Modern warfare demanded great raw material quantities and the combatants scrambled to ensure they had enough for their needs. Axis nations were at a disadvantage especially with regards to oil which drove the armored fighting vehicles, naval vessels, trucks, aircraft, and a myriad of other machinery. Additionally, the Axis nations did not have the commerce infrastructure that the Allied nations enjoyed.
Table of Contents
German Oil Sources
Prior to World War 2 outbreak Germany was heavily dependent upon outside sources for oil. Per Mawn Germany’s 1936 oil source were “Caribbean – 29%, USQ – 25%, Romania 12%, USSR – 12%, German domestic – 11%, Mexico – 9%, German synfuels – 2%, and other 1%.” (1) With the outbreak of war in September 1939 all western hemisphere oil sources were blocked by British blockade this amounted to 63% of their 1936 sources. With Germany’s Operation Barbarossa launch in June 1941 another 12% of their 1936 oil sources were now shut off.
(1) Mawn, Captain Paul E. USN (Retired), “Oil and War”, 10/24/2018, Defense.info, https://defense.info/re-thinking-strategy/2018/10/oil-and-war/, data accessed March 8, 2023
To compensate for these oil source losses Germany turned towards her ally Romania and to a lesser degree Austria. Additionally, Germany’s synfuel production rose from 2% of her consumption in 1936 to more than 10% in 1939 and peaking out near 60% in 1944. With oil needs paramount Germany launched Case Blue in 1942 in part to capture the Soviet’s Caucasus oilfields. Capture of the Caucasus oilfield would not only provide Germany a much-needed resource supply boost but deny the Soviet Union of oil as well.
Germany ramped up their synthetic fuel production and it was in almost all respects equal in quality and performance to fuel refined from oil, but high-performance aviation fuel proved to be the exception. The United States developed a higher-octane aviation gas with an octane rating of 100 versus the previous octanes ranging from 75 to 80. This immediately paid dividends as the British were able to upgrade fighter performance during the Battle of Britain utilizing Spitfires now powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines using 100 octane fuel.
The United Kingdom and the United States both strategically targeted German oil sources and refineries as well as supporting infrastructure such as transportation, electrical grid, gas mains, and water mains. Their goal was not only air superiority but air domination. The initial Allied bombing raids against the Romanian oilfields and refineries in Ploiești were mostly ineffectual. By mid 1944 strategic bombing of Germany’s oil resources and supporting infrastructure became devastating to the German ability to compete in the skies.
An often-ignored aspect of limited oil resources for Germany was that their pilot training was severely curtailed in 1944 to 115 hours total flight time of which 30 hours were in a fighter aircraft. His RAF counterpart was receiving 340 hours total flight time of which 75 hours were in a fighter aircraft. And the USAAF counterpart was receiving 360 hours total flight time of which 165 hours were in a fighter aircraft.
Both RAF and USAAF rotated experienced pilots to flight training to a much a higher degree as Germany required pilots to fly until they were killed or injured. By this stage German pilots were not only disadvantaged because they were outnumbered but their skill levels were less. The result was the Allies own the western European skies.
Allies Axis Vital Commerce and Raw Materials Data
*Cargo and resources in metric tons
Source: Wikipedia, “Military production during World War II.” https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_production_during_World_War_II, Data accessed on June 28, 2022
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