As military technology evolves, the logistical requirements of an army change. These shifts can be so extreme as to define the strategies employed during strategic operations. This is very clearly seen in the Second World War. The significance of oil to a nation’s war effort during this period cannot be understated. Even as far back as World War I, with the introduction of tanks and the use of aircraft, oil was becoming a commodity required for military action. The fates of Germany, the United States, and Japan were inevitably tied to access to oil and the ability to deny that access to their enemies.

During the Second World War, Germany’s fortunes were closely tied to their ability to access oil. Early in the war, they were able to barely maintain adequate supplies to fuel the blitzkrieg, which relied heavily on the use of mechanized units and aircraft due to the early acquisition of several fairly productive oil fields, such as those in central Romania. Their supply began to dwindle and became less efficient as the number of fronts and the logistical requirements increased. A major turning point for the German fortunes was the southern thrust of the advance into the Soviet Union. At this point, the force was split between Stalingrad, and further south in the Caucasus and the oil fields of Baku, which produced two-thirds of the USSR’s oil, and more than all of Axis-help Europe combined. Unfortunately for Hitler, he diverted a portion of the force heading to the Caucasus to Stalingrad, removing his ability to take and hold the oil fields in that region. Beginning in 1944, German oil production, which consisted mainly of the fields in Romania and several synthetic factories (primarily concerned with aviation-grade fuel) in Germany itself, could no longer produce enough oil to supply the military. This allowed Allied bombers to deal immeasurably more damage to German cities, further reducing morale and damaging infrastructure.

The United States was also dependant on oil during the war. Initially, much of this was brought in by tankers, which were often destroyed by U-boats. Losses per month range from 200,000 to 1 million tons of oil from 1942 until the middle of 1943. With the reimplementation of the convoy system, the Allies were able to minimalize shipping losses after that point. Additionally, the construction of several key pipelines (Big Inch and Little Big Inch) allowed for crude and refined oil to be more easily delivered to the east coast. This proved vital to supply the oil required for the D-Day landings. While access to oil is critical, the Allies were also highly successful in denying the Axis powers this same access. In June 1944, Gen. Spaataz of the USAF noted that the “Primary strategic aim of U.S. Strategic Air Forces is now to deny oil to enemy air forces.” So began the concentrated effort to destroy German oil infrastructure and deny the German forces the fuel required for continued operations. By June 1945, 90 percent of Germany aviation fuel producing capability was destroyed.

Japan was also beholden to oil requirements. It is important to note that the Home Islands are not particularly oil-rich, necessitating the conquest and occupation of Dutch Southeast Asia early on. This secured a steady supply of fuel for Japanese operations. Several years later (in 1944-45,) however, with American submarines heavily damaging Japanese shipping operations, the Japanese supply chain began to unravel. Strict rationing in the Home Islands prevented the Japanese fleet from operating out of major ports. Furthermore, the loss of Southeast Asia removed most of Japan’s stable oil supply. Even prior to that, the tenuous nature of Japan’s supply network due to American forces limited their oil supply to begin with.

Conclusion?

Sources
Spaight, J. M., “The War of Oil” Military Affairs, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Autumn, 1949), pp. 138-141

Hayward, Joel “Too Little, Too Late: An Analysis of Hitler's Failure in August 1942 to Damage Soviet Oil Production” The Journal of Military History , Vol. 64, No. 3 (Jul., 2000), pp. 769-794

Kimball, Warren “Stalingrad: A Chance for Choices” The Journal of Military History , Vol. 60, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. 89-114

Miller, Keith. George Mason University, "How important was oil in World War II." Last modified July 5, 2002. Accessed April 6, 2012. http://hnn.us/articles/339.html.

Baldwin, Hanson 1959, “Oil Strategy in World War II", American Petroleum Institute Quarterly – Centennial Issue, pages 10-11. American Petroleum Institute.
United States Strategic Bombing Survey, September 30, 1945 http://www.usaaf.net/surveys/eto/