An Oilfield Too Far - Baku or Bust (WW2 Feature)

Azerbaijan is a country that most westerners couldn’t find on a map. Those who can are likely to know it for one thing - Oil. The Capitol City of Azerbaijan is Baku - the birthplace of the modern Oil Industry. Baku was the ultimate objective of the German Army in World War II. Military historians would do well to note that Baku was also an objective of both Germany and the Ottoman Empire in World War I, as well. Azerbaijan is of continued interest even today, situated directly north of Iran. It is still producing oil.

Baku was known for oil and naptha as early as the 8th Century AD. The first mechanical oil well was drilled in 1846 becoming a full-fledged industry by 1872. British, Belgian, French German, Swiss, Swedish and American investors were well entrenched in Baku by 1900. Notable among these investors are the Rothschild family, John Rockefeller (Standard Oil) and the Nobel brothers. By 1908, the world’s largest kerosene pipeline was built between Baku and Tatumi - stretching 885 kilometers. In 1912, the Rothschild’s had 13 large tankers transporting oil on the Caspian Sea. By 1900, the oil field of Baku were producing almost half of the world’s oil - with over 3,000 oil wells.

As more than a footnote, remember Standard Oil was divided into nearly three dozen companies by the US Supreme Court in 1911 for violation of anti-trust laws - and some of these child companies include Chevron, Exxon and Mobil.

Control of Baku was one of Germany’s main reasons for invading Russia, alongside Ukraine’s abundant and rich agricultural land. Some historians and many wargamers assert that the idea of Germany being able to capitalize upon Baku oil was some sort of fantastic, impossible pipe dream. That the Axis forces failed to achieve their objective gives their position some merit. The main argument is that even had the German Army reached Baku, getting all that oil back to Germany to be refined was beyond their logistical capability. Secondly, by the time the German Army even reached Baku, all of the oilfields would have been blown - much like they had with Maikop.

There’s much more to the picture.

1. Regional Contagion. Azerbaijan has a predominantly Muslim population, having been part of Persia. As noted in the Iraqi Coup and Rommel’s Afrika Corps post, Hitler had solid and favorable relations with more than a few Islamic organizations. This included Mohammed Amin al-Husayni, formerly the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who helped orchestrate the coup in Iraq — which is also adjacent to Iran.

2. Iran? No… say it ain’t so… The Iranian Government under Shah Pahlavi (also known earlier as Colonel Reza Khan) was also friendly with Germany - friendly to the point that Germany was acquiring a majority in virtually all of the Iranian oil companies. Friendly to the extent that they even built an oil pipeline to Germany (through Russia). Following the Iraqi coup (April-May 1941), Britain turned its eyes not only on Syria (June-July 1941), but Iran, too. This is about the first time where the Western Allies (England and the United States - despite not being involved directly in the war… yet - wink.) cooperated on any meaningful level with Stalin and the Soviet Union — and before the eruption of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, plans were made for England and the Soviet Union to invade Iran.

3. Ostlegionen. Azerbaijan was originally part of Persia, but was annexed by Tzarist Russia. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire during the Bolshevik Revolution, Azerbaijan enjoyed a brief period of independence. This was short lived, as Communist Russia retook the country at the cost of 20,000 (or more) Azeri lives, in 1920. Some 10,000 Azeri’s would eventually join Axis Forces as Ostlegionen - some as independent free-willed volunteers, but most probably as semi-coerced POW’s. Most notably, of the 14 Azeri “volunteer” battalions, several were used to form the German 162nd “Turkoman” Division.

4. Oilfield Engineers - Even with the invasion of Poland, Hitler had commissioned a small team of oil engineers to secure and oversee production of captured facilities, though 70% of Poland’s capacity ended up falling into Russian hands - forcing Germany to have to buy it. By the time Case Blue was put into motion, Germany raised the Technical Oil Brigade - a 15,000 man strong group of oil industry specialists, technicians and engineers, to repair Soviet oil field facilities. At least 6,000 of these men accompanied Army Group A’s drive into the Northern Caucasus. New oil companies like Ost-Öl and Karpaten-Öl were even formed to facilitate the exploitation of Caucasus Oil - to repair damaged wells and restore local refineries.

5. Oil Depth - Most of the newer oil wells in the United States are in the 5,000 - 6,000 feet range, with offshore drills starting at 10,000 feet. The deepest oil wells today exceed 12,000 meters or 40,000 feet - drilled by Russia and Qatar. Contrast this to Baku where hand dug wells were reaching oil at a mere 35 feet deep in the 16th Century. While the fields at Grozny and Maikop might have required full-scale drill efforts; Baku was a completely different case - the oil was almost immediately accessible, even if it required slave labor to dig the holes, some level of production was guaranteed.

6. Octane. Today, we tend to think of oil refineries as huge complexes that take years to build. This page, is a shot of an oil refinery from the 1800’s. In the 1940’s, no one was particularly concerned with high octane fuel for fancy cars - what was produced was used to fuel 1940’s trucks and tanks (40 octane) and aircraft (75-80 octane). Considering Germany was the first country to produce jet fuel (100+ octane) in quantity and had advanced synthetic oil production techniques, producing the kind of fuel they would need for their vehicles would be a simple task.

7. Production. Romania supplied Germany with roughly 13 million barrels of oil per year between 1941 and 1943. Germany’s peak oil production (in 1944) amounted to about 12 million barrels of oil per year. OIl from all sources, including synthetic (the majority) reached a peak of 71 million barrels per year. Germany peak oil requirements for normal operations amounted closer to 95 million barrels - shy by about 20 - 25 million barrels. In contrast, Maikop produced 19 million barrels annually, Grozny 32 million barrels, and Baku 170 million barrels — over 220 million barrels. Germany only needed to restore 10% of these field’s capacity to cover its needs.

Remember this is in 1942…
in comparison to today, the United States during “peace time” consumes almost 19 million barrels per day - or five days worth of oil in the United States would have been sufficient to power Germany’s wartime operations for a full year. United States consumption of oil amounts to 6.85 BILLION BARRELS per year.

Video shows Hitler being presented a Birthday Cake reflecting a map of the Caucasus Region - where he takes a piece of cake prominently marked, “Baku”

Consequently, it is my assertion that had the German Army reached Baku - it did have the technical capacity to make use of the oil. The oil did not need to be railed back to Germany. Though certainly a massive logistical challenge, the only technical challenge involved how many drilling and refining facilities were damaged beyond repair. In fact, a majority of Baku’s facilities were destroyed pre-emptively just as the German Army was approaching Grozny. The remaining oil production was still considerable and there was still at least one wild card the German Army could throw at Baku.

The military operation, however, is the second part of the equation — that’s where things went wrong. That will be explored separately.

There is a lot of information here - and it is not meant to reflect on modern-day Azerbaijan, nor cast aspersions upon it in any historical context. However, it is a very large and important part of the broader picture that we now know as World War II. Effort was applied to focus specifically on the role of Baku and the socio-political undercurrents between Germany and the Middle East. There’s far more to look at… especially under the guise of broader political and corporate involvement.

Neither is this article intended to express support for the Axis Forces or the “Nazis”. The intention is to reflect that the planning that went into Case Blue was by no means stupid or half-baked. It is dangerous to underestimate one’s enemy…


  1. 90% of the material in the multitude of statements is specious or unrelated to the derived conclusion. 16th century oil levels do not
    begin to equate with 1943 levels in the same fields, witness oil levels
    around the globe falling. By 1944 the year of “maximum oil production”
    disparities in intelligence, scientific research ability, material and
    political concerns would have meant more than raw production of fuel.
    The search for a single “panacea target” was a continuing never resolved
    concern to the Allied strategic planners. Germany never won any
    strategic campaign after Stalingrad, single short term battles yes but never came close to the TKO. For oil production to be the war winning factor the German production would have had to remain high/ adequate while the Germans cut the allies off from their dispersed global supplies.