Sunday, October 29, 2006

Oil Logistics Lesson from WWII - 3

And now a bit on Caucasus...

Hitler was extremely interested in capturing the oil fields of the Caucasus including those in Maikop (Russia) and Grozny (Chechnya) and most of all Baku (Azerbaijan). As Daniel Yergin mentions in his in his book The Prize, Hitler’s assault in the Caucasus was scheduled for September 25, 1942, under the code name Edelweiss.

A few days before that date, Hitler’s generals presented him with a large cake decorated with Caspian Sea and Baku. Hitler ate the Baku piece. (There exists a documentary film about it). But Baku was never captured because of fighting on two fronts at the same time. The fight in Stalingrad was proved to me much more difficult than originally thought. Even though Field Marshal Erich von Manstein begged Hitler to transfer some of the forces from the Caucasus to his command (Sixth Army at Stalingrad) he did got nothing. This misjudgement caused the first major defeat of Germans in Europe.

Hitler had a big point though. In 1940 Baku was producing 22.2 million metric tons of oil, comprising 72% of total Soviet oil production. In 1941, it produced 25.4 Mt.

As one commentator mentioned (comment to my previous post) allies (Great Britain and France) considered the possibility of bombing Azerbaijan's oil fields. They were deeply concerned that Stalin's supply of Baku's oil might be transferred to Hitler after the Soviet German Pact was signed on August 23, 1939, which was not materialized.

Here is a somewhat detailed explanation about it coming from an article (World War II and Azerbaijan) appeared in Azerbaijan International, Summer 1995.

On October 31, 1939, such attacks were actually under discussion at the British General Headquarters. However, by that time most politicians and diplomats (including Prime Minister Chamberlain and Winston Churchill as Minister of Naval Forces) in the UK were opposed to bombing Baku, expressed their disapproval and tried to convince the others that a more feasible plan would be to prevent the transportation of oil in the Black Sea with British submarines.

It is said that the French Government ordered General Gamelen and Admiral Darlan to work out a "plan of possible intervention with the view of destroying Russian oil exploitation." The US Ambassador to France, W. Bullit informed US President Franklin D. Roosevelt that Daladye considered that aircraft attacks against Baku would be "the most efficient way to weaken the Soviet Union."

On January 11, 1940, the British Embassy in Moscow notified London that demolishing Baku's oil fields would be "a knock-out" for the Soviets. According to the document, "Basic Strategies of the War" submitted on January 23, 1940, to the British General Headquarters by the Staff Commands, "The Russian economy was strongly dependent on oil supplies from Baku", a region which was easily accessible for British dive-bombers stationed in Iraq. Another possibility was by the French Air Forces in Syria.

According to a report submitted on February 22, 1940, by General Gamelen to French Prime Minister Daladye, "Dependence on oil supplies from the Caucasus is the fundamental weakness of Russian economy...... interruption of oil supplies on any large scale would have far-reaching consequences and could even result in the collapse of all the military, industrial and agricultural systems of Russia."

In April 1940 Intelligence flights by the British and French Air Forces did fly over the Absheron Peninsula where Baku is located. However, the bombing mission was not carried out although everything was in place to do so by the end of June. More likely than not, this was meant as a threat to pressure Stalin's regime. However, after Hitler invaded Holland, Belgium and France on May 10, 1940, the "Absheron targets" lost their significance.

But by late July 1942, Hitler's quest for Baku seemed well on its way to achieving his goal. The Germans had already captured the city of Rostov and severed the oil pipeline from the Caucasus. On August 9, they reached Maikop, the most westerly of the Caucasian oil centers-which turned out to be quite a small source for the Germans. Even under normal conditions, Maikop's production was only one tenth that of Baku's. However, before withdrawing from the city, the Russians had thoroughly destroyed the oil fields and supplies and equipment, right down to the small incidental tools of the workshops. Consequently, by January 1943, the Germans were able to eke out no more than 70 barrels per day there (Yergin, 336-337).

In the summer of 1942, the threat of German attack became so strong that the Soviet authorities decided to terminate drilling operations to evacuate the most valuable machinery and equipment further East. By autumn, 764 wells in Baku were sealed and 81 complete sets of drilling equipment together with the personnel were transported to Turkmenistan.

And that happened when the demand for fuel was increasing. To resolve the problem, machine building and equipment manufacturing plants in Baku began converting their factories, and diversifying production. Working around the clock, they were able to manufacture sufficient piping at the Azneftecombinat factory to repair 25 old wells that had not been used for decades. Since it was impossible to drill new wells, the old ones were exploited to full capacity.

Another problem inseparably tied to fuel production was its transportation. By the summer of 1942 Germans had blocked the main railways through which oil and its derivative products were transported. Thus, alternate means of transport had to be found via the Caspian and Volga water way. When the Germans also succeeding in blocking this route, transportation was routed through Central Asia.

Then the naval experts of the Baku oil-tanker fleet performed an incredible feat. For the first time in the world's history, they began towing a floating railway of oil tankers (wagons) from Baku to Krasnovodsk (Turkmenistan) as well as several thousands tons of oil reservoirs from Makhachkala (Dagestan) to Krasnovodsk.

The fleets were extremely overloaded. For example, the amount of oil transport in July 1941 exceeded 10 million barrels of crude oil and fuel. This amount was beyond the technical capabilities of the tanker fleet in Baku. But the demands from Moscow did not take into account the physical limitations. It was then that Baku naval experts hit upon the idea of attaching whole tanks and cisterns to each other by steel ropes and lowering them into the sea by cranes and towing them by steam tugs. This had never been done before in any place in the world and it enabled them to tow up to 35 cisterns together or 3 huge oil tanks (5 ton capacity) with a single tugboat.

Meanwhile, the enemy was closing in on Baku. On September 9, 1942, martial law was declared in Transcaucasia. The danger of an attack on Azerbaijan was becoming more likely. The emergency measures which had been prepared beforehand were set into operation-Azerbaijanis began closing the functioning wells with plans, if necessary, to explode the wells themselves so that the Germans wouldn't get a single drop of oil.

Because of the crisis, the State Defense Committee decided to transfer the main forces of oil-workers and oil enterprises of Baku to the regions of Volga, Ural Mountains, Kazakhstan and Central Asia for the enforcement of the oil extraction there. In October, 1942, more than ten thousand oil workers left for these eastern parts.

All the nine drilling offices, oil-expedition and oil-construction trusts as well as various other enterprises with their staffs were transferred to an area near Kuybishev, (Russia Federation in Tartarstan near the Ural Mountains north of Kazakhstan). This city soon came to be known as "the Second Baku".

Despite the severe frost the drillers started searching for oil and thanks to day and night working, the Bakuis in the region of Povolzhye increased the fuel extraction in "Kinelneft" trust that first year by 66% and by 42% in entire region of Kuybishev. As a result, five new oil and gas fields were discovered and huge oil refinery construction projects were undertaken, including the first pipe line between Kuybishev and Buturslan was built that same year.

Beginning in late 1943 drilling work in Baku was reestablished. However, the sealing off of a number of wells turned out to be a tragedy. Many of them were impossible to restore. Eventually, the oil extracting had considerably been reduced by the end of the war: in 1945 only 11.5 million tons of oil was extracted.

PS: You might also be interested in my previous posts on the same subject: Oil Logistics Lessons from WWII , Oil Logistics Lesson from WWII - 2 and Fuel Logistics Lesson from WWII.


At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though this article was written over 2 years ago, I noticed a mistake someone should correct. The following excerpt is innacurate: "Even though Field Marshal Erich von Manstein begged Hitler to transfer some of the forces from the Caucasus to his command (Sixth Army at Stalingrad) he did got nothing." Friedrich Von Paulus was the commander of the 6th Army in Stalingrad. Erich von Manstein was the commander at the Battle of Kursk.

At 12:00 AM, Blogger sohbet karbuz said...

yes and no. It is true that Paulus was the commander of the 6th Army. But Erich von Manstein took command of the Army group Don to which Sixth Army be-longed.

this is what wikipedia says about him

On November 21, 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, Adolf Hitler appointed von Manstein commander of the newly-created Army Group Don (Heeresgruppe Don), consisting of a hastily assembled group of tired men and machines, and ordered him to lead Operation Wintergewitter (Winter Storm), the rescue effort by Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army and auxiliary Romanian troops to relieve the 6th Army of Friedrich Paulus trapped inside Stalingrad. Wintergewitter, launched on December 12, achieved some initial success and von Manstein got his three panzer divisions and supporting units of the 57th Panzer Corps (comprising the 23rd Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions) within 30 miles of Stalingrad by December 20. However, the corps was halted at the town of Aksay, and strong Russian forces eventually pushed them back.

At this point, von Manstein recommended Paulus to break out of the city, despite Hitler's refusal to allow a break out attempt. Erich von Manstein did however not dare to give the break out order himself, even though he could have, since he was Paulus's superior.

A much better analysis is at

Sohbet Karbuz


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