Hitler lost WW2 because he ran out of gas

I came across an interesting history video that explains how access to oil was Adolf Hitler’s main goal in World War Two, how it determined his strategy and why his failure to achieve that goal doomed Nazi Germany to defeat.

It provides good food for thought, both about history and today’s geopolitics.  Here is an outline of what it said.

Adolf Hitler believed that Germany could not be a powerful or even an independent nation so long as it depended on imports for food and energy.  His long-range goal was to acquire the farmland of Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus for Germany.

Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was a step toward that goal.  If Britain hadn’t declared war on Germany in 1939 or had agreed to a truce in 1940 or 1941, he might have succeeded.

The United States during that period produced 70 percent of the world’s oil.  Most of the rest came from the USSR and Venezuela.  Even after Germany conquered most of Europe, including the oil fields of Rumania, the British blockade remained in place.  Germany was cut off from the oil of the USA and Venezuela and the USSR did not supply enough to meet its requirements.

Germany’s blitzkrieg strategy depended on tanks and other motorized vehicles operating on a broad front.  But Germany lacked enough oil of its own to conduct long campaigns.

The German army “demotorized” in order to provide enough fuel for the tanks.  It used horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies.  Messengers rode bicycles rather than motorcycles.  It also used an expensive process to synthesize oil from coal, even though coal supplies also were limited.

This meant Germany had a limited time in which to invade Soviet Russia and obtain the oil it needed.   Otherwise it would run short of the fuel needed to power its tanks and trucks.

That is why Hitler did not plan for a long campaign, and why he wanted his generals to concentrate on the Caucasus rather than Leningrad and Moscow.

The 1941 invasion failed.  After that Germany had one last chance of victory—by using what fuel reserves it had in 1942 to make one last stab at Maikup and Grozny in the Caucasus while conquering Stalingrad so the Soviets could not transport oil up the Volga River from refineries in Baku.

Lack of fuel was why Hitler ordered troops to stand fast and hold the line at all costs rather than allowing his generals to engage in a war of maneuver.

If the Nazis had succeeded, Russia would have been cut off from both the oil of the Caucasus and the Ukraine breadbasket.  Soviet forces would have been hard put to find the means to keep on fighting in 1943 and 1944.

But the Nazis failed.  From then on, Germany’s only goal in fighting was to prolong the war in hope of a negotiated peace.

All this shows that while Hitler was evil, he was not a madman—at least not where military strategy was concerned.  He understood strategy better than his generals.

It also shows the British blockade and American oil were as important to victory as the actual fighting by the Red Army.  If Winston Churchill had not become Prime Minister in 1940, Britain might have made a separate peace with Germany, and the German army would have had the fuel it needed to blitzkrieg Russia.

Oil also was the key to World War Two in the Pacific.  Japan had import oil to fuel its war machine.  In the summer and fall of 1941, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Japan, including an oil embargo, and demanded the Japanese withdraw their armed forces from China and Indochina.

The British and Dutch supported the embargo, denying Japan access to the oil of Southeast Asia.  The Japanese responded by invading Southeast Asia while trying to deliver a knockout blow to the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor.  The knockout blow failed, and the rest of the war consisted of Japan trying to stave off defeat in hope of a negotiated peace.

Britain ruled the waves in the age of fighting sail, and again in the age of coal and steam.  It was one of the world’s leading coal producers, and had coaling stations for its fleet around the world.

When Britain switched to oil in the early 20th century, it sought fuel security by gaining control of the oil of Iran and Iraq.  But at the outbreak of World War Two, those two countries together produced only 5 percent of the world’s total oil output,  The Persian Gulf region became a major oil producer only after World War Two.

If you keep these facts in mind, you can see why the British government sought to maintain a “special relationship” with the USA at all costs.

The latent power of the United States during the 1940s was astonishing.  The USA was the world’s leading manufacturing nation, the world’s leading agricultural nation and the world’s leading energy producer, and also the world’s leading creditor nation.

Click to enlarge.

We Americans found it easy to assume that our position of power was part of the nature of things and would continue automatically.

While the burning of oil contributes to catastrophic global warming, control of oil is still a key to world power.  The U.S. Air Force is as dependent on oil as the British Navy or German panzer divisions ever were.

Geopolitical power depends on access to oil, and denying access to oil to enemies,  There will be no banning of fossil fuels so long as the geopolitical struggle continues.


TIK – YouTube.

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4 Responses to “Hitler lost WW2 because he ran out of gas”

  1. Fred (Au Naturel) Says:

    “If Winston Churchill had not become Prime Minister in 1940, Britain might have made a separate peace with Germany, and the German army would have had the fuel it needed to blitzkrieg Russia.”

    Yes! Horse-drawn transport outnumbered motor vehicular transport in Barbarosa.

    If Churchill had not entered Britain into the war, the decoding of the German code by the folks at Bletchley might not have happened. The Enigma machine played a major role in Soviet victories in Stalingrad, Kursk and elsewhere.

    Without British involvement, the US could have stayed neutral. Germans could have imported “nonmilitary” goods without restriction from us. GM and its Opel subsidiary could have continued uninterrupted. No massive bombing of German infrastructure. No Murmansk convoy bringing in American weapons and supplies. More troops, tanks, fuel available for the east. (IIRC the Germans lost a half-million dead on the Western front.)

    If Germany had the freedom of the seas to be able to import unlimited oil and material from other countries, the Soviet position would become more perilous. It still would not be a cakewalk and Stalin could still possibly “win” a pyrrhic victory but one could not be sure. The West might still support Stalin under the table.

    What would happen if the German nuclear weapon program and efforts at Peenemunde continued unhampered?

    Most likely the USSR would still survive as a reduced nation-state after a negotiated settlement. Germans would be hard-pressed to keep the Stalingrad-Moscow-Leningrad line under the best scenario. Too much area and too few Germans to occupy it.

    OTOH Japan would have been finished off more quickly.

    One stubborn politician changed history.


  2. whungerford Says:

    I find the argument that oil is everything simplistic. I believe General de Gaulle was closer to the truth when he explained that the war would be won because it was a world war, that immense forces from the wide world would crush the enemy.


    • Fred (Au Naturel) Says:

      Oil wasn’t the only reason but it was hugely important. Probably most important was Winston Churchill, who was the cause of Hitler’s oil shortage as well as many of his other difficulties.


  3. Nicky D Says:

    Fascinating. Is no one seeing oil as a natural resource that we will one day exhaust?


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