Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX N: THE ROLE OF OIL IN THE PACIFIC WAR
Tanks and Trucks Transform Battlefield Mobility: The idea of a tracked armed vehicle had been circulating for over a decade before World War I. Famed futurist author H.G. Wells had even described such a beast in a article, The Land Ironclads, which he wrote for The Strand Magazine in December 1903. However it was the exigencies of war that focused military minds.
British Colonel Ernest Swinton was one of the first men to identify the problem of immobility. Having written the official British History of the Russo-Japanese War, Swinton identified the problem of troop mobility created by the development of the machine gun as he analysed the long drawn out static siege of Port Arthur (now Lushunkou) in Manchuria. Having identified the problem, Swinton became the first British Army officer to identify the solution as an armored vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine that could move forward unencumbered by either machine guns or barbed wire.
The problem was that industrialization had brought the means of transporting and supplying mass armies that could construct machine gunned and barbed wire defenses over vast distances – in the case of the World War I the entire Western front. Outflanking the enemy was no longer possible. For the first time in history war had become immobile.
At sea it was the same story. Attempts in the air and at sea to break the resulting deadlock failed. The Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916 had forced the German fleet to retire, its strategy of destroying the British fleet a failure; in the ensuing stalemate Germany could no longer threaten supply to the Allied ground forces across the Channel. Neither could bomber aircraft, still in their infancy, disrupt movement on ground. Indeed the only flanking movement that worked to a degree was underground… where the digging of tunnels and the mining of enemy positions did allow a modest degree of movement. It was a tactic that reached its apogee in the destruction of the Messines Ridge by 19 underground mines on 17 June 1917.
By then caterpillared tractors patented by Benjamin Holt of Stockton, California had already become a familiar part of the battlefield. By 1916 more than 1,000 had been produced under license in the UK to be used for the haulage of heavy artillery over the often impenetrably muddied landscapes of the front; the number of Holt tractors increased to over 10,000 by the end of the war. In 1914 exploratory tests of caterpillared tractors, as a means of traversing trenches, was abandoned until Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, insisted on renewed efforts. He ordered the development of 18 experimental landships, which subsequently became known by their codename ‘Tank’. On 15 September 1916 Field Marshall Haig deployed 49 tanks at the Battle of the Somme but the first notable success in bringing mobility to the field was at the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917 when 400 tanks penetrated seven miles through German lines. From now on the role of the tank in modern warfare was assured.
The restoration of mobility to modern warfare achieved by the development of the tank had other implications. At the Battle of Cambrai troops had been unable to follow up the hole punched in the German lines. Troops too needed to be made mobile. Hitherto troops had walked to the front lines from the nearest train depots. From now on they would have to trucked as tanks increased the pace of battle. Mule trains for supply were also going to replaced by motorized transportation. As historian Daniel Yurgin noted, World War I changed, “ How much could be carried, how far and how fast…”7
At the start of the war the British Expeditionary Force that went to France in August 1914 had 827 automobiles and 15 motorcycles; all but 80 of the cars had been requisitioned from private owners. By the end of the war the British Army had 56,000 trucks, 23,000 automobiles and 34,000 motorcycles. The increasing military demands for horsepower were such that 1916 saw a petroleum supply crisis as the US, which provided 80 percent of the Allies supply, failed to keep up. The sinking of tankers by German U-boats hardly helped the situation. The British Admiralty reserve supply fell to 3 months, half the required minimum level. The crisis was such that thought was given to switching the Navy back to coal. France was similarly inconvenienced. Meanwhile Germany needed to invade Rumania to boost their supply of oil – a task not helped by ‘Empire Jack’, Colonel John Norton-Griffiths MP who took destruction teams to Rumania to make their well inoperable. Ultimately Germany was at the point of exhaustion of its oil stocks when it surrendered.
War was on the way to becoming ever more energy intensive. It was estimated that in the twenty years between the end of World War I and the start of World War II, the oil usage per capita of a modern army had increased a hundred fold. As General George Patton pithily put it to Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower in 1944, “my men can eat their belts, but my tanks have gotta have gas.”8 An even more desperate General Rommel, forced to lead his Africa Corp without adequate supplies of oil noted, ‘neither guns nor ammunition are of much use in mobile warfare unless there are vehicles with sufficient petrol to haul them around.”9