100-octane fuel in the RAF in 1940

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Mori

Airman
26
6
Sep 13, 2023
Dear all,

First post, and from an EFL. Forgive mistakes.

I came across this old but very interesting discussion on roll-out of the 100-octane fuel in the RAF in 1939-1940:

Although no one questions the use of 100-octane, the open issue was the proportion of RAF fighters actually converted to this upgraded gasoline when the Battle of Britain took place. Two people argue that most aricraft were converted while another underlines no such thing has been quantified.

The above threads are 12+ year old: has there been any aditionnal research since them?
For example, excerpts from ORB mentioning "conversion to 100-octane", with date, are attached the thread. Was someone systematic in digging into other ORB - which are all available for free download on the TNA site - to check detailed data?

(As a side note, I find it great to see all these primary sources in the threads. But it's a pity reference of the files is always lacking, making it kind of useless for anyone doing proper research).

Thanks,

Mori
 
Hello try to find Gavin's article The Narrow Margin of Criticality: The Question of the Supply of 100-Octane Fuel in the Battle of Britain by Gavin Bailey, The English Historical Review Vol. CXXIII No. 501 (Apr. 2008) pp. 394 - 411 as a starter. I was able to find it even here in Finland. It might have helped that I was and still am an alumni of a University and have a MA in World History
 
Hello try to find Gavin's article The Narrow Margin of Criticality: The Question of the Supply of 100-Octane Fuel in the Battle of Britain by Gavin Bailey, The English Historical Review Vol. CXXIII No. 501 (Apr. 2008) pp. 394 - 411 as a starter. I was able to find it even here in Finland. It might have helped that I was and still am an alumni of a University and have a MA in World History

Hi Juha, Gavin's essay can be found here: http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/100-octane/Bailey_100-Octane_Fuel.pdf
 
Dear all,

First post, and from an EFL. Forgive mistakes.

I came across this old but very interesting discussion on roll-out of the 100-octane fuel in the RAF in 1939-1940:

Although no one questions the use of 100-octane, the open issue was the proportion of RAF fighters actually converted to this upgraded gasoline when the Battle of Britain took place. Two people argue that most aricraft were converted while another underlines no such thing has been quantified.

The above threads are 12+ year old: has there been any aditionnal research since them?
For example, excerpts from ORB mentioning "conversion to 100-octane", with date, are attached the thread. Was someone systematic in digging into other ORB - which are all available for free download on the TNA site - to check detailed data?

(As a side note, I find it great to see all these primary sources in the threads. But it's a pity reference of the files is always lacking, making it kind of useless for anyone doing proper research).

Thanks,

Mori
To make a long story short, every BoB front line Hurricane and Spitfire had converted to 100 octane by ~June 1940. I've NEVER seen a primary reference to any BoB front line Hurricane/Spitfire squadron using 87 octane fuel.
 
Thanks for the tips. Actually, on the two contributors who supports the "100% of aircraft were converted early enough" happens to be Gavin Bailey, the author of the article. It seems part of the old thread derives from a question about his article., so it's discussions "beyond" his article rather than "prior".
 
Hello Mori
now Gavin's article is a scientific article published in a well-established scientific journal and so it has notes, so you have the notes and so you can check from where the info has come, so you can check it and dig deeper if you want e.g. Search results: CAB 77/3 | The National Archives for CAB 77/3. It is not digitalised, but you can order them in advance and visit the TNA and read or taken photos of them or you can request a quotation for a copy to be sent to you. Scientific papers are not God's words but you can check the claims and use notes for deeper study if you want.
 
Thanks Juha3. On my way to doing just that, digging into the article footnotes.

I'm toying with the idea of processing all the AIR27 ORB to spot any mention of "octane conversion", which would also give dates. Not sure I go that far...

By the way, has anyone around a copy of CAB 77/3 and other documents? I have a whole bunch of TNA data, but not that one. I always happy to pool resources with fellow researchers.
 
Remember the influence of Jimmy Doolittle in the '30s when separated from the AAC and employed by Royal Dutch Shell. He advocated strongly for high octane refining capability which became an often-overlooked advantage for the WWII Allies.
 
Remember the influence of Jimmy Doolittle in the '30s when separated from the AAC and employed by Royal Dutch Shell. He advocated strongly for high octane refining capability which became an often-overlooked advantage for the WWII Allies.
He was influential.
However in the 1930s people were still trying to figure out how to make 100 octane fuel in large quantities economically.
Highly refined using few additives with some lead?
Highly refined using few additives with more lead?
Less refined using aromatic additives? plus lead?
A different solution?

Using lead tended to foul the spark plugs and was not a good solution in high quantities.

It took a very judicious combination of the above listed approaches to get the point of late 1942/43 fuel.
 
He was influential.
However in the 1930s people were still trying to figure out how to make 100 octane fuel in large quantities economically.
Highly refined using few additives with some lead?
Highly refined using few additives with more lead?
Less refined using aromatic additives? plus lead?
A different solution?

Using lead tended to foul the spark plugs and was not a good solution in high quantities.

It took a very judicious combination of the above listed approaches to get the point of late 1942/43 fuel.
Do you know anything about "Sweeney's Blend?

Edit, Fwiw, I found this just now:
The key development came, Dr. Sweeney said, when the researchers achieved "hydrogenation of a special kerosene from Venezuela called quid quiri." In this process, the kerosene was heated, pressurized and treated with hydrogen to obtain a gasoline called a base stock. To the base stock was added alkylate (an exceptionally high‐octane synthetic), tetraethyl lead, aromatic and other high‐octane components.

The resulting fuel, according to Mi. Holt, was "a combination of a number of fuel compounds that had not been made in any great quantities before." Mr. Holt, while not a researcher on the team, kept in touch and contributed advice as one of Standard Oil's top chemical engineers.

The new fuel was called BAM 100, or 100/130 octane, the latter designation because it gave the British aircraft up to 30 percent more horsepower when taking off and climbing than ordinary 100 octane would have given. The British Air Ministry was "tickled to death to get it, Dr. Sweeney noted.

The first tanker load of BAM 100 went to England in June, 1939. In September, 1939, World War II began with the Nazi invasion of Poland. By March of 1940, the R.A.F. was converting the Merlin engines of every Spitfire and Hurricane fighter from 87‐octane gasoline to BAM 100. The Battle of Britain began in July, 1940.​

 
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Remember the influence of Jimmy Doolittle in the '30s when separated from the AAC and employed by Royal Dutch Shell. He advocated strongly for high octane refining capability which became an often-overlooked advantage for the WWII Allies.

Rod Banks played a somewhat similar, instrumental role as Doolittle on the UK side in developing high octane fuels during the inter-war and WWII years. I highly recommend Banks' book for anyone interested in the subject: Air Commodore F. R. Banks, I Kept No Diary, Airlife Publications, Shrewsbury England, 1978. Doolittle is mentioned a number of times in the book and Banks considered him "my good friend of many years". Banks worked for the Ethyl Corporation during the 1930's developing fuels, then with A. & A.E.E. and the M.A.P. directing engine research and development during the war. Banks' brief summary of the early 100 octane situation in the UK can be found in his Appendix II Fuel.

 
I highly recommend Banks' book for anyone interested in the subject: Air Commodore F. R. Banks, I Kept No Diary, Airlife Publications, Shrewsbury England, 1978
Unfortunately the book contains less interesting information on the topic than I expected. I can post the text (or a searchable PDF file) of the the Chapter 15 "Fuel Developments in the Biplane to Monoplane Era" if it does not violate the rules and copyrights.
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I mention Doolittle's high octane fuel advocacy as he has to be one of the most accomplished people in aviation history. No one person deserves all the credit for major advances, but he was the keystone in so many epic changes.
Most whom we laud have one stellar accomplishment ... Doolittle had around a dozen at least! Too many recall just his Tokyo raid, while he rose from near poverty to earn one of the first Aero Engineering PhDs, planned and performed the earliest blind flight, excelled in several diverse aspects of air racing, reorganized our chaotic European bombing efforts, served on many influential post war policy and planning boards.
On top of that, he summed it all up as "just being lucky!"
 
I mention Doolittle's high octane fuel advocacy as he has to be one of the most accomplished people in aviation history. No one person deserves all the credit for major advances, but he was the keystone in so many epic changes.
Most whom we laud have one stellar accomplishment ... Doolittle had around a dozen at least! Too many recall just his Tokyo raid, while he rose from near poverty to earn one of the first Aero Engineering PhDs, planned and performed the earliest blind flight, excelled in several diverse aspects of air racing, reorganized our chaotic European bombing efforts, served on many influential post war policy and planning boards.
On top of that, he summed it all up as "just being lucky!"
As an aside, I encountered mention of Doolittle in my reading recently in Gordon Graham's book, Down For Double. Apparently, he was working again for Shell post war on fuel development, see attachments:
 

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As an aside, I encountered mention of Doolittle in my reading recently in Gordon Graham's book, Down For Double. Apparently, he was working again for Shell post war on fuel development, see attachments:
Impressive, and a lot I didn't know. I'm in even more awe. Thank you,

btw - I had the honor of meeting Gen. Doolittle at the gala Open House when the National Air and Space Museum formally opened. His companion for the event was Anna Chennault.
 
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By the time the Battle of Britain started the ministry files were already on to discussing the conversion of aircraft in Operational Training Units
to 100 Octane.

Blenheims actually got priority for early application in 1939 due to their already obvious performance detriment.

UK stock of 100 grade was 150,000 tons in July 1939 and was nearly 300,000 tons by the time the Battle of Britain officially "started".

The paper mentioned is very good, but in my view makes a couple of fairly difficult to support statements on the lack of efficacy of 100 grade
on performance based on one test. Other than that, its conclusions are correct.
 
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By the time the Battle of Britain started the ministry files were already on to discussing the conversion of aircraft in Operational Training Units
to 100 Octane.

Blenheims actually got priority for early application in 1939 due to their already obvious performance detriment.

UK stock of 100 grade was 150,000 tons in July 1939 and was nearly 300,000 tons by the time the Battle of Britain officially "started".

The paper mentioned is very good, but in my view makes a couple of fairly difficult to support statements on the lack of efficacy of 100 grade
on performance based on one test. Other than that, its conclusions are correct.

This document is a companion piece to those first two you posted:
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