Oil and War

The colossus of people and equipment that put virtually the whole world in motion during World War II required an immense amount of fuel, both for evil and for good! Oil, described by V. Pikul as "a black, filthy, mercenary beauty", lived up to this description during the war, for it was impossible to do evil without her and without her it was impossible to fight evil!

"Whoever has oil rules the world." These words of the British Admiral Fisher, exaggerated as they are, reflected the incontrovertible fact that since the beginning of the 20th century oil had been taking on an ever-increasing importance in the world economy. And as everyone knows, the world is ruled by those who are strong in all respects, including the military. To be strong in the modern world without a sufficient amount of oil is absurd.

Perhaps Churchill was one of the first to realize the enormous significance of oil for future wars. In 1911 a most important event occurred that made oil a strategic product in the military sphere. First Lord of the Admiralty of Great Britain Sir Winston Churchill converted the British fleet from coal to fuel oil. The oil regions of the world immediately became zones of vital interest for the world powers.

In September 1914 the situation on the German-French front was so bad that that Paris faced a real threat of occupation. Joseph Galieni, who was in charge of the defence of the French capital, commandeered all Paris taxis to move troops to the front. Rome was saved by geese, while Paris was saved by taxis, that is, motor-cars with internal-combustion engines running on petroleum derivatives.

At that time the Allied troops had 92,000 trucks while armored cars and then tanks appeared later. The first aircraft took to the air. According to experts, the war brought "the victory of trucks over railroads" and its final stage consisted of "maneuvres by motor-cars and aircraft against maneuveres on the railroads".

In December 1917 French Prime Minister Clemenceau had to appeal to US President Wilson for help again:


Paris, 15 December, 1917

"At the crucial moment in the current war, when determinate military actions are to begin in the coming 1918 at the French front, French forces must not for a single minute run the risk of being left without the petroleum necessary for motor-cars, flying vehicles and tractor field artillery.

Any shortage of petroleum can immediately paralyze our armies and force us to a peace which is unacceptable for the Allies. The minimal reserve of petroleum for the French forces determined by our commander-in-chief is 44,000 tonnes, monthly consumption making up 30,000 tonnes.

This required reserve has now decreased to 28,000 tonnes and is running the risk of reaching zero, if the United States do not take urgent and exceptional measures.

Being essential for the common salvation of the Allies, these measures can and must be taken immediately; moreover, it is necessary that President Wilson should receive an extra 100,000 tonnes in tanker vessels from American oil companies, as they are needed by the French army and population.

Such tankers are available. At present they are in the Pacific Ocean instead of plying the Atlantic. The rest can be found from the new tankers under construction in the United States.

President Clemenceau personally asks President Wilson to take the appropriate steps to send these tankers, with a displacement of 100,000 tonnes, immediately to French ports.

This is a matter of common salvation for the Allies.

If the Allies do not want to lose the war they have to see that in the hour of the Germans' crucial onsurge, fighting France receives the petroleum that will be its lifeblood in the coming battles."

Signed by J. Clemenceau.

The appeal was answered. The Inter-Union Oil Council organized a regular supply of oil to the French army.

At the dinner given by the British government on 21 November, 1918 in honour of the armistice, Lord Curzon summed up the results of the war and, in particular, said the following, "The war made us deal with various problems that the government had never encountered before… As the war began, oil and petroleum products became the main factors by means of which we could conduct and win this war. In this field, the war established cooperation not only between different, vital industries, but also between us and our Allies who gave us active support… The future will show indeed that the Allies have been led to victory by oil. The government had to regulate the exploitation of oil wells in different parts of the world, maintain the correct supply and take care of its equal and fair distribution. Finally, we had to construct reservoirs to store the oil and pipelines to transport it…

"But the difficulties we were facing in our country had to be overcome in the Allied countries as well. To establish a common policy, the Inter-Union Oil Council was formed… When the Council set about its work our oil supply was in a critical state. However, by establishing a definite policy of supplying individual countries with oil according to their precisely determined needs and by constantly adaptating the work programme to the changing situation, the Council managed to supply the needs of the Allied countries and their armies… The events justified the organization of the Council, for the victory would have been unthinkable without it… The Council regulated oil supply in every corner of the world where oil is used, and despite the immense difficulties in obtaining the necessary immense amounts of it, no government complained of oil shortages to meet essential war needs".

These remarks by Lord Curzon show the significance of oil in World War I.

Lloyd George realized what Baku oil meant for military operations. At the banquet to mark the Allies' victory, Lloyd George said: "When the Germans were moving forward with the intention of occupying the fertile corn fields and rich oil regions of Russia, we considered it necessary to rally and strengthen those elements that were still continuing to resist the Germans in some Russian governments. We did it regardless of the political, social and economic views of those people. It was not an anti-Bolshevist campaign that we organized and subsidized, but an anti-German front. IF THE GERMANS HAD SUCCEEDED IN FINDING THEIR WAY TO BAKU AND CAPTURING THE INEXHAUSTIBLE OIL RESOURCES OF THE REGION AND RICH GRANARIES OF THE NEIGHBOURING REGIONS, THE WAR WOULD HAVE BEEN WITHOUT END" (highlighted by the author).

These words of Lloyd George were perhaps the first acknowledgement of the significance of Baku in world geopolitics. There are many more such declarations to come from the world's powers.

When the well-known events in Russia began, The New York Times declared on 14 July, 1918: "It is necessary to prepare forces to use them in Northern Persia and the Caucasus. This direction is probably the most important for the Allies. The priority objective of the Allies is to occupy important oil regions of the Caucasus."

The expression "oil civilization" appeared after World War I. For some reason it is attributed to the academician V. Velikhov but he had not been born at the time.

The internal combustion engine invented in 1860 by French mechanic Etienne Lenoir and the German Nikolaus Otto's idea to build a four-piston engine in 1878 were used by Daimler in the world's first car. They all used oil to operate their systems and thereby revolutionized the whole world. The military applied and will continue to apply this technological revolution to strengthen their capacity.

This has been going on for a century, and will go on for a long time yet!

There are numerous books and articles entitled Oil and Policy, but today, the title Oil and Civilization is much more relevant. In G Miller's fantasy action movie Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, after World War III, that began because of oil, wild gangs wander the desert land, and just one community grouped around an old oil well tries to create a new civilization by means of oil!

Oil had a more important role to play in World War II.

In his book Oil and Foreign Policy Michael Brooks writes, "The war (World War II - Author) made clear the immense importance of oil in our motorized age. What can be more convincing than the statistics that half of the military supplies during the war were petroleum products? Petroleum products of one kind or another are required for bomber and fighter aircraft in the air, battleships in seas, tanks and armoured vehicles on land." Oil made up about half of the total tonnage sent from the USA. In World War II, just as in World War I, as Clemenceau once said, the Allies "rode to victory on the crest of the oil wave, but that very wave can soon lead the world to disaster if preventive measures are not taken in time".

Stalin said before the war began that "… oil is now a major issue for the world powers… This sector has become the main nerve of all the world powers' economic and military activity and America always meets competition from England in this area… This is a fight for America, because whoever has more oil has control of the world economy and trade. Now that the fleets of the progressive countries are turning to motor engines, oil is a vital nerve of contention among the world states for domination, both in peace-time and war-time."

Baybakov recalls, "I remember, for example, Stalin asking the director of Krasnodar oil combine, S.S. Apryatkin, during the latter's speech, about the volume of oil reserves in the region. Apryatkin replied 160 million tonnes. Stalin asked to hear about the reserves in detail, by category, but Apryatkin could not remember the precise data. Stalin looked at him intently and said reproachfully, "A good manager, Comrade Apryatkin, must know his reserves precisely by category." We were all surprised at Stalin's awareness . The director of the combine was blushing with shame. That was a lesson both for him and for all of us."

Nikita Khrushchev remembers the following incident concerned with oil, "When the USA entered the war, Stalin told me in conversation, 'Well, the war of the motor engine is beginning.' But he had often said that before. I do not know whether those were his own words or someone else's before him. However, it is clear to the average man that now, in the modern age, war really is a fight of the motor engines. Whoever has more engines, whoever has more capacity to keep these engines running, that is, has enough fuel, will win the war." The Battle for Kursk can be described as a classical battle of engines.

"A black, filthy, mercenary beauty" could be the foundation of the strategic agreement on joint actions in Europe reached between two of the most terrible people in the history of mankind - Stalin and Hitler.

"My stay in Moscow was short again, unfortunately, too short", Ribbentrop remembered. "I intend to stay here longer next time. Nevertheless, we took full advantage of these two days. The following was made clear:

"German-Soviet friendship is now established finally.

"Neither side will ever allow the interference of third powers in Eastern European matters.

"Both states want peace to be established and England and France to stop the senseless and hopeless struggle against Germany.

"However, if the war-mongers gain the upper hand in these countries, Germany and the USSR will know how to respond them."

There were also "Persian motifs" in the rapprochement between Stalin and Hitler. Here is how I. Bunich describes the conversation of Molotov with Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka, "The defeat of England was discussed as if it had already happened. Matsuoka mentioned that the issue is 'very complicated and delicate'. He knows that the Soviet Union has already conducted negotiations with Hitler concerning the further fate of 'the bankrupt British estate' and lays claim to the Persian Gulf. Japan does not mind, but it is necessary to decide firmly and precisely what will go to Japan and what will go to the USSR. This refers mostly to India, for Japan has no interests further west of this region." England is safe and sound, but its oil interests are being divided, without any consideration for England, as the defeated territory,- the main thing is oil!

"Stalin was so elated that he even went to the station to see off the Japanese delegation. He showered General Nagai with kisses, then enveloped the short Matsuoka in a bear hug kissed him too and said, 'Now that we have the Soviet-Japanese treaty of neutrality, Europe has nothing to fear.'"

John Toland writes in his book Adolph Hitler that when the train with the Japanese began to move off Stalin embraced the German ambassador von Schulenberg and said, "We must stay friends and you have to do your best to make sure we do."

As Alan Bullock points out, "It was probably his daughter, Svetlana, who came closest to understand her father, as she wrote, 'He could not imagine and foresee that the treaty of 1939, which he considered his beloved child and the fruit of his great cunning, would be broken by the enemy, more cunning than he was himself. Which was the main cause of his depression in the beginning of the war. That was his great political blunder. Even when the war was over he used to say, "Eh, we would be invincible together with the Germans".' The words of his daughter are confirmed by the following evanescent incident. The famous choreographer Igor Moiseyev recalled Stalin approaching him during a reception in the Kremlin and asking, "Can you stage the defeat of France and England?" That demonstrated implicitly his attitude towards Germany and the future Allies at that time.

The bloody Yezhov told Krivitsky, "Germany is very powerful. Now it is the most powerful country in the world. And it is Hitler who made it like that. Who can doubt it? Soviet Russia has only one way." And he recalled what Stalin had told him in this regard, "We ought to agree with such a strong country as Nazi Germany."

And indeed, an abundance of oil, mighty armies, immense man power resources and so on - this coalition would have been such a dreadful power that no real forces could have been found in Europe to confront it!

And truly terrible people could have been united at the head of that terrible power!

Several dozen attempts on Hitler's life were made between 1941 and 1945, but he survived. On 20 July 1944, Hitler was saved literally by a miracle. Scientists calculated that after all the attempts on Hitler's life the chance of his survival was one in 53 trillions! And with such a slim chance of survival he did survive in a mysterious way! Hitler once survived owing to a prophetic dream. One day, during World War I, Hitler woke in horror after dreaming that he was being stoned. He jumped up and rushed out of the trench, and several seconds later a shell hit the trench, killing all the soldiers in it.

He was Satan! Only Satan could say, "If the war is lost, the people must die, too. The German people is not worthy of its Fuehrer and must be gone." To complete the portrait of Hitler it should be added that, according to prominent German sex experts and historians, Hitler was homosexual.

Stalin's road in life and politics was also a very hard one. He set one group of people against another, then the latter against someone else and so on, and always came out the victor; there is something diabolical in this! Stalin had webbed toes on one of his feet. "The devil's mark!" said a doctor who examined him in exile.

A journalist from Moscow Viktor Vasilyev, who wrote a book in the 1960s about the well-known School No 6 in Baku (where the author studied too), once told the author, "When I was in Stalin's House-Museum in Gori, the first thing that occurred to me was that a man who had been born on that couch could not but hate the whole world!"

And this satanic alliance could be bound by oil as well! As for oil, at a critical time Stalin found a common language with the democrat Churchill at the cost of possible tragedy for the Azerbaijan people.

When the Germans were approaching Baku, both the dictator Stalin and the democrat Churchill ("Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those forms that have been tried from time to time", Churchill famously said in the House of Commons on 11 November 1947) were planning to bomb Baku and set it on fire so that the Germans could not get oil.

It must be pointed specifically that fuel prices in war time did not comply with common market trends. Fuel had a different price at different times, in different battle locations, in different countries, which was difficult to estimate by the usual methods that had been worked out over many years. This shows once again the close association of oil with a specific war situation in a specific region of the world.

In other words, oil as a commodity takes on a different significance in war time.

As V. Pikul writes, Wilhelm Canaris' men informed Berlin that the Allies were preparing "Convoy PQ-17" in Iceland to help Russia; and Hitler made a decision to send his favorite super-battleship Tirpitz to extinguish the escort guard. As Canaris' men said, the value of the cargo was over 500 million dollars. It included 212 aircraft, 1,584 tanks and 4,200 mechanized vehicles. Hitler asked Admiral Reder, "How much fuel do we need to execute the liquidation operation?" "Fifteen thousand tonnes", Reder answered. "You are crazy. So much fuel!" Hitler exclaimed. "Never!" "But this is a minimum," Reder tried to find an excuse. This exchange in which 500 million dollars of strategic cargo is compared to 15,000 tonnes of fuel makes clear in many ways the real value at that time and in that region. During the forced march of the Germans to the suburbs of Moscow or during the capture of Berlin by the Allies, when fuel was flowing like rivers into tanks, aircraft and motor-cars it had an altogether different price.

When the sinking of a big Soviet ship carrying timber was reported to Hitler, he cried, "So what! You spent 81,000 tonnes of oil on that!"

"Delicious lamb", Stalin said at dinner. "Specially for you from Sukhumi," came the reply. . "And the plane was filled with water, of course?" Stalin reacted angrily. Both dictators were very careful with oil.

Both in the pre-war years and during World War II, oil was the subject of amoral deals and agreements, but during the war the amorality of some deals reached the absolute limit. The Romanian leaders made their oil the subject of an amoral auction during World War II. They demanded money and land and political dividends from the different warring sides in exchange for the liquidation (?!) and sale of their oil. The first attempt to liquidate oil fields in Europe during World War II was a "peaceful" one. "In autumn 1939, Great Britain and France planned to allocate 60 million dollars to Romania as payment for destroying the oil wells so that Romanian oil is not seized by the Germans," according to the War Cabinet, Meeting Notes, 22 November, 1939, POG (S), CAB 77/16, PRO.

Daniel Yergin writes in this regard, "Several months after the war began but before France surrendered, the British and French governments tried to remake the intricate move that had worked during the First World War. They together offered 60 million dollars to Romania to destroy its oilfields, thereby preventing Germany from using them. But the sides never agreed the price, the deal fell through and the Romanian oil flowed to the Germans, as they had feared."

Romanian Prime Minister Ion Antonescu wrote after the war in his testimony to the investigation that in May 1941 Hitler told him of his decision to attack the Soviet Union and said that "Romania must not keep out of this war." Antonescu continued, "As Hitler's proposal to start jointly the war against the Soviet Union answered my aggressive intentions, I declared my consent to participation in the attack on the Soviet Union and undertook to prepare the necessary Romanian troops and at the same time increase oil and petroleum products and agricultural product supplies for the needs of the German army." Germany promised to give Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and other Soviet lands right up to the Dnepr to Romania for its participation in the war against the USSR.

In recent years, a theory has appeared that the reason Stalin did not occupy the Romanian oilfields was not Hitler but … Baku, that is, oil blackmail assumed a new disguise on the political arena.

In his sensational book Operation Thunderstorm Igor Bunich puts forward an unconventional point of view on why Stalin, on reaching the old border of the Russian Empire in March 1940, did not go beyond it and take Helsinki, why Stalin did not occupy the whole of Finland when the Finns had no means of defence beyond Vyborg. According to this theory, which I think makes sense,, Churchill threatened Stalin that he would firebomb Baku and that stopped Stalin. We will never know whether this is true or not, and it will remain nothing but a theory forever, but it is incontrovertible that many outstanding politicians of the time held Baku as an amoral carte-blanche!

We should not be amazed at such amoral deals as blowing up their own oilfields, trading oil for some else's land, blackmail, for oil is a dangerous child of nature, especially in war and pre-war years!

Strange as it may seem, some historians smell the whiff of oil in the Allies' landing in Normandy and do not see it as simply the duty of the Allies. V.L. Malkov writes, "Since late 1943 Earl's wire reports were at times full of panic. Addressing now H. Hopkins, now the president directly, he spoke of the enormous moral influence of the Soviet people's triumphs on the situation in the countries of south-eastern Europe, on the increase of the anti-fascist liberation movement which threatens the West with irrevocable losses, including control of Arabian oil, if the movement spreads to other regions and the anti-imperialist trend should increase." And that was not just a panic appeal by Earl - Stalin had always had an eye on those regions and in a certain situation he could have tried to realize his plans.

Relations between the longstanding Allies were no better, in the moral sense, during World War II, when the whiff of oil could be smelt on the horizon.

World War II was not yet over, when a new war for great oil began. Roosevelt showed himself a brilliant diplomat in the unfolding struggle. The USA is the leader in oil production, but it is not enough for them and they want hegemony over oil production, moreover, at the expense of their closest partner in World War II.

On 20 February, 1944 the British ambassador in Washington, Lord Halifax, argued with Deputy Secretary of State Wallace about oil and its future for almost two hours. Later, Halifax said in a telegram to London that "the attitude of the Americans towards us is shocking". Halifax was so upset at the talks in the State Department that he demanded an immediate personal meeting with President. Roosevelt who received him that very night in the White House. Their conversation was focused on the Middle East, and Roosevelt showed Halifax the plan for the division of the Middle East. "Persian oil is yours," he said to the ambassador. "And the oil of Iraq and Kuwait will be divided between us. As for the oil of Saudi Arabia, it is ours."

Halifax was bowled over and sent right away a message to London that meant, in a nutshell, "We are being robbed!"

On 20 February, 1944, just an hour after familiarizing himself with Halifax's report on his meetings, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt that he was watching the telegrams concerning oil with "growing anxiety". "Oil confrontation will be a poor prelude to the unprecedented joint enterprise and our sacrifice", he said. "Certain groups are apprehensive of the United States' ambition for our oil assets in the Middle East which the supply maintenance of our Navy depends on as well. Frankly speaking, I have the impression of being kicked out."

Roosevelt responded acidly that he in his turn received messages about Great Britain circling around and trying to "nose" into the concessions of American oil companies in Saudi Arabia. Responding to another harsh telegram from Churchill "who wouldn't give up his imperial habits", Roosevelt added, "Please, let me assure you that we are not gloating over your oil deposits in Iraq or Iran." Churchill wired in response, "Let me respond to you in the same way and declare officially that we by no means intended to interfere in your interests or assets in the Middle East. However, though Britain is not after any territorial gains, she will not give what belongs to her by right, at least as long as your obedient servant is in charge of her affairs."

Allies are OK when oil is not in the way! Just replace the names of Roosevelt and Churchill with John and Jack, for instance, and anyone reading those lines will tell you that this is two irreconcilable businessmen sorting out their affairs and will be very surprised to hear that this an exchange between the Allies in the anti-fascist struggle!

The peninsular state established in the 1920s has been known as Saudi Arabia since 1932. By that time the decisive role of oil in the world economy, that was taking the military path, had become obvious. It also explains what Vladimir Muzyka writes, the reason why Hitler's trained divisions were longing for the Volga, Grozny and Baku. They needed Iranian, Iraqi and Arabian oil. And yet the USA's tactics turned out to be more intricate. In October 1944, immediately after the Yalta meeting with Stalin, Roosevelt visited what is now the sea port of Jeddah. He asked the American consul to organize a meeting for him with King Ibn Saud.

This event 60 years ago has been studied and described down to the last detail. In particular, according to French expert Jacques Benoit-Mechent, the new Arabian king Ibn Saud decided to visit the sick American president on the cruiser Quincy. That was when Roosevelt demonstrated his incredible diplomatic energy. As soon as he saw Ibn Saud on the deck he stretched both hands towards him and exclaimed, "I am so happy to meet you! What can I do for you?" In 45 minutes, the Saudi king explained to him the cost of Saudi oil and, most important, what he could do for him. Later, Roosevelt told his Treasury Secretary Morgenthau, "In those 45 minutes I learned more of the Middle East than from all of the books in my study." Vladimir Muzyka describes this as a "diplomatic triumph" for Roosevelt, and he is undoubtedly right. The war is going on; soldiers, including American soldiers, are being killed at the front, while Roosevelt travels far from the theatre of war and consolidates his oil rearguard at the expense of his closest ally - Great Britain!

Stalin wanted to gain a similar victory in Iran, but he did not have the guts for it! In his book Oil and Foreign Policy Michael Brooks writes, "In the beginning of 1944 Deputy People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the USSR S.I. Kavtaradze arrived in Iran to conduct negotiations on getting oil concessions in northern Iran. At first, Prime Minister Saed had a positive attitude towards the Soviet proposal. Then he suddenly said that all issues concerning oil concessions could be considered only after the war had ended." However, even after the war Stalin failed to realize his plans - the Americans and the British forced Stalin to leave Iran. Responding to the request of the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Azerbaijan SSR, M. Baghirov, Stalin said, "I cannot fight them!"

Summing up the above, we can say that as early as World War I it became clear, and in World War II it became a law, that "not all wars of the 20th century began because of oil, but victory would have been impossible without it in any of them", as historian A. Livnev writes.