The war at sea took a huge toll during WW2. Has there been an official estimate of how much oil was spilled into the oceans during the world wide conflict?

1 Answer 1


I found a paper from 2005 analyzing the current sate of potentially polluting wrecks from World War 2. It has the information we need:

The database includes non-tank vessels of at least 400 gross tonnage (GT) holding petroleum-based oil as fuel/bunkers (and for operations) and tank vessels of at least 150 GT holding petroleum-based oil as cargo and fuel/bunkers (and for operations).... The resulting database includes 8,569 ... wrecks [containing oil], with 1,583 tank vessels and 6,986 non-tank vessels. Estimates of the likely volume of oil remaining onboard these wrecks were made, particularly when the volume of oil onboard was not known. A high estimate was calculated assuming that a tank vessel had at least 80 percent of its cargo capacity onboard, and bunkers were assumed to be 70 percent full.... The [result was] a high estimate of 20.4 million tonnes (6 billion gallons).

A low estimate would be 1.5 billion gallons (assuming 20 percent full at time of wreck). A reasonable average would be 3.8 billion gallons of oil spilled in maritime waters during World War 2. This estimate includes both military vessels and non-military vessels sunk during World War 2. It does not include oil spilled in rivers or freshwater lakes.

Source: Potentially Polluting Wrecks in Marine Waters

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    To put this in perspective... Deepwater Horizon was up to 0.2 billion gallons spilled. Exxon Valdez was about 0.01-0.03 billion gallons.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 16:31
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    @kubanczyk - To be fair though, that was in one place, while this answer is talking about spread out over the entire globe.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 0:59
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    The Exxon Valdez was fifteen to twenty times larger than the largest of the WW2 tankers.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 1:42
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    @T.E.D. Not only spread over the globe, but spread over the years 1939 - 1945. It would be good to have a map showing how close those WW2 oil spills were to the coasts, where it would do the most economic damage, and I believe the most wildlife damage too. I noticed such a map on page 11 of the pdf. Maybe American Luke can edit it into his answer.
    – DrZ214
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 23:50

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