Oil Campaign of World War II
|Oil Campaign 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 Ploieşti Astra Română refinery during Operation Tidal Wave mission.
| United States
|Commanders and leaders|
|Carl Spaatz (May 1942 - )
Richard Peirse (1940 - Dec 1941)
Arthur Harris (Feb 1942 -)
|USAAF: 347 strikes
||see Defence of the Reich|
|Casualties and losses|
|USA: 5,400 aircraft lost
(4,300 by fighters):316
The Allied oil Campaign of World War II:11 was directed by the RAF and USAAF against 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"; 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.
The British had identified the importance of Germany's fuel supplies before the war in their "Western Air Plan 5(c)". 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. 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", 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%.
Although the Butt Report of August 1941 identified the poor accuracy and performance of RAF bombing, Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris maintained at the subsequent Casablanca Conference the great importance of oil targets in Axis territory. The first US bombing of a European target was of the Ploieşti 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. The plan estimated Axis oil production could be reduced by 50% by bombing—33% below the amount Nazi Germany needed—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 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.
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. They were deemed to be of such importance that one raid was staged that consisted only of bomb carrying fighters, to rest the bomber crews and surprise the defenders.
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).:320 However, due to bad fall and winter weather, a "far greater tonnage" was expended on Transportation Plan targets than oil targets. 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 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.":311
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. After inspections of various plants by the "European technology mission" (Plan for Examination of Oil Industry of Axis Europe) and a report in March 1946, the United States Bureau of Mines employed seven Operation Paperclip synthetic fuel scientists in a Fischer-Tropsch chemical plant in Louisiana, Missouri. 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.
Opinions on outcome
Despite its successes, by the spring of 1944 the Combined Bomber Offensive had failed to severely damage the German economy or significantly interrupt production of a vital item. The Oil Campaign was the first to accomplish these goals. The US strategic bombing survey identified "catastrophic" damage. 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," and the Luftwaffe's wartime leader, Hermann Göring, described it as "the utmost in deadliness." :287 Albert Speer, writing in 1970, said that "It meant the end of German armaments production.":412-4 It has been stated to have been "effective immediately, and decisive within less than a year." Luftwaffe Field Marshal Erhard Milch, referring to the consequences of the Oil Campaign, claimed that "The British left us with deep and bleeding wounds, but the Americans stabbed us in the heart."
The following statistics are from the British Bombing Survey Unit. Figures are for the oil campaign in the last year of the war.
Number of attacks by the RAF and USAAF against oil targets:
Eighth Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
Short tons dropped on oil targets:
Eighth Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
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