Some Russian guy on BBC Radio 5 (Up all night) just now shouted down a Yank, claiming that the US had helped Germany maintain its oil supplies during WW2. At least that's what I recall of his rant. I may not have captured this correctly... but there is no truth to this, is there?

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    It would be correct to say that certain US companies did (see below for Standard Oil of NJ), , and not only oil (eg. IBM supplied machinery, which was apparently used among other things, for example, for organising concentration camps). When we talk about US assistance, there should, however, be question, how much of it did the US government knew and condoned. Unlike the USSR, the US could have had plenty of private companies which acted despite official national policy or in circumvention of laws.
    – Gnudiff
    Apr 22, 2018 at 11:31
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    You really need to clarify what you mean by "during WWII". The European war started in September 1939, but the US didn't declare war on Germany until December 1941. During that period, there is really no reason why US companies shouldn't have done business with German entities.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 29, 2020 at 3:49

4 Answers 4


It is possible that Germany obtained a very small amount of US-controlled oil exports from

(1) neutral ships seized by Germany, and

(2) from Spain,

but in neither case could one say that the US government 'helped' or 'assisted' in supplying oil to Germany during WWII.

The 'Russian guy on BBC Radio 5' may have got his 'information' from a Charles Higham book which makes various claims about US businesses in Nazi Germany. I've commented on this at the end of my answer.

A little background to begin with:

By 1938, Germany’s total oil supply had risen to approximately 44 million barrels. Of this total, domestic crude oil production accounted for only 3.8 million barrels while 60 percent (roughly 28 million barrels) of German oil was imported from overseas where the United States controlled the lion’s share of production. The remaining imports came overland from European sources (3.3 million barrels from Romania alone), while another 9 million barrels were derived from the Reich’s growing synthetic oil industry.

Source: Shawn P. Keller, Turning Point: A History Of German Petroleum In World War II And Its Lessons For The Role Of Oil In Modern Air Warfare

With the beginning of the Allied blockade in September 1939, the supply of US-controlled oil from the Americas (mainly Mexico and Venezuela) effectively came to a halt. Germany was to rely increasingly on synthetic fuel (made from coal and developed in Germany in 1923 by Hans Tropsch and Franz Fischer), as well as increased imports from Romania and the USSR (part of the 1940 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement, until the German invasion).

Nonetheless, it is possible that Germany obtained some US oil in one of two ways:

1. It is conceivable that, as both sides were seizing neutral ships destined for the other side, Germany obtained some US oil this way, but this could not be described as 'assistance' or 'helping to maintain', and it is unlikely it would have amounted to much given the extent of the British blockade.

2. The Germans could have obtained US oil via Spain. It wouldn't have been easy though:,

Britain enacted a program .... whereby shippers in every port around the world had to obtain clearance from the British consul for every shipment to Spain.... The Americans, who at that time were still neutral in the war, protested the British action at first. But the United States eventually began to cooperate with it.


With the fall of France in June 1940, the British asked the United States to halt its considerable oil exports to Spain, and the Americans complied.

Spain relied almost totally on US-controlled oil, and the British action helped persuade Franco to negotiate on Spanish neutrality. In return, American oil exports resumed at 80% of what they had previously been, and this was later cut by a third. In short, the Spanish had very little to spare but, despite this,

Spain was allowing straying German planes to land and refuel on its territory, while Allied planes were impounded and their pilots interned

So, yes, the Germans got some US gas, but it was negligible and certainly not with the US's agreement or help. In fact, Britain and the US were more concerned about the Germans getting supplies of tungsten from German - operated mines in Spain.

Note: the 'rant' that you heard on the radio may stem from Charles Higham's 'Trading with the Enemy'. This book makes various claims concerning, among other things, the relationship between Standard Oil and IG Farben, the German company which made synthetic fuel. Without wishing to give the impression that every American industrialist's hands were spotlessly clean, it should be noted that Higham is not a professional historian (he mostly wrote sensationalized Hollywood biographies) and has, in several of his books, made claims which cannot be substantiated (e.g. 'Errol Flynn was a Nazi spy'). A review of the book can be found here.

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    Thank you, Lars. Your explanation is very thorough and much appreciated. I understand how such mis-information can develop and get spread. It didn't sound right at all. I think the Russian guy took advantage of the soapbox and was taking potshots at the US. Apr 16, 2018 at 0:06
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    Just a minor remark. When someone (especially if he's a "Russian guy on Radio") says "US" its not necessary about "US Government". Just any US company would fit. (Just in case personally I have no doubts the story is a myth of course). Apr 16, 2018 at 11:20
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    @seven-phases-max True, which is why I mentioned Standard Oil and American industrialists in the final note. My best guess is that he was at least partly referring to non-government entities / people (though according to Higham's account, some US state department officials were 'in the know'). Apr 16, 2018 at 12:29
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    Indeed. In fact if even a little bit of such claim would be true the Soviets would never miss to use it for propaganda during Cold War. Apr 16, 2018 at 15:58
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    @MichaelKenrick TEXACO did supply the german, italian and spanish fascist governments with oil from different sources, by bribing ships, port officials, and using force when necessary between 1930's and up until Agust 1940, when the germanophile CEO (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torkild_Rieber) was forced to resign, the US government did nothing to prevent it, nothing meaningful atleast ( a weekly 20.000 USD fine was put during the second half of the spanish civil war for breaking the no intervention accord), so that might be the point of the 'historian'.
    – CptEric
    Apr 17, 2018 at 7:49

No. One of the reasons why Germany had to attack the USSR and as fast as possible was their lack of oil. They were running out of it, fast.

America didn't need to ban oil sales to Germany. The British navy did that. Germany was, as in WW1, blockaded. Neutral ships were not allowed to transport strategic goods and war materials to Germany.

The USA was neutral at that time, but neutral in favour of Britain. Neutrality was bent as far as it could go, and then some more.

When you think about it, it seems contradictory to me that the USA would support the allied cause as much as possible and still ship oil (how?) to Germany. It makes no sense.

Before the attack on the USSR, that country was Germany's biggest supplier, together with Romania. Germany probably knew the USSR was rebuilding their army fast after the purges. They could have opted not to attack the USSR, but that would mean an attack in the future would be impossible. That was for Hitler not an option.

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    Prior to June 22, 1941, the Soviets traded extensively with Germany - including any and all military supplies such as oil and petroleum.Attacking U.S.S.R. reduced the quantity of oil available to the Germans. Apr 15, 2018 at 0:18
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    @PieterGeerkens I know they did. That wasn't the question. It was about the oil from America. At that time, America, Venezuela and the USSR were the biggest oil producers. Germany couldn't get oil from America or Venezuela. The USSR was their only option. Germany probably knew the USSR was rearming massively, so they decided to attack before that became impossible.
    – Jos
    Apr 15, 2018 at 3:33
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    I only know of your knowledge when it is explicitly stated in your question - anything you do not explicitly state is assumed to be unknown to you. Apr 15, 2018 at 4:02
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    @Jos Pieter, in his roundabout way, is asking you to edit your answer to include the relevant information from your comment
    – Spencer
    Apr 15, 2018 at 13:18

Couple of thoughts first...

Did the United States supply Nazi Germany with oil assistance during World War II?

Short Answer:
absolutely no doubt.

Detailed Answer...
YES. both before and after the United States entered the war.

NY Times, With a Branch at Auschwitz
Prior to the war beginning the Nazi's purchased large quantities of tetraethyl lead which was vital to the production of aviation fuel in two separate deals. There were only a few companies which could produced this important ingredient and they were all American(Dupont, Standard Oil, General Motors). In 1938, Walter C. Teagle, then president of Standard Oil (William Stamps Farish took over in 1938), helped Hermann Schmitz of I.G. Farben to acquire 500 tons of tetraethyl lead from Ethyl, a British Standard Oil subsidiary. A year later, Schmitz returned to London and obtained an additional 15 million dollars worth of tetraethyl lead which was to be turned into aviation gasoline back in Germany.

Standard Oil of NJ not only sold these important fuel additives to Germany but they transferred production technology and techniques to the Nazi's which were vital to the Nazi domestic production during the war.

After the war began, Standard Oil of New Jersey continued to supply Germany gasoline. They used Panamanian flagged ships and transferred the gasoline to Germany through the Canary Islands.

The Nazi Hydra in America
By 1941, it was well known that Standard Oil was supplying the Nazis with vital fuel. Maj. Charles Burrows of Military Intelligence reported to the War Department on July 15, 1941 and Standard Oil was shipping oil from Aruba in the Dutch West Indies to the Canary Islands: Standard.... is diverting about 20 percent of the fuel oil to the present German Government. About six ships operating on this router reputed to be manned mainly by Nazi officers Seamen have reported to the informant that they have seen submarines in the immediate vicinity of the Canary Islands and have learned that the submarines are refueling there. The Informant also stated that Standard Oil Company has not lost any ships to date by torpedoing as have other American companies whose ships operate to other ports.

On March 31, 1941, Sumner Welles, a State Department employee, presented a detailed report of refueling stations for Nazi vessels in South and Central America. Chief among the suppliers was Standard Oil of New Jersey and California.

First Thought

The United States was officially neutral prior to Pearl Harbor attack. While it's common knowledge the United States was supplying arms and weapons to the allies during this time the same Laws which permitted war materials to flow to the allies permitted war materials to be sold to Germany. These same laws which permitted FDR to supply Britain with destroyers, fighters, and other weapons also permitted U.S. Companies to sell important war goods to Germany. That was part of the facade of neutrality. The facts are the US Government organized significant transfers of goods to Britain under this arrangement but Germany too was permitted to purchase goods from United States companies. Some of these companies had long standing relationships with Germany and one in particular was of vital importance to Germany with regards to oil.

United States Neutrality Acts

  • Aug 31, 1935 The First Neutrality Act.
  • Feb 29, 1936 Congress revises the Neutrality act.
  • 1937 Neutrality Act - No loans for weapons
  • 1939 Neutrality Act - lifted the arms embargo entirely, and put all trade with belligerent nations under the terms of “cash-and-carry.”

Modifications to the original, US Neutrality laws tried to tighten restrictions on German purchases while not entirely abandoning neutrality. No loans for war materials with belligerent countries which went into effect in 37 were seen to favor the allies.

In general some trade with Germany was important because it gave Roosevelt the cover he needed to supply Britain goods while still preserving the facade of Neutrality which was a political necessity until after the 1940 Presidential election.

Second Thought...

I find it odd that this Russian gentleman was so worked up over this position of US neutrality on the part of the US given Russia up until Jun 22, 1941 (Operation Barbarossa/German invasion of the Soviet Union) was allied with Germany and actively conspiring with Hitler to carve up nations like Poland **[Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact][7]**. Also of coarse Russia benefited greatly of the US lend lease programs which were made possible by creative US neutrality laws.

Yes US Companies legally sold goods to Germany prior to Pearl Harbor, and Yes some US companies continued to work with Germany as the United States was committed to defeating Germany on the battle field. These latter transactions occurred outside of US law and were investigated by the US as treason. (although with regards to Standard Oil of NJ, not prosecuted).

I think what the Russian guy was yelling about were the business dealings of Standard Oil of New Jersey(Esso, which would become Exxon) and their dealings with Nazi Germany and the German chemical company IG Farben. Standard Oil of NJ supplied the Germans with important technology and raw materials (oil, gasoline, gasoline additives, manufacturing technology and synthetics technology) before and after the United States entered the war. Both legally and illegally.

Senator Harry Truman ran a Senate committee which investigated companies who received war contracts.

Wikipedia: William Stamps Farish II

William Stamps Farish, President and Chairman of board of Standard Oil of New Jersey, was described by Senator Harry Truman in public as approaching 'treason' for profiting from the Nazi war machine and withholding patents from the US government.


The United States company, Standard Oil was broken up in 1911 for being a monopoly, but by 1941 had largely reconstituted its monopoly under one of it's surviving branches, Standard Oil of New Jersey. Standard Oil of New Jersey or Esso, would become Exxon and in 1941 was the largest company in the world and controlled about 80% of the United States oil production. The United States at the time was the largest oil producer in the world. Standard oil had been doing a lot of business with Germany after WWI and basically they continued it during the early parts of WWII both before and after Pearl Harbor.

Treaty of Versailles
After WWI the United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles which was the most important peace treaty ending WWI. The United States Senate could never consolidate 2/3rds support to ratify the treaty and thus in the early 1920's the United States signed individual treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary(Austria-Hungary was broken up after WWI). The Treaty of Versailles was harsh to Germany on many levels including economically, the fact that the US never ratified it and was not bound by it made Germany an attractive business investment venue post war for American companies.

Standard Oil of New Jersey was one of many United States companies which did significant business with Germany, including Nazi Germany as Hitler was coming to and in power. A major investor in Standard Oil of New Jersey was the Germany Chemical Company I.G. Farben(Second largest stock holder). I.G. Farben was the largest chemical company in the world prior to WWII and was a very important resource for Nazi Germany's war effort. They produced many synthetic materials (oil, gasoline, rubber, nitrates, and fiber) which were not available or scarce in Germany during the war. They also produced medicines (vaccines and drugs such as Salvarsan, aspirin, Atabrine, Novocain, sulfa drugs, poison gases). They used concentration camp labor during the final solution. You get the picture.


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    Your emphasis on events prior to May 10, 1940, seriously detracts from the quality of this answer. Doing business is what businesses do - including the Soviet Union prior to June 20, 1941. Aug 2, 2020 at 22:04
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    @PieterGeerkens:It is June 22, 1941. This is the only valid answer so far. "Assistance" or "doing business" are just the same. The companies doing business with the Nazis knew what they were doing and the government knew it too and approved.
    – markvs
    Mar 26, 2022 at 1:30

The U,S, supplied Japan with oil until Aug. 1, 1941, when as part of escalating sanctions attempting to force Japanese withdrawal fro China Roosevelt declared an oil embargo ( a key trigger for the attack on Pearl Harbour). The U.S. was in a de facto naval war with Germany in the Western half of the North Atlantic from early 1941 on as a means of easing effects of Germany's u-boat campaign..

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    Japan's oil situation is not the question.
    – Jos
    Apr 15, 2018 at 3:39
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    @Jos The question reads as if the user isn't sure whether or not he got everything correctly. Several answers stated that the US did not support Germany, so OP might have gotten something wrong. This answer states where they might be wrong, or the documentary was misleading...
    – Arsak
    Apr 15, 2018 at 8:27

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