Fall Blau, and a lot of the eastern campaign was centred around capturing Soviet oil reserves, particularly around Maikop, Grozny, and Baku in the Caucasus. But the Germans captured the majority of what were then Soviet coal reserves in the Ukraine, and immediately across the Don River in the Donetsk basin.

It was the Germans who had invented processes for creating synthetic oil from coal. Yet there was almost no celebration of the Germans capturing Soviet coal reserves and denying them to the Soviets. While this created angst of the Soviet side, Stalin, at least, seemed a lot more worried about losing the oil.

Why was that? Was it because these coal reserves were seen as an inadequate substitute for oil? Or if the argument was, yes, the Germans "possess" these coal reserves in the ground, but there's no good way of getting the coal back to Germany for processing, couldn't the same be said about the Maikop oil that Germany actually captured, or the Grozny oil they might have captured?

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    Germans had their own coal reserves already. What they had to import nearly all of was oil. That's why them getting the (Russian) oil reserves was such a big deal.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 30, 2021 at 21:23
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    Oil from coal was (and is) an expensive process. It was a desperation move for the Germans, one they would go to great lengths to avoid.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 30, 2021 at 22:14
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    The Ukrainian coal fields would have been really important if the Soviet Union would have had no oil and no other coal fields and if it had had a large coal gasification program. Lots of ifs.
    – Jan
    Aug 30, 2021 at 22:37
  • The Germans had enough coal, but lacked the manpower to extract the coal in the occupied territories.
    – Jos
    Aug 30, 2021 at 23:23
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    Coal liquefaction was and is very expensive and requires very specialized equipment. So oil is dramatically more valuable than coal . Basically they did have the equipment necessary to use more coal. Some of the metallurgy necessary for liquefaction discovered by Germany were published before the war and are the basis for the Nelson Curves , essential for hydrocracking , etc, vessels today. Aug 31, 2021 at 2:50

2 Answers 2


Germany didn't need more coal. They had plenty available in the Ruhr and Silesia, and a reasonably adequate ability to mine it. Depriving the USSR of access to coal was somewhat useful, but nothing like as useful as depriving the Soviets of Caucasian oil, and getting that oil for themselves.

Trying to work the captured coal mines would have required Germans to supervise Ukrainian miners, much more closely than normal mine supervision to keep the rate of "accidents" under control. Coal that reached the surface would have to be transported back to Germany, in quantities of millions of tons, and the Germans were always short of transport capacity in the East. Working the captured mines during the war was clearly not cost-effective and was not attempted.

They didn't have the transport capacity to move Caucasian oil to Germany in meaningful quantities either, but they don't ever seem to have faced up to that. General Georg Thomas who was Head of the Defence Economy and Armament Office in the OKW resigned in November 1942, after a prolonged struggle for economic realism.


The Germans were not capable of using those captured coal mines:

Russian tracks are wider than European tracks. The Russians destroyed as much as possible of the tracks and locomotives as possible when they withdrew.

The Germans couldn't use USSR railroads, because there weren't any left. Building their own tracks was possible, but to a limited extent due to material and personal shortages. They were required on the front.

Don't forget, the German army had enough winter clothing, but wasn't capable of getting them on time to the front. Their logistics were already a nightmare. Adding large shipments of coal simply wasn't going to work.

Before Operation Barbarossa, plans were already active to exterminate the population. The Einzatzgruppen simply extended their activities from Poland to any occupied territory in the east.

There was a severe shortage of coalminers in Germany and the western occupied territories. Belgian miners, for example, went on strike for higher food rations. (Not sure if it was this strike.)

German coalminers couldn't be spared, as they were either mining in Germany or send to the front as soldiers.

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    Much too simple. Tracks were used and were layed. The marshalling was a pain, and a constant problem for the Germans, but this answer is much too simple all around.
    – DevSolar
    Aug 31, 2021 at 8:53

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