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our operationshow the energy sector helped fuel victory during second world war

3 min read | september 08, 2022

The Second World War was fought partly form the skies and energy companies played a vital role in helping defeat Germany and its allies by supplying allies with high-octane aviation fuel.

An upcoming airshow in Midland, Texas, includes a history lesson about Chevron’s efforts in helping the Allied forces win the Second World War.

The AirSho event highlights the importance of aviation in war. Chevron, along with other energy providers, played a pivotal role in supplying U.S. propeller driven aircrafts with the high-octane fuel needed to fight Italy, Germany and Japan.

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As the Second World War approached it became clear that the battle would be partially from the skies and that higher-octane fuel was needed to improve the Allies’ engine performance. Recognizing the impending need, Chevron and other energy companies began ramping up production to fuel high piston engines used in modern military aircraft of the time.

  • U.S. oil production increased 30% from 1940 to 1945.
  • The Permian Basin was responsible for nearly one-quarter of worldwide oil and gas production.
  • The Standard Oil Company of California (now Chevron) produced more than 1 billion gallons of 100-octane aviation fuel during the war.
  • The war also sparked a boom in petrochemical demand; petroleum refineries produced about 80% of the military’s toluene, a main ingredient in TNT.
  • Other products included a lubricant that reduced the risk of the enemy detecting our submarines and copper naphthenate, a refining byproduct used to strengthen the fibers in sandbags.

why it matters

’It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of oil in shaping the twentieth century. It became the dominant source of energy driving global economies and was critical to winning the Second World War.”

John Harper, Chevron historian

Pictured at right is an advertisement that appeared in the Standard Oil Bulletin in April 1942

The airshow is an opportunity to educate the public about the Second World War through presentations, aircraft demonstrations and historical reenactments.

Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) produced more than 1 billion barrels of oil during the Second World War

Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) produced more than 1 billion barrels of oil during the Second World War.

go deeper

Oil was in high demand during the war, with countries such as Germany and Japan invading other countries to find it.

Germany knew the U.S. had vast supplies of oil, along with the infrastructure and means to use it. The German army had possession of a Standard Oil Company of California road map that pinpointed high-producing regions and company assets. The map was displayed on the wall of a Nazi commander.

The facilities went into high alert and required employees to begin carrying photo identification cards to enter buildings.

WWII maps

“Oil was in critical demand,” Harper said. “Both the allies and Axis powers understood oil would largely determine the outcome of the war. It is no surprise that Chevron's West Coast producing fields, refineries and pipelines had been identified by Germany as strategically important. In 1945, one of our own employees serving in the armed forces discovered a 1940 Standard of California road map in a German high command office in Bremen. Major Chevron field and facilities had been circled on the map.”

women enter the workforce

Women played a vital role in keeping our production moving during the war, with some entering the workforce for the first time. By the end of 1944, more than 4,000 women were employed by Chevron, with many working in our refineries.

We witnessed in World War Two our company’s employees coming together in an unprecedented way to fuel the fight. Twenty five percent of the company’s employees had gone off to serve in the war. Women and men filled those roles.

John Harper

Chevron historian

Chevron Richmond refinery worker Eleanor Barker in a truck in 1943.

In 1945, more than 1,100 women worked for Chevron Richmond to ensure the refinery continued to meet critical energy needs during World War II. Eleanor Barker (pictured above in 1943) was among those who got an early start.

Former Chevron operator Mrs. Hines is pictured in 1943.

Former Chevron operator Mrs. Hines is pictured in 1943.

Chevron control board operator Mrs. Davy H. G’Fellers

Chevron control board operator Mrs. Davy H. G’Fellers is pictured in a Chevron toluene plant in Richmond, California, that was used to produce a TNT ingredient and high-octane gasoline during the Second World War. (Photo courtesy the U.S. Army Signal Corps)

This was one of the most interesting times in petroleum history and Chevron’s history. It’s an incredible example of where this nation—and arguably the free world—relied on the people of this company.

John Harper

Chevron historian

history takes flight

As the title sponsor of the event, Chevron’s role in history will be on display during the upcoming airshow at the Midland International Air and Space Port, along with demonstrations of vintage military aircraft and simulations of military maneuvers on land and in the air.

The event happens September 10 and 11. Click here to learn more or buy tickets.

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