Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fuel Logistics Lesson from WWII

Fuel logistics played an extremely important role in World War II. The war was won by the allies thanks to their well organized logistics and uninterrupted fuel supplies. Germany and especially Japan had bitter experiences on how important fuel logistic is in warfare.

Here I will just talk a bit about the German experience.

Hitler was determined to make Germany independent from outside sources. By the time he became chancellor in 1939, four methods[1] of synthetic fuel production methods were either available or were in early stages of production.

Germany was dependent on external sources for an adequate supply of oil even before the WWII and the termination of overseas imports endangered its ability to conduct mobile warfare.

Before the war, German oil supplies came from three different sources: imports from abroad, production by domestic oil fields, and syntheses of petroleum products from coal. But all these were not enough to assist the country’s need in war. Domestic production could not be relied on much because German oil fields were depleting. Therefore Germany relied more on the Romania’s oil[2] (allied with Germany), half of which had been exported to Germany. Besides that there were small oil production in Hungaria and Austria. But depletion of Romanian oil fields was not taken into account. Meanwhile, imports from overseas were cut.

Hence came the urgency to gain possession of the Russian oil fields in the Caucasus as the prime elements which led the decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941.
Germans captured the smallest of the Russian oil fields at Maikop in August 1942, and expected the two remaining fields and refineries in Grozny and Baku could also be captured, which was not achieved. Until January 1943, when Germans were compelled to withdraw from Maikop, they were able to extract about 4.7 million barrels (Mb).[3] Air raids on the Romanian Ploesti oil fields and refineries in August 1943 destroyed 50 percent of the Romanian refinery capacity.[4] In August 1944 Russians occupied the refineries at Ploesti which eliminated this source of supply. So dependence on the synthetic plants became even greater than before.

In order to become less dependent on outside sources, the Germans undertook a sizable expansion program of their own meager domestic oil extraction. According to Goring (in 1938) Germany needed 88 Mb of oil in 1942/43 with a heavy emphasis to synthetic oil production. Even though he revised a year later his estimate downwards to 68 Mb he forgot one important element. Germany was lacking of steel.

The chief source of supply, and the only source for aviation gasoline, was 13 synthetic plants together with a small production from three additional ones that started operations in 1944. The share of synthetic oil in total oil supply went up to 50% in 1944 from 20% in 1939.

Albert Speer oversaw Goring’s vision and did not construct as many plants as required with the excuse of short supply of steel. But in summer 1943 Field Marshal Erhard Milch was sending the alarm bells “The hydrogenation plants are our most vulnerable spots; with them stands and falls our entire ability to wage war. Not only will planes no longer fly, but tanks and submarines also will stop running if the hydrogenation plants should actually be attacked.”

By July 1944 every major plant had been hit. These plants were producing an average of 316,000 tons per month when the attacks began. Their production fell to 107,000 tons in June and 17,000 tons in September. Output of aviation gasoline from synthetic plants dropped from 175,000 tons in April to 30,000 tons in July and 5,000 tons in September. Production recovered somewhat in November and December, but for the rest of the war was but a fraction of pre-attack output.

Leuna was the largest of the synthetic plants. From the first attack to the end, production at Leuna averaged 9 percent of capacity. To win the battle with Leuna a total of 6,552 bomber sorties were flown against the plant, 18,328 tons of bombs were dropped and an entire year was required.[5]

For lack of fuel, pilot training, previously cut down, was further curtailed. Through the summer, the movement of German Panzer Divisions in the field was hampered more and more seriously as a result of losses in combat and mounting transportation difficulties, together with the fall in fuel production. When the Germans launched their counter-offensive on December 16, 1944, their reserves of fuel were insufficient to support the operation. Many panzer units were lost when they ran out of gasoline. In February and March of 1945 the Germans massed 1,200 tanks on the Baranov bridgehead at the Vistula to check the Russians. They were immobilized for lack of gasoline and overrun.

The following testimonies[6] of the German Reich’s ex-leaders make clear why oil and logistics were one of most important reasons in losing the war.

Generaleutnant Adolf Galland, Chief of Fighters, GAF: "In my opinion, it was the Allied bombing of our oil industries that had the greatest effect on the German war potential. Even our supplies for training new airmen were severely curtailed--we had plenty of planes from the autumn of 1944 on, and there were enough pilots up to the end of that year, but lack of petrol didn't permit the expansion of proper training to the air force as a whole.

General Jahn, Commander in Lombardy: "The attacks on the German transport system, coordinated with the serious losses in the fuel industry, had a paralyzing effect not only on the industries attacked but on all other German industries as well."

Generalmajor Albrecht von Massow, A.O.C. Training, GAF: "The attack on German oil production opened in 1944 was the largest factor of all in reducing Germany's war potential."

General Feldmarschall Karl Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief in the West before German surrender: "Three factors defeated us in the West where I was in command. First, the unheard-of superiority of your air force, which made all movement in daytime impossible. Second, the lack of motor fuel oil and gas -- so that the Panzers and even the remaining Luftwaffe were unable to move. Third, the systematic destruction of all railway communications so that it was impossible to bring one single railroad train across the Rhine. This made impossible the reshuffling of troops and robbed us of all mobility. Our production was also greatly interfered with by the loss of Silesia and bombardments of Saxony, as well as by the loss of oil reserves in Romania."

Generalleutnant Karl Jacob Veith, A.O.C. Flak Training: "The Allied breakthrough would have been utterly impossible without strategic as well as tactical bombing. The destruction of the oil industry and the simultaneous dislocation of the German communication system were decisive."

Generaloberst von Vietinghoff, Supreme Commander in Southwest (Italy): "Insofar as it is possible to judge from Italy, it is generally recognized that Allied air attacks [on the aircraft and fuel industries] were extremely successful. This is especially true with reference to attacks on the fuel industry, which by the end of the war proved to be the decisive factor."

Christian Schneider, manager of Leuna Works, one of Germany's largest synthetic gasoline and oil plants: "Up until a week ago (middle of April 1945), the Leuna plant was still operating, turning out a pitifully thin trickle of fuel. The output was so small compared with its capacity potential that production officials had difficulty plotting it on a chart. The 8th Air Force twice knocked out the plant so that the production was nil for a period of 15 days, and once the RAF did the same. Once after the attacks started, the plant got back to 70 percent capacity production for a period of 10 days. Another attack, and the plant got hack to 50 percent. But from then on it never got more than a mere drop in comparison to its capacity."

War Diary of the 7th German Army High Command (General Dollman), 11 June 1944: "Troop movements and all supply traffic by rail to the army sector must be considered as completely cut off. The fact that traffic on the front and in rear areas is under constant attack from Allied air power has led to delays and unavoidable losses in vehicles, which in turn have led to a restriction in the mobility of the numerous Panzer units due to the lack of fuel and the unreliability of the ammunition supply...

Hermann Goering, long-time chief of the Luftwaffe, made the following remarks during the course of several interrogations: "Allied attacks greatly affected our training program, too. For instance, the attacks on oil retarded the training because our new pilots couldn't get sufficient training before they were put into the air.”

"Allied selection of targets was good, particularly in regard to oil. As soon as we started to repair an oil installation, you always bombed it again before we could produce one ton.”

"If I had to design the Luftwaffe again, the first airplane I would develop would be the jet fighter, then the jet bomber. It is now a question of fuel. The jet fighter takes too much. The Me-264 awaited only the final solution of the fuel-consumption problem. According to my view the future airplane is one without fuselage (flying wing) equipped with turbine in combination with the jet and propeller.”

"Without the U. S. Air Force the war would still be going on elsewhere, but certainly not on German soil."

…..And the US was already prepared to have these conclusions. How?

Just look at the summary of a US Treasury Department Inter Office Communication dated December 6, 1941 on “Estimates of the German Oil Position”:

“All the available estimates indicate that Germany has been forced to dip into her oil reserves for the Russian campaign. The two up-to-date estimates, those of the British and Russians, both conclude that, as a result, Germany will be forced to restrict her military oil consumption. The British believe that the Germans will be able to do this fairly easily, whereas the Russians state that it may reduce German armored operations.”

Before carrying out the future adventurous operations the Pentagon should look at its own history and reexamine the lessons learned.

[1] See Peter W. Becker (“The Role of Synthetic Fuel In World War II Germany,” Air University Review, July-August 1981) for the explanation of methods. He also gives an extensive discussion of oil situation in Germany during the war.
[2] Especially the Ploesti oil fields and refinery.
[3] This quantity was more or less the amount Germans would have received anyway from Soviet Union under the provisions of the friendship treaty of 1939.
[4] Romania exported about 13 Mb per year of oil to Germany between 1941 and 1943. In 1944 it was nearly halved. In 1938 Romanian exports to Germany was 2.8 Mb.
[5] From the Chapter “The Attack on Oil “, United States Strategic Bombing Survey SUMMARY REPORT (European War), September 30, 1945.
[6] From pages 62-66 of July 1945 issue of IMPACT, a CONFIDENTIAL wartime publication of the Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Intelligence. Scanning and formatting done by Air War College, Nonresident Studies.)


At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Germany's refineries went virtually undamaged/not bombed up untill 1944, and you call allies "well organised"??? Where is your logic? I'd call that "well organised slumber"

At 4:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not mentioned, however, is that fuel shipments from the mediterranean were being systematically knocked out since at least 42/43. further, you gotta account for the time it takes to develop tech like window, etc. once the onslaught began, it ended very quickly.

a better way to phrase what you said would be "germany's refineries were untouched until 1944; however, once the allies had the ability to decisively destroy those facilities, the nazi regime had lost the war within two years."
a little more palatable when you view it that way, huh?


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