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Archive for the 'Petroleum in War' Category

 

secret pipelines

The secret pipeline mission used a popular Walt Disney character for its logo.

To provide vital oil across the English Channel after the D-Day landings, within months secret pipelines were unwound from massive spools to reach French ports.  

Wartime planners knew that following the D-Day invasion – June 6, 1944 – Allied forces would need vast quantities of petroleum to continue the advance into Europe. Allied leaders also knew that petroleum tankers trying to reach French ports would be vulnerable to Luftwaffe attacks.

To prevent fuel shortages from stalling the Normandy invasion, a top-secret “Operation PLUTO” – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – became the Allied strategy. It would fuel victory with oil production from the U.S. petroleum industry.

Although by 1942 the industry had laid thousands of pipe miles of across all manner of terrain, to span the English Channel would require an unprecedented leap in technology.

The channel was deep, the French ports distant, and the hazards unpredictable. In great secrecy, two approaches were developed. Read the rest of this entry »

 

As England fought for its survival during World Way II, a team of American oil drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts and motormen secretly boarded the converted troopship HMS Queen Elizabeth in March 1943. Once their story was revealed years later, they would become known as the Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.

roughnecks of sherwood forest

The U.S. oil tanker Pennsylvania Sun torpedoed by the German submarine U-571 on July, 15, 1942, about 125 miles west of Key West, Florida. Britain’s oil reserves were two million barrels below safety reserves. Photo from Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division.

roughnecks of Sherwood Forest

A vintage Spitfire uses modern aviation fuel, but in 1942 U-Boat attacks on convoys threatened to cut off England’s supply.

By the summer of 1942, the situation was desperate. The future of Great Britain – and the outcome of World War II – depended on petroleum supplies.

By the end of that year, demand for 100-octane fuel would grow to more than 150,000 barrels every day – and U-Boats ruled the Atlantic.

In August 1942, British Secretary of Petroleum, Geoffrey Lloyd called an emergency meeting of the Oil Control Board to assess the “impending crisis in oil.” Read the rest of this entry »

 

The U.S. Navy’s change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another important chapter in American petroleum history.

Petroleum and Sea Power

Commissioned on March 12, 1914, with coal-powered boilers that were converted to use fuel oil in 1925, the USS Texas “was the most powerful weapon in the world, the most complex product of an industrial nation just beginning to become a force in global events,” says an historian at Battleship Texas State Historic Site.

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In 2001, an archaeological survey of the seafloor prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline led to the discovery of U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast. BP and Shell sponsored additional fieldwork to record detailed images, including a gun on the deck aft of the submarine’s conning tower.

Petroleum companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf routinely provide the government with sonar data for areas with potential archaeological potential value.

Several federal agencies review oil and natural gas-related surveys every year, and over the years the data have revealed more than 100 historic shipwrecks in U.S. waters. In 2001, scientists at the Minerals Management Service noted that “a German submarine definitely got our attention.”

During World War II, U-boats prowled the Gulf of Mexico to disrupt the vital flow of oil carried by tankers departing ports in Louisiana and Texas.

In just one year, the Kriegsmarine sank 56 Allied ships, including 17 tankers, while losing only one submarine – the Unterseeboot 166.

German submarine predations so threatened the war effort that American government and industry responded with the longest petroleum pipeline project ever undertaken, building the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” from East Texas to Illinois, and as far as New York. See WW II Big Inch and Little Big Inch Pipelines.

But for the U-166, the war was over. Its final resting place remained a mystery for almost 60 years.

The last victim of the U-166 was the passenger freighter Robert E. Lee, sunk by a single torpedo on July 30, 1942, while on its way to New Orleans. Her Naval escort ship, PC-566, rushed in to drop ten depth charges. The U-166 was believed to have escaped. It did not.

Commissioned on March 23, 1942, U-166 today is a war grave in the Gulf of Mexico.

Finding U-166

In 1986, a Shell Offshore vessel using a deep-tow system of the day recorded two close wrecks about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast in 5,000 feet of water.

Thought to be the Robert E. Lee and cargo freighter Alcoa Puritan, it was May 2001 before an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) using side scan sonar revealed the U-166. The lost World War II submarine was separated from Robert E. Lee by less than a mile on the sea floor.

The U.S. petroleum industry remains a principle user of advanced underwater technologies for seafloor mapping.

The AUV, which required no cable connection to its mother ship, found the Alcoa Puritan 14 miles away. Learn more about the petroleum industry’s offshore robotics in Swimming Socket Wrenches.

The historic submarine’s discovery resulted from the requirement for an archaeological survey of the seafloor prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline by BP and Shell Oil. Six other World War II vessels have been discovered in the course of Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas surveys.

As a result of the U-166’s discovery, BP and Shell altered their proposed pipeline to preserve the site and government archaeologists notified the U.S. Navy Historical Center of the discovery, notes a 2001 MMS newsletter.

“They, in turn, notified the German Embassy and military attaché,” the MMS article explains. “Since the remains of the U-166’s 52 crewmen are still on board, the German government has declared the site to be a war grave and has requested that it remain undisturbed.”

Gulf of Mexico oil tanker losses led to a petroleum industry achievement: construction of the “Big Inch” and “Little Big Inch” pipelines that connected Texas oilfields to eastern refineries.

Editor’s Note – Since 2011, the Minerals Management Service has become the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
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Soon after the start of World War II, a Japanese submarine attacked a refinery and oilfield near Los Angeles. The shelling caused little damage – but led to the largest mass sighting of UFOs in American history. It also was the first attack of the war on the continental United States.

sub attacks oilfield

A February 1942 Imperial Japanese Navy submarine’s shelling of a California refinery caused little damage but created invasion (and UFO) hysteria in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Goleta Valley Historical Society.

sub attacks oilfield

Japanese submarine I-17 bombarded an Ellwood, California, oilfield refinery visited by its commander before the war.

At sunset on February 23, 1942, Commander Kozo Nishino of the Imperial Japanese Navy and his I-17 submarine lurked 1,000 yards off the California coast. It was less than three months since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles residents were tense. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Two 1943 oil pipelines from Texas to the East Coast helped win World War II. “Big Inch” carried oil from East Texas oil fields. “Little Big Inch” carried gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene.

oil pipelines

Prior to the pipelines, German U-Boats wreaked havoc on oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Caribbean to the East Coast.

“Without the prodigious delivery of oil from the U.S. this global war, quite frankly, could never have been won,” says historian Keith Miller.

“Besides, without the outstanding cooperation of the Petroleum Administration for War with the numerous oil companies of America, World War Two very likely would never have been won by the Allies either,” Miller adds.

Thanks to a combined effort of the government and industry, two pipelines were constructed to carry oil from Texas to Midwest and East Coast refineries…and win the war.

“The Big Inch and Little Big Inch pipelines, it should be stressed, aided almost beyond estimation the winning of World War Two by the Allies,” Miller proclaims in his 2002 article for the History News Network.

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