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Remembering Ploesti
It underscores the importance of liberating America’s potential to produce transportation fuels.

B-24 Liberators hit the Nazi oil refineries at Ploesti, August 1, 1943. (USAF)

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Robert Zubrin

In his memoir, Inside the Third Reich, the Nazi minister of armaments and industry, Albert Speer, provides a compelling inside view of the collapse of Hitler’s empire following the Farben raid. Here is what he says:

I shall never forget the date May 12. . . . On that day the technological war was decided. Until then we had managed to produce approximately as many weapons as the armed forces needed. . . . But with the attack of nine hundred and thirty-five daylight bombers of the American Eighth Air Force upon several fuel plants in central and eastern Germany, a new era in the air war began. It meant the end of German armaments production.

The next day, along with technicians of the bombed Leuna Works, we groped our way through a tangle of broken and twisted pipe systems. The chemical plants had proved to be extremely sensitive to bombing; even optimistic forecasts could not envisage production being resumed for weeks. . . . 

After I had taken measure of the consequences of the attack, I flew to Obersalzberg, where Hitler received me in the presence of General Keitel. I described the situation in these words: “The enemy has struck us at one of our weakest points. If they persist at it this time, we will soon no longer have any fuel production worth mentioning. Our one hope is that the other side has an air-force general staff as scatterbrained as ours.”

Speer’s wish was not granted. The Americans kept at it. On May 28, they hit Leuna again, and on the following day they blasted Ploesti to pieces. More raids followed. Again, Speer: “On June 22, nine-tenths of the production of airplane fuel was knocked out; only six hundred and thirty-two metric tons were produced daily. . . . On July 21, . . . we were down to one hundred and twenty tons’ daily production — virtually done for. Ninety-eight percent of our aircraft-fuel plants were out of operation.”

The consequences of the fuel cutoff were felt quickly. In 1944, Nazi Germany actually produced 39,807 military aircraft and 22,100 tanks. But they were nearly useless for lack of fuel.

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Speer says: “In July, I had written to Hitler that by September all tactical movements would necessarily come to a standstill for lack of fuel. Now this prediction was being confirmed.” He goes on to describe how the Luftwaffe was virtually grounded, and even training new pilots had become impossible because there was no fuel for flight practice.

“Meanwhile,” Speer continues, “the army, too, had become virtually immobile because of the fuel shortage. At the end of October, I reported to Hitler after a night journey to the Tenth Army south of the Po. There I encountered a column of a hundred and fifty trucks, each of which had four oxen hitched to it. . . . Early in December, I expressed concern that ‘the training of tank drivers leaves much to be desired’ because they ‘have no fuel for practicing.’ General Jodl, of course, knew even better than I how great the emergency was. In order to free seventeen and a half thousand tons of fuel — formerly the production of two and a half days — for the Ardennes offensive, he had begun withholding fuel from other army groups on November 10, 1944.”

The hoarding didn’t do them any good. The last German attempt at Blitzkrieg warfare, known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge, ended in a total debacle when the First SS Panzer division failed in its attempt to seize the American fuel depot at Stavelot, and the entire offensive ran out of gas right on the battlefield.

Imperial Japan was also brought to its knees by fuel deprivation. While the Japanese did manage to capture the huge oil fields of the Dutch East Indies in early 1942 and to bring them into operation despite considerable wrecking done by retreating Allied forces, by 1943 the Japanese could no longer move the oil effectively from Indonesia to Japan, as the result of the sinking of their tanker fleet by U.S. submarines. This created extreme fuel shortages in the Japanese home islands and made it impossible to train new pilots adequately. The results were naval disasters, including the lopsided engagement known to Americans as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, in June 1944, in which the Japanese lost 273 planes against 29 for the Americans, and the even more catastrophic destruction of the Imperial fleet at Leyte Gulf in October.



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