How significant was Azerbaijan’s contribution to the war front between 1941 and 1945?
candidate number 1329To answer this specific enquiry, the topic of oil extraction in Baku will be discussed in detail, because of Azerbaijan’s incredibly high contribution of oil. The Republic’s military capacity and efficiency, as well as its human capital capabilities, with a focus on medical and technological abilities of the population, will be assessed too. In order to achieve these objectives, a variety of Soviet and non-Soviet sources will be employed. A specific time period between 1941 and 1945 will be examined closely, for this is the period when Nazi Germany and USSR combated. The purpose of this dissertation is to illustrate, using evidence and critical thought, that Azerbaijan did make a significant contribution towards the war front.
For sake of clarification, it is vital to acknowledge that Azerbaijan was officially a part of the USSR between 1922 and 1991 - the time period that I will explore throughout this essay. Also, an attempt will be made to prove Baku worthy of the ‘Hero City’ title - an honour currently awarded to 13 Soviet cities to commemorate them for the courage that they demonstrated during World War Two. Being the capital city and the hub for Azerbaijan’s energy extraction and skills concentration, Baku’s war-time successes are inextricably linked to those of Azerbaijan as a whole, whereas Soviet planners’ neglection of the city’s contribution is also a significant reason why this Republic’s input remains scarcely recognised.
First and foremost, the uses of oil during World War Two must be examined. Crude oil was primarily required as gasoline, thereafter used to fuel cars, as well as in the form of jet fuel and diesel fuel, among others. Because air battles were becoming crucial, jet fuel and ingredients for explosives were in high demand and this subsequently created a derived demand for oil and its by-products (Laundry, 2015). Oil was indispensable during the War, also used for laying runways, the manufacturing of synthetic rubber for tires, and as a lubricant for guns and artillery. It is virtually impossible to imagine modern warfare, or Allied victory in World War Two, without oil. Most Azerbaijani oil in the 1950s was sent straight to the war front to fuel tanks, artillery, jets, aircrafts and military vehicles - Nikolai Baibakov, citizen of Baku, was in charge of a special headquarters coordinating the supply of military units with fuel during World War Two. The vast diversity in potential uses of oil in warfare contributed towards an increase in the resource’s value, thus the value of Azerbaijani input.
Not only did oil have many uses, but it was commonly required in large amounts. As soldiers need to be fed and taken care of, military equipment demands similar treatment on a regular basis. Only this is in the form of fuel, without which jets, artillery, ships and tanks were no more than scarecrow for the enemies. In fact, a mechanised army came at a significant cost, given that a single jet required 1 to 3 tons of aviation gasoline to carry out just one mission. Tanks, self-propelled guns, tractors and cars consumed dozens of litres of fuel on a daily basis. (Timtal, 2013)
Technological revolution, which presided over much of the 20th century, allowed superpowers to fight more efficiently and decisively in World War Two due to the automation of the armed forces, which was marked by the adoption of tanks and aircrafts. Battle was entirely mechanized on land (Jensen, 1968) and for that reason it was fully contingent to energy combustion and oil, which were permanently required to keep the military force competitive. In a war of machines, [Germany] “could not produce the necessary fuel to keep the machines in action” (Jensen, 1968). The Battle of Kursk in 1943, which many historians consider the turning point of World War Two, remains the largest tank battle in human history. It marked the beginning of automated and mechanised warfare that does not involve horses. The growing essentiality of tanks, artillery and air attack units in World War Two would have increased demand for oil, oil-based products and provisions in general - the aspect of warfare that Soviets outpaced Nazi Germany in, mostly due to the timeliness and aggressive efficiency of production at the Soviet oil fields. As much as 1300 kilometres of railway tanks were delivered from Baku to Kursk just to supply oil and gasoline for one battle (Pravda, 1943), a gigantic figure that emphasises the growing essentiality of energy in modern warfare. It is vital to note that mechanisation was only accelerating during the war years, with German and Russian scientists coming up with new inventions, thus fuel became even more crucial as the conflict went on.
Existing evidence suggests that real-life battles were substantially affected by oil. According to some studies, Hitler failed on the Eastern front once he lost at Stalingrad (Reiman, 2016). This logic highlights the strategic importance of Stalingrad, a city that allows the occupier to secure control over Caucasian oil fields. Hitler even informed his commanders that “unless we get Baku oil, the war is lost” (McLaughin, 2012), explaining why German commandment was concentrated on the Caucasian battlefront and made vital sacrifices to devise ‘Operation Edelweiss’, in accordance with which Baku was supposed to be conquered by June 25 in 1942. The plan failed as the North Caucasian Front was created, composed in part by Azerbaijani infantrymen, rifle corps and the Azov flotilla, leading to 100,000 Nazi deaths. This was done on Stalin’s command because he recognised the importance of Baku’s oil industry, stating that “It is impossible to fight without oil, and he who has an advantage in the matter of oil, has a chance to win in the coming war”, undoubtedly referring to rich Baku reserves. Failure to conquer the Caucasus led to a series of Nazi defeats, including at Kursk, a battle that was fully reliant on oil to fuel the fighting tanks, and one that highlighted the superior management of oil supplies from Baku. Additionally, Hitler’s determination to conquer these oil fields clearly demonstrates their strategic importance. Ultimately, the superpower which retained control over the Baku oil fields ended up victorious in World War Two.
Nazi charisma as well as calculations suggested the possibility of a hasty and decisive victory, yet Russia managed to drive their enemies away precisely because of the oil-rich Caucasian reserves. Contributing significantly to the endurance of the Russian military, energy provisions managed to temporarily halt the invasion of well-equipped, motivated German forces. Given that Germany’s ability to fight a prolonged war was handicapped by a shortage of raw materials and strategic resources, this slowdown proved fatal. In contrast to Russia’s capabilities, Germany was cut off from adequate oil supplies and this has been interpreted as a major reason for its failure in World War Two, whereas some historians even proclaim that Germany’s entire position was handicapped by an apparent lack of oil (Jensen, 1968). Considering Azerbaijan’s quasi-exclusive oil contribution, it becomes clear that the Republic improved the endurance and mobility of Soviet forces, especially in comparison to their Nazi rivals.
Next, Azerbaijani oil will be referenced specifically, to assess whether the existent output level would have been able to satisfy Soviet needs. The Republic’s rich energy history enabled oil production over the entirety of World War Two - Azerbaijan has been considered a major oil producer since the 19th century (Wilson, et el, 2013). Oil output in Baku was aggressively growing throughout the 1930s, reaching 22.4 million tons produced in 1938, in comparison to the 18.5 million tons figure from three years earlier (Pravda,1951). Azerbaijan reached peak production of 23.5 million tons in 1941, just in time for the Nazi invasion. It has been estimated that Baku fields accounted for over 80% of total oil output in the USSR (Schwartz, 1946). Such enormous production levels earned Baku a certain reputation as the major energy provider within the USSR, so much that when alternative energy sources were discovered, the regions of discovery (mainly in Bashkortostan, Samara and Perm Oblasts, so outside the Caucasus) were named ‘second Baku’. Studies go as far as to say that the Soviet petroleum industry was essentially concentrated in Baku (McKay,1984), almost losing distinction between Azerbaijani oil and the entire Soviet oil industry. From such information, it becomes obvious that Azerbaijani oil fields made up most of the so-called enormous Russian oil.
Certain reports aimed to deduct Baku’s share of global oil output. This is one of the pivotal controversies about Azerbaijani oil, because Soviet statistics differ significantly from data published elsewhere. For example, Elmira Muradalieva – professor at the Baku State University - declared that the Azerbaijan SSR supplied 80% of USSR’s oil output and over 30% of global output, with strict reference to the war years (1941-1945). Official Soviet sources offered even more generous statistics, claiming that USSR oil reserves (distinct from output) accounted for 57.3% of the world’s oil resources (Neftyanoe Khozyaistvo, 1946). Yet, at the same time, the pool of Soviet evidence is unilateral, providing closely similar findings, in comparison to the heavy variations in non-Soviet material. Even some trustworthy international sources considered Baku oil fields the richest in late 1930s-early 1940s and biggest in size (S. L. ,1951). Moreover, some reports hinted at the limitations of non-Soviet sources, which “seem not to have noticed that new Russian data on oil reserves were published at least once after the International Geological Congress” (Schwartz, 1946). Although it is impossible to accurately distinguish between the Soviet 30% projections and non-Soviet 8-12% projections of Azerbaijan’s global oil output contribution, the figures are impressive either way and Azerbaijan undoubtedly had sway over the global oil industry.
Critics have also argued that Soviet oil reserves were depleted at the beginning of World War Two due to the recent Russo-Finnish armed conflict, and that the pact with Germany had led to loss of oil reserves and oil productivity (Nazaroff, 1941). The war’s impact was clearly exaggerated, because the conflict ended up consuming less resources than expected due to a lack of external involvement, mostly as Germany remained “neutral on the Russian side” (Jakobson, 1961). The pact signed with the Nazis in 1939, however, did have more meaningful consequences in absolute terms. The agreement obliged the USSR to provide oil to the Reich and 900,000 metric tons were exported in the first year alone (Nazaroff, 1941). Although this certainly had an impact on Soviet reserves, the global scale of its oil production implies that exports to the Reich couldn’t have been a fatal blow. Furthermore, the Reich would have received heavy crude oil rather than the incomparable old Baku oil (The Oil-Wells of Baku, 1886). Arguments considering productivity are reasonable as “if in 1932 the Soviet processing plants worked to 94.4 per cent of their capacity, in 1940, they worked only to not more than 82 per cent capacity” (Nazaroff, 1941). However, despite the rising pace of oil discovery in the USSR negatively affecting productivity, Baku oil plants continued efficient production, allowing them to reach a peak of 23.5 million tons produced in 1941. Therefore, it is fair to assume that Azerbaijani oil reserves and output were not depleted at the start of World War Two.
The bulk of opinions against the usefulness of Azerbaijani oil follow the argument that the foundation of alternative oil reserves, notably in the ‘second Baku’ area, undermined the dominance of Baku oil fields and made Azerbaijani oil less significant as the Nazi invasion ensued. Yet considering that Azerbaijan produced most of Soviet oil in 1941, even an untimely slowdown in production wouldn’t have undermined the strategic importance of the Baku oil fields. Azerbaijan still accounted for most Soviet oil – 75 million tons of it was provided to the war front amidst World War Two, reportedly accounting for 70-75% of national output in that time frame (S. L., 1951). Critics also argue that most Azerbaijani oil production occurred before its considerable deterioration in 1943, which occurred due to exhaustion of oil fiends and lack of experienced oilmen in the region, meaning that the Red Army triumphed using a lower proportion of Azerbaijani oil; yet Soviet sources estimated that 61% of total USSR oil was produced in Baku in 1945, or 11.5 million tons out of the total 19 million (Pravda, 1946) even after the production slowdown in Baku. Furthermore, Lydoph and Shabad’s research concludes that Azerbaijan still accounted for as much as 61% of all oil output in the USSR even at the end of World War Two. Azerbaijani oil production in 1942-44 continued to dominate the industry and the Red Army mostly operated on Azerbaijani oil.
Discovery of ‘second Baku’ did not prevent Azerbaijani oil fields from functioning at high output levels. In fact, studies such as that of Schwartz in 1946 incorrectly emphasized the significance of newly found oil sites, which ended up providing only 4 million tons between 1941 and 1945 (Lydolph and Shabad, 1960) - equivalent to 5% of Soviet oil output during that period. Official statements refer to many of the reported major sources near Ufa, Kuibyshev and Severokamsk as having only been discovered in late 1944 (Planovoe Khozaistvo, 1946) and thus unable to provide needed volumes. Moreover, Azerbaijani oil production as a % of total Soviet production did not deteriorate vastly, given that northern Caucasian oil fields in Grozny and Maikop were either ceased or under severe bombardment amid Nazi invasion, thus unable to operate. Baku remained the chief source of oil and its by-products for the Soviet Union despite newly found reserves (Schwarz, 1946).
Costs associated with extensive oil extraction at the Baku oil fields between 1941 and 1945 were egregious. As the fields were nationalised during Soviet rule, the state was reluctant to consider possible safety dangers, aiming to promptly supply Azerbaijani crude oil and its by-products to the war front. It would appear that the planners took little account of the progressive exhaustion of the shallow oil zones of the Caucasian fields - potentially useful drilling was carried out in a hasty manner, while valuable layers of oil were reportedly submerged in water and ruined for exploitation (Nazaroff, 1941). Furthermore, production of various goods stopped in Baku in 1942 and Azerbaijan’s economy was fully adjusted to benefit the war front. Oil engineering factories, for example, switched to the production of ammunition and weapons (Timtal, 2013). Such short-term oriented, unsustainable economic and industrial policies might have been pursued by the Soviets because they deemed Baku oil irreplaceable at the war front, justifying the enforcement of mass production at a large long-term cost - it is hard to imagine them sacrificing the largest oil fields unless no alternatives were available.
Another plausible reason as to why the Soviets chose to exhaust Baku oil fields despite high associated costs may be that Azerbaijani oil was widely considered exclusive. Chemical compositions of Baku-produced oil consisted of lighter crude, which yielded a high-octane gasoline and a good power kerosene (S. L., 1951). At a time of burgeoning need for motor, tractor and jet fuel, the Baku crude was perfectly suitable for USSR’s energy demands. In addition, Azerbaijani oil allowed more efficient provision of fuel towards the war front, was less susceptible to damage en route and even proportionally safer, or more resistive in adverse weather conditions. Because Russia’s climate was inconvenient during World War Two and radical transportation methods had to be adopted, Azerbaijani oil’s range of competitive advantages must have been noticed and cherished. A clear comparison may be drawn to the heavy crude oils found in Russia, which only yielded 6% gasoline by straight-run distillation and consisted of heavy asphalt bases - less acceptable for war purposes and generally less safe. Perhaps such factors offer an explanation as to why the Baku fields were intensely developed between 1938 and 1942, becoming exhausted towards the end of World War Two.
Historians have even argued that in military strength, accounting for tactical abilities of the relevant commanders, Nazi Germany and the USSR were at par with each other in Stalingrad. The only major difference was the USSR’s egregious advantage in fuel, which was constantly incoming from Baku refineries. Before the decisive battle had begun, 505.5 thousand tons of oil products were exported from Azerbaijan through the Caspian Sea, including 436 thousand tons to Astrakhan. These transfers from the Caucasus to the upper Volga and Kama played a decisive role in supplying the Red Army with fuel for the battles near Mozdok and Stalingrad – in comparison, German fuel reserves were already scarce by then. The battle of Stalingrad consumed 149 thousand tons of fuel, including more than 42 thousand tons during the counter-offensive. You don’t need to be a great specialist in military strategy to understand the importance of the uninterrupted supply of Soviet fuel towards the Soviet troops near Stalingrad with Baku fuel. Additionally, the graph below lists all the shipments made from and through Baku for the Battle of Stalingrad. (Sultanov, 2008)
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The Republic’s contribution in terms of natural and strategic resources was not solely defined by oil. As depicted through the graph below, Azerbaijan was a mass supplier of electric power, producing the most energy per capita out of all the Republics. This energy was thereafter used for the creation of various war-related products, without which the Red Army wouldn’t have had enough firepower to combat Germany. (Sultanov, 2008)
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Although resource provisions were vital during World War Two, soldiers were still needed. In this aspect, Azerbaijan contributed largely in 1941. A Republic consisting of 3.3 million citizens sent away around 700,000 soldiers and approximately half of them died in battle or went missing. For perspective, this is 100,000 more soldiers than France’s equivalent figure (as can be seen on the graph below), although the two were incomparable in population size, land mass, political influence, or any other measure. Over a fifth of the Azerbaijani population went away to fight the Nazi regime, exceeding the contribution of any other single Soviet Republic. In addition to that, Azerbaijanis were not just conscripted, but had a genuine desire to serve their country, and over 40,000 youngsters reportedly volunteered to be sent away in the first days of the War. This exceeds Georgia’s, Armenia’s, Kazakhstan’s, Uzbekistan’s average equivalent and only lags behind Chechen statistics - a military nation, the population of which was so much smaller at the time that the data isn’t entirely comparable (Noxchi, 2012). Moreover, 1941 social censuses for Azerbaijani men of fighting age showed strong patriotic feelings towards the USSR, thus it may be argued that Azerbaijanis made independent decisions to fight for the USSR (Bolukbasi, 2012). Lastly, around 10,000 Azerbaijani women died in fighting, a large statistic by Soviet standards proving the Republic’s army as diverse, and its women as brave.
- Quote paper
- Nizami Piriyev (Author), 2020, Azerbaijan's contribution to World War Two. How significant was it to the war front between 1941 and 1945?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1000685