General Erwin Rommel, “the Desert Fox,” was reputedly the best tactician in the entire German Army. For years, he led his panzers across multiple campaigns in North Africa.
But what was a German army doing zipping across the deserts of Libya?
Simple: Rommel was trying to capture the Suez Canal, and with it the route to the precious, untapped oil fields of the Middle East.
From the deserts of North Africa to the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the jungles of the South Pacific and the skies above Romania, World War II was defined by a struggle over a single resource – petroleum.
Without oil, modern mechanized warfare was impossible. It fueled the war effort of each major power, and battles over access and control of petroleum resources marked the war’s most important episodes—from the Battle of Stalingrad to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
German fuhrer Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s in the wake of the Great Depression – a cataclysmic economic crisis that affected the entire world, but which hit Germany especially hard. Amidst spiraling inflation and mass unemployment, Hitler preached a return to national greatness through conquest. Germany would dominate Europe, and in so doing capture all the resources it would need to become a self-sustaining, self-sufficient economic power.
Despite being one of the most powerful industrial nations on earth, Germany had no oil reserves. Furthermore, it lacked an empire – like the British – that would give it access to oil overseas.
In fact, in the 1930s oil production was dominated by a handful of countries—the United States, which accounted for 50% of global oil production, as well as the Soviet Union, Venezuela, Iran, Indonesia, and Romania.
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