusseldorf, though on the Rhine and within easy reach of the coal-fields, appears to have been particularly badly off for coal and throughout South Germany, and especially in Bavaria, complaints are heard of inadequate coal supplies and of unfair treatment at the hands of the Imperial Coal Commissary...." [Muller]

New Fuel: Oil

Fuels were also a non-renewable resources, but a very important special case. At the time World War I broke out, the industrial world was in a transition phase from coal to a new fuel--petroleum. Coal still dominated and would continue to be imprtant even in World War II. Since the industrial revolution coal had been the primary resource fueling industry. At the turn-of the century, a new fuel began to become important--petroleum, but coal still was the dominant industrial fuel. And it was the dominant fuel fir home heating and cooking, this important for morale. Oil had, howeber, begun to be used by the military. Navies had begun to convert from coal to oil. And the new aur firces requited pettroleumm fuels. Transport sxtill relied on coal-fired rail systems. And horses were the primry source of battlefield transport. Here triucks had begiun to move troops and materials. America was the primary truck manufcturer. The British had begun mbufcturing tanks as did the French. They like trucks were run with intenal combustion engines. This was all an issue for the Europeans becuse so little oil was produced in Europpe, except for poorly developed Russia. Romania and Austria-Hungaey (Galacia) produced small amounts. Thus it had to be imported. And the new weapons system requiring oil rapidly grew in importance. The demand for oil increased significntly during the War. And the major source became America. While ther was oil available in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Brutain did not bhave the tanker fleet caopable of transporting it to home waters in quantit=y. America produced oil in much greater quantuity and clser to Britain.

Sources of Oil

Many European countries could compete in the Industrial Revolution because so mny countries had coal deposits. Oil was a different matter. Europe was not well endowed with oil. There were small deposits, but the only significant resource was in Romania and Russia. The Rissian firlds were on the Caspian coast on the bprder-line between Asian and Europe. This was a significant factor in the use of oil by the militaries. Modern militaries were located in Europe. The Briish and French were able to get all the oil thry needed Mexico, and the United States. The Americans were eventually supplying more than 80 percent of Allied oil requirements. In addition after entering the War, the U.S. Navy was playing a key role in supplying and protecting tanker transport of oil to Europe. The U.S. Army required a year to enter ijntio combat. the U.S. Navy was available for convoy escort, immrdiately upon the America declaration of war (April 1917). The Royal Navy and French Army dbcountrtred sderious oil shortges (1917-18). America provided emergency shipments. Tsarist Russia was the only other World War II beligerant besises the United States that had important domestic oil resources. Russian had been the world's leading oil producer at the turn of the 20th century (1900). It at the time accounted for more than half of world production. A confluence of geological and political problems caused Russian output to plummet. The Germans were limited to small oil fields, espedcually Galacia in the Astro-Hungarin Empire. The inability to obtain needed raw materials seriously impacted German indistry. Oil was apecial problem. Germany at the time the war broke out was in the proces of building the Berlin to Baghdad (Basra) Railway. This would have given the Germans access to vast quabtities of oil that could not have been interupted by the Royal Navy. Romania had the largest oil fields in Europe other than Russian fieklds. The Russian oil dud not play an imprtant rile in the War because the Russian Army was not mdechsnized and Russisa did not have a sugnificant air force. After Romania joined the Allies, the Germans hoped to obtained access to the Romanian oil fields, but the British blew up the Ploesti oil fields before te German Army arrived.

Country Trends

The United States had the industrial sector capable of supporing a modern army, but the United States did not participate in the European arms race, except for modest naval spending. Unlike the Eurpean powers, America had vast oil fields, making it the world's primary producer of petroleum. As early as the 1860s, it was clear that there were major advantages to a liquid fuel. There were, however, major impediments. First the technology for using petroleum for a fuel had to be developed. Second, the supply problem had to be resolved. At the time, only minor quantities were being profuced. By the turn of the century both problems hd been resolved are were were well on thir way to resolution. The technologicl issues had not only been largely been resolved, but it was oil thsat was needced to get the maximum benefit out of the new turbines. Countries including Britain, America, and Italy had begun to build oil fired ships. The British decided to do the same, but at the time of the outbreak of World War I had only begun building smaller ships with oil fired propulsion. There were dual--fired vessels, but only 74 submarines 56 destoyers built or under construction. Thus the emense Royal Navy did not yet need large quaniies of oil. [Churchill, World Crisis, Vol. 1, p. 101.] The British ansee to the supply pronlem was to develop overseas oul fvields. This it did in Dutch East Indies/Borneo and the Middle East, but oil was easily availanle in the United States. Contol of the se ;laneds guaranteed not only access, but the ability to cut off Germsny from oversea sources. The potoblem for Britain became the emnse size of the fleet and the cist of comversion. This was was a problem addressed in npart with the desire to uograde fire power with 15 jnch guns. The growing importancce of oil as a fuel put Germany at a disadvantage in the European inustrial competition and arms race, Germny was at a severe isadvantage. At the urging of Admiral Jackie Fisher and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Britain began converting the Royal Navy from coal to oil. German strategic thinkers also saw the importance, lending urgeny to the rail connections with the Middle East. Coal continued to be important World War I, but oil was needed for aircraft, tanks, trucks, and U-boats. America was the greatest oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of the day. The Royal Navy guaranted deliveries to Britain, but an embargo enforced by the Royal Navy cut Germany off. Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder and in the end consume the short-lived German Empire. America unkike the Europeans had a huge oil industry and had begun to convert to oil. Few of the American capital ships could be operated from Btitain because of the imnbility of the British to provide fuel. The American destroyers, however, would go into action a year befote the Ameican Expeditioinary Force (AEF) and plazy an important role in the War, primarily as convoy escorts. By the outbreak of war oil was not just being used by the Navy. Oil was needed by both the air forces and armies. Because of Ameruca thgere wa no shortage of oil with the Allies, although there was a shorage of tankers until the United States entered the War. It took too long to convert American industry for arms production. Germany asked for an armistice just as tht oricess was nearing completed (Nobember 1917). America was, however, producing trucks with oil fired internal compustion engines. These truckjs added significlly to Allied mobility.

Services

Oil was emerged as an important element in military power in the decade before World War I. Oil as a fuel was most importantly durung World War used by navies. Pil was used by all three major services, but most importantly by the navies. Navies at the time led by the British Royal Navy and the United States Nsvy which began the switch from coal to oil as fuel. This was optionl, but major military inovations required oil. The new submarines required oil. Air craft also required oil. Land forces primarily used horse power during Worls War I. There were two exceptions. First the Americans who were making Model-T Fords in huge numbers also began making trucks. This was reaktively rare in Europe. Trucks became a primary contribution to the Allie war effort. As they were alreasy being manufactured, no retooling was necceasry. America began to shift industry to militraty productuin, byrt ythe Geranmsn asked for an armistice before American warproduction had begun to reach Ftance in any quantity.The other important use of pol inm land warfare was the British and French tanks that helped crack through the Gernan frint line. A lesser known use of oil was in the in the manufacture of munitions. The British employed a process developed by Royal Dutch/Shell to extract toluol, an essential ingredient in producing TNT.

Importance

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 senario repeated two decades later, but with the the increasing demands of an enlarged navy, a powerful air force, and an increasingly motorized army made a petroleum-strapped victory even more unthinkable ..." [Friedensburg, p. 445.] Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder. The quick Germany victory evaportated on the Marne only a month into the War. In the end the inability to import raw materials and food would be a major factor in the defeat of the short-lived German Empire.

Sources

Bauerman, Hilary (1911). "Coal" in Hugh Chisholm (ed.) Encyclopædia Britannica Vol. 6, 11th ed. (Cambridge University Press: 1911). TYhere were many other small coal producer, but none even approached the big three.

Bell, Archibald Colquhoun. A History of the Blockade of Germany and of the Countries Associated with Her in the Great War: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, 1914-1918 (London: H.M Stationary Office, 1937).

Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis (1923).

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

Luebsen, G. "The German Coal Situation," in Reconstruction in Europe (Manchester Guardian Commercial: 1922).

(R.A.S. Sir b) Redmayne. The British Coal-Mining Industry During the War (Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1923).

Muller, Max. Note to Lord Hardinge of Penshurst. "The Economic Situation in Germany in November 1917, Being the Fortieth Month of the War." British National Archives: CO 323/775, General 1918. 180-18.








CIH--WW I







Navigate the CIH World War I Section:
[Return to Main World War I strategic materials page]
[Return to Main oil history page]
[Return to Main Economics page ]
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Aftermath] [Alliances] [Animals] [Armistace] [Causes] [Campaigns] [Casualties] [Children] [Countries] [Declaration of war] [Deciding factors] -------[Diplomacy] -------[Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Military forces] [Neutrality] [Pacifism] [People [Peace treaties] [Propaganda] [POWs] [Russian Revolution] [Signals and intelligence] [Terrorism] [Trench warfare] --------[Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to the Main World War II page]





Created: 6:26 AM 2/14/2021
Last updated: 10:38 PM 6/1/2021