the Food of the War Machine
A German High Command study in May of 1941 underlined that the
monthly military requirements for 7.25 million barrels, the imports and home
production accounted for only 5.35 million barrels, thus a deficit existed,
which would exhaust German stockpiles by August 1941. This 26 percent shortfall
could only be made up with petroleum from Russia. The deficit of 1.9 million
barrels per month urgently dictated taking possession of the Russian oil fields
in the Caucasus Mountains, along with Ukrainian grain and Donets
coal. Behind Plan Barbarossa of the war against the USSR was a plan to feed German
soldiers with Russian grain, and its army and industry – with Soviet oil.
<< As a highly
developed industrial state, Germany
was dependent even in peacetime on external sources for an adequate supply of
oil. Even though Germany’s 1938 oil consumption of little more than 44 million
barrels was considerably less than Great Britain’s 76 million barrels, Russia’s
183 million barrels, and the one billion barrels used by the United States, in
wartime Germany’s needs for an adequate supply of liquid fuel would be
absolutely essential for successful military
operations on the ground and, even more so, in the air. >>
According to archival materials recently released, before Germany
waged war on the USSR, England and France were concerned that Stalin's supply
of Baku's oil might be transferred to Hitler after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow on
23 August 1939. The US
Ambassador to France, W.
Bullitt, dispatched a telegram to Washington
concerning “the possibilities of bombing and demolition of Baku,”
discussed in Paris
at the time. The operation was to have been carried out by the French Air
Forces in Syria.
On October 31, 1939 such attacks were discussed at the British General
Headquarters: most politicians and diplomats in the UK
were opposed to bombing Baku.
Prime Minister Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, then Minister of Naval
Forces, openly expressed their disapproval and tried to convince the others
that a more feasible plan would be to prevent the transportation of oil in the Black Sea with British submarines.
According to a report
submitted on February 22, 1940, by General Gamelen to French Prime Minister
Daladye, since Baku provided 75% of all oil
requirements of the USSR, he
believed the Soviets would fall into an economic crisis if those sources were
lost, “Dependence on oil supplies from the Caucasus
is the fundamental weakness of Russian economy. The Armed Forces were totally
dependent on this source also for their motorized agriculture. More than 90% of
oil extraction and 80% of refinement was located in the Caucasus (primarily in Baku and Grozny).
Therefore, interruption of oil supplies on any large scale would have
far-reaching consequences and could even result in the collapse of all the
military, industrial and agricultural systems of Russia.” NKVD intelligence reports
about these plans kept Stalin on his tiptoes: he urgently signed a peace treaty
with Finland to appease France and UK.
– Although the plan was developed, it never materialized, as France
itself fell pray to Hitler. Had it been put in action, English girls on the London’s Piccadilly Circus
would have been flirting with German Waffen-SS officers instead of American
GI’s, and Winston Churchill – hung for war crimes.
Hitler wanted oil. He
read about it, talked about it ad nauseam,
and knew the history of the world's major oil fields. New Order would be
invulnerable, but only if he captured the oil of the Caucasus and the 'black
earth,' farmlands of the Ukraine.
In his tape-recorded dinner conversation with Marshal Carl von
Mannerheim, commander of Finnish armed forces, at von Mannerheim’s 75th
birthday celebration, Hitler raised this issue talking about the events of
“We had huge German production: however, the demands of the air
force, our Panzer divisions - they are really huge. It is level of consumption
that surpasses the imagination. And without the addition of four to five
million tons of Romanian petroleum, we could not have fought the war… - and
that was my big worry.”
By late July 1942, Germans captured a minor oil field of Maicop, Russia.
Not surprisingly, before withdrawing from the city, the Russians had thoroughly
destroyed all equipment, right down to the small incidental tools in the
workshops. Consequently, by January 1943, the Germans were able to eke out no
more than some measly 70 barrels per day.
Germans pushed on towards Baku,
now thousands of miles from their homeland and supply centers. The date for
assault on Baku
was already fixed – September 25, 1942. A few days prior, generals presented
Hitler with a large decorated cake, which depicted the Caspian Sea and Baku. German propaganda
newsreels showed amused Hitler cutting for himself the most desirable piece, Baku, made in chocolate.
Hitler had terrible table manners, according to some sources; he’d bite his
finger nails and gorge on cakes ; . Fortunately for the Allies, fate saw to it that Hitler's success
in devouring Baku
was limited to the allegoric chocolate piece of the cake.
Field Marshal Erich von Manstein tried to argue with Furher about
the immediate strategic problem – the survival of the Sixth Army, battling
Russians for the ruins of Stalingrad, and begged him to transfer the German
forces in the Caucasus region to his command, but Hitler would not hear of it,
“Unless we get Baku's
oil, the war is lost.”
Hitler talked about how after the capture of Baku, the German
armies would march triumphantly through Iran and Iraq and convene in India,
where they would seal their victory over England.He then proceeded to rant about the importance of oil in warfare
and how much fuel a single aircraft or a tank consumed. G. Kumanev, Doctor of
History, Professor, Director of the National Academy of Sciences' Centre of
Military History of Russia, stated, “The
south was chosen as the main direction of the German offensive in summer 1942.
After the offensive on the Caucasus with the passage to oil regions, Hitler
planned to cross the Main Caucasus Range
and reach the oil-bearing regions of Iran
In August 1941 British
and Russian units invaded Iran.
It does not matter what legal pretexts were used, as in reality the attack was
designed to accomplish three things: first, to protect the oil fields in Iraq
and Iran; second, to secure a line of communication to protect the Gulf in case
the German army broke through the Caucasus; and third, to establish a southern
supply route to Russia. The Soviet government's legal pretext for invasion was
the peace treaty it had signed with Iran in 1921, which permitted it to place
troops temporarily on Iranian territory for the purpose of self-defense.
German Caucuses offensive on Baku
oil was to be paralleled by Rommel's Panzerarmee Afrika drive eastward along
the North African coast toward the Nile Delta, the Suez Canal, and Palestine. If Rommel had
succeeded and driven Britain
out of Egypt and the Nazi
forces had broken through the Caucasus, Germany
would have been in a position to threaten the Persian Gulf and gain access to Middle East oil.
In reality, German Armies Group South were spread thin, their
supply lines to Germany
(mostly railroads) stretched for thousands of kilometers through Russian territory. Germans could and should have been cut off and
surrounded. The Soviet High Command, if they were military strategic geniuses
as they claimed themselves to be, had a very good chance to surround not only
the 22 German divisions in Stalingrad, but
also all German formations in the Caucuses, 60 divisions in all, some 30% of
the German military. The Soviets began doing just that (Operation Saturn), but
half-heartedly, Stalin committed to having a bird in the hand (Stalingrad) than two in the bush. Demoralized by the
catastrophic defeats of 1941, the Red Army needed a decisive victory. Stalingrad was a bird in the hand. Aside from its
strategic importance, the symbolic meaning of the “city of Stalin” was significant.
Stalin would not take chances with an even larger operation
requiring coordination, control and cooperation of different branches of the
military, the skill which the Red Army lost during the purges of its commanding
officers in 1937-39 and in its infamous defeats in the first months of war in
1941. He continued wasting lives on
battling the German 6th army, which was doomed and should have been
left well enough alone to starve and freeze to death, surrounded in the ruins
of Stalingrad. Instead, the Red Army should
have let Von Manstein’s army rushing from the southwest to get through and join
Field Marshal Paulus in Stalingrad, and then
close the pocket again behind his panzers, now having Von Manstein’s join the
party and have two German armies starving and freezing to death inside the pocket, instead of one. Instead, the Soviets fought Von Manstein off
in a series of fierce battles, helping him to make his mind to join with the
German Army group A, retreating from the Caucuses.
The strategic importance of the 1942 Caucuses campaign and the
battle of Stalingrad cannot be overestimated: Had Germans taken the Caucasus’
oil fields, the Stalinist regime could have collapsed, while Germany would have gained access to a major
source of oil and enabled to capture the oil fields of Iran and Iraq. The fall of Stalingrad
implied a major blow to the USSR,
as well: oil tankers crossed the Caspian Sea and oil barges went up the Volga River,
transporting oil for further distribution in the main land Russia. The simplest way to cut
this major oil artery was to get Stalingrad. A
couple of German tanks on the bank of the Volga
would sever this oil artery. Suffice it to say that the largest tank
manufacturing plants in the world were also in Stalingrad and Kharkov, now reduced to rubble. While Stalin
had “plan B” – expanding other and
developing new oil fields and redeployed tank-manufacturing plants in the
Urals, German oil shortage got only more acute.
As a result of these massive military operations on both sides,
Field Marshal Paulus surrendered at Stalingrad,
Germans escaped from the Caucuses with their lives, as did Field Marshal Von
Manstein. Germany did not
get a drop of Baku
oil. Hitler was right – without oil the war was lost, although it would take
another 3 years and millions of lives before Germany would capitulate, but not
before it was utterly defeated and in ruins.
The Soviet High Command, after a series of catastrophic losses in
the first months of the war, had no guts to take chances which existed to break
the back of the German army in a swift campaign, but it did inflict on it a
major defeat, the first in WW-II. Although German armies never reached Baku, the region’s oil
industry was ravaged, all the same. Fearing a German victory in the Caucasus, Moscow planners had
ordered much of the region's oil infrastructure to be disassembled and sent
north and east to the more secure Volga-Urals region, where geologists had
identified promising oil fields. Much of the equipment, factories, skilled
personnel, and even the Baku-Batumi pipeline were moved elsewhere in the USSR, to Tatarstan and Bashkiria,
creating a postwar oil boom there.
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Ross, Ph.D. ►