Army Quartermaster Museum - Fort Lee, Virginia

Petroleum Supply in Korea
By LT. COL. Merwin H. Smith, Q.M.C.
Quartermaster Review, November-December 1951

The war in Korea came at a time when Far East Command petroleum stocks were, in general, in good supply except for avgas and jet fuel and packaged stocks of certain grades of lubricating oils and greases, which were adequate to meet the immediate requirements but were not sufficient to meet a prolonged war in Korea without the speeding up of resupply from the United States. For a period of over two years prior to the outbreak of the war in Korea, the Far East Command, through its Area Petroleum Office, made every effort to fill every storage facility available to the military in Japan, and the outbreak of the war came when motor gasoline, diesel fuel, and bunker fuel stocks were at maximum levels. Efforts to build up avgas and jet fuel stocks were not entirely successful, due to budget limitations which prevented supplying maximum quantities of these products, as requisitioned by the Far East Command, and shortages of the products in the U.S.A. Consequently avgas and jet fuel stocks were not as healthy" as was desired. Another factor which made the build-up of jet fuel stocks impracticable was the pending program to convert jet aircraft from use of JP-1 grade fuel to JP-3 grade jet fuel. To facilitate this conversion, stocks of JP-1 fuel in the Far East Command were being maintained at a safe minimum level. At the outset of the war it was contemplated that a "police action" of relatively short duration was all that was involved, and existing stocks of all petroleum products were considered adequate. This concept soon proved erroneous, however, and short-ages of lubricating oils and greases soon occurred.

Allied forces were pushed "south" so fast, at the beginning, that there was no chance to evacuate existing petroleum stocks from the Inchon-Seoul area. Within a two-week period the sole petroleum supply facility existing for the United Nations Forces in Korea was the storage terminals at Pusan. These terminals, prior to the war, were operated by the Korean Oil Storage Company (KOSCO), under a contract with the South Korean Government, which owned the facilities. One terminal consisted of twenty 10,000-barrel storage tanks connected by pipelines to a deep-water pier equipped to discharge bulk products from a T-2 tanker; a drum-filling plant capable of drumming about 3,000 drums per day; and a railroad tankcar fill-rack capable of filling eight to twelve cars at a time. A smaller terminal, capable of storing 120,000 barrels of diesel and bunker fuel, existed in the Pusan area. This facility was served by a floating pipeline to a harbor buoy, and included a drum-filling plant capable of filling about 1,000 drums per day. A considerable stock of drummed commercial grade oils and greases existed in KOSCO stocks in the Pusan Area, which were taken over by the Army for military use.

The Far East Command had contracted with commercial oil companies to operate its petroleum terminals in Japan and other Far East areas; consequently there were no petroleum troops in Japan trained or qualified in POL terminal operation. To take care of this condition, Colonel Earl R. Chase, Q.M.C., the Area Petroleum Officer, Far East Command, requested the three commercial oil companies engaged in the KOSCO contract to furnish supervisory personnel to remain at Pusan until trained Army personnel could be shipped from the Zone of Interior. Standard-Vacuum, Cal-Tex, and Shell Oil Companies each furnished experienced supervisory personnel, at no expense to the Government, to continue supervision of these facilities. Mr. Ernst Halleland, SVOC, was retained as Pusan POL Terminal Superintendent; Mr. Williams, Shell Oil Company, was retained in charge of engineering; and Mr. Henderson, Cal-Tex Oil Company, was retained as office manager and accountant. The assistance of these men proved invaluable and contributed materially to the success of United Nations operations in Korea. KOSCO subcontractors (Korean) continued to operate for the Army, which immediately took over control of the terminals. Major (then Captain) Harold Cunningham, Q.M.C., was placed in command of the petroleum terminals for the Army. He was assisted by Captain Roberts, Q.M.C., and some six or eight enlisted personnel. Later, Lt. Col. A. Kaughman (then Major) was transferred from Japan to augment the petroleum forces at Pusan. As the problem became more complex and as it became evident that more than just a ''police action'' was involved in Korea, the writer, who had served for over two years as Chief of Operations in the Far East Command Area Petroleum Office in Tokyo, was sent to Korea to assume over-all responsibility for petroleum supply in Korea. At this same time, Colonel Bill Kay, Q.M.C., Second Logistical Command Quartermaster, placed Lt. Col. Paul Tonks in command of the Pusan POL Petroleum facilities. Because of the complex situation wherein separate logistical commands were established at Pusan and Inchon, and wherein the three technical services (Quartermaster, Engineer, and Transportation) were involved at various levels of command within Korea with petroleum supply responsibilities, serving the Army, Navy, Air Force, and the civil economy, the writer was established as the Sub-Area Petroleum Officer-Korea (SAPOK) under the Eighth Army

G-4. The Sub-Area Petroleum Office has since been transferred from G-4 Section to the Eighth Army Quartermaster Section. Colonel James Lamont, Q.M.C, was the Eighth Army Quartermaster, and Lt. Col. James Crase, Q.M.C., succeeded the writer as the Sub-Area Petroleum Officer.

By careful allocation of existing storage facilities it was possible, during the early part of the war, to store a maximum of between ten and fifteen days supply of bulk POL products in Pusan. To effect supply to Korea in tanker lots, stocks would be reduced to almost nil, necessitating close timing in scheduling tanker arrivals and arrivals of certain products from Japan in drums to augment the drumming capacity of the Pusan facilities. This was relieved by the writer’s maintaining constant telephone contact with Colonel (then Lt.Col.) Gus H. Montgomery, Q.M.C. who was the Deputy Area Petroleum Officer, General Headquarters, Far East Command, and with Major Ernie Buttler, Q.M.C., who was Chief of Operations in the Japan Logistical Command Sub-Area Petroleum Office. By this means cargo requirements would be scheduled for arrival at various ports in Korea as required. Secrecy was maintained by making reference to classified messages and by use of code designations. Shipments scheduled via telephone communication were confirmed in radio messages. To maintain the close telephonic coordination required to insure cargo arrives on a split-second schedule, it was necessary to locate the Sub-Area Petroleum Office-Korea at a point where telephone communication from Korea to Japan was available.

By careful supervision (thanks to the supervisors furnished by the commercial companies), by making certain alterations in the drum-fill plant, and by working labor around the clock, drum-filling capacity at the Pusan POL Terminal was increased from 3,000 drums to about 8,000 drums per day.

The big headache in supply of POL in Korea was the problem of distribution within Korea. Initially there were no distribution pipelines in Korea. There were but thirty-two railroad tank-cars available to United Nations Forces. The only tank-trucks available were refuelers used by the Air Force to service aircraft. The available stocks of POL pipeline material and storage tanks were extremely limited and consisted mostly of reconditioned 4-inch pipe and bolted steel tanks stored in Japan. Consequently POL within Korea initially was limited to supply in 55-gallon drums and 5-gallon cans over the railroads. By construction of pipelines from bulk storage to nearby airfields, and the utilization of existing and new tank-cars supplied eventually from Japan and the United States, avgas and jet fuel requirements for the Air Force were supplied in bulk to the airfields in Korea. Ground force requirements of motor gasoline continued to be supplied in drums. Materials for construction of pipelines to supply bulk motor gasoline to front lines were not available in the Far East Command, and, in any ease, sabotage and pilfering would have rendered operation of long pipelines practically impossible. Furthermore, terrain in Korea renders construction and operation of pipelines extremely difficult. Roads capable of carrying heavy motor traffic were, particularly within the combat areas, practically non-existent.

After United Nations Forces re-took the Inchon-Seoul area, additional storage was constructed at Inchon, and pipelines were laid to Kimpo Air Field to supply avgas and jet fuel to the Air Force. Delivery of bulk POL by tanker to this storage was difficult because of tidal conditions at Inchon, where tides of over thirty feet occur, and because only small coastal tankers can be accommodated inside the Inchon harbor tidal basin. Much difficulty was experienced in operation of the pipelines, due to sabotage and pilferage, and the operation was successful only after Korean military and police personnel were stationed at 100- to 300-yard intervals along the entire line at all times, and then only after a large number of Koreans of questionable allegiance (North or South Korea) were killed while tampering with the lines. These lines and storage tanks were, of course destroyed when the North Koreans and Chinese Communists again invaded the Seoul area. They have now been replaced. Additional storage has been provided on the east and west coasts of Korea and most of the airfields are supplied with bulk avgas and jet fuel direct from storage tanks at harbor areas via connecting pipelines. The inland airfields are supplied by railroad tank-car delivery. Motor gasoline continues to be supplied in drums and cans, via rail, from bulk-storage areas where drum-filling plants exist, and from stocks in Japan, in drums, direct to forward harbor areas for pick-up by using troops.

Airlift has played a big part in POL distribution in Korea, particularly during the period when United Nations troops were scattered over North Korea. During this period the Air Forces utilized several airfields in North Korea. These fields were, in some instances, beyond the usable rail lines, and consequently avgas requirements, as well as ground force motor gasoline requirements in these forward areas, had to be flown in. Hundreds of thousands of drums of gasoline and other POL products were air-dropped to isolated units during the evacuation of North Korea, and to supply units advancing in forward areas beyond existing operational airfields and railroad terminals.

Airlift operation is extremely costly and materially increases the POL supply problem. For example, during the initial phase of occupation of Kimpo airfield after the landing at Inchon, jet planes were based at Kimpo long before rail communication was established into that area. The enormous jet fuel requirement had to be flown in. Because of operational difficulties it was impractical to supply this requirement from Pusan, so the airlift originated in Japan. Cargo aircraft engaged in supplying jet fuel on this lift were consuming almost as many gallons of avgas per day as was being delivered as jet fuel. Needless to say, bulk facilities at Inchon and Kimpo were rushed to completion and were in use even before the rail service to this area was restored.

It was soon learned that World War II consumption factors for lubricating oils and greases were grossly inadequate for the operation in Korea. Supplies of OE-50 were exhausted during the early stages of the war, partially due to the arrival in Korea of large numbers of new tanks containing "pickling" or preservative oil. Each of these had to be serviced with a new supply of OE-50 lube oil. It was apparent that the urgency for immediate shipment of tanks to Korea precluded their being serviced prior to delivery in Korea. Also, because of the extreme heat, dust, mud, and rough terrain, vehicle requirements for engine oil and grease doubled and sometimes tripled the rates experienced in World War II. This condition was also aggravated by the fact that it was necessary for the U. S. Army to supply the South Korean Army with petroleum in equipment which consisted largely of old worn-out vehicles of all descriptions. These consumed exorbitant quantities of oil and grease. For example, where U. S. Army requirements of lubes and grease were approximately 2 to 3 per cent of gasoline consumption. South Korean Army requirements were from 10 to 15 per cent.

Because of transportation and distribution difficulties in Korea, winter-time requirements of motor gasoline and heating fuel were found to vary greatly from estimates based on World War II experience.

Winter in Korea is extremely cold. Transportation facilities are extremely limited. The distribution of diesel fuel for heating purposes, and the handling of diesel fuel in addition to motor gasoline, were difficult and, in many instances, impossible. Consequently, using troops consumed large quantities of gasoline for heating purposes. Also, it was necessary, due to the extreme cold, to keep tank and other equipment engines running at nights to insure starting out on planned operations the next day. Consequently, motor gasoline requirements increased considerably during the winter months. During these months shortages of winter-grade lube oil occurred. Winter-grade lubes and greases requisitioned for October and November arrival did not arrive until January, February, and March. Consequently the limited stocks available were rationed to units operating in far northern areas and for use in heavy machinery, such as cranes, and in weather-station equipment, compressors, etc., which are inoperable unless supplied with light-grade lubes and greases.

Eighty octane avgas was constantly in short supply in Korea. primarily due to difficulties in distribution, resulting in mal-use of this product. Eighty octane avgas had to be supplied via the same channels, and by the same means, that 80 octane motor gasoline was supplied. It is difficult for inexperienced personnel to distinguish between a drum of one and the other by reading nomenclature on the drum. Consequently, much 80 octane avgas was consumed in vehicles, and, in many cases, was never delivered to the units operating liaison aircraft requiring the avgas. As a result, liaison aircraft used motor gasoline, causing increased maintenance and, in many cases, lay-up of aircraft. This condition was partially corrected by painting red stripes on the ends of the drums of 80 octane avgas. However, because a portion of the 80 octane avgas supply was being delivered direct to Korea from the U. S. and being transshipped direct to forward harbors in Korea, it was not possible to mark all the 80 avgas drums shipped to forward units.

The war in Korea has been a "war of drums." Vast numbers of 55-gallon drums were shipped to Korea, and every effort was made to have the empty drums returned to refilling points for re-use. However, during periods of rapid advance, and particularly during periods of evacuation from forward areas, the rate of recovery and return of empty drums decreases. Drums flown to forward bases cannot be returned until surface transportation to the area is established. During the early stages of the war, existing stocks of empty drums on hand in Pusan were depleted, and the quantity of drummed gasoline supplied forward each day was entirely dependent on the number of drums returned the previous day, plus the drummed gasoline received in cargo ships from Japan and the United States. All trucks returning from forward areas were required to return loaded with empty drums. Box-cars returning from forward areas and from airfields were returned loaded with empty drums. During the evacuation from the Seoul-Inchon area, evacuation of empty drums was given a high priority, and empty drums were shipped out ahead of drums filled with diesel and jet fuel in order that supply of gasoline could be maintained at required rates. Drum supply is, and will continue to be, a controlling factor in petroleum supply in Korea.

While stocks of jet fuel in the Far East Command were almost depleted at times, there was never a complete shortage of this fuel. Jet fuel has continuously been available for use at air bases in Korea where jet aircraft were based. Most of the Air Force jet aircraft in Korea require jet fuel known as JP-1. Navy and Marine jet aircraft used in Korea are designed to use JP-3 fuel, but can, and do, utilize avgas 100/130 or avgas 115/145. Because of the difficulties in storing and distributing the various kinds of fuel, avgas 115/145 was supplied to the Marine Air Wing in Korea through a single pipeline which met the jet aircraft and conventional aircraft requirements, thereby eliminating the need to construct additional pipelines, and the need to provide additional storage facilities.

Many lessons have been learned from the operation in Korea with respect to petroleum supply. Realistic consumption data is now available for use in estimating forward requirements. More constant use is being made of petroleum facilities in Korea to effect better and more timely distribution of petroleum products. Reserve stocks of petroleum products, pipeline materials, storage tanks, tank cars, etc, available to meet future requirements in Korea, have been built up. Industry and the military have given more serious consideration to the problem of changing refinery operations to meet the military needs for avgas and jet fuel in case of another emergency, and these factors will receive more emphasis from the agencies involved in defense planning for petroleum supply. Also, military personnel involved in planning and carrying out military operations have become more and more conscious of the importance and complexity of petroleum supply and of the joint interest and activity required in supplying the three services with petroleum requirements. The amount of team-work within the military, and between the military and industry, is tremendous, and is being perfected every day, each service, agency, and phase of industry becoming more and more conscious of the others’ problems. Definitely, the petroleum supply lessons learned during the Korean campaign are having a profoundly beneficial effect insofar as planning to meet a future emergency is concerned.

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