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Development and Production of Synthetic Gasoline

For many years I.G. Farben’s project to produce Leuna brand synthetic gasoline at its facility in Leuna had been a burden on the corporate books. The venture to convert coal into fuel by way of hydrogenation avoided total failure only thanks to government subsidies starting in 1930. The program was very controversial within the I.G. combine, because its viability depended on the state’s adoption of the policy of autarky.


Soon after the NSDAP took power in early 1933, I.G. board chairman Carl Bosch appointed a working group tasked with justifying state subsidies for synthetic fuel production, as part of a program for a “nationalist economic” expansion in the domestically produced share of fuels and motor oils. The group produced a June 1933 memorandum projecting a 50 percent rise in fuel consumption by 1937 and calling for a simultaneous four-year rise in the share of domestically produced fuels, from 25 to 63 percent. This goal represented an increase from 1933 production levels of 500,000 tons of domestic fuel to 2.8 million tons annually. The costs of this fuel, however, would far exceed world market prices. Investment in the sector would be viable, the working group concluded, only if the domestic market were insulated from “foreign influences,” and if the law additionally would provide “certain minimum price guarantees.”[1]


A search for strategic partners began. The mining and steel-producing industries of the Rhine-Ruhr region agreed with I.G. Farben to share half of the 800,000 tons in hydrogenation capacity that the plans required. Cooperation with the Aviation Ministry and top officers of the Army Ordnance Office was assured, thanks to the former mining manager Albert Vögler’s good contacts among their officials. In early December 1933, the Reich cabinet approved I.G. Farben’s proposed law for promoting the oil industry, although the law was kept secret out of fear of difficulties it might cause in foreign policy. Once these measures were secured, I.G. Farben signed its first “Petrol Agreement” with the Reich finance and economics ministries on December 14. Under the contract, I.G. would expand synthetic fuel production at Leuna to a maximum of 350,000 tons per year by the end of 1935 and receive generous price and sales guarantees from the Reich.


The Reich had become a silent partner in I.G. Farben. In exchange for only minimal authority or control, the government assumed all of the company’s risks and provided the basis for reorganizing and consolidating I.G.’s entire high-pressure chemicals division. Once the contract was complete, I.G. used its stake in the resulting plant operators (such as Braunkohle-Benzin AG a.k.a. Brabag, founded in the fall of 1934) to make sure that its hydrogenation process was favored. That meant a fortune in licensing fees and payments for the various construction projects steered out of I.G. at Ludwigshafen.


The Scholven AG factory in Gelsenkirchen was the first to convert hard coal into fuel by hydrogenation. A joint venture of I.G. Farben with mining company Hibernia AG, Scholven reached its full production target of 125,000 tons a year in October 1936. This success secured I.G. Farben’s domestic predominance in synthetic fuels. Under Carl Krauch’s direction, the mining companies now lined up to secure licenses and construction capacities from the I.G. Farben Upper Rhine regional group. Hydrogenation plants were built by Vereinigte Stahlwerke (Gelsenberg AG), Rheinische Braunkohle AG in Wesseling, Sudetenländische Bergbau A.G. in Brüx (a subsidiary of the state-owned “Hermann Göring” Reichswerke A.G. for mining and ironworks), Schlesien-Benzin AG in Blechhammer, and Ruhröl/Stinnes AG in Weilheim. The three Brabag hydrogenation plants in Böhlen, Magdeburg, and Zeitz had already been at least partly operational by 1935. Wintershall AG began licensed production in Lützkendorf. Finally, Rhenania-Ossag and the German-American Petroleum Gesellschaft started a joint venture with I.G. Farben to convert heavy-oil wastes from standard oil refineries into fuel at a factory in Pölitz (near Stettin), which commenced operations just before the start of the war. By August 1939, Germany had twelve operational hydrogenation plants producing gasoline and mineral oils, with a total capacity of 3.85 million tons a year. These covered most of the Wehrmacht’s needs for fuel and lubricants in case of war.


From 1939 to 1943, I.G. Farben saw its revenues from synthetic fuels more than double from 162 million RM to 351 million RM. The concern only began to address the Luftwaffe’s urgent need for high-quality aviation fuel starting in late 1940, as the progress of the war left no other alternative because the expected conquest of resource-rich territories failed. Factories at the I.G.’s new plant in Auschwitz were planned to produce Buna as well as isooctane, the latter to provide the Luftwaffe with 25,000 tons of high-octane fuel a year.


The German war economy’s dependence on Leuna production became obvious as the various hydrogenation plants were frequently knocked out of commission by heavy Allied strategic bombing starting in February 1944. The destruction was greatest wherever hydrogenation and isooctane facilities were combined in the same plant complex. Leuna and Ludwigshafen-Oppau (which suffered destruction levels assessed at 70 and 45 percent, respectively) witnessed a repeated sequence of shutdown, rebuilding, and renewed destruction. Allied bombings prevented the start of production at Auschwitz and Heydebreck altogether.

(GK; transl. NL; based on: Karl Heinz Roth: Die I.G. Farbenindustrie AG im Zweiten Weltkrieg)


[pdf] Karl Heinz Roth_IG Farbenindustrie AG in World War II



Die deutsche Treibstoffwirtschaft, June 1933. BASF Archive, M 02, cited in Helmuth Tammen: “Die I.G. Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft (1925–1933). Ein Chemiekonzern in der Weimarer Republik.” Ph.D. dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 1978, pp. 315ff.

Vermerk des Ministerialrats Franz Willuhn über eine Ressortbesprechung betreffend den Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Förderung der deutschen Mineralölwirtschaft am 20. Oktober 1933 im Reichswirtschaftsministerium, reprinted as Document No. 235 in: Akten der Reichskanzlei. Die Regierung Hitler, Vol. I: 1933/34, Part 2: September 12, 1933, until August 27, 1934. Edited by Karl-Heinz Minuth. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1983, pp. 918–920.

Protokoll der Kabinettssitzung vom 1. Dezember 1933, TOP 5, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Förderung der deutschen Mineralölwirtschaft, reprinted as Document No. 258 in: Akten der Reichskanzlei. Die Regierung Hitler, Vol. I: 1933/34, Part 2: September 12, 1933, until August 27, 1934. Edited by Karl-Heinz Minuth. Munich: Oldenbourg, 1983, pp. 987–989.

Document NI-881. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Case VI, PDB 5 (g), pp. 12–39.

Auszug aus dem Protokoll der 6. Sitzung der Kommission K über die Entwicklung von Buna IV, Hüls, October 23, 1941, NI-7288. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Case VI, PDB 29 (g), pp. 104–113.



Hackenholz, Dirk: Die elektrochemischen Werke in Bitterfeld 1914–1945: ein Standort der IG-Farbenindustrie AG. Münster: Lit, 2004.

Stokes, Raymond G.: “Von der I.G. Farbenindustrie AG bis zur Neugründung der BASF (1925–1952).” In: Werner Abelshauser, ed.: Die BASF. Eine Unternehmensgeschichte. Munich: Beck, 2002, pp. 221–358.

Tammen, Helmuth: “Die I.G. Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft (1925–1933). Ein Chemiekonzern in der Weimarer Republik.” Ph.D. dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 1978.

[1] Die deutsche Treibstoffwirtschaft, June 1933. BASF Archive, M 02, cited in Helmuth Tammen: “Die I.G. Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft (1925–1933). Ein Chemiekonzern in der Weimarer Republik” (Ph.D. dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 1978), pp. 315ff. (Translated by NL)