TEXAS OIL AND WWII
How the Permian Helped Fuel D-Day
“And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the
most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred.”
Seventy-five years ago today, Operation Neptune (also known as D-Day), delivered 156,000 Allied forces to invade the beaches of Northern France and liberate Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control. Many identify these landings as the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. However, what may not be as well known is that major strategic wartime decisions like these were made based on the availability, or more importantly, the lack thereof one crucial resource: oil.
Oil, in all its forms, was absolutely necessary to wartime campaigns around the world: laying runways, making bombs, manufacturing synthetic rubber for tires, lubricant for guns and machinery, and of course – to fuel the modern military tanks, vehicles, and aircraft. The extent to which World War II was motorized, not to mention the sheer dominance of air power, one can hardly exaggerate the importance of fuel.
For the initial invasion alone, over 6,000 ships and landing craft carrying troops and supplies left England for the trip across the Channel. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion and less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured. Within those five days, over 326,000 troops, 54,000 vehicles and 104,000 tons of equipment had landed on the coast of Normandy – an invasion area about 50 miles long. Being the largest seaborne invasion in military history, it goes without saying that a great deal of planning – and oil – was required to pull off such a large and aggressive but successful attack.
PLANNING FOR D-DAY
To provide as much oil as possible, the U.S enlisted the aid of American oil companies to form a group known as the Petroleum Industry War Council. The unprecedented quantities required during this time embarked a nationwide rationing plan, as well as the push for the Permian Basin to drill more frequently and deeper than ever before. As a result, several major oil reserves were discovered in every geological formation from the Cambrian Period to the Permian Period, including two of the largest areas of oil concentration—the Spraberry trend and the Horseshoe Atoll.
Production by American oil companies ended up exceeding even U.S. government expectations. From 1940-1945, overall U.S. production increased by 30% from 3.7 million barrels per day to 4.7 million barrels per day. The Permian quickly became responsible for nearly 25% of the world’s oil and gas production.
Even after D-Day, the need for oil only became more important. The fiery Commander George S. Patton discovered this as he raced his troops across France toward the German border. Their pace was so hasty that as they approached their destination, they completely ran out of gasoline. Patton famously stated, “My men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas.” Permian producers rose to the occasion and, against all odds, produced the fuel that was emergency air lifted to Patton’s forces from Normandy.
To get the oil from Texas wells to the front line was no easy feat. At the time, product was being transported via oil tankers from the Gulf of Mexico, along the eastern seaboard, up to the Northeast and eventually along a trans-Atlantic route to Europe. However, German U-boats sunk so many of these tankers in the Caribbean and along the U.S. East Coast that many island beaches became seriously polluted with oil.
To circumvent these attacks, the U.S. launched two incredible pipeline construction projects: the Big Inch and the Little Big Inch. Both originating in Texas, these lines would transport thousands of barrels of crude oil and petroleum products every day up to the Northeast.
Completed exactly one year after construction began in June 1942, the two pipelines delivered more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day. The $95 million project covered 1,200 miles and was the longest ever petroleum pipeline construction undertaking in the U.S.
The truth is – oil was the most indispensable product to the Allied campaigns around the world. From extraordinary pipeline builds to intense increase in pumping, American oil companies responded to the challenge without hesitation to provide all they could for the war effort. American oil contribution amounted to 6 billion barrels out of the 7 billion barrels consumed by the Allies during WWII; with the majority of the oil coming from Texas. Even Field Marshall Karl Gerd Von Rundstedt of Germany readily admitted how important oil had been in World War II. Besides the Allies’ overwhelming air power, he attributed German defeat to three other factors; the first being Germany’s own deficiency in oil and gasoline.
It can ultimately be said that the extraordinary cooperation between the U.S. government and American oil companies is what helped win World War II, and that Permian crude literally fueled Patton’s infiltration of the German border and eventually the defeat of Hitler. On November 10, 1945, a letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Army-Navy Board to Ralph K. Davies stated, “At no time did the Services lack for oil in the proper quantities, in the proper kinds and at the proper places.”
Sources: 1. Ali, Tariq & Marshall Watson, Dr. “Economic Impact: Permian Basin’s Oil & Gas Industry.” August 2014. www.researchgate.net/publication/276278002_Economic_Impact_Permian_Basin's_Oil_and_Gas_Industry. 2. D-Day Center. “Facts & Figures.” 2017. www.dday.center/d-day-facts-and-figures.html 3. Drilling & Geophysics Society of Dallas. “9 Fast Facts About the Permian Basin.” August 2016. www.dgsdallas.org/9-fast-facts-permian-basin/. 4. Martin, Keith. “The Big Inch: Fueling America’s WWII War Effort.” March 2018. www.nist.gov/blogs/taking-measure/big-inch-fueling-americas-wwii-war-effort.