Oil in War
Petroleum exploration, production, and transportation in conflicts.
“The battlefields of World War I established the importance of petroleum as an element of national power when the internal combustion machine overtook the horse and the coal-powered locomotive.” ― Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, 1990.
“Now, it cannot be stated too forcefully, American oil, which amounted in all to 6 billion barrels, out of a total of 7 billion barrels consumed by the Allies for the period of World War Two, brought victory! Without the prodigious delivery of oil from the U. S. this global war, quite frankly, could never have been won.” ― Keith Miller on the role of oil in war, History News Network, 2002.
In perhaps the first raid on oil in war, in the spring of 1863 a regiment of Confederate cavalry attacked production and storage facilities at the prospering Union oil town of Burning Springs in what would soon become West Virginia. The rebel raiders destroyed equipment and thousands of barrels of oil.
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.
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.
To prevent fuel shortages from stalling the Normandy invasion, a top-secret “Operation PLUTO” – Pipe Line Under The Ocean – became the Allied strategy. Using oil production from the U.S. petroleum industry soon after the D-Day landings, secret pipelines were unwound from massive spools to reach French ports.
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.
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.
The change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea is another chapter in petroleum history. The U.S.S. Texas, commissioned in 1914, was the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers. It converted to burn fuel oil in 1925 – resulting in a dramatic improvement in efficiency.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a donation today. For membership information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2018 Bruce A. Wells.