Part 3: On March 4, 1938, Dammam Well-7 started production

Despite the success, the next two years were incredibly difficult. In the third of three parts, the author describes the terror of the Dhahran air raid.

Part 3: On March 4, 1938, Dammam Well-7 started production

When France and the U.K. declared war on Nazi Germany on Sep. 3, 1939, it seemed to the Dhahran employees to be essentially a European affair.

Even when Italy joined Germany on June 10, 1940, it did not seem to signify very much. All that was to change dramatically on the night of Oct. 19, 1940. 

On that evening, Italian bomber planes took off from Rhodes (the island was then owned by Italy). Their mission was to disrupt the oil supply to the British navy in the Arabian Gulf and their target was the Bapco oil refinery in Bahrain.

As they flew over the mountains of Lebanon, one of the planes got separated from the others, but carried on and spotted oil flares. The plane descended and dropped about 30 bombs … on the jebels of Dhahran. 

Saudi Arabia was officially neutral; as was the U.S. at this point — the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the U.S. into the war happened on Dec. 7, 1941. Therefore, the bombing that night was, to the Dhahran residents, not only terrifying, it was also totally inexplicable.

Shortly after the raid, they heard on the radio that the bombing had been an accident by the lost plane — the crew thought they were over Bahrain. As it happened, the damage to Dhahran was minimal. 

Counting the cost

The impact of the raid was considerable. The company immediately started to scale back operations, and within six months the number of Americans was less than a quarter of what it had been on that fateful night.

With such a large reduction in staff, the company had to shelve plans to increase production. It also closed the new Ras Tanura refinery and eventually sealed 10 of the 16 wells on the Dammam Dome. 

Consequently, the government of King Abdulaziz suffered a considerable reduction in income, which delayed numerous public works projects.

The sense of danger was amplified by the difficulties the head office in California had in shipping essential supplies to Saudi Arabia.

This physical isolation, though hard to bear, did not break the spirit of “the remainers.”

They started drilling at Abqaiq early in 1941 and discovered an oil field that looked to be far bigger than Dammam. They had no resources to develop it of course, but the news of the extraordinary flow rate at Abqaiq No. 1 (9,720 barrels per day) convinced them that persevering was worthwhile. 

Those early employees had overcome three massive hurdles after Lucky 7: They had survived the stakeholders’ pressure to find a second (and indeed a third) oil field; they had extinguished the terrible fire at Well-12; and they had survived an air raid. 

Nothing could stop them now.


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