Creating a "Second Baku" at the expense of Baku's oilfields was a strategic wartime mistake

All political and state figures of the post-war era, especially Kaganovich, Kosygin and Baybakov, spoke as one about the considerable contribution of oil from the "second Baku" during the war and PRACTICALLY STATED THAT IF BAKU HAD BEEN LOST, THE "SECOND BAKU" WOULD HAVE SOLVED THE PROBLEM OF OIL FOR MILITARY AND CIVILIAN NEEDS. Kaganovich and Kosygin are understandable - Kaganovich was as much a minister of the USSR oil industry as he had been a revolutionary, or to put it simply, his life story could be compared to the pre-war film Vyborg Region in which Maxim the Highwayman became a banker. Kosygin had been a capable minister of light industry, but knew little about oil. What about Baybakov? I AM ALMOST SURE THAT HE KNEW THE TRUTH BUT DID NOT SAY IT. HE WAS NOT ALLOWED TO DO SO BY THE PARTY AND GOVERNMENT'S OFFICIAL IDEOLOGY, ONE OF WHOSE AUTHORS HE WAS HIMSELF.

The idea to establishm a rich fuel and energy base in the east of the country was widely reflected in the decisions of the party and government in the pre-war years. Before the war, an attempt was made to establish a fuel base in Bashkiria, Tatarstan, Kuybishev, Orenburg and Perm regions.

But all those intentions ended up in failure. Despite the work done the expected result was not achieved. It was repeatedly said at a meeting of geologists in 1931 that it was necessary to scale down exploration in the region and focus efforts and resources on a place with known reserves, i.e. the Caucasus and mainly Azerbaijan. In 1934, the proven oil territory in this region was only 15 hectares; in 1935, the explored reserves for development drilling were already depleted. Oil production began to decrease and in 1939 it fell to the level of 1929, that is the first year of exploitation. Work was virtually stopped and, as Bolsheviks did so well, they began to look for scapegoats and enemies of the people. Annual state plans of oil production, development and exploration drilling were never fulfilled, either in the region or in the oil trusts. Moreover, oil production and the development of exploration drilling were actually well behind schedule. All this caused serious concern and anxiety.

The way that these plans were put into action can be seen in an article by I.D. Karyagin, the head of the economic planning administration at the USSR People's Commissariat of Oil, published in Oil Economy magazine. "Exploration work was underrated. The scale and especially the pace of drilling being done in the Syzranneft and Buguruslanneft trusts were inadequate. Primitive methods and a slow pace dominated in the exploration and development of oil deposits… Trusts suffered heavy losses of oil because of a lack of preparation for winter and the pump compressor tubes were clogged with paraffin. Technology to tackle the paraffin problem had not been developed…"

In accordance with the idea to developmen new oil production regions, when the Germans approached Baku, a decision was made in Moscow, which was dreadful in essence and illiterate from the strategic viewpoint, to relocate some of the technical engineering personnel and oil equipment from Baku to the area of the Second Baku. When the Germans were approaching, they wanted to do what they had not managed in peacetime!



28 September, 1942

In order to execute successfully the State Defence Committee resolution, which is of the most significant military-economic and political importance, and admitting that the satisfaction of the overriding needs of the national economy and combat capacity of the Red Army depend on the solution of this problem, the Council of People's Commissars of the Azerbaijan SSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party (B) of Azerbaijan decree the following.

To oblige the head of the Azneftekombinat (Azerbaijani oil complex) and his deputies to ensure the timely delivery of the specified number of workers, employees and technical engineering personnel of Azneftekombinat, as well as drilling equipment, maintenance equipment, tools and construction devices to the eastern oil regions in accordance with the decision of the State Defence Committee.

To oblige the head of the Azneftekombinat and the secretary of the Central Committee to select and transfer 196 technical engineering personnel from Azneftekombinat facilities to the regions specified in the resolution of the State Defence Committee…

4. To propose that the head of Azneftekombinat and the deputy chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Azerbaijan SSR should select and within the month of October this year send 200 metal-cutting machine tools, 70% of them metal turning lathes, to the oil regions of the Volga, the Urals, Central Asia and Kazakhstan.

5. To oblige the manager of Azneftekombinat's trust of subsidiary enterprises to dismantle and send to the Bashneftekombinat (Bashkirian oil complex) by 10 October this year 50% of the equipment of Azneftekombinat's drilling department, and also to dismantle and send to the town of Sterlitamak by 20 October this year Azneftekombinat's cable factory.

6. To oblige the trust manager for the exploration of the Kura lowlands and Kirovabad region and the director of the Geology and Exploration Department to send by 20 October this year workers, employees and technical engineering personnel and equipment and transportation vehicles of the Geology and Exploration Department.

7. To oblige the deputy manager of Azneftesnab (Azerbaijani oil supply) and the head of the data transfer centre to dismantle 20 km of light railway at the expense of idle and insignificant tracks and branch lines and to dispatch the dismantled rails with clamps to the Kazakhstanneftkombinat by 10 October.

8. To oblige the trust manager of Azneftemash (Azerbaijani oil engineering equipment) to relocate from Baku by 30 September this year:

a) to Kazakhstanneftkombinat one Keiserling machine-tool and four compressor pipe taps;

b) to Bashneftekombinat one Keiserling machine-tool, four compressor pipe taps, one Ajax forging machine and cutting tools…

9. To oblige the head of Azenergo to disassemble the Belgorod station and and relocate it to Nebit-Dag by 1 November this year.

10. To oblige the trust manager [Karadagneft] and secretary of the District Committee of the Communist Party (B) of Azerbaijan [Karadag] to dismantle and relocate the pipe yard [of Karadagneft] to Nebit-Dag for the Turkmenneft trust by 1 October.

11. To oblige Azneftekombinat and Azneftestroy (Azerbaijani oil consruction) to dismantle in-field pipeline systems at the Alyat and Siyazan oilfields and also idle oil, water and gas pipelines no later than 1 November this year and send the dismantled pipes for the construction of oilfields in the Volga, Urals and Kazakhstan regions.

12. To oblige Azneftekombinat after the completion of the dismantling of the pipelines to relocate the Azneftestroy trust with its entire staff, machines, equipment and transport to Guryev.

13. To oblige the manager of Azneftegazstroy to transfer all trust employees with all construction machines, equipment and vehicles from Baku to Buguruslan.

14. To demand that the heads of the Azneftekombinat, managers of oil trusts and directors of facilities ensure the model dismantling of the equipment to be dispatched, appropriate labelling and security protection to the destination point.

15. To oblige Caspflot and Casptanker to draw up a precise schedule in accordance with the State Defence Committee resolution, in order to ensure the uninterrupted supply of ships for the dispatch of people and equipment.

16. To oblige the deputy head of the Trans-Caucasus Railway, the deputy head of the 5th railway department, the head of the 4th department and the head of the 7th department to ensure the uninterrupted supply of carriages in response to applications from Azneftekombinat for the cargo to be transported to Baku port.

17. To propose to the secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (B) of Azerbaijan that daily control be maintained over the timely transportation of all cargoes and people of Azneftekombinat by Caspflot, Casptanker, the 4th, 5th and 7th departments of the Trans-Caucasus Railway, in accordance with the State Defence Committee resolution.

To oblige the secretaries of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party (B) of Azerbaijan in Lenin, Stalin, Shaumyan, Ordzhonikidze, [Karadag], Kirov, Azizbekov, Kergez and Artem regions to begin mass propaganda work about the State Defence Committee resolution, explain to all workers, employees and technical engineering personnel the importance and significance for the country and the front of the transfer of some of the equipment and personnel of Azneftekombinat to the eastern oil regions, mercilessly exposing and bringing to responsibility those guilty of the late and unfair dispatch of people and equipment to the eastern regions of the USSR…


List 103, file 81, pp. 156-159



1 October 1942

For the purpose of explaining to the workers, employees and technical engineering personnel of Azneftekombinat the importance of the State Defence Committee resolution and their assignment to oil industry facilities for the duration of the war, which is the task of ensuring oil production for the front and national economy, the Council of People's Commissars of the Azerbaijan SSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party (B) of Azerbaijan decree the following:

To oblige the management of Azneftekombinat, secretaries of the regional committees the Communist Party (B) of Azerbaijan, the Central Committee of the Caucasian Oilfields Union, chairmen of regional committees of the Caucasian Oilfields Union to explain to the workers, employees and technical engineering personnel of Azneftekombinat that:

a) all oil industry workers are considered mobilized and cannot be mobilized to the Red Army without a special decision of the State Defence Committee;…

b) the workers, employees and technical engineering personnel going to other oil regions of the USSR are given a resettlement allowance of the average monthly wage for the past three months, their wives one-quarter and each unemployed member of the family one-eighth of his wage.

The expenses for the transportation of workers, employees and technical engineering personnel and members of their families and also for luggage up to 100 kg for the head of the family and up to 40 kg for each member of the family are met by the state.

Allowances are given on arrival in the new workplace.

To notify especially all the workers, employees and technical engineering personnel of Azneftekombinat to be transferred to the eastern regions of the USSR in accordance with the State Defence Committee resolution, dated 22 September, 1942, No 23.


List 103, file 82, pp. 14-14


I have deliberately given the official data on the equipment relocated from Baku in detail, as this has not actually been mentioned anywhere else. Everything that went on at that time was presented as a wise and timely decision of the State Defence Committee and Communist Party. According to the most conservative estimates, about 40% of the equipment and machinery available in Baku was relocated to the Second Baku regions. About half of the technical engineering personnel and workers were transferred from Baku to the same place.

From the very beginning Azerbaijani oil workers showed true heroism in implementing these measures; they were not to blame for the inconsistencies in that resolution, they did their civic duty.

First to be relocated to Perm Region at the beginning of the war was Azneft's experimental bureau of turbine motor drilling, headed by E.I. Tagiyev from Surakhany. A year later, in autumn 1942 the Kirovneft trust drilling bureau was relocated to the same place.

All nine drilling bureaux, oil exploration and oil construction trusts with all their personnel and equipment were relocated from Baku to the east. About 9,000 Baku oil workers, mainly with their families, were transported to the eastern regions of the country in an orderly manner. The prime of the Azerbaijani oil industry was on the move: Baku's top engineers in development and exploration drilling, captains of oil production, highly skilled technical and engineering employees and experienced party employees, workers skilled in extracting oil and repairing wells, in a word, people wedded to their profession, to their hard work.

The entire drilling staff of the Ordzhonokidzeneft, Karachukhurneft and Karadagneft trusts, the staff of the trust for the exploration of the Kura lowlands and Kirovabad Region and many technical and engineering employees from other facilities were sent to Kuybishev Region to the Syzranneft and Buguruslanneft trusts.

Judging from the recollections of the direct participants in those events, the facilities and thermal stations in Kuybishev desperately needed fuel at that time. The objective was set to finish the construction of the gas pipeline at the earliest possible date. But pipes were hard to find. The Bakuvians found the solution: an idle oil pipeline could be dismantled. So, the State Defence Committee took the decision to begin the gas pipeline construction.

All the oil equipment was dispatched with the staff, including drilling rigs and Craelius machine tools, pumps, bars, steel-wire rope, gas-operated welding appliances, heavy lifters, pumping units, valves, metal derricks and centrifugal pumps. Most of the equipment from the Azneft warehouses was also sent, including metal-cutting machine tools and metal turning lathes, nodding donkeys, well-control equipment, elevators and group drive belts.

In the harsh conditions of the winter of 1941-42 the equipment from the evacuated plants was installed in unprepared premises, or sometimes on open platforms with just a tarpaulin covering, and was immediately put into operation. In some cases, workshops were built while equipment was operating. Thanks to the dedicated work of oil mechanical engineers, the evacuated plants started to produce output for the front as early as the beginning of 1942.

People not used to the severe northern climate had left the warmth and gone to meet their fate. On the long journey many were freezing and suffering from disease and some died. But they believed that much depended on their work. If this is what the Party had decided, then it was necessary for the Motherland, for all the Soviet people. These are the recollections of Baybakov and other participants in those events.

The intolerable 35-degree frost. Hands literally stick to the pipes. The Bakuvians were accommodated in villages, 10-15 km from the workplaces. With no roads or transport, they had to get to work on foot; sometimes there was not enough food; they worked 16 hours a day or even the whole day due to the absence of a second shift. They slept in the villages and at dawn returned to work. Sometimes it took three days to reach their destination. It was even harder during snowstorms and snowdrifts. Some workers lived at drilling sites for weeks on end. Special warm clothing did not help.

At first there was an acute shortage of casing pipes to drill new wells, so they used a welded column made from 276 mm pipes from the Baku-Batumi oil pipeline which had been dismantled and sent there. In 1943 20,000 metres of wells were drilled in the Kinelneft trust in this fashion.

N.K. Baybakov remembers, "Frost… People from Baku, Groznyy, southern people - and the stinging Urals frost up to 56 below zero! There were times when people were dying but did not quit their work. The machines could not stand it either. I remember once seeing the motor of a nodding donkey stopping in action. Once, before my eyes, an operator wanted to vent a fuel tube. He touched the metal with his tongue and stuck to it."

Oil workers did their best and even more. However, the material and technical base and housing and social situation in the country did not allow them to achieve a result worthy of their name and honour. In November 1941, all the pipeline valves were disabled by a frost of 50 degrees below zero at the Ishimbay oil refinery. To clear up after the accident, production had to be stopped for at least a month which meant underproduction of thousands of tonnes of fuel. Bakuvians came to the rescue. They repaired the damage in 13 days, working day and night. Thanks to their assistance, Ishimbay fuel reached the tanks, planes and armoured vehicles that were defeating the enemy at the walls of Moscow.

To do justice to the Baku oil workers, it should be said that this relocation of the intellectual and technical capacity from Baku to the eastern regions of the country was unprecedented in world practice: an oil producing region providing fuel for an entire theatre of military operations was virtually ruined!

The whole strategy of the Communist Party and State Defence Commitee for the relocation of oil and mechanical engineering complex from Baku to the Second Baku region in 1941-42 was a crude strategic, military and economic miscalculation and could have led to defeat in the war. Nevertheless, official Soviet publications were very clear in this regard - this was an achievement of the Soviet people under the wise guidance of the Party.

In practice, this rushed operation led to a breakdown in the oil economy of Azerbaijan which had been developed through incredibly hard work for more than half a century. Only 4 million tonnes of oil was produced outside Baku by the end of the war; at the same time Baku itself underproduced by 40 million tonnes, with the evacuation being one of the causes.

Super-correct clerks at the American Army's Quartermaster Corps calculated that when an American soldier went to the war abroad he needed 67 pounds of various equipment and materials, half of which were petroleum products. This full supply of petroleum products was one of the reasons why American soldiers died much more seldom than others. One can imagine how many Soviet people, and first of all soldiers, lost their lives because of the illiterate strategy of the USSR government which caused the loss of 40 million tonnes of Baku oil.

This extra oil would certainly have sped up the Soviet victory and saved the lives of many thousands of Soviet soldiers.

Had the Germans seized Baku, no Second Baku could have made a difference. It would have been impossible to fight with an annual production of 1.5-2 million tonnes of oil from the Second Baku against the fascist Germany which would have repaired wells in Groznyy and Baku and increased oil production to 15-20 million tonnes in this region alone.

Baybakov does not tell the whole truth, even in the post-Soviet period when many dark pages of the war have been opened. Here are his basic considerations on oil production in the USSR in the war years.

"At the beginning of the war," Baybakov writes, "oil production in the region of Buguruslan increased from 111,000 to 300,000 tonnes per year." Overall about one million tonnes of oil were extracted from the local oil deposits in 1941-45, I.E. THE AMOUNT EXTRACTED FROM DITCHES AND LAKES IN BAKU EVERY YEAR!

Baybakov fully mastered the methods of Soviet statistics, which was useful for the future head of the USSR State Planning Committee. Then he wrote, "The dedicated labour of oil workers can be described by the following figures. In 1942 alone, oil production in Kuybishev Region increased by a factor of 2.5 in comparison to peace-time 1940." But what does this mean in absolute figures? Oil production in Kuybishev Region increased from 200,000 tonnes in 1940 to 500,000 tonnes in 1942. Clever, isn't it?.

"Overall in one year, the Second Baku regions increased oil production by 9% and prepared a number of new sites and areas for development.

"A total volume of 22 million tonnes of oil was produced in the country in 1942, which makes up 71% of the level of 1940. In the regions of the North, the Volga and Kazakhstan oil production grew by a factor of 1.5 and these regions increased their share in the country's oil output from 3.2% to 6.7%, due to a reduction in the share of the old regions."

"Some 697,000 tonnes of oil was produced in Kazakhstan in 1940, 864,100 in 1941, 866,000 tonnes in 1942 and 978,800 tonnes in 1943.

"In 1942 the Urals and Volga made up 8.1% of national production compared to 6% in 1940.

"By the end of 1942 the eastern regions increased their proportion of national oil production to 18.3%, Volga region increased from 0.7% in 1940 to 2.3% in 1942 and the Urals from 5.2% to 5.8% respectively.

"Oil production in Sakhalin grew from 75,000 tonnes in 1929 to 505,000 tonnes in 1940 and 752,000 tonnes in 1945. During the war, oil workers in Sakhalin gave the country 3 million tonnes of oil, which exceeds oil production in the 10 pre-war years." (This method is reminiscent of the way in which the characters in a popular children's cartoon measured the length of a python in parrots.)

"Having produced 5 million tonnes of oil, Bashkir oil workers made a weighty contribution on the victory over fascism.

"Whereas in 1940 the Second Baku accounted for only 6% of the total oil production of the USSR, in 1945 it accounted for 14.6%."

Having destroyed the oilfields of Azerbaijan and relocated almost half of the oil equipment to the Second Baku regions, having deprived Baku of much of its intellectual and staff potential, the author dares to speak of the increase (?!) in the Second Baku's share of total production, the lion's share of which was made up by Baku. But if there is no juggling with figures and percentages and objective and comparable figures are given, a different picture will emerge. SO, IF OIL PRODUCTION IN THE SECOND BAKU IS CORRELATED WITH PRE-WAR OIL PRODUCTION IN THE USSR (A BASIC COMPONENT OF WHICH WAS AZERBAIJANI OIL), IT WILL MAKE UP ONLY 1%.

The graph showing oil production in the USSR draws a line under this problem (Picture 6).

"Doctor of Geology and Mineralogy Chapay Aliyevich Sultanov summed up striking, though not so deeply buried, facts," Aleksandr Goryanin wrote. He is right. Nonetheless, these "not so deeply buried facts" have somehow not been referred to by Soviet and later Russian researchers for more than 50 years!

Once in the mid-1990s, I happened to meet N. Babybakov in the office of the director of a Baku oil refinery (as it became clear later, he was visiting the director in connection with his business interests). Taking the unexpected opportunity, I asked the smiling N. Baybakov some questions about oil production in the USSR. On hearing the questions, Stalin's former people's commissar immediately stopped smiling and I saw a quite different man with sharp, malicious eyes, who resembled the Stalinists in popular Soviet films. I could not get answers to any of my questions. Baybakov continued his business discussion with the refinery director, giving me the cold shoulder.

Agarunov wrote, "World War II inflicted grave damage on the country's oil industry. In 1945 oil production in the country was 19.5 million tonnes compared to 31 million tonnes in pre-war 1940. Baku, the first and then still main oil base of the country, produced only 11.5 million tonnes of oil in 1945 compared to 22.2 million tonnes in 1940. The decision on the relocation of drilling enterprises and 10,000 highly skilled specialists from the Azerbaijani oil industry to the east of the country, adopted in September 1942 by the State Defence Committee can be called far-sighted and very important for the country in the political and economic aspects. It was the implementation of this decision that sped up the development of the regions of the Second Baku and laid solid foundations for the future rapid development of the country's oil industry." That was not the opinion of Agarunov, he was simply expressing the official version of "the Party and the government" of its wartime strategy.

(Pic. 6)

This interpretation of the oil strategy of the party and the government in the war years was in all official documents.

What is striking is that it was not only in Soviet ones.

James Butler and J. Gwyer wrote in their book Grand Strategy, which was controversial in its day, "Hitler believed that the blockade of Leningrad, the loss of Ukraine and isolation of the Caucasus would completely undermine the Soviet economy. The capture of Leningrad would have put an end to the actions of the Soviet Navy in the Baltic which considerably hindered the import of ore from Sweden. The occupation of Ukraine would have given the Germans grain and food as well as iron ore and manganese mines in the Dnepr plain. FINALLY, MOST IMPORTANT: THE SOUTH OF RUSSIA WAS A DIRECT ROUTE TO THE CAUCASUS, TO THE OILFIELDS OF MAYKOP, BAKU AND GROZNYY (highlighted by the author). However, the Fuehrer was wrong to think that the simultaneous achievement of all those goals would be of decisive significance. Most of the information available to German analysts before the war turned out to be out-of-date and led to an underestimation of Russia's industrial resources in the east. More precise information was received by July and the mistake was discovered, but the essence of it remained misunderstood till autumn when the assessment prepared by the intelligence service showed that Russia was capable of continuing resistance though might not undertake a large-scale offensive even if it lost Moscow, Tula, Kursk and Kharkov and steel, iron and coal resources in the south. Even if it lost also Gorkiy, the centre of the aviation industry, and the oilfields of Baku, its condition still would not be disastrous, though it would become seriously complicated."

This was a successful disinformation operation by Soviet intelligence that ensnared Butler and Gwyer as well. According to the memoirs of Soviet military commanders, the main oil storage depots were empty and Moscow's scant reserves were refilled with oil from the Far East. IF BAKU HAD BEEN LOST, THE INCREASE IN OIL PRODUCTION IN THE SECOND BAKU REGION, WOULD HAVE TAKEN COLOSSAL MATERIAL RESOURCES AND MANY YEARS AND THIS WHEN TIME WAS AT A PREMIUM.

An example about the length of time required to develop a new oil region: the first Devonian oil was produced in Tatarstan in 1946 at the Bavlin structure, mapped for the first time by Kazan State University geologists under the supervision of E.I. Tikhvinskaya as far back as 1934. She earned her title of Honoured Oil Worker of the country.

The establishment of a new rich oil and gas producing region is calculated to require 5-7 billion dollars even at a minimal, slave wage. The USSR did not have these funds at that time. The oil strategy in the conditions of breakdown and lack of money was plain: production of cheap oil. It was simple. Separate shallow wells were drilled in shallow oil beds and oil was produced at underexplored deposits. There was no complex civilized exploration of oil deposit in those years.

The availability of oil deposits in Azerbaijan, the North Caucasus, Stavropol region, the Kuban and Black Sea regions, Crimea, Emben and Ucht-Pechorsky regions, in Turkmenistan and Sakhalin was known even before the revolution and no particular achievements were made in exploration before the war. In those years, there were no resources or technology to establishm new oil and gas producing regions. SO WHAT COULD BE DONE IN MILITARY CONDITIONS WITHOUT ELECTRICITY, EQUIPMENT OR FUNDS?

Fortunately, oil production at half the rate continued in Baku after this "operation". Only that saved the USSR a fateful outcome.

"The Second Baku, Third Baku and so on in the Urals eventually turned out not to be an invention of Academician Gubkin," Aleksandr Goryanin wrote. They became a reality but decades passed before that happened. Many Azerbaijani oil workers stayed in the new regions after the war and led oil production there. The oil history of the USSR is full of Azerbaijani names. There are many of them in the new Russia as well." This is true; those people wrote their names in golden letters in the chronicles of these regions. This historic fact should not be compared, however, to the specific situation that formed in 1941-42.