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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 Ploieşti Astra Română refinery[2] during Operation Tidal Wave mission.[3]
Date May 15, 1940 – April 26, 1945
Location European Theatre of World War II
Result Decisive Allied victory
 United States
 United Kingdom
Commanders and leaders
Carl Spaatz (May 1942 – )
Richard Peirse (1940 – Dec 1941)
Arthur Harris (Feb 1942 -)
Carl Krauch
Ion Antonescu Pleiger: Reich Commissioner for Coal & "manager of important fuel plants"[4]:412–4
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 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";[7] included refineries for natural oil, plants producing synthetic oil, storage depots, and other POL infrastructure resources.

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.[8] 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 1
  • Post-war 2
  • Opinions on outcome 3
  • Statistics 4
  • References 5

Campaign strategy

The British had identified the importance of Germany's fuel supplies before the war in their "Western Air Plan 5(c)".[9] 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.[10] 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",[11] 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%.[12]

Although the Butt Report of August 1941 identified the poor accuracy and performance of RAF bombing,[13] Air Chief Marshal Arthur Harris maintained at the subsequent Casablanca Conference the great importance of oil targets in Axis territory.[14] 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.[15][16][17][18] The plan estimated Axis oil production could be reduced by 50% by bombing—33% below the amount Nazi Germany needed[19]—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[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

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 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.[23] In January 1945, the priority of oil targets was lowered.

To prevent oil supplies from Romania reaching Germany, the RAF had extended its aerial mining activities ("Gardening") to the Danube.


Despite the RAF and Harris claims regarding the great importance of oil targets, Harris had opposed assigning the highest priority to oil targets[24] 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[25]

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.[26] After inspections of various plants by the "European technology mission" (Plan for Examination of Oil Industry of Axis Europe)[27] and a report in March 1946, the United States Bureau of Mines[28] employed seven Operation Paperclip synthetic fuel scientists in a Fischer-Tropsch chemical plant in Louisiana, Missouri.[29] 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.[30]

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.[31] The US strategic bombing survey identified "catastrophic" damage.[20] Of itself, German industry was not significantly affected by attacks on oil targets as coal was its primary source of energy. And in its analysis of strategic bombing as a whole the USSBS identified the consequences of the breakdown of transportation resulting from attacks against transportation targets as "probably greater than any other single factor" in the final collapse of the German economy.[32]

Several prominent Germans, however, described the Oil Campaign as critical to the Third Reich's defeat. Adolf Galland, General der Jagdflieger of the Luftwaffe until relieved of command in January 1945, wrote in his book "the most important of the combined factors which brought about the collapse of Germany,"[33] and the Luftwaffe's wartime leader, Hermann Göring, described it as "the utmost in deadliness."[19]:287 Albert Speer, writing in his memoir, 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."[34] 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."[35]


The following statistics are from the British Bombing Survey Unit. Figures are for the oil campaign in the last year of the war.[36]

Number of attacks by the RAF and USAAF against oil targets:
Eighth Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
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
Total 233 221 200
Short tons dropped on oil targets:
Eighth Air Force
Fifteenth Air Force
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
Total 66,497 48,378 93,691

The efficiency of the bombing was lacking. Working from German records for certain sites, the USSBS determined that on average 87% of Allied bombs fell outside the factory perimeter and that only a few percent struck plant or equipment inside the boundary. The USAAF could put 26% of their bombing within the factories in good bombing conditions, 12% when using a mix of visual and instruments but only 5% when it had to use instrument-only bombing techniques; and 80% of their tonnage was delivered under partly or fully instrument conditions. The RAF averaged 16% inside the factory. Bomber Command's efforts against oil were more efficient in some regards - although delivering a smaller total tonnage it did so from 2/3 base area. The USSBS believed that Bomber Command's heavy bombs - 4,000 lb "cookies" - were more effective than an equivalent weight of smaller bombs. Both RAF and USAAF dropped a large number of bombs on oil targets that failed to explode: 19% and 12% respectively.[37]


  1. ^ Donald Caldwell, Richard Muller (2007). "The Oil Campaign May–August 1944". The Luftwaffe Over Germany: Defense of the Reich. MBI Publishing Company.  
  2. ^ Duga, James; Stewart, Carroll (2002-04-09). Ploesti.  
  3. ^ Stout, Jay A (November 2003). Fortress Ploiesti: The Campaign to Destroy Hitler's Oil Supply. p. 318. Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  4. ^ a b  
  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.  
  6. ^ Cox, Sebastian (1998-03-31). The Strategic Air War Against Germany, 1939–1945. p. 11.  
  7. ^ Western Axis Subcommittee (after August 1943). "Estimated Refinery Output in Axis Europe – 1943" (pdf). Enemy Oil Committee. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  8. ^ Video: American Bombers Smash Axis Oil Fields In Romania Etc. (1943).  
  9. ^ Hastings p109
  10. ^ Hastings p109-110
  11. ^  
  12. ^ "Campaign Diary". Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary. UK Crown. Retrieved 2009-03-22. : May–June 1940 (Battle of France), January–April 1941, May–August 1941
  13. ^ Hastings p 126-127
  14. ^ US Secretary (January 1943). Casablanca Conference: Papers and Minutes of Meetings. Dwight D.  
  15. ^ 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.  
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Turner, Mark (6 March 1944). "letter ("Dear General Curtis")". Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square W. 1.:   (in same folder of Box 48)
  18. ^ Turner, Smith D. (March 6, 1944). "letter ("Dear General Curtis")". American Embassy, Mission for Economic Affairs, 1 Grosvenor Square, London, W. 1.:   (in same folder of Box 48)
  19. ^ a b  
  20. ^ a b D'Olier, Franklin (Chairman); Alexander, Ball, Bowman, Galbraith, Likert, McNamee, Nitze, Russell, Searls, Wright (September 30, 1945). "The Attack on Oil".  
  21. ^ 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. p. 241.  
  22. ^ Hastings p 371-372
  23. ^ Mets, David R. (1997) [1988]. Master of Airpower: General Carl A. Spaatz (paperback ed.). pp. 260–1,265. 
  24. ^ 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. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  25. ^  
  26. ^ Office of the Chief  
  27. ^ "tbd" (pdf). February 10, 1945. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  28. ^ "Report On Investigations by Fuels and Lubricants Teams At The I.G. Farbenindustrie, A. G., Works, Ludwigshafen and Oppau".  
  29. ^ "German Synthetic Fuels Scientists". Primary Documents – Presentations "Fischer-Tropsch Process and Product Development During World War II – 2001". Retrieved Schubert, Paul. 
  30. ^ "tbd". Retrieved tbd. 
  31. ^ Levine, Alan J. (1992). The Strategic Bombing of Germany, 1940–1945. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. p. 143.  
  32. ^ Cargill, Hall p159
  33. ^  
  34. ^ Operations analysis in the U.S. Army Eighth Air Force in World War II
  35. ^ Henderson, Horace Edward (2001). The Greatest Blunders of World War II: How Errors, Mistakes and Blunders Determined Victory Or Defeat. iUniverse, p. 213. ISBN 0595162673
  36. ^ Hall, R. Cargill. Case Studies in Strategic Bombardment. University Press of the Pacific, 1998. ISBN 1-4102-2480-5 p. 158.
  37. ^ Hall, Cargill p158-159
  • Bowden, Ray. MERSEBURG: Blood, Flak & Oil Design Oracle ISBN 978-1-898575-04-7 [1]
  • Hastings, Max. Bomber Command Pan (1979) ISBN 978-0-330-51361-6
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