What did the war effort cost the Baku oilfields?

First, let us give some specific figures on oil production in the theatre of war during World War II. In the war years 75 million tonnes of oil, 80% of the total amount of petrol in the country, 90% of naptha and 96% of oils were produced in Azerbaijan. Four of five aircraft, tanks and motorcars were fuelled with petrol produced at Baku oil refineries from oil extracted from Baku oilfields.

Baku specialists drilled 930,000 metres in 1941, which meant that 752 oil wells could be put into operation. The country at war received the necessary 23,541,000 tonnes of oil on time. Those were record figures in the entire history of the Azerbaijani oil industry. But those figures were achieved at the expense of terrible upheavals.

The famous Surakhany white oil is well-known for its high yield of petrol (during the war, motorcars drove right up to the wells in Surakhany and refilled with oil). The daily output of this oil was increased to 2,000 tonnes. More Surakhany oil was produced in the first year of the war, than in the previous 20 years.

In 1939-42, the manager of Ordzhonokidzeneft trust was the future minister of the USSR gas industry, Sabit Orudjev. Exactly at that time, under his guidance and with his direct involvement, deposits of white Surakhany oil were discovered and put into commercial development.

Oil production in the USSR in the harsh year of 1942, when the fate of the USSR and Europe was being decided, was as follows (Picture 7).

(Pic. 7)

In total, 22 million tonnes of oil were produced in the country.
Azerbaijan - 19.8 million tonnes
Kuybishev Region - 500,000 tonnes
Kazakhstan - 866,000 tonnes
Sakhalin - 627,000 tonnes
Buguruslan - 141,000 tonnes

The total volume of fuel used by the Soviet Army (excluding the Navy) during the war was 13,359,000 tonnes. Of this 83% was produced domestically, 9% was imported and 1.2% was captured fuel. Of the 83% produced domestically, over 70% came from Baku, including more than 90% of aviation fuel.

The combat capability of aircraft, tank units and other mechanized services in the Red Army depended mainly on the work of Baku oil refineries.

From the second quarter of 1942, high-octane fuel output increased sharply. In the second quarter 104,932 tonnes of B-78 aviation fuel were produced, while over 116,000 tonnes of B-70 aviation fuel were produced in Baku in the first half-year. The technology for the distillation process was systematically being improved. A total of 219,400 tonnes of B-78 aviation fuel and 325,418 tonnes of B-70 aviation fuel were transported in the country. In all, 1,139,735 tonnes of various types of petrol were produced. Refiners fulfilled the plan for the output of aviation oils by 105.6%; 530,300 tonnes of motor oil were produced, when the output plan was 490,000 tonnes.

Baku plants met the objective for the production of all types of aviation fuel by 114.4%, including a whopping 369.3% achievement of their target for B-78 aviation fuel. Baku oil workers gave the front 340,100 tonnes of B-78 aviation fuel, 120,700 tonnes more than in the previous year. Baku refiners focused on increasing premium petroleum production. By constantly improving distillation technology, Baku oil workers increased the volume and improved the quality of the petroleum products supplied to the front. In 1943, refiners fulfilled the aviation fuel output plan by 102.8%, B-74 aviation fuel by 156% and B-70 aviation fuel by 156%. They overfulfilled the plan for other petroleum products too: naptha - 136.1%, kerosene - 101.7%, diesel fuel - 139.6%, aviation oils - 105.7%, motor oil - 100.9% and fuel oil for the fleet - 162.3%.

The main work was done by oil refining facilities, which sought the maximum output of aviation, motor and other sorts of petroleum, kerosene and oils from crude oil. New techniques in oil processing were spreading at the oil refineries, in particular combined treatment and rerun distillation, which allowed a considerable increase in aviation fuel production. At the country's largest high-capacity oil refinery, the N432 Stalin Refinery in Baku, engineer Mekhbala Gumbat oglu Kerimov brilliantly set up an aviation fuel rerun distillation unit. In August alone, Kerimov overfulfilled the plan by a whole train of large-capacity tanker wagons of aviation fuel. Thanks to the bold introduction of new technology, Baku's refiners managed to maintain the pre-war level of aviation fuel output, despite the sharp fall in the extraction of crude oil, and even improved output of the highest quality aviation fuels.

The combined treatment and rerun distillation method was later used at oil refineries in the Urals, Volga region, Central Asia and Far East.

Everything Baku produced, extracted and processed was the main source of energy putting the Soviet Army into motion.

The words of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky who wrote about Baku in 1923 came true.

…If we believe in the future,
this is because into the heart
of every capital flows
thick, black Baku blood…

"Thick black Baku blood" put in motion the entire Soviet Army which reached Berlin at the cost of a wave of Soviet blood and smashed fascism in its lair!

During the war Stalin awarded medals to plants producing tanks, aircraft etc. One of the tank-production plants was awarded the Order of Kutuzov. From this point of view, all the oilfields and refineries of Baku should also have received medals.

Comparison brings better understanding. Oil production in Western Europe, the USSR, the Middle East and Africa, i.e. in the theatre of war, was as follows.

Oil production in Western Europe, the USSR, the Middle East and Africa, thousands of tonnes (World Oil, August 1955)

Western Europe
Countries Year
Germany 958
Romania 6904
Austria 458
Hungary 465
France 45
Yugoslavia. 1
Albania 304
Poland 432
Italy 17
Czechoslovakia 32
Great Britain 26
The Middle East
Countries Year
  1935 1942
Iran 7836 15083
Iraq 3753 3715
Bahrain 172 998

Countries Year
Egypt 989

While the usual oil production process was under way in the world's oilfields, with equipment and other material supplies, in the first three years of the war Baku ensured a high level of oil production virtually without supplies of equipment, timber and metal from other republics. Writer and Baku native A. Kiknadze said, "Another big problem: the Urals are stopping pipe supplies. They are used to produce mortar-guns; both the product and means of production are similar." After the beginning of the war, Baku did not receive its first set of pipes from Taganrog and Mariupol until August 1943; until then it had to find pipes from its own reserves. Producing oil without the necessary supplies of equipment was a unique skill of Baku's oil workers! Moreover, Baku had had to give away much of its equipment!

Mobilizing internal reserves, oil workers would cut up casing pipes from old wells and use them in new ones; they repaired used drilling pipes and brought them into service again. Turbine motor drilling developed intensively and wells were worked without columns. A large number of wells reverted to shallower facilities when a considerable amount of deep oil remained unextracted. Newspapers were full of headlines at that time, "Let's Give the Country More Returns!" When they had hardly stopped gushing, oil wells would be returned to the level. If it was possible to prove to the oilfield geologist that a well that had been levelled would have given more oil, but he had not extracted it, his fate was decided. A special committee would be established to find out these instances in the notorious "troika" style and a decision would be taken immediately.

Wells were often operated without chokes, at the maximum possible yield rate. Open blowouts, fires, artificial lakes and, as became clear recently, radioactive contamination, all accompanied oilfield development. It's impossible to list all the action taken in those years.

Every month on the Absheron peninsula, artificial lakes appeared due to the large amount of stratal water. Even metal could not resist the unnatural destruction of oil pools. Due to the large amount of sand, typical when wells are not worked properly, chokes would wear out in just a few days and break down. Many wells operated through the casing.

Of course, all this led to the destruction of the oil beds but there was no other way, for the dying country needed an immense amount of oil!

A great deal of information about the type of development of oil deposits is contained in the production figures for wells operated in different ways. Illustration 8 gives figures for different oil production methods in 1941-45 and clearly shows the process of the destruction of Baku oilfields. At first, prolific wells were worked hard with unlimited recovery. Wells withstood such operation for five to six months and the "survivors" were destroyed at the advance of the Germans and irretrievably lost.

The destruction of the Baku oilfields was under way in all directions. N. Baybakov remembers, "…As already stated, all the storage facilities were full of oil. There was nowhere to put it… Meanwhile, the army needed fuel and the need was desperate! But where could the excess be stored? This was the most valuable raw material, gained through enormous expense and enormous effort by many people! A paradoxical situation arose: on the one hand, there was nowhere to put the oil, on the other, there was a desperate need for fuel at the front… Against this backdrop, an incredible proposal, from the viewpoint of common sense, was made: extract the oil, to transport it by pipelines to the refineries in the Black City (in Baku), skim the upper layer (petroleum) and send the remainder back and inject it into the bed (Baybakov always skimmed "the upper layer" in Baku!)."

A special well was selected and about half a million tonnes of oil that had had the petroleum removed was pumped through it to be stored in the pool it had been extracted from. N. Baybakov wrotes, "Later we extracted this oil once again." (!? - Author) No, Mr. Baybakov, that degassed and oxidized oil was not extracted; moreover, the pool it had been pumped into was practically ruined. Besides, there were no surpluse anywhere in Europe, for everything was in use!

(Pic. 8)

In order to assess the overall level of damage to the Baku oilfields in the war years caused by the terrible load on the fields and other "actions", analysis has been made of world oil production in 1941-45, as the war was global and affected world oil production. Information on oil production in the USA, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Romania, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Germany, Bahrain, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and Japan has been incorporated. This data is represented as oil production in 1945 compared to oil production in 1941.

Oil production over this period will either show an increase or decrease or stay the same. (Illustration 9)

Analysis of this data shows that in some countries oil production remained at the level of 1941, for example in Romania, Argentina, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahrain, Peru, Hungary and Japan. In other countries, oil production grew; these are the USA, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. It increased significantly in Venezuela, the USA and Iran. Despite the war, the overall growth in oil production in America was very high: from 3.7 million barrels per day in 1940 to 4.7 million barrels per day in 1945.

(Pic. 9)

Having lost half of its oil production, Azerbaijan is a terrible precedent for oil production in the years under consideration. Moreover, this destruction was not natural but done with human hands. The Romanian oilfields were alternately occupied by German and Soviet troops, bombed by both Soviet and German aircraft and still suffered less damage than those in Baku. The Baku oilfields were neither occupied nor bombed, but they were damaged more than anywhere in the world. The model of oil production development in 1945 compared to that in 1940 shows that the oilfields of Germany and Azerbaijan underwent fundamental destruction.

Whereas the important industrial facilities of Germany were destroyed by Allied bombing and later occupied, the Baku oilfields were destroyed by the terrible load placed on the favoured oil deposits of Absheron. It is astounding that the final results were the same in both cases! In Germany, oil production was 1 million tonnes per year in 1941, while in Azerbaijan it was 24 million tonnes per year.

Moreover, a single bomb fell on the Baku oilfields and there was no serious sabotage.

From the very beginning of the war, a three-shift system was established in the oilfields with two shifts being obligatory; some people worked three shifts, performing the duties of those who had gone to the front. Night work was carried out by the light of blue lamps to disguise the fields.

They slept and ate their piece of black bread and American powdered eggs in hastily built cabins. As well as the stress of work, the Stalinist regime hung like a sword of Damocles over the oil workers of Baku. Central Committee party commitssars (the post existed during the war) and special service agents prowled the oilfields in search of saboteurs and enemies of the people.

If there were any saboteurs, they were isolated cases, while "wreckers" could be found at virtually all the oilfields. But there were also provocateurs. In some oil fields, workers would find leaflets saying, among other things, "Gentlemen! With our troops coming, your slave life will be over and you will live like human beings…"

Wrecking was considered the first, inevitable cause of any breakdown at wells. When an accident happened, exhausted oil workers had to write testimonies and explanatory notes at institutions where a single visit was enough to make a man anxious for a long time. The actual reason for breakdowns, especially in well drilling, was poor domestic equipment (Illustration 10).

(Pic. 10)

K. Baybakov remembers a meeting with Stalin about the situation in the People's Commissariat of the Fuel Industry in December 1940. "I reported on the current situation in the industry. Stalin walked around the office listening to me carefully and asked questions from time to time, not interrupting me but to the point, as if in continuation of my report, as if in dialogue. He was very interested in the course of the construction of the oil refinery in Bashkiria, the first one in the east of the country, writing down the names of materials and equipment lacking for the construction of the plant, and immediately giving orders to Beria and Voznesensky, the deputy chairmen of the Council of People's Commissars.

"Many of the speakers complained about the quality of pipes and equipment. The sharpest discussion was on the failure of supplies of drill collars which would increase the penetration rate. When Stalin asked People's Commissar Sedin about this, the latter was embarrassed, somehow stood up at attention, with his arms at his sides but could not say anything intelligible. That was to be expected: Sedin had never been in the oil industry and had not long since been appointed people's commissar, on the recommendation of Malenkov. The more Sedin spoke, the more confused he was. And finally, he grew silent, powerless. An awkward silence ensued. Stalin shook his head slightly and tactfully waited for the continuation.

"As the first deputy people's commissar, I had to explain in detail the reasons for the large number of breakdowns in well drilling. In particular, I complained about the People's Commissariat of the Iron and Steel Industry disrupting supplies of quality drill pipes. Stalin came up to the table at once and phoned the people's commissar of the iron and steel industry, I.F. Tevosyan.

"'Are you busy? Then come here… Yes, immediately.'

"Literally a few minutes later, Tevosyan arrived. Stalin nodded towards a vacant seat at the table and after a while said, 'The oil workers are complaining about you,' and added pointing at me with his extinguished pipe, 'Comrade Baybakov, would you explain, please?'

"Someone who is the target of a complaint usually begins to defend himself and quickly goes on to the attack. This is what Tevosyan did. A quarrel began. Stalin did not interrupt us and walked round his office, keeping silent, listening to our arguments and counterarguments and weighing them, stopping in front of each one of us and gazing into our faces and finally he frowned with displeasure and said calmly, 'All right, you two argue, we will listen.'

"We both looked at Stalin at once and grew silent. He stood, smiling ironically, gazing at us and waiting. The office became quiet.

"'The pipes in question", Tevosyan was the first to break the silence, but now he spoke calmly , "are under too heavy a load during drilling and split. We have even tried to make them from gun steel, but they still do not last.'

"'So, what are we to do?' Stalin asked.

"'We will develop,' Tevosyan answered gloomily and vaguely. Stalin gave him a stern look but immediately smiled softly and said with irony, 'Comrade Tevosyan, isn't this like the case of the old man who married a young girl, troubled her and suffered himself? Hadn't you better tell us what you need to produce quality pipes?'

"Tevosyan was silent for a while, thinking something over, and then asked for 300 tonnes of molybdenum."

Drilling pipes were not the only problem and meetings could be held about anything, even screws.

Everyone knew this, but there had to be wreckers - this was the party's decision. The above is just a small fragment about the destruction of the Baku oilfields, for its scope is hard to embrace.

THIS WAS THE COST OF BAKU OIL DURING WORLD WAR II. But the depths of the Azerbaijani land, its glorious oil workers and refiners withstood those hardships.

This was the cost that the Azerbaijani oilfields and the bowels of the Azerbaijani earth had to pay for the confrontation with the German petrochemical industry, headed by Fischer, an ingenious scientist patronized by Hitler himself, and with the oil refining industry of occupied Europe.

Not all the warring countries were in such a difficult economic situation.

During the war, Azerbaijan had the cheapest oil in the history of world industrial oil production, and at the same time the most damaging oil for the oil strata.Without investment, without equipment supplies, with an average wage of 3-5 dollars for oil workers and ration card for 500 g of black bread and some oil cake.

Readers may have the impression that in giving this information I oppose the excessive exploitation of those years. That would be a mistake. All was fair for victory at that time, including the excessive exploitation of the Earth's resources, for the fate of the state was in the balance and neither people nor resources were spared. My goal is different; it is to emphasize that the central authorities intentionally did not fully appreciate the achievements of Baku either at that time or later, which had an adverse affect on the city. After the war, they left the city's environment in a terrible condition. Some 70% of the Absheron's ecological problems go back to the war years. At the same time, they continued to pump oil out for a trifling sum, reconstructing (which was fair) first all of the cities ruined during the war and Tbilisi and Yerevan too. Much of the Baku budget was used for the reconstruction of oilfields but the social, economic and ecological situation in Baku did not improve and became much worse than in Tbilisi and Yerevan. For instance, the Romanian oil refineries that were repeatedly bombed by the USSR, USA and Britain were completely reconstructed after the war and re-equipped with the assistance of the USSR as well. Petroleum output reached 80% at Romanian oil refineries, almost equal to the world statistic for this key indicator. Russian oil refineries bombed by the Luftwaffe were reconstructed after the war and, by a special resolution of the Politburo, equipped with Western machinery that cost hundreds of millions dollars. Their petroleum output rate did not exceed 70%. The petroleum output rate at Baku's oil refineries did not reach 60% - it was virtually at the level of the pre-war years. This is just one of the numerous examples of the attitude of the USSR's leaders towards Azerbaijan - always take more, always give less!

Cynical Frenchmen say, "What is the cost of the service already provided?" Not all the leaders at that time and after the war in the USSR knew this expression but that was the way they all acted anyway.

The only person who should be singled out from this cohort of leaders is Gorbachev, for he killed Bakuvians!

Hitler and Goering ...

The map of Absheron ...

The cake with ...

Charles de Gaulle ...

Charles de Gaulle...

An oil-train ready for ...

Transporting fuel ...

Combat duty ...

The tanker Agamaly ...

A.I. Pokryshkin leaning ...

While men are ...

Troops being moved ...

For the Defence ...

The Caucasus division ...

The long-awaited Victory!...