Oil Campaign of World War II

Oil Campaign of World War II
Oil Campaign[1] of World War II
Part of Strategic bombing campaigns in Europe
"The Sandman as it emerges from a pall of smoke [lifting port wing to clear smokestack at the Ploiesti Astra Romana refinery][2] during Operation Tidal Wave mission.[3]
Date May 15, 1940 - April 26, 1945
Location European Theatre of World War II
 United States
 United Kingdom
Nazi Germany Germany
Romania Romania
Commanders and leaders
Carl Spaatz (May 1942 - )
Richard Peirse (1940 - Dec 1941)
Arthur Harris (Feb 1942 -)
Krauch: German chemical industry director
USAAF: 347 strikes

RAF Bomber Command: 158 "strikes"[5]:315

  • 1945: 175 strikes (31 RAF)
see Defence of the Reich
Casualties and losses
USA: 5,400 aircraft lost
(4,300 by fighters)[5]:316

The Allied Oil Campaign of World War II[6]:11 was directed at facilities supplying Nazi Germany with petroleum, oil, and lubrication (POL) products. Part of the immense Allied strategic bombing effort during the war, the targets in Germany and "Axis Europe";[7] included refineries for natural oil, plants producing synthetic oil, storage depots, and other POL chemical works.

The reliance of Germany on oil and oil products for its war machine was identified before the war and the strategic bombing started with RAF attacks on Germany in 1940. After the US entered the war, it carried out daytime "precision" attacks such as Operation Tidal Wave against refineries in Romania in 1943. The "last major strategic raid" of the war was on a refinery in Norway in April 1945. During the war the effort expended against POL targets varied with the relative priority given to other objectives such as defeating the German V-weapon attacks or preparations for the invasion of western Europe in 1944.


Campaign strategy

The British had identified the importance of Germany's fuel supplies before the war in their "Western Air Plan 5(c)".[8] The focus of British bombing during 1940 changed repeatedly in response to directives from the Air Ministry. At the start of June, oil targets were made a priority of night bombing with attacks on other war industry to be made on dark nights (when the oil targets could not be located) but with the proviso that "indiscriminate action" should be avoided. On 20 June oil targets were made third priority below the German aircraft industry and lines of communication between Germany and the armies at the front. Following a brief period when German shipping was given priority, oil targets were made secondary priority in mid July under a policy of concentrated attack with five oil refineries listed for attention.[9] Sir Charles Portal was sceptical of the likelihood of success of the policy identifying that only a few targets could be located by average crews under moonlit conditions.

The RAF viewed Axis oil as a "vital centre",[10] and in February 1941, the British Air Staff expected that RAF Bomber Command would, by destruction of half of a list of 17 targets, reduce Axis oil production capacity by 80%.[11]

Although the Butt Report of August 1941 identified the poor accuracy and performance of RAF bombing,[12] Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris maintained at the subsequent Casablanca Conference the great importance of oil targets in Axis territory.[13] The first US bombing of a European target was of the Ploiești refineries on June 12, 1942 and the Oil Campaign continued at a lower priority until 1944. Priority fell with the need for attacks on German V-weapon targets ("operation Crossbow") in France and then the attacks on lines of communication in preparation for the invasion of France (described as the "Transportation Plan").

In March 1944 the "Plan for Completion of Combined Bomber Offensive" was put forward which found favour with the British Ministry of Economic Warfare,The plan proposed attacking "fourteen synthetic plants and thirteen refineries" of Nazi Germany.[14][15][16][17] The plan estimated Axis oil production could be reduced 50%[clarification needed] by bombing—33% below the amount Nazi Germany needed[18]—but also included 4 additional priorities: first oil, then fighter and ball bearing production, rubber production, and bomber output. The damage caused by the May 12 and 28[19] trial bombings of oil targets, as well as the confirmation of the oil facilities' importance and vulnerability from Ultra intercepts and other intelligence reports, would result in the oil targets becoming the highest priority on September 3, 1944.[20]

In June 1944, in response to Air Ministry query on resources, Bomber Command staff estimated it would take 32,000 tons of bombs to destroy 10 oil targets in the Ruhr. Harris agreed to divert spare effort to oil targets.[21]

In late summer 1944 the Allies began using reconnaissance photo information to time bombing with the resumption of production at a facility. Even with the weather limitations: "This was the big breakthrough…a plant would be wounded…by successive attacks on its electrical grid—its nervous system—and on its gas and water mains." (author Donald Miller).[5]:320 However, due to bad fall and winter weather, a "far greater tonnage" was expended on Transportation Plan targets than oil targets.[22] In January 1945, the priority of oil targets was lowered.


Despite the RAF and Harris claims regarding the great importance of oil targets, Harris had opposed assigning the highest priority to oil targets[23] but acknowledged post-war that the campaign was "a complete success" with the qualifier: "I still do not think that it was reasonable, at that time, to expect that the [oil] campaign would succeed; what the Allied strategists did was to bet on an outsider, and it happened to win the race."[5]:311[24]

Joint Chiefs of Staff Directive 1067 prohibited German post-war production of oil through July 1947, and the United States Army made post-war provisions to rehabilitate and use petroleum installations where needed, as well as to dispose of unneeded captured equipment.[25] After inspections of various plants by the "European technology mission" (Plan for Examination of Oil Industry of Axis Europe)[26] and a report in March 1946, the United States Bureau of Mines[27] employed seven Operation Paperclip synthetic fuel scientists in a Fischer-Tropsch chemical plant in Louisiana, Missouri.[28] In October 1975, Texas A&M University began the German Document Retrieval Project and completed a report on April 28, 1977. The report identified final investigations of the German plants and interrogations of German scientists by the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee, the US Field Information Agency (Technical), and the Combined Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee.[29]

Opinions on outcome

The US strategic bombing survey identified "catastrophic" damage.[19]

Several prominent Germans described it as critical to the defeat. Adolf Galland, of the Luftwaffe, wrote in his book "the most important of the combined factors which brought about the collapse of Germany,"[30] and the Luftwaffe's wartime leader, Hermann Göring, described it as "the utmost in deadliness." [18]:287 Albert Speer, writing in 1970, said that "It meant the end of German armaments production."[4]:412-4 It has been stated to have been "effective immediately, and decisive within less than a year."[31]


The following statistics are from the British Bombing Survey Unit. Figures are for the oil campaign in the last year of the war.[32]

Number of attacks by the RAF and USAAF against oil targets:

Month Eighth Air Force Fifteenth Air Force RAF Bomber Command
May 1944 11 10 0
June 1944 20 32 10
July 1944 9 36 20
August 1944 33 23 20
September 1944 23 8 14
October 1944 18 10 10
November 1944 32 19 22
December 1944 7 33 15
January 1945 17 5 23
February 1945 20 20 24
March 1945 36 24 33
April 1945 7 1 9

Short tons dropped on oil targets:

Month Eighth Air Force Fifteenth Air Force RAF Bomber Command
May 1944 2,883 1,540 0
June 1944 3,689 5,653 4,562
July 1944 5,379 9,313 3,829
August 1944 7,116 3,997 1,856
September 1944 7,495 1,829 4,488
October 1944 4,462 2,515 4,088
November 1944 15,884 4,168 16,029
December 1944 2,937 6,226 5,772
January 1945 3,537 2,023 10,114
February 1945 1,616 4,362 15,749
March 1945 9,550 6,628 21,211
April 1945 1,949 124 5,993


  1. ^ Donald Caldwell, Richard Muller (2007). "The Oil Campaign May–August 1944". The Luftwaffe Over Germany: Defense of the Reich. MBI Publishing Company. ISBN 9781853677120. http://books.google.com/?id=XrFmy7U6xngC&pg=PA190. 
  2. ^ Duga, James; Stewart, Carroll (2002-04-09). Ploesti. ISBN 9781574885101. http://books.google.com/?id=KV8Ma-VA6fIC&pg=RA1-PA180. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  3. ^ Stout, Jay A (November 2003). Fortress Ploiesti: The Campaign to Destroy Hitler's Oil Supply. p. 318. http://jayastout.com/jayastout_website_ver1_004.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  4. ^ a b Speer, Albert (1970) [1969 - German: Erinnerungen (Recollections)]. Inside the Third Reich. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York and Toronto: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-684-82949-4. LCCN 70-119132. http://books.google.com/?id=XLSa_RIDHMUC&pg=PA348. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  5. ^ a b c d Miller, Donald L. (2006). Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-7432-3544-0. http://books.google.com/?id=5GMoWyUd41cC&pg=PA314. 
  6. ^ Cox, Sebastian (1998-03-31). The Strategic Air War Against Germany, 1939-1945. p. 11. ISBN 9780714647227. http://books.google.com/?id=qCeg7fyWGWIC&pg=PA11. Retrieved 2009-02-09. 
  7. ^ Western Axis Subcommittee (after August 1943). "Estimated Refinery Output in Axis Europe -- 1943" (pdf). Enemy Oil Committee. http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/Tom%20Reels/Linked/B1870/B1870-0517-0541%20Item%208C.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  8. ^ Hastings p109
  9. ^ Hastings p109-110
  10. ^ Tedder, Arthur (1966). With Prejudice. Boston: Little, Brown & Company. p. 502. 
  11. ^ "Campaign Diary". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/diary.html. Retrieved 2009-03-22. : May-June 1940 (Battle of France), January-April 1941, May-August 1941
  12. ^ Hastings p 126-127
  13. ^ US Secretary (January 1943). Casablanca Conference: Papers and Minutes of Meetings. Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library; Combined Chiefs of Staff: Conference proceedings, 1941-1945; Box 1: Office of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. pp. 40–43,88,256. 
  14. ^ Williamson, Charles C.; Hughes, R. D.; Cabell, C. P.;Nazarro, J. J.; Bender, F. P.; & Crigglesworth, W. J. ("5th MARCH 1944"). Plan for Completion of Combined Bomber Offensive. Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library: Smith, Walter Bedell: Collection of World War II Documents, 1941-1945; Box No.: 48: HQ, U.S.S.T.A.F. 
  15. ^ Spaatz, Carl (5 March 1944). [memo to Eisenhower for the] Plan for Completion of Combined Bomber Offensive. Office of the Commanding General, HQ U.S.S.T.A.F. 
  16. ^ Turner, Mark (6 March, 1944). letter ("Dear General Curtis"). Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square W. 1.: Ministry of Economic Warfare.  (in same folder of Box 48)
  17. ^ Turner, Smith D. (March 6, 1944). letter ("Dear General Curtis"). American Embassy, Mission for Economic Affairs, 1 Grosvenor Square, London, W. 1.: The Foreign Service of the United States of America.  (in same folder of Box 48)
  18. ^ a b Eisenhower, David (1991) [1986]. Eisenhower: At War 1943-1945. New York: Wings Books. pp. 184–189. ISBN 0-517-06501-0. 
  19. ^ a b D'Olier, Franklin (Chairman); Alexander, Ball, Bowman, Galbraith, Likert, McNamee, Nitze, Russell, Searls, Wright (September 30, 1945). "The Attack on Oil". The United States Strategic Bombing Survey Summary Report (European War). Air University Press. http://www.usaaf.net/surveys/eto. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  20. ^ Kreis, John F; Cochran, Jr., Alexander S. ; Ehrhart, Robert C. ; Fabyanic, Thomas A. ; Futrell, Robert F. ; Williamson, Murray (1996). Piercing the Fog: Intelligence and Army Air Forces Operations in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Air Force Historical Studies Office. pp. 241. ISBN 9781428914056. http://books.google.com/?id=rf_7ioBSUCgC&pg=PA241&lpg=PA241. Retrieved 2008-11-28. 
  21. ^ Hastings p 371-372
  22. ^ Mets, David R. (1997 - paperback) [1988]. Master of Airpower: General Carl A. Spaatz. pp. 260–1,265. 
  23. ^ Thompson, H.L.. "Bomber Command and the Battle of Germany". The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. p. 391. http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-2RAF-c14.html. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  24. ^ Taylor, Frederick (2005) [2004 - HarperCollins edition] (pdf—Google books). Dresden, Tuesday, February 13, 1945. London: Bloomsbury. p. 202. ISBN 0-7475-7084-1. http://books.google.com/?id=67E739vTRq0C&pg=PA207. 
  25. ^ Office of the Chief Quartermaster, U.S. Army European Theater of Operations. Quartermaster POL Plan for Continental Operation. [document located at:] United States Army Center of Military History. "Regraded UNCLASSIFIED [from SECRET] ... on 011906" 
  26. ^ "tbd" (pdf). February 10, 1945. http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/Tom%20Reels/Linked/B1870/B1870-0073-0208%20Item%204.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  27. ^ "Report On Investigations by Fuels and Lubricants Teams At The I.G. Farbenindustrie, A. G., Works, Ludwigshafen and Oppau". US Bureau of Mines, Office of Synthetic Liquid Fuels. August 1946. http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/Bureau_of_Mines/info_circ/ic_7375/ic_7375.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  28. ^ "German Synthetic Fuels Scientists". Primary Documents - Presentations "Fischer-Tropsch Process and Product Development During World War II - 2001". http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/primary_documents/presentations/ft_ww2/ft_ww2_slide33.htm. Retrieved Schubert, Paul. 
  29. ^ "tbd". http://www.fischer-tropsch.org/DOE/germ_doc_ret_proj/germ_doc_toc.htm. Retrieved tbd. 
  30. ^ Galland, Adolf (1968 Ninth Printing - paperbound) [1954]. The First and the Last: The Rise and Fall of the German Fighter Forces, 1938-1945. New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 239. 
  31. ^ Operations analysis in the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force in World War II[page needed]
  32. ^ Hall, R. Cargill. Case Studies in Strategic Bombardment. University Press of the Pacific, 1998. ISBN 1-4102-2480-5 p. 158.

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