*** 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 floted to victory on a sea of oil. It needs to be added American oil. The Btitish 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 prised 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 significsntly reduced the smoke trail. Tanks and trucks emerged as militarily important. And planes rquired high-octane gasoline. But draft animals remained vital to moving armies and arrtillery. Bcause 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 rmies, navies, and air fleets mobilized by the combatant countries required vast quantiies of petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) products. Modern war was impossible without oil. Much of the German Ostkrieg attempted in and apaid a haevy price. The fighting circled the globe and warfare became both mobile and mechanized. Military forces required huge quantuities of voil for air, land, and sea operations. Oil was not evenly destributed arond the world. Some countries had 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 complsint Americans had on the hoime front during the War. It hs been said that the Allies floated to victory on aea of American oil. It also exported large qantities. The Soviet Union produced less, but still very large quantiies. Procuction in the Caucauses was especilly important. Britain and France had very limited domestic production, but imported from America and American associated countries Mexico and Venezuela). Fields in Middle east and India supplied Btitish field armies and Indian Ocean Mediterannean fleets. The Axis on othe other hand had very limited domesic 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 producion. Theywere wrong, but oil wold become a major concern for the Axis. The Germans managed to cobbel 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 contraint throughout the War. They even got the Soviets to ship them oil. Oil remained, however, a primary concrn for German planners and was one of the enducements in invading the Soviet Union. Oil was even more critical for the Japanese who were dependent on Americn oil exports. Thus the Soutthrn Resource Zone (SRZ), especially the oil-rich Dutch East Indies becane 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 warstrategy was to acquire needed oil supplies. The Allies, especially America, had plentiful sources of oil as did the Soviets. The British with the Royl Navy were able to keeo\p the sealanes open so they could import oil and blockade Germny's access to maritime imports. Allied war planners understood the vulnerability of the Axis war economy, but at first lacked the mikitary capability to attack the German and Japanese oil industries. Eventually destroying Germny's synthetic oil industry and cutting the sea lanes by which Japan attempted to ship the oil of the Soothern 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 in World War I. The navies of the day were shifting from coal to oil, in part because it significsntly reduced the smoke trail. Tanks and trucks emerged as militrily important, And planes rquired high-octane fsoline. But draft animals remained vital to moving armies and arrtillery, Because of American trucks, the Allies were much more mchanized than the Central Powers. The Allied naval blockade cut the CentralmPowers off from needed oil imports. German chemidts began working on dyntheic fuel prodyction. Allied controlof thecsemeant 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 Ciontinent, 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. At the urging of Admiral Jackie Fisher and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, Britain began converting its fleet from coal to oil. German strategic thinkers also saw the importance, lending urgeny to the rail connections with the Middle East. Coal continued to be important World War I, but oil was needed for aircraft, tanks, trucks, and U-boats. America was the greatest oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of the day. The Royal Navy guaranted deliveries to Britain, but an embargo enforced by the Royal Navy cut Germany off. Germany went to war expecting a quick victory rendering embargoes moot and meaning shortages would not develop. It was a huge strategic blunder and in the end consume the short-lived German Empire. The inability to obrain needed raw materials seriously impacted German indistry. Oil was apecial problem. German at the time the war broke out was in the proces of building the Berlin to Baghdad (Basra) Railway. This would have given the Germans access to vast quabtities of oil that could not have been interupted by the Royal Navy. The Germans hoped to obtained access to the Romanian oil fields, but the British blew up the Ploesti oil fields before 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 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.


It bhas been said that World War II was decided by oil. TYhis may be an overstatement, but it is very close to thetruth. The Alles had it and the Germans did not, at keast imn any where near the volumes needed. The war-time strategy of eav beligernty power was dictated by the availability of oil, its quality, and except for the Unired States, attempts to secure more of it. Even America had to ration it and reduce non-critical uses. There was avery basic calcularion. Limiting oil reduced the combt power of a contrry's fioghting forces. World War II unlike World War I was a mechanized war. It was the first fully mechanized war in history. Oil was indepenible 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 quantitiess of petroleum. Industry required oil. European civilians wre not as dependent on oil as Americans because cars were not as commonly owned. But to wage war, countries required nmuvh more war than they did in peacetime. And this ffected all combat environmentrs: air, land, and sea. Large mobile armies reuired massive quantiies of fuel and other POL products. Tanks in prticular, especially the heavy tanks preferred by the Germans, were fuel guzlers. The heavier the tanks, the more fuel they needed. Planes needed high octane gsoline. Ships used vast quantiies of diesel fuel. German Field Marshal explained in concidely writing about mobile warfare. Tanks even the medium tanls Rommen was using in North Africa condimed vasta quantuties of fuel, someyjing 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 piple to the Middle Eastern oil fields. Rommel in contrasrt was dependent on a long unsecure truck rour which consumed as much petrol as it delivered. And an even more inscure dependence on Italian tanker deliveries across the Mediterranean.

Country Trends

Oil was not evenly destributed arond the world. Some countries had areat deal and other countries a great deal. 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 hs been said that the Allies floated to victory on aea of American oil. It also exported lge uantiies. The Soviet Union produced less, but still very large quantiies. Procuctionin the caucauses ws especilly important. Britain and France had very limited domestic production, but imported from America nd other producrs in th Empire and allied states. The Axis on othe other hand had very limited domesic 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 producion. Oil wold become a major concern for the Axis. The Germans managed to cobel together enough domestic production, synthetic fuel production, and terrestrial imports (primarily from Romania) to run their war effort. They evn got the Soviets to ship them oil. Oil remained, however, a primary concrn for German planners and was one of the enducements in invading the Soviet Union. Oil was even more critical for the Japanese who were dependent on Americn oil exports. Thus the Soutthrn Resource Zone (SRZ), especially the oil-rich Dutch East Indies bcane 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 automobile and the internal combustion engine appered in the late-19century, first in Europe and then in America. It was a relatively small industry dominated by aarge number of smll companies, more craft shops than industrial comanies. The automobile was the play thing of the rich and well-to-do. Workers went to work on public transport, often horse-drawn trollies, 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. And Fordand other manufactures bgn to build cars and trucks in lrge numbers. One of America's contribution to the Allied World War I war ffort 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 amajor cog in expanding American indusyry, 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 Texs nd Oaklahoma. Cities began to devlop around the automobile which became the very center of the country's econonomy and 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 aford 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 productin of aviation gasoline about 80 times greater. Increadibly, about half the tonnage of supplies America shipped overseas was gasoline and other petroleum produvts. 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 entirly dependent on American oil exports. Allied supremecy in World War II is commonly attributed to the industrial factories of America which overwealmed the Axis with an incrdible 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 procuction was decisive, arming not only American armies, but those of it allies. Sometimes neglected in this discussion is the important of American naturl resourcs. The Allies literaly floated to victory on aea of American oil. Even before America entered the War. American oil almost entirely supplied Britain in its life and death truggle with the Germans. And all the mecganized 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 enteed 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 Britain, eventually when Britain essentially went bankrupy as part of Lend Lease. The supplies included copious quantities of oil. Britin 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 thriugh U-boat infested waters, but as the Meditewrrabnean was closed by the Axis (1940-42), but delivering Middle Eastern oil around the Caope of Good Hope would hac=ve required an enormousd tasnker fleet that Britain did not have. The absweer 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 aftr the outbrek of the War, especially after Italy entered the War, was a logistical nightmre, requirung long voyages over U-boat infested waters. The North Atlantic run in contast wasaelatively short distance. As long as the Royal Navy could keep the vital North Atlantic sealanes 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 rmed citadel to become avast 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 Alxandria 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 palces Sherwood Forest, near Eakring. Shallow walls were developed. Given the War emergency, not durther stepos were taken because modern technology and equipment was needed. Finally Oklahoma Roughnecks and the needed equipment was brought in (1943). The effort was called the English Project. Using innovative methods and advanced equopment, 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 qiantities. 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 opertions, 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 deliveriers were of course was dependent on the Royal Navy and the French fleet keeping the Mediterranean open and the Middle East out of Axis hands. Romania supplied small qusntities, but by 1939 was coming under German control. The other half of French oil imports came from the Western hemisphere. We do not hsave a bvreakdown, but presumably came from the Uniterd States as well as Mexico and Vednezuela. The French Government considered asynthetic 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 interupt French oil imports suring the short period of the Phoney War (Septenber 1939-May 1940). The counytry 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 explotation 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 dynsmic occurered 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 impossibe to obtain. Some coal sas avsailabke, but there were severe shortages.


Oil was a problem for Germany from the first day of the War. Germany had very limited oil resources. MAZI dipllomats worked to develop trade relations with the Balkan countries and to bring the countries in the rgion 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 bfot the War gave considerable attention to developing a synthetic oil indutry. The Soviets as part of the NaZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939) deloiverec oil to the NAZIs. This of course eded hen 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 ther prong headed east for Stalingrad. Possssion of the city on the Volga would prevent the Soviets from sending reinforcements into the Caucasuses to protect the oil fields. The Germans began overruning Soviet oil fields in the northern Caucauses (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 deverted 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 sustanined substantial losses on trgets in western Germany during 1943. Many of the refineries were in eastern Germany. Long range fighter esorts 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 adeqiately 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 fiorces 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 fiekds in Iran and refinery facilities. The volume of oil and refined products, however, was still very limited.


The British had developed oil fields in Iraq. A pipeline carried it to Haifa on the Meduterranean coast. The volumes were limited, but sufficent to fuel naval vessels and the 8th Armny operating out of Egypt.


Italy entered the World War II as a result of the rash judgement of Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini, anxious to join in the spolils 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 hve 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 tonIraqi oil and therecwas considerble pro-Axissentiment in Iraq. Italy did not buld up a sufficent resrve 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 stuation steadily deteriorated, Italian naval commanders had difficulty obaining any fuel at all (after April 1942). What was left of The Italian Navy after sharp battles with the Rotl 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-sufficent in petroleum. Each of the Axis countries attempted to resolve this limitation to varying degrees of success. Japan would require huge quanities of oil of it planned to wage a naval war in the vast streaches of the Pacific. Japan had to import almost all of its oil in peacetime and war would significantly increase tghe quantities required. Japan was a densly 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 disuade Japan from waging aggressibe 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 cvapital and techmology. The U.S. government did not retaliate EWe 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 prinary orientatioin was left-wing, not right-wing and the practical knowledge that if Mexico sided with Grrmany, 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 it oil. At the time there was only a small domestic market for oil. Yhe American decesion to acceot the Mexican natiinalization, was in keeping with the Roosevelt Administration's Good Neigbor policy and effort to developo a more friendly rekatiinship with the vLatin 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 Venezuekan crude for the war effort. The Duchb had also developed fields in the Dutch East Indiaes, but theyu would be seized by bthe Japanese (1942). Conquering the Southern Resource Zone had ben a majorreason Japan launched the Pacific War by attacking Pearl Harbor. And il was the principal, but not only, objectiuve. The Japanese seized the DEI and Brituish Borneo fields (1942). It disd them little good. By the time they got the fields opetrating, the U.S. Mavy 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. Industial production doubled in the inter-War period, albeit from arelatively small base. The country wascnot as affected by the Great Depression as morev 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 poerful totalitarian collosuses, the Soviet Union to the eat and the Germans to the west. And for the Grmans, desperately in need of oil, Romania became arime 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 propagand sought to exploit the anti-British and French feeling in the Arab world. NAZI anti-Semitism 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 oerfunctory declaration of war agains 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 strageic 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 begame 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 imoprtant World War II beligerant that had significant oil firlds within its borders. Britaian 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 Armny like the Germam Ostheer was not fully mechanized. The Soviet oil resources, primarily located in the Caucauses. This resource played a major role in World War II. Not only did it power the Soviet military, but for nearkly 2 years of the War it powered the German military. As part of the 1039 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union shipped vast qiatities of oil, grain, and strategic materials to NAZI Germamy. 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 essentiually a giant lure. The Germans dedsperately needed oil and the Soviets had it. The Caucases oil fuileds were a major reason the Germans invased, lunching the most mssive conflicvt in humn hsdtory and the decisuive campaign of the War. Fortunstely for the Soviets snd the moderrn 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 Amercan production, but it was sufficent for the Soviet military's requirements. The Red army like the Osdtherr was not largely mechanized. The Soviets managed to maintain control of the Cacuases where their major oil fields were located. The Germans raeched the Maikop field (August 1942), but the field had been totally destroyed. That was as far as they got in Cacauses. 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 amnerican Lend Lease trucks provided the resurgebnt Red Army the mobility necessary not only to stop the invading Germns and go on the offensive. Crude oil productionn 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. Fortunsately for the Soviets, this was privided by America through Lend Lease.


Efforts to develop an oil industry in Venezuela began before World War I, but significant productiuon 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 energed as one of the major exporters because the demands for petroleum porducts in Venezuela itself was very limited. The Germans with the rize of the NAZI Party behan planning for War (1933). nd a major concern was access to tyhe oil needed to wage war. German agents attempted to devedlop allies in the poorly equipped Venezuelan military. [Leonard] These efforts largely failed, in part because of American policy. The Venezuekln oil kndustry 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 assoiciated 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 Sttes 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 indusdtry 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 proifit share. As a result, Venezuela had increased oil income 65 percent (1944) and an incredab 360 percent (1947). Oil turned a dirt poor country into one of the wealthiest in the region.


There was no imortant World War II campaign that was not affecTed by oil. The Germans sufficent oil for the Polish campaign because it was so short (September 1939). Germany lacked the oil for aepeat of the World War I war of attrition. Here Stalin provided what Hitker lacked. As part of the NAZI-Soviet Alliance (1939-41), Stalin provided Hitler's miliatry, the vast quantities of oil he needed for the wastern campigns Denmark abd Norway and then Fance and the Lowlands (1940). These victiries gined them stickpiles of iil and other rsources--but not importnt new oil fields. Britain could only continue the War because America ptovided the oil it needed. Middle Eastern oil suppled the British Arny and Navy in Egypt, but the British forces in Europe were supplied from America. A huge advantage in the Battle of Britain was Ameican 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 wasthe vast East. Oppertion Brbsarossa (1941) was fueld by Soviet oil deliveries and larged bsed on unmotorized infabtry moving east on foot with horse-drawn carts. Hitler believed that the Soviet Union would collapse in a few hort summer months. When this failed, oil became a serious problem for the Germans. As a result, Case Blue, was presised on seizing the oil fields of southern Russia (1942). Too often it is said that the Germans were overwhealmed by Sovitt numbers. This is not the case. If you add yhe NAZI allies, and people who could be recruited in occupied countries, Hitler had the numbers, what he did not have is the ability to fully motorize and supply his and 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 supples as the Western Allies hammered away at the oil and other infrastructure. Here the anility of the Germans to orotect its industril base was undemined by fuel hortahes, they lacked the fuel to train pilots. Fuel shortahges were not only a battlefiekd matter. Lack of fuel (oil and coal) for the NAZI Grossraum was one of the reasons that the Germans could not effectivelyh take advabtafe of the economies in the countries they conquered. The final German offensuve, the Battle of the Bulge, was premised on seizing Allied supply dumps (1944). The Allies also had problemns of their own. For the Allies it was not access to oil, it was getting the oil from Amnerica to the front. There was perpetual shortahe of tankers. After D-Day (1944), there was a major supply shortage, especially oil. The Germans held or destroyed the major ports. Gen. Patton complained to berated Eisenhower that 'my men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas.' Oil was even a greater problem for the Japaese 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. The Jaoanese 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. Unfortunarly 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 mericn victoty on the Bttle of the Philppines Sea (the Great Marinads Turkey Shoot) was largel 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 firce abd navy, but to supply its allies as well.


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

(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).


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Created: 2:16 AM 10/18/2008
Last updated: 10:21 PM 3/27/2021