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In 1942, Germany's Fall Blau was initially aimed at capturing or interdicting shipments of oil from the Caucasus to the rest of the Soviet Union. Even though armies were diverted to Stalingrad and even Leningrad, the Germans managed to capture Maikop, and came within 50 miles of Grozny.

Where would the Soviet Union have gotten its oil from, if Germany instead had pursued and succeeded in an all-out attempt on the "Caucasus?" Perhaps Army Groups A and B would have moved in parallel to the lower Volga, bypassed Stalingrad, captured Astrakhan on the Caspian, and move far enough beyond to interdict oil shipments. Or Germany could have sent Manstein's 11th Army and Hoth's 4th Army along with Army Group A to the Caucasus, (leaving Paulus between the Don and the Volga for flank protection), thereby capturing Grozny and isolating Baku.

Early in the war, the Soviet Union had moved hundreds of factories to the Urals from soon-to-occupied territory to Sverdlovsk and Magnitogorsk. My sense is that they would have had adequate, though not ample supplies of oil to fight a war from around the Urals, and east of Moscow, without the Caucasus. After all, Germany managed to continue fighting with "only" Romanian oil supplies (and beyond 1944 without them).

But one of my history teachers taught that without Caucasus oil, the Soviet Union would have had to make a "Carthaginian" peace. Could someone with a knowledge of Soviet geography tell whether I or my teacher was right about the Soviet Union's ability to continue fighting World War II without Caucasus oil?

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2 Answers 2

"Hitler had a big point though. In 1940 Baku was producing 22.2 million metric tons of oil, comprising 72% of total Soviet oil production. In 1941, it produced 25.4 Mt"

Source: http://karbuz.blogspot.com/2006/10/oil-logistics-lesson-from-wwii-3.html, which sources in turn from "The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power" by Daniel Yergin

I'll need to see if 1941/42 estimates exist, but 72% loss would likely cripple USSR.

As far as Soviets migrating oil production East, the same article continues:

All the nine drilling offices, oil-expedition and oil-construction trusts as well as various other enterprises with their staffs were transferred to an area near Kuybishev, (Russia Federation in Tartarstan near the Ural Mountains north of Kazakhstan). This city soon came to be known as "the Second Baku".

Despite the severe frost the drillers started searching for oil and thanks to day and night working, the Bakuis in the region of Povolzhye increased the fuel extraction in "Kinelneft" trust that first year by 66% and by 42% in entire region of Kuybishev. As a result, five new oil and gas fields were discovered and huge oil refinery construction projects were undertaken, including the first pipe line between Kuybishev and Buturslan was built that same year.

No numbers are given for totals, but if Baku was 72%, plus Grozny and Maikop probably adding up to at least 5-10% more, the rest of Eastern USSR was at most 20-25% - and even nicreasing that WHOLE by 66% would only get you 40% of pre-caucasus-capture totals.

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Thanks for the stats. One interesting point, the (unoccupied) Soviet Union had something like two-thirds of Germany's industrial capacity, yet outproduced Germany two to one in war material. My guess that they would have "made do" with 25%-40%. But you can see why my (German immigrant) history teacher thought that the Soviet Union would make a "Carthaginian" peace. In any event, Kuibyshev would have been the "next stop" if the Germans had captured Stalingrad and the Caucasus. –  Tom Au Apr 29 '13 at 21:02
@TomAu - that's different. You can make people work harder and eat less. You can't make an engine/industrial process consume less oil/gas/diesel with "or will shoot you" motivation. –  DVK Apr 29 '13 at 21:13
One important factor was "Lend Lease." If the Soviet Union had "lost its oil," the U.S. would have shipped more oil, and less of other war material. –  Tom Au Apr 29 '13 at 21:24
@TomAu - I'm unsure how well they could transport the oil in needed quantities through entire Russia. –  DVK Apr 29 '13 at 21:28
DVK: One quarter of it came through Archangelsk or Murmansk (one third, ex Persian Gulf, which would have been cut off). The remainder through Siberia. Also, the law of diminishing returns. The first 40% is a lot more important than the remaining 60%. That is, a less mobile Red Army would have used fewer trucks and more foot soldiers, on tighter lines. –  Tom Au Apr 29 '13 at 21:57

The loss of those oil fields would have been crippling and severly reduced Russia's ability to operate. Do not forget that, at the same time, it would boost Germany's abilities and resources massively.

Even if you import oil that is going to take time, resources, planning, negotiation - those well fueled German tanks etc that are driving at your infantry who are all desperately piling on the only working lorry will be arriving far sooner!

Imagine if you were in charge of Russia and you lost 3/4 of you oil at the same time as your enemy gained it. Yes, you can stall them for a short while but the end result is pretty inevitable. If you negotiate now you might get a better deal than if you hopelessly fight for a year or so?

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Well, later in the war Germany held on ferociously for quite a while after losing its oilfields. And it was really on its last legs by then. So I'm not sure it's as clear-cut as you make it sound. –  Felix Goldberg May 3 '13 at 9:42
Clear cut? No, there are always overlapping factors in pretty much everything. I was coming from the angle of trying to explain why someone might expect the Russians to surrender if they lost 3/4 of their oil supply to their enemy. –  Stefan May 3 '13 at 10:13
Sources? Citations? –  Mark C. Wallace May 3 '13 at 10:46
For which stated fact would you like a citation? My answer is based upon simulating the chain of thought of the Russian leaders after taking into account the fact that the Germans now had the oil to use as well as the Russian not - this does not seem to have been mentioned by the OP or in other answers. –  Stefan May 3 '13 at 11:27

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