Oil Logistics Lessons from WWII
During the WWII American and Russian armies were well supplied with POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) and communications during and after the war indicated that there were no significant delays or shortages of oil which caused any serious interruption or change of plans.
The oil refining’s weak point was too low production of high-octane aviation fuels. Lend-lease-based American supplies eliminated the deficiency. The United States provided the USSR with 1.24 million tonnes of high-octane fuels and their components during the war. (source)
There was of course a few instances of fuel shortage.
For example, in August 1944, when the 3rd Army of George Patton remained without fuel, Patton shouted at General Omar Bradley, “Damned, Brad, give me 400,000 gallons of fuel and I’ll deliver you to Germany within two days!.....My main problem is gas, not the Germans.” Bradley reported to Commander-in-Chief Dwight Eisenhower in September 1944: “My soldiers can eat leather belts but tanks need fuel.”
The 6th Tank Corps, 3rd Tank Army, 1st Ukrainian Front was raging towards Berlin, which was about 30 km away. When the tank crews were almost out of fuel, they radioed a plaintext message: "Give us more fuel!" The German 4th Tank Army, fighting its way westward, intercepted the message.
The Germans drew a correct conclusion, and the Soviet tank corps suffered a severe blow outside Barut. Soviet tank crews killed in action are buried in the bed of honour south of Barut. Until the early 1990s all military vehicles, passing Barut, had used to honk their horns. Back then there was a saying: "No matter what hurry you may be in, refuel, otherwise you may end up in Barut." (source)
In some cases the Allies were also extremely creative. For example, fuel supplies to the continent from England through pipelines. A similar pipeline construction took place to provide fuel to Leningrad. (29 km line, of which 21 km was under the sea, was constructed in 50 days).
Soviets and Americans not only had their indigenous supply sources but also had a separate service of fuel supplies.
Soviet Oil Logistics
Georgy Michailovich Shirshov, retired major general in Russian Armed Forces documents very valuable stories, written for Oil News LukOil Overseas Holding Ltd Corporate news about the Soviet oil logistics experience during the WWII.
The Red Army Fuel Service was established in 1933 owing to Corps Commander Nikolai Movchin (1896-1938), who realized necessity of the new kind of logistics for the modern mechanized forces. It was the first fuel service in the world military history. Through this Service Soviet military forces received upwards of 20 million tonnes of fuel.
The agenda of the special sessions of Red Army’s General Staff in summer 1941 constantly included a question of how to provide mechanised and armoured units with fuel. Reports to the General Staff usually contained this very phrase. In July 1941, the lack of coordination between the General Staff and Red Army Fuel Supply Department enabled German pilots and saboteurs to blow up almost the whole of the frontline forces’ fuel reserves. (source)
In 1925 Stalin had stated the meaning of oil: “The oil question is a vital one, since the one having more oil will command in a future war”. And Hitler understood it very well.
German Oil Logistics Hopes
Oil was the fuel of the future, and to insure that Germany would never lack a plentiful supply, German scientists and engineers synthesized petroleum from their country’s abundant coal supplies and thereby established the world’s first technologically successful synthetic fuels industry.
In the mean time, Henry Deterding of Royal Dutch/Shell, who, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill nimbly remarked, had only two devotions – his German secretary and Adolf Hitler. And probably Hitler was counting on him a lot but Deterding’s suspicious death in 1939 forced Hitler change his plans.
Meanwhile the attempts to prevent Germany from using the Romanian Ploiesti oilfields failed. As early as before the capitulation of France, both the British and French governments offered Romania $60 million for self-destroying its oilfields and, thus, preventing Germany from exploiting them. However, the parties failed to agree about the price, so the Romanian oil came to Nazi Germany. (source)
As I discussed in my previous post Germans were already relying heavily on synthetic fuel production. Germany had the first technologically successful synthetic fuel industry producing eighteen million metric tons (128 million barrels) from coal and tar hydrogenation and another three million metric tons from the F-T synthesis in the period 1939-1945. After the war ended German industry did not continue synthetic fuel production because the Potsdam Conference of 16 July 1945 prohibited it.
Meanhile, German army commanders strictly prohibited bombing fuel depots and dispatched their commando teams to seize them. But Allied forces could not grasp the importance of oil.
The chief of the US bomber fleet at the European theatre of war, General Karl Spaats, had repeatedly asked Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Forced in Europe Dwight Eisenhower for permission to attack those plants, but in vain. Finally, Eisenhower gave his consent, and on 12 May 1944, 935 US bombers attacked synthetic fuel plants. Soon afterwards, the Churchill-led British military cabinet that had strictly prohibited bombing fuel plants east of the Rhine allowed striking them.
On 15 May 1944, the commander of RAF’s bomber force, Air Marshal Arthur Harris, nicknamed Bomber ordered 99 RAF bombers to attack the German refineries….Throughout the period of fighting for Caucasian oil, the Soviet Army lost 344,390 people, while the German Army lost 281,000 soldiers and officers in the offensive operation alone. That was a price for oil called “the blood of war.”(source)
The following four quotes from WWW Virtual Library: Logistics are worth to remember.
“You will not find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics.”
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Logistics comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics. Strategy decides where to act; logistics brings the troops to this point.”
General Antoine Henri Jomini, Precis de l'Art de la Guerre (The Art of War), 1838
“Logistics...in the broadest sense, the three big M's of warfare--material, movement, and maintenance. If international politics is 'the art of the possible,' and war is its instrument, logistics is the art of defining and extending the possible. It provides the substance that physically permits an army to live and move and have its being.”
James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953, 1966
“The essence of flexibility is in the mind of the commander; the substance of flexibility is in logistics.”
Rear Admiral Henry Eccles, U.S. Navy
To those we must add Erwin Rommel: “Fuel shortages! It is just enough to make one cry,” “The bravest soldiers can do nothing without weapons, weapons are nothing without ammunition, but in terms of mobile war neither weapons nor ammunition cost much without means of transportation with the necessary volume of fuel for engines.”
Also not to forget Admiral Karl Doenitz, head of Germany’s submarine fleet : “Can anyone tell me what good tanks and trucks and airplanes are if the enemy doesn’t have the fuel for them?”
“God was on the side of the nation that had the oil”
Professor Wakimura, Tokyo Imperial University in Postwar Interrogation
In the next post I will discuss the experience or inexperience of Japan concerning oil logistics in WWII, with a special emphasis to Pearl Harbor.
What we should still keep in mind, especially today, that
the old saying “Amateurs talk strategy, and professionals talk logistics,” is still valid.
 Georgy Michailovich Shirshov, retired major general in Russian Armed Forces documents very valuable stories, written for LukOil Overseas Holding Ltd Oil News about the Soviet oil logistics experience during the WWII.
 See Anthony N. Stranges of Texas A&M University on excellent review on Germany’s Synthetic Fuel Industry 1927-45.
Military and Oil