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Supply of Petroleum Products

Extracted from “Quartermaster Support of the Army”, pages 660-662
Erna Risch, 1962

Storage and distribution of petroleum to the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I , 1917-1918.

The storage and distribution of the bulk of Quartermaster Supplies were handled through the depot system established on the Line of Communications, but the handling of gasoline, for which the Chief Quartermaster, A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Force), was solely responsible, posed special problems.  The French supplied their armies by using 50-liter bidons, or cans, that were filled at bases and shipped forward by rail and truck.  Such a system afforded high mobility but required innumerable cans and tended to congest transportation facilities.  This tendency alone made it advisable for the A.E.F. to reduce the use of cans to a minimum and to adopt the American system of bulk distribution, that is, the use of tank storage, railway tank cars between storage points, and motor tank truck distribution for local use.

Obtaining the necessary equipment was difficult.  The Office of the Chief Quartermaster selected Bordeaux and Pallice as the main practical ports for receipt of gasoline piped into storage tanks from tank steamers.  It used existing installations of the French refiners and erected additional storage facilities.   The Gasoline and Oil Branch in the Office of the Chief Quartermaster, A.E. F., directed operations.  The Branch chief hired six French railway tank cars and ordered 2,950 tank cars from the United States.  None of the latter arrived by April 1918, and the British Government came to the assistance of the A.E.F. by agreeing to rent 50 railway tank cars to the Branch for the duration of the war.  By the time the armistice was signed, 549 tank cars had been delivered from the United States.   Pending the arrival of storage tanks from the United States, the Gasoline and Oil Branch had a considerable number of small capacity storage tanks constructed in France and put into immediate use.  Whenever consumption justified it, the Branch installed storage tanks and pumps in the base and intermediate area.

Until late 1918, however, General Headquarters refused to allow delivery of bulk gasoline in the Advance Section and would not permit it to be forwarded even in tank cars.  At the time of the Chateau-Thierry push, the shortage of packaged gasoline prevented the French from adequately supplying the American divisions that had been thrown into combat.  Headquarters, A.E.F., ordered the Chief Quartermaster to arrange for immediate delivery of 650,000 gallons per month to the Paris Group.  With cans unobtainable, the Gasoline and Oil Branch could guarantee delivery only if it was permitted to forward bulk gasoline.  General Headquarters acquiesced and the Branch at once erected gasoline depots.  It successfully filled requirements from these depots in bulk, with motor tank wagon delivery to units.  Thereafter, General Headquarters allowed the Branch to place portable bulk storage at any designated location in the Advance area.

Deliveries of motor gasoline showed a tremendous increase after June 1918.  Over 48 1/2 million gallons were delivered between January and December 1918 and more than three-fourths of that amount was delivered in the last 6 months of the year.  Deliveries in 1918 also included approximately 5 million gallons of aviation gasoline and about 1 1/2 million gallons of kerosene as well as 4 million gallons of lubricating oil, and almost 2 1/2 million pounds of grease.