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"The Prize" (Episode 4)


Today it is difficult to find a person who does not understand the role of oil in society. Oil was the key objective, and often the main mean of waging war in the twentieth century, especially during World War II. The film “The Prize” describes the role of oil during war and how its cost can be measured by the price of human lives.


The Plot Analysis

The film begins with the description of Japanese military expansion to Manchuria and Korea with an aim to gain control of oil fields. It led to the deterioration of relations between Japan and the United States, resulting in the embargo on the supply of crude oil to the Land of the Rising Sun. It was a real blow, since Japan’s own fields in 1939-1940 could produce only about 2.7 million barrels of oil per year. Approximately a million barrels of oil were transported from occupied territories; the same volume was imported from the USSR and produced in Taiwan. That is it! Production of synthetic fuel in Japan was generally insignificant (the film even shows production of oil from pine roots). The question is – what can the island of Japan do, if almost all of the oil it needs is imported from South America and the U.S.?

After the embargo, the American intelligence decided that the next action of Japan would throw the Empire to the south – to Indonesia, and they were severely mistaken. Nevertheless, by July 25, 1941, i.e. by the time of announcement of the embargo by the U.S. , Japan possessed enough oil to support its forces for two years. Furthermore, Japan discussed with Mexico the possibility of purchasing promising oil fields and with the Dutch government in exile and the Vichy government the possibility of exploitation of oil fields in the East of India, so the Japanese had a certain handicap. All this continued until December 7, 1941 – the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese planes and the date of the U.S., joining World War II.

This operation (externally it looked very effective) was, from a military point of view, a big fault. Pilots offered to attack not only the ships, but the fuel tanks on the shore; Admiral Nagumo considered that almost every possible goal had been achieved and ordered a retreat. As a matter of fact, these tanks contained 4.5 million barrels of oil – the stock that the Americans had been gathering there for 10 years. Damaged ships could be raised and repaired, but there was no time to transport new fuel to Pearl Harbor. It is not surprising that Admiral Nimitz later considered that if the Japanese had destroyed them, the war would have continued for two more years. It would be virtually impossible for American ships to wage war effectively from California.

It was stated in the film, that the Japanese had not destroyed the fuel tanks because they wanted to use that fuel in their own purposes. This is highly improbable. Their main goal was to destroy the ships, and they did that quite effectively. The most probable answer is they did not know for sure what was in that tanks. They could contain fresh water supplies, for instance. It was a mistake of Japanese intelligence, just like German intelligence did not know about bad roads in Russia and their new heavy tanks. It seems obvious today, but it was not that clear at that time. Most probable is the explanation that the higher officials of the Japanese army did not know about the fuel tanks and everything happened the way it did.

However, on February 14, 1942 the Japanese forces invaded Indonesia and occupied two American oil refineries. Soon the Japanese occupied rich oil fields of Balikpapan on Borneo. Thus, by May 1942 the Japanese finally achieved what the Germans failed to achieve in Europe. Japan became completely independent of oil supply, at least for some time. Now Japan was able to produce 18 million barrels of oil per year, enough to fulfill all military goals. But the Americans stroke back very soon. For example, the American decipherers uncovered the code of the Japanese radio messages and got access to all routes of Japanese fuel traffic. Considerable forces and mainly groups of submarines were sent to catch the tankers and by the end of the war it led to notable result – over a hundred of Japanese oil tankers were destroyed.

Another important question covered by the film was why Germany attacked the Soviet Union and why Hitler did not first conquer England. By attacking the USSR Hitler entered the war with two fronts. According to the authors of the film this, seemingly destructive action, is connected with oil. In my opinion, this argument is very strong.

The answer to the first part of the question in many ways clarifies Hitler’s actions. Today we can be sure that the desire to capture the Soviet and Romanian oil resources was one of the main components of Hitler’s policy and it largely determined his European strategy.

The problem of capturing sources of oil in the Soviet Union and in the Middle East in 1941-1942 was one of the most important problems of the German elite. Along with Goering’s organization of “Four Year Plan” the preparation for conquering the Middle East was conducted intensively by the German military command, the Foreign Ministry and intelligence agencies. Fuel was the greatest need of Wehrmacht at that time and the main reason for the assault on Caucasian deposits. “If I don’t have oil , I’ll have to end the war” said Hitler in order to justify his order. Albert Speer, the German minister of armaments and military industry, interrogated in May 1945, said that the need for oil certainly was the main motive in the decision to invade Russia. Until the end of the war oil remained the main problem for Germany. It is indeed ridiculous, as it is shown in the film, to see the most modern jet fighters Me-262 towed to the airfield by cows. Even the Allies were short of fuel, and Patton’s troops had to literally steal fuel from other allied armies or exchange it for cigarettes and alcohol.

It is interesting, but not covered by the film, whether Stalin took oil into account when he was making decisions. Indeed, from the data shown in the film, which represents only a small portion of known facts, it is clear that Hitler, in accordance with his insane plans, would necessarily fight for big oil. And oil in sufficient quantities in Europe was in the hands of the Soviet Union and Britain (Romanian oil was already in the hands of Hitler). Without conquering the Caucasus and the Persian Gulf, it was impossible to conquer Europe, and one must not be a professional analyst to understand it. The problem should have been analyzed from the perspective – either Hitler attacks from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf, or from the Persian Gulf to the Caucasus. The map of possible attack was shown in the film and is highly convincing.

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In addition to all this, if we consider Hitler’s conviction that he could finish the war with Russia in three months, the defeat of England might well have to “wait” for a while. Even the threat of two open fronts did not stop Hitler. Finally, victory over the Soviet Union would mean the end of Europe, but victory over England would be just a beginning. These victories look unequal.


Due to the above stated, it is possible to draw a conclusion that Hitler invaded the Soviet Union before conquering England because of oil. This is an important conclusion, which I could make thanks to the film, and this is actually the only new information that I got from it.

It can be said for sure, that the Caucasian oil, mainly in Baku, and also oil in the Middle East was one of the main reasons for Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union. Due to the fear of losing their oil sources and staying away from world events Japan attacked the United States. The objects of German and Japanese attacks had different geographic coordinates and different political systems, but one of the main reasons, among others, of the attacks on these countries was oil.

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