Nazi Germany’s quest for oil and the Battle of the Bulge

By Kate Doak-Keszler, Director of Communications

This article is part of our series on the Battle of the Bulge

For Germany in WWII, oil was a precious commodity.  Germany had very few domestic oilfields, and relied heavily on imports from the Soviet Union prior to the war.  However, with hostilities between the Soviets and Nazi Germany, synthetic oil grew in importance.

In the early part of WWII, Allied bombing campaigns focused on German cities and industry, especially aircraft factories.  But in May of 1944, oil refineries and synthetic oil production plants became prime targets.  Previously, attacks on the oil industry infrastructure in Germany were sporadic and did minimal long-term damage.  With the shift to more systematic and concentrated bombing efforts, oil production was reduced to a point that it became a major contributing factor to Germany’s defeat.

According to the Air University History Office’s article “WWII Allied ‘Oil Plan’ devastates German POL production”-

“Between May 1944 and May 1945 when the war in Europe ended, the Allies had launched 651 attacks against German oil targets and dropped 208,566 tons of bombs. The most significant problem of the Allied bombing campaign was the lack of accuracy of the bombs actually hitting their specific targets—about 15 percent of the bombs dropped directly struck their discrete targets.  However, over time, the systematic bombing produced stunning results.” 

From April to September Germany suffered a 95 percent reduction in POL, and a 97 percent reduction in aviation gasoline. This meant a curtailing of Luftwaffe pilot training to conserve gas, while mechanized and motorized units were running out of fuel on the battlefield.  The desperate need for fuel sources was a substantial deciding factor in Germany’s launch of the Ardennes Offensive, what is commonly known now as the Battle of the Bulge.  In the end, Germany ended up depleting what fuel it had left in the attempt to take the Allied fuel sources at Antwerp.

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