fuel

your! body! is! not! a! static! creation!

you will not always be hungry at the same time! sometimes you will need 3 spoonfuls of peanut butter instead of 2 to feel satisfied! you won’t always need as many snacks, but sometimes you’ll need two breakfasts! if you’re hungry, eat! honor your body! fuel yourself! love yourself! honor yourself! show gratitude to your body!

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How the Third Reich Lost the War Because of Oil

There is endless theorizing as to why Germany lost World War II, most of those theories tend to revolve around tactical and strategic decisions as well as leadership. Often the most ignored factors are those that are less sexy to people with an interest in military history, factors such as communications, economics, and logistics. One factor that is often breezed upon which was perhaps the most critical factor of the war was in material resources, of which even from the very beginning Germany suffered chronic and severe shortages. Almost everything was scarce; metals, foodstuffs, fabrics, medical supplies, chemicals, and manpower. The resource that was probably the most important to the German economy and war effort was oil, of which throughout the war extreme shortages would hamper military campaigns and force the Germans to resort to extreme but often inadequate solutions.

Germany has never been a major oil producing nation, and from the very beginning of World War II Germany faced a terrible energy crises which doomed the German war effort. In 1940, shortly before the invasion of France and occupation of much of Europe, Germany consumed around 9 million metric tons more oil than it produced. Some of that deficit would be made up for in synthetic production, a topic I will cover later in this post. However most would be imported from foreign countries. With the start of the war much of those imports dried up as the British Royal Navy prevented foreign trade, and most oil producing nations enacted trade embargos with Germany. Romania joined the Axis nations in 1940, and throughout the war Germany was heavily dependent on Romanian oil. However, Romanian oil production was never enough to quench the demands of the German war machine. By the beginning of the war Germany only had the oil reserves to sustain fully operational military campaigns for two months, meaning that if a major military campaign lasted more than two months, oil demand would exceed production and the military would see oil shortages. Thus Germany had to resort to quick victories, such as in Poland and France. In early 1941 military and government logistics experts and economists warned that Germany would completely run out of oil reserves by the end of the year. 

One of the greatest cited mistakes of Hitler during the war was the invasion of the Soviet Union. However one factor that may have driven much of the German leadership’s decision making in invading the Soviet Union may have been the need for more resources, in particular oil, as the Soviet Union was the second largest oil producer in the world at the time. Germany was still at war with Britain, and the looming oil crises threaten to completely derail Germany’s war machine. Germany could not be caught with it’s pants down while at war with Britain, and the only viable alternative to the “end of 1941 fuel crises” was to capture Soviet energy resources. I’m not making the claim that it was the only factor in German military decision making, but I’m sure it was the “800lb Nazi Gorilla” that was standing in Hitler’s war room.

In the middle of Operation Barbarossa, against his generals advice, Hitler ordered the focus of the invasion to be directed away from Moscow and towards the Caucasus. This is often cited as one of Hitler’s stupidest decisions. However this may have actually been a sound decision.  The Russians were not going to surrender, even if Moscow had fallen (they didn’t surrender when Napoleon captured the city in 1812), and the Caucasus were the key to the rich Baku oil fields. By the end of 1941, Germany was suffering desperately under oil shortages as predicted, and controlling the Baku oil fields became a key to the Eastern Front in 1941 and 1942. Hitler himself commented on the situation, “My generals know nothing of the economic aspects of war.”

Of course, Germany failed to gain control of the fields. By the end of 1942 Germany was doomed. In that year the country could only produce 6.6 metric tons of oil, and it was at war with the two largest oil producers in the world, the Soviet Union which produced 22 metric tons in 1942, and the United States with a whopping 189.3 metric tons. As the war progressed Germany suffered worse and worse oil shortages as invading Allied forces placed higher demands on the German military and Allied bombing campaigns limited supply.

To combat oil shortages Germany introduced very severe rationing of civilian consumption, measures which of course no matter how drastic were not nearly enough. As the oil crises deepened, Germany turned to older technology, more specifically rail. During World War II rail transport was Germany’s number one logistically method, and Germany operated tens of thousands of miles of rail track with thousands of locomotives. Most of those locomotives were coal fired steam engines like those used in the 19th century. The problem with locomotives is that they are large machines, which made easy targets for Allied aircraft. A large train loaded with fuel, chemicals, or ammunition made a nice bang when shot with .50 caliber tracer rounds.

In addition, rail lines were also hard to defend and vulnerable to Allied airstrikes, or sabotage by resistance and partisan forces. One of the biggest logistical nightmares for Germany during the war was the fact that the Soviets used a different rail gauge than the rest of Europe. Thus in occupied parts of the Soviet Union the Germans had to rebuild Soviet rail infrastructure for their use or rely upon capture Soviet trains.

Shortly before World War I German scientists had discovered methods to extract oil from coal. As early as the Weimar Republic, Germany had being producing synthetic oil to reduce it’s dependence on foreign oil. When Hitler came to power in 1933 he immediately set about increasing synthetic oil production and in 1941 he instituted a program to ramp up synthetic oil production to an extreme. By 1943 Germany was producing around 100,000 barrels a day of synthetic oil, around 50-60% of German domestic oil production. In 1944 the Allies specifically began targeting German synthetic oil production facilities, causing production to drop to around 44,000 barrels a day by the end of the year. Of course at it’s best, German synthetic oil production was not enough for the war effort. In addition it was a very expensive process that wasn’t very energy efficient.

 As the war continued and the fuel crises deepened Germany resorted to other alternative fuels. One fuel was wood gas.  When wood is burned at a certain temperature under a certain pressure, it releases a combustible hydrocarbon gas which after being filtered of impurities such as tar and particulates can be used to power a diesel engine. The typical wood gas system consisted of at least two tanks. The first was a furnace which burned the wood, either whole logs, scrap wood, or wood chips depending on the size of the furnace. From there the gas passed through a filtration system into tanks which stored the gas. Finally a fuel system pumped the wood gas from the storage tanks into the diesel engine, which powered the vehicle. During the war the German Army utilized 200,000 wood gas powered vehicles, mostly non combat vehicles such as trucks and half tracks. Another alternative is coal gas, which is similar to wood gas except using coal. Coal gas was typically used to fuel training tanks for new tank crews. Yes, the Germans known for technological advancements such as guided missiles, ballistic missiles, and jet engines, were powering vehicles with coal and wood.

When one thinks about the German Army during World War II, one usually imagines blitzkrieg assaults by highly mechanized forces, spearheaded by tanks and mobile infantry riding on half tracks.  While the German Army of World War II certainly developed revolutionary tactics that depended on lighting assaults and mobility, it was not the grand mechanized force that one imagines in the movies.  In fact in terms of transportation the Wehrmacht had more in common with Napoleon’s Grande Armee than it did with modern military forces today. During World War II, only 1/5 of the German Army was mechanized or motorized with the bulk of the army relying on horse drawn carriages and artillery. In 1943 a typical infantry division of the Wehrmacht Heer had only 256 trucks for logistics but relied upon 2,652 horses. As the war progressed and fuel shortages became worse, the number of horses used increased. When the 6th Army was surrounded and trapped at Stalingrad, it was trapped with 20,000 horses and the Luftwaffe had to devote resources to airlifting tons of fodder into the city.  While today people often scoff at the Polish Army’s use of cavalry at the beginning of the war, many forget that the German Army had six cavalry divisions while the Waffen SS had 26 cavalry regiments. Overall throughout World War II, the German military utilized 2.75 million horses as well as hundreds of thousands of other pack animals such as mules, donkeys, and oxen.  Only the Soviets used more horses, with 3.5 million. By comparison, by 1942 both the British and American army had done away with their stocks of horses and were completely mechanized. 

Another alternative common during fuel shortages was the use of bicycles. At the beginning of the war Germany utilized special bicycle units for scouting and reconnaissance. However as the war progressed the use of bicycles increased. In mid 1944 Germany formed 78 Volksgrenadier Division, with each division having a battalion of bicycle infantry. The demand for bicycles grew to the point that on October 12th, 1944 Hitler ordered the confiscation of newly produced bicycles from Denmark and the Netherlands for military use.

Despite rationing and use of alternative fuels and alternative transportation methods, Germany could not maintain enough oil reserves to fuel it’s military. In August of 1944 Soviet forces broke through Axis lines in Romania. A few weeks later the Romanian government was overthrown in a coup, and the country declared war on Germany. At that point the German Army was losing control over the Romanian oilfields, Germany’s most important source of oil. By fall of 1944, the Luftwaffe was only being supplied 10% of the fuel needed for air operations. The Battle of the Bulge came to an end in January of 1945 when units ran out of fuel, with many units being force to leave hundreds of tanks and other vehicles behind and retreat on foot. By 1945 whole divisions of the army were demobilized as there was no fuel available for combat operations. As the Soviets and Western Allies closed in on Germany, Hitler order grand offensives to be conducted by units which lacked the fuel to do anything. By April of 1945, hundreds of thousands of German soldiers were surrendering en masse, traveling on foot westward to surrender to the Brits or Americans and avoid the Soviet gulags. By the time of Hitler’s suicide, Germany no longer had any large amounts of operational vehicles or aircraft.