Saudi oil well and the Italian air raid |
Arab News - 12 August, 2012
Author: Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
When oil was discovered in Bahrain in 1932, this was the year Saudi Arabia was founded by King Abdul Aziz. Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938. After this discovery, the Arabian Gulf region gained strategic importance. And when World War II started in 1938, no one imagined it will spread all over the world, even Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. As the war continued, it was clear to every political and military leader that whoever controls the oil fields and oil supplies will end up having the upper hand and will eventually win the war.
Saudi and Bahraini oil fields were very close to each other and there was American and British presence in the area. In June 1940, the Italian leader and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini received a plan to destroy the oil fields in Bahrain to disrupt the oil supplies to the British Navy. The plan was suggested by the Italian test pilot, Air Force Captain Paolo Moci. During World War II, the Gulf region was the center-line dividing the world. The Western front was Europe and Africa and the Eastern front was the Pacific region.
On a late afternoon on Oct. 18, 1940, four Italian Air Force planes with about 1,300 gallons of fuel and loaded with machine guns and bombs took off from a runway in the island of Rhodes, Greece. The four planes were Savoia-Marchetti S-82. They had three nine cylinders 880-HP and fitted with Alfa Romeo propeller engines. The Italian Air Force had an experience with long range bombing against the British in Gibraltar. But, the air raid on Bahrain was about 3,000 miles and would be around 15 hours long. The four planes flew in diamond formation and flew across the Eastern Mediterranean and crossed Lebanon and Syria. And when they crossed Iraq they made a right turn to fly over Kuwait. They headed south and flew over the Arabian Gulf. During this long flight, the last plane in the formation lost visual contact and they were able to exchange few words to maintain radio contact because they were in radio silence. The formation captain knew the fourth plane was in the vicinity, so they continued their flight as planned. The three planes couldn’t slow down for fear of stalling and the fourth couldn’t increase its speed to catch up, so all four planes continued their flight.
The three planes finally reached Bahrain and they had no trouble finding the oil installations. Flames from the refineries lighted up the dark skies. And it was mentioned in a book (Discovery) by Wallace Stegner and illustrated by Don Thompson that the British ground personal assumed the planes are British and even switched on the runway lights for the planes to land. There were no enemy air bases within one thousand miles. Bombs were dropped but, the damage was minimal. But, what happened to the fourth plane which lost visual contact?
The fourth plane drifted about 25 miles to the west and eventually ended up being over Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The pilot thought he was flying over Bahrain. He saw the oil installations and the fire from the torch and dropped his bombs. The Aramco (Casoc) camp had American families, Saudi employees and other foreign workers. They thought it was an earthquake. Those living around the oil installations were very lucky. The orange waste gas flares were moved farther away from the vicinity of the oil installations and the employees housing just days before the raid. The bombing run lasted a very short time and the four planes were able to gather again and got into formation and headed south west toward Eritrea, which was under Italian rule. The planes finally landed after flying 3,000 miles for more than 15 hours and flying over three continents. They took off from Europe, flew over Asia and landed in Africa.
Later on the same four planes commanded by the same crew flew back to Rome via Benghazi, Libya which was also under Italian rule. The raid in reality didn’t accomplish the intended goal. Bahrain and Dhahran were barely scratched, but the Italian radio announced that the oil installations were totally damaged.
This long-range raid raised many questions in the American and British intelligence departments. The Italian Air Force pilots and planes have the capability to fly 15 hours and cover 3,000 miles and be able to carry heavy loads of fuel, bombs and ammunition. But, what were the future impacts and the influences of this Italian air raid on the course of WWII? When the US and British intelligence services knew about the attack, they were worried about the Axis forces' ability to attack any target within thousands of miles from wherever the bases are. The US Air Force had to develop a bomber with capability to fly at least close to 3,000 miles. The B-29 was being developed and even though there was no enough funding, Boeing continued the task of building the new B-29 Super-fortress. This type of aircraft was pressurized and at the end of the war, one of the B-29 was named Enola Gay and used to deliver the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Another plane dropped a second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered in 1945.
Just before the end of the war, King Abdul Aziz became the center figure between the East and West. Adolf Hitler and the Japanese emperors realized at a very late stage of the war that whoever controls the oil fields or have access to them, would win the war. Both Adolf Hitler and the Japanese emperor wanted to have King Abdul Aziz on their side, to no avail. So, what role did Saudi Arabia play since the day it was founded in 1932? King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud founded modern Saudi Arabia and played very important role in unifying a country and developing it. His influence on events in the Arab and Islamic world was unfathomable. And he was able to establish a modern country and unify its people. And in the international arena, he was an important factor in shaping the world. He was one of the few figures in the Middle East who met the American President Franklin Roosevelt after the end of WWII. After all, it was oil that the military commanders always asked for during their battles. And finally, in 1948, the Committee of the Nobel Peace Prize withheld the prize due to the lack of a proper candidate. They could have looked the cover of the LIFE Magazine dated 31 May, 1943. King Abdul Aziz was one of the most influential political, social and peace figures in modern day history.
- This article is exclusive to Arab News