Part 1

A British soldier guards a BP pipeline in Iran, 1941 – oil production and distribution played a major strategic role in the Second World War.

All purpose built British warships had either been converted to burn oil or were originally built to burn oil. This was the case with HMS Kent, named for the ‘Kent sub-class’ of the ‘County Class’ heavy cruisers built in the 1920s under the limitations of Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.

Hence, these cruisers and the two later sub-classes, London and Norfolk, were also known as ‘treaty cruisers’ as was the US Navy cruiser, USS Indianapolis, for instance. (Famous for being the only ship to leave Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941, for carrying the atom bomb to Tinian, and for her sinking by a Japanese submarine afterwards; the loss of life among the crew being the worst naval disaster in the history of the US Navy.)

The British Empire paid careful attention to its oil supplies both for motor fuel and for the Royal Navy. (The US armed forces and the British armed forces were the only two militaries to enter World War Two completely motorized. The Germans still used horses for 80% of their transport.)

Great Britain controlled Iran and the oil producing regions of Iraq along with other oil producing territories. British Petroleum explored for oil throughout the empire and other countries and oil politics were played as fiercely then as they are now.

Japan attacked the main islands of Indonesia in World War Two because they produced oil and lots of oil. Then known as Batavia, the main islands had a highly developed oil infrastructure for drilling, refining, and shipping. Shell Oil, then known as Royal Dutch Shell, controlled this entire process.

One of the reasons the Japanese desperately needed oil was the US had stopped exporting oil to them. While hard to believe, before World War Two, the largest oil exporter in the world was the United States.

[Image courtesy of The Telegraph.]