How The Real Sherwood Forest Helped Win World War II

“Oh, the richest plum of them all! Notting-ham.” —Little John, Robin Hood (1973)

In A Nutshell

In August 1942, Britain was under siege from German U-boats preventing much-needed supplies from coming into the island. Oil, incredibly important for the mechanized war, was running out. Britain was two months from organizing a peace treaty with Germany. But salvation was at hand from the discovery of a field of high-quality oil in the middle of Sherwood Forest. Hidden from bombers, this reserve would go on to potentially save the war while staying one of the war’s best-kept secrets.

The Whole Bushel

Sherwood Forest, situated in north Nottinghamshire, UK, is well known as the home of the legendary Robin Hood. In World War II, however, it had another story to tell, this one much less well known.

In 1942, German U-boats menaced the Atlantic ocean, sinking Allied ships taking vital supplies to Britain. It’s well known that Winston Churchill was even quoted as saying; “The only thing that really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.”

By August that year, Britain was running dangerously low on oil, arguably one of the most important raw materials due to the amount of planes, tanks, and other vehicles and ships requiring the vital commodity in the new mechanized war. Bombing in dockyard areas by the German Luftwaffe had destroyed one million barrels, and Britain had enough oil to last just another two months. Had they run out of oil, they would have had to organize a peace treaty with the Germans. With no British forces in North Africa, Rommel would have been free to take Egypt (and the Suez Canal), possibly linking up with Japan as well as capturing the important Middle Eastern oil fields.

But salvation was at hand. Philip Southwell of the D’Arcy Oil Company, told the British Petroleum secretary that the answer was in oil fields in Britain itself. Here, they’d be safe from U-boats. One such oilfield was in Sherwood Forest near the village of Eakring. Here, hidden under trees, it would be safe from Germany bombers and fighter planes. Attempts had been made to drill for oil before, but more modern equipment was needed from America to carry out the plan. Forty-six Americans worked in dangerous conditions and with limited food, to get the oil out of the ground. The oil was of very high quality and was perfect for use in Rolls-Royce Merlin engines (those fitted to Spitfires, Lancaster bombers, and more). The drilling was kept secret even from those living nearby until 1944, when a major newspaper announced the story.

Seventy years on, the oil production in Sherwood Forest still remains one of the great untold stories of the war.

Show Me The Proof

BBC: Inside Out: Sherwood Forest’s Secret Oil
Oil Spill Solutions: Dukes Wood, Eakring, Notts, England
Duke’s Wood Oil Museum: The War Years