My July 26. 1943 issue of Life Magazine has yielded a harvest of great color advertisements and color illustrations that add to the stories in Life.
I found this ad from Veedol Motor Oil to be interesting given the subject matter.
As you can see it’s titled, “When Lighting Strikes a Messerschmitt.”
The “Lighting” is a P-38, the US’s WW2 twin tailed fighter aircraft. The P-38 was manufactured by Lockheed and while it was used in both theaters of war it is more famous for its service in the Pacific War. Richard Bong from my area in Wisconsin flew one and had 40 victories against the Japanese. The P-38 was our primary long-range fighter until the P-51 Mustang became operational.The Lighting in the art work is shooting down the most common German fighter of WW2-the ME-109 manufactured by Messerschmitt.
The ad is from the Tide Water Oil Company-a refiner of Pennsylvania oil according to the small print. Veedol is around today but appears to be a Canadian company that works outside of the US.
So, what is so interesting about the ad?
I think the answer to that question lies in the line that didn’t scan because it’s toward the bottom of the page. The line reads, “Oil is Ammunition-Use it Wisely.”
WW2 was a mechanized war and oil was the life blood of all the machines used to wage war whether it was ships, tanks, trucks, jeeps or airplanes. Even countries that had an abundance of oil sought to conserve it for the prosecution of the war. The ad reminds people of the civilian rationing of oil and at the same time points to the fact that our fighter aircraft used oil to shoot down enemies planes-hence, oil is ammunition.
One of the more interesting tidbits in the text is the line in the third paragraph that reads, “No Allied pilot will ever lose his battle because an “ersatz” oil failed him.” Ersatz is a German word that means “substitute” usually of an inferior quality.
The Germans suffered from oil shortages in the later part of the war. Part of the reason Hitler invaded Russia was to gain access to the Russian oil fields that were in the Caucasus Mountain regions. That campaign ended with the disaster that was Stalingrad.
Germany relied on its ally Romania for access to oil. The Romanian oil refinery was around Ploesti, Romania. Ploesti would become a prime target in the allies’ effort to disrupt Germany’s oil resources.
A major raid on Ploesti was called Operation Tidal Wave and was carried out by US B-24 Liberator bombers. The raid was a disaster because the oil fields were defended by at least three fighter groups manned by German, Romanian and even Bulgarian pilots. Heavy anti-aircraft fire added to the damage done by the fighters. Fifty-three B-24s were lost and over 650 US crewmen. It is notable that the B-24s took off from Libya in North Africa and were unescorted by any fighters like the P-38 most likely because Ploesti was still out of range from the P-38.
Although Operation Tidal Wave was a disaster it didn’t stop the Allies from attacking the oil facilities. The July 26th, 1943 issue of Life has a focused feature on the Invasion of Sicily that took place on July 10, 1943. The invasion of Sicily was the start of the Italian Campaign that would knock Italy out of the war and gain for the allies Italian airfields from which to launch further raids on Ploesti-this time from a much closer range and with fighter escort.
By mid 1944 the oil shortage in the German war machine would become severe as they worked feverishly to produce synthetic oil of which there was never enough. “Ersatz” then perhaps has two meanings in the ad, one being we won’t have to substitute and two, our enemies will and it will have consequences!
The themes in most war ads are patriotism, sacrifice (everyone is part of the war effort), support for the military and “our boys.” Almost all ads carry a line somewhere that encourages Americans to “Buy War Bonds and Stamps.” American’s responded to the appeal by buying millions of bonds and that is how the war was financed.
War time Life Magazines are snap shots of what us called “The Greatest Generation.” Studying them are clues as to why that is.