Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest

Top Secret WWII project sent Oklahoma drillers into British oilfield. They added more than one million barrels of oil production by 1944.

roughnecks of sherwood forest

U.S. oil tanker Pennsylvania Sun was torpedoed by U-571 on July, 15, 1942, about 125 miles west of Key West, Florida. Britain’s oil reserves were 2 million barrels below safety reserves. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

As the United Kingdom fought for its survival during World War II, a team of American oil drillers, derrickhands, 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.

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 of oil every day – and German 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.” (more…)

Petroleum Survey discovers U-boat

Gulf of Mexico data for natural gas pipeline reveal historic shipwreck.

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.

A 2001 archaeological survey by BP and Shell prior to construction of a natural gas pipeline confirmed discovery of U-166 about 45 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Petroleum companies today operating in the Gulf of Mexico’s outer continental shelf routinely provide government scientists with sonar data for areas with potential archaeological 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, the Minerals Management Service noted that “a German submarine definitely got our attention.” (more…)

Big Inch Pipelines of WW II

The final weld on the “Big Inch” was made in July 1943, just 350 days after construction began.

A government-industry partnership built two petroleum pipelines from Texas to the East Coast that proved vital during World War II. “Big Inch” carried oil from East Texas oilfields. “Little Big Inch” carried gasoline, heating oil, diesel oil, and kerosene.

oil pipelines Nazi U-boat in Atlantic

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,” noted historian Keith Miller. (more…)

Petroleum and Sea Power

Spanish-American War changed Navy’s mind about switching from coal to oil for fuel.

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,” said one historian at Battleship Texas State Historic Site.

The change from coal to oil-fired boilers at sea would become another important chapter in American petroleum history as the USS Texas, commissioned in 1914, became the last American battleship built with coal-fired boilers. It converted to burn fuel oil in 1925 – resulting in a dramatic improvement in efficiency. (more…)

PLUTO, Secret Pipelines of WW II

“Conundrums” spool off English Channel pipe when towed in 1944.


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.


Following D-Day on June 6, 1944, Operation Pluto pipelines fueled the advance into Nazi Germany. Image from “World War 2 From Space,” a History Channel documentary.

The channel was deep, the French ports distant, and the hazards unpredictable. In great secrecy, two approaches were developed. (more…)

Japanese Sub attacks Oilfield

Mass WWII hysteria panics U.S. West Coast.


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. (more…)