Appendices - Hirohito's War
OIL, RAW MATERIALS, AND LOGISTICS: ‘JUST START SWINGING’
Logistics of Oil in the Pacific War: General MacArthur noted that “The great problem of warfare in the Pacific is to move forces into contact and maintain them. Victory is dependent upon the solution of the logistical problem.”1
As early as 1924, President Coolidge had written that “the supremacy of nations may be determined by the possession of available petroleum and its products.”2 It was not an argument that would have been gainsaid by the military leaders for whom logistics have always been the most important pre-condition of success in war. As war became increasingly mechanized in the era of industrialization, as the tank, the airplane and the battleship became the key weapons that defined a nation’s ability to wage war, oil became the all-important lubricant of power. With regards to World War I, Earl Curzon (British Foreign Secretary 1919-1924) noted, “…the Allies floated to victory on a wave of oil.”3
If oil was important in World War I, the requirement for this commodity had increased at an exponential rate over the succeeding 20 years. A US infantry division in World War I needed 3,500 horsepower to keep it moving; by 1941 a division half the size needed over a 100 times more power (400,000 horsepower) to sustain itself.
The rapid increase in the mechanization of armed forces after World War I had a concomitant impact on the demand for oil. It was a demand that was mirrored in the important strategic objectives set by the ‘aggressor’ Axis powers. Just as Japan’s primary objective at the start of the Pacific War was the seizure of oil rich Dutch East Indies, so Nazi Germany targeted the oil fields of the Middle East in General Rommel’s North African campaign. Even more famously General Paulus’s advance on Stalingrad, ending with the destruction of the German 6th Army, was a thrust toward the oil rich Caucasus region. Indeed Germany was so bereft of fuel oil by April 1945 that its large reserve of airplanes was grounded and tanks and armored vehicles were being taken to the battle front by oxen.
Harold Ickes, appointed by Roosevelt to the role of Petroleum Coordinator for National Defense, went so far as to observe “Had there been no such thing as oil, I doubt if there would have been a global war.”4 By 1941 oil had become an essential prop of the modern economy. Even in a period of depression, US consumption of oil grew rapidly. Oil powered ship, planes, factories and it started to become the main source of home heating. With the growth of the automobile sector, oil became the new gold. Between 1927 and 1940, annual commercial usage rose from 15.8m barrels to 44.8m barrels. Perhaps more significantly oil increasingly powered the engines of war.
For America the great bonus was that it was self-sufficient and more in oil. The oil bonanza supplied by Texas and Oklahoma was added to by California, and then Illinois. By May 1940, the United States was awash with over 102m barrels of oil, a 44 percent increase on a year earlier; in California and Texas there were no regulations to limit production. However there were extreme logistical problems with dislocation that made the distribution of oil problematic around America let alone the world. Another looming problem brought to the attention of the President by Ickes was that America’s known oil reserves had been falling since 1928. In 1943, with America’s oil wells pumping at their maximum, the government along with Standard Oil of California and the Texas Company started discussions on the development of a 160m-acre concession that Standard Oil had purchased in 1933. It was largely thanks to the joint work of Ickes and Ralph Davies, a Vice-President of Standard Oil, that, during the course of the war, America was able to supply 90 percent of all Allied petroleum requirements.
The nub of the problem of oil distribution to the Allies was that the oil-poor east coast had to import oil while Standard Oil in California exported oil to Japan. Supplying Britain with oil and tankers meant that America’s east coast was liable to run short. Ickes launched himself into the problem at a cabinet meeting in June 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor; referring to a clutch of newspaper editorials Ickes raised hell, “about continuing to ship oil to Japan while talking of rationing our own people on the Atlantic coast.”5 Roosevelt however had good reason for holding Ickes in check.
The problem was not one-dimensional. In his memoirs Secretary of State Cordell Hull recalled that “Japan’s willingness to make war plus her far greater state of military preparedness, provide full explanations for holding off as long as we did on applying embargoes on the shipment of petroleum, scrap iron, and other strategic materials to Japan.”6 Nevertheless in July the State Department required all exports of oil from American ports to be licensed. On 1 August FDR banned all exports of aviation gasoline entirely. In the same month with a winter shortage of oil threatening on the east coast, raising the grim possibility of rationing, Ickes managed to push through the Cole Bill that authorized the government to underwrite a US$80m project to build a pipeline up from the Gulf of Mexico through Georgia to the refineries of New Jersey.
American policy makers in the late 1930s had been completely aware of the role of oil in war and global politics. In July 1941, the ban on Californian oil exports to Japan, which accounted for some 90 percent of their consumption, was specifically targeted to rein in the military occupation of China, and to warn off Japan from any advance into South East Asia that might threaten America’s possession of the Philippines and to sustain its dominant position in the region. As was explained in Chapter 3, the US Oil embargo on Japan was an act of war in all but name. Given the importance of oil it is all but inexplicable that in his planned attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral Yamamoto made no plans to destroy the US oil installations on the island. Situated over-ground just adjacent to ‘Battleship Row,’ was the storage center that had just been replenished to its full capacity of 4.5m barrels. Destruction of this installation, more easily achievable than the sinking of US battleships, would have been significantly more devastating in immobilizing the US Navy. Given that its Pacific tanker fleet had a capacity of 760,000 barrels of oil, arguably the entire US Navy could have been forced back to the west coast of America. It was failure on Yamamoto’s part that can only be explained by the predisposition of Japan’s armed forces to focus on the winning of wars by the winning of major tactical battles rather than focusing on the logistical requirements of long drawn out war. Yamamoto’s strategy was even harder to understand given Japan’s own well-understood need to capture the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies.
If the failure to destroy Pearl Harbor’s oil facilities was a major strategic error, Yamamoto compounded it by failing to use his submarine force to interdict US oil supply in the Pacific. Whereas in the Western Atlantic, German U-boats accounted for the sinking of 141 tankers, some 25 percent of US tanker capacity, Japanese submarines made just 19 attacks on US merchantmen in the first year of the Pacific War. Apart from the slightly fantastical plans to bomb the Gatun Locks on the Panama Canal at the end of the war, which would not have disrupted oil supply that came primarily from the abundant wells of Standard Oil in California, Japan’s war commanders made no concerted effort to disrupt America’s supply logistics.