Recently I wrote about how drilling and fracking in England’s famed Sherwood Forest has been given the go-ahead by the British Government. I also teased in that article how Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men (and Women) aren’t the only famous thing to come out of the forest.
Let me explain.
You see, by the end of 1943, the Allies in the European theatre (as in war, not thespian) weren’t doing too well. German troops had control of France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and most of the Baltic countries, and next on their list was England. The Allied powers were doing their best to stop the advancement, but the one thing they desperately needed was oil.
That’s what powered the ships, planes, tanks, armored vehicles, and even field generators and radios. Problem was, shipping oil over from the US was slow, costly, and in a few cases, very dangerous, as evidenced by events like the sinking of the US Oil Tanker Pennsylvania by a German U-Boat about 125 miles off Key West, Florida in 1942. At the time the Pennsylvania sank, Britain’s safety oil reserves were more than two million barrels down. In addition, Rommel’s campaign across North Africa and the Middle East limited England’s access to any oil from that region.
Things were getting desperate.
Since those were the two main sources of obtaining oil for the Brits, their Secretary of Petroleum, Geoffrey Lloyd, called an emergency meeting of England’s Oil Control Board to try to figure out how to get enough oil to win the war. Lloyd explained at the meeting, much to the surprise of all in attendance, that England did indeed have its own oilfield, discovered and drilled just four years earlier by D’Arcy Exploration, which was part of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which would later become British Petroleum (BP).
The biggest problem was that the oilfield only produced about 300 barrels a day, not nearly enough to give Britain what it needed. Part of the reason for the lack of production was the fact that the Brits had antiquated equipment, made up mostly of large rigs from Persia (Iran). It was cumbersome equipment designed to drill in Iran, and too slow to be effective in Sherwood Forest.
Anyway, after the emergency Oil Board meeting, a representative of the oil company very secretly made his way to Washington to seek American assistance in trying to increase production in the Forest. His American counterpart enlisted the help of Lloyd Noble, president of Oklahoma’s Noble Drilling, and after a few secret meetings and negotiations, a deal was struck.
Noble would send four rigs on four different ships (to avoid getting sunk by the U-Boats) to England. Forty-four roughnecks from Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana would also go, but they would be on different ships than the equipment, most of them on the troopship H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth. According to the 1973 book, The Secret of Sherwood Forest, Lloyd Noble specified that his company would make no profit, but would work only for expenses. The one-year contract called for drilling 100 wells.
According to reports at the time, almost 22,000 passengers crowded on the Queen Elizabeth going over. Once the ship arrived in England, the roughnecks and drillers found every pub in town. And strangely enough, they were housed at Kelham Hall, an Anglican monastery just outside the forest. It must have been quite a sight to see a bunch of American roughnecks with a bunch of Anglican monks and seminarians.
But once they went to work, they didn’t stop for a year. Dividing into three different drilling teams and working 12-hour shifts seven days a week, the crews increased Sherwood Forest production from 300 barrels to 3,000 barrels per day by completing wells at the speed of one every seven or eight days.
They didn’t have the luxury of well-lighted work areas either. Nightly German air raids on England prevented them from using anything other than very low-wattage light bulbs, although the thickness of the forest provided amazing cover for the workers. It also helped that the Germans (and most Brits as well) didn’t have a clue that this work was going on right under the trees.
By the time they were done in March of 1944, just 12 weeks before D-Day, they had drilled 106 wells and increased Sherwood Forest’s output tenfold, giving Britain and its Allies a fighting chance (no pun intended) against the Axis forces.
While few, if any, of the original 44 roughnecks are still around today (after the war, they dispersed in every different direction), the story of these heroes is still considered one of the lost, best stories of the war.
And even though the story of the “Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest” may not be remembered, the names and mission of those brave 44 are forever etched in two separate statues commemorating their work.
One is in Tulsa, where Noble Drilling got its start.
And the other, most appropriately, is in the place where the other band of merry men made their mark. Smack dab in the middle of Sherwood Forest.
Feature image courtesy of geoexpro.com