Middle East Oil Production in WW2

Discussions on the economic history of the nations taking part in WW2, from the recovery after the depression until the economy at war.
Posts: 300
Joined: 04 May 2020 11:37
Location: Scotland

Re: Middle East Oil Production in WW2

Post by EwenS » 18 Aug 2020 14:52

I’ve just started reading Ashley Jackson’s Persian Gulf Command having just finished a couple of his other books about the Indian Ocean and Ceylon, and this thread caught my interest so I’m looking for the time to delve more deeply into oil in WW2. I would not describe the Middle East oil as of minimal strategic importance. While the US might have been to single biggest producer as a country, there were still significant amounts of importance elsewhere. That was why the Japanese wanted the Dutch East Indies. Iran was the major supplier for the Admiralty pre-war and figured in the prewar supply plans for a fleet being sent to protect Singapore.

AIUI Abadan in the Gulf was the single biggest refinery in the world at the time. Britain and Russia occupied Iran in 1941 to secure their interests and the Gulf became a major route for US Lend Lease supplies to Russia (about 25% of the total).

There was a revolt in Iraq in 1941 that was supported by German and Italian air power, not that it amounted to much. But Britain had to divert forces to quell it and to occupy Vichy French Syria and Lebanon to, amongst other things, secure those pipelines to the Med.

The Abadan refinery became the main source of fuel for the CBI campaigns, keeping “the Hump” aircraft flying, and therefore China in the war which was a major US interest, and the B29s flying from China in 1944/45. The Burma oilfields, which had been a major supplier to India pre war, had been lost in 1941.

The problem with the North Africa campaigns until 1943 was that neither side could support its forces logistically over the distance between Tripoli and the Suez Canal. So the war see sawed back and forth as each side outran their supply lines. That was why Tobruk was important - it could be used as a major forward supply port. In reality German efforts in Africa were small only just over 3 divisions at El Alamein. Hitler’s interest lay in Russia and the 1942 southern campaign pushed deep into the Caucasian oilfields from Aug 1942 before having to withdraw post Stalingrad.

The Axis grand idea of diving across North Africa and the Middle East to link up with the Japanese was never really a thing, and certainly not one, AFAIK, seriously contemplated by Hitler. It gets a mention in Italian planning for an invasion of Malta as a potential consequence of better supplies to North Africa, but that of course came to nothing as Hitler was more interested in Russia.

Posts: 1828
Joined: 28 Aug 2018 05:52
Location: Spain

Re: Middle East Oil Production in WW2

Post by Peter89 » 18 Aug 2020 18:46

This is one of the most debated topic on this forum, you can find tons of infos related to it.

The Africa / Middle East strategy could have helped the Axis to bottle the Mediterran sea and gain some resource-rich areas for themselves, and maybe that could have helped their war effort AGAINST BRITAIN. But:
1. The Germans never had a real intention to do it, the Italians had wild ambitions in the region, the Spanish wanted a lot for a little, and Vichy France's loyality was shaky at best.
2. Even if they capture those areas instead of the Soviet ones, they have to muster a great naval force if they want to win against the British. As long as the British controlled the sea, the war could not have been won.
3. We don't know how would that really effect the ongoing war with Britain, because it was not lost because of the lack of resources. The Reich had enough resources to continue the aerial / naval war against Britain.

We can make a nice theory about a German expeditionary force operating in British colonies and such, but that is just a game of the mind.
“And while I am talking to you, mothers and fathers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars." - FDR, October 1940

Return to “Economy”