Oklahoma sculptor Jay O’Meilia’s Oil Patch Warrior monument to Lloyd Noble’s Sherwood Forest roughnecks. Dedicated in 2001 at Ardmore’s Memorial Square. An identical statue stands in Nottinghamshire, England, near where the Oklahomans performed their historic service to the cause of freedom. Courtesy American Oil & Gas Historical Society.
Ardmore oilman Lloyd Noble’s legend grew during World War II. The process began during the darkest hours of the conflict, which had raged for three years. The Axis Powers continued to pile up victory after victory across the world. Noble, meanwhile, recruited forty-four seasoned drillers, derrickmen, roustabouts, and motormen in late 1942 from his own Tulsa-based Noble Drilling Corp. and Oklahoma City-based Fain-Porter Drilling Co., for a historic, death-defying mission.
Their assignment: traverse the U-boat-riddled Atlantic Ocean on a miserably crowded ship and sink enough quality new wells in the shadowed Sherwood Forest cloisters of Robin Hood fame to save Great Britain. That nation stood at the brink of defeat against Nazi Germany due to battlefield losses and depleted fuel that was needed to power its army, navy, and air force.
The American oil tanker Pennsylvania Sun, July 15, 1942. The German submarine U-571 had just torpedoed it, only one hundred twenty-five miles west of Key West, Florida. Such losses contributed to Britain’s oil reserves at the time being two million barrels below the safety level. Courtesy Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division.
The Oklahoma roughnecks did so by accomplishing what the British could not do themselves. Whereas the Brits had been completing one well every five to eight weeks, the Oklahomans got one ready every week. And the wells the “Yanks” brought it proved much more productive: they cranked out ten times the oil the British wells had.
It took working twelve-hour shifts seven days a week for the rest of the war. It also took the death of roughneck Herman Douthit, injuries to many others, and near-starvation diets for all. Lloyd Noble’s boys got the job done, though. Their wells had churned out 3.5 million barrels of oil by war’s end, and the British were able to continue their land, sea, and air opposition to Nazi Germany until victory was attained. Around the time of the “Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest’s” entrance on the scene, in fact, the tide of war began to shift toward America and the Allies.
Neither Lloyd Noble nor either of the oil companies for whom the Oklahoma Roughnecks worked ever accepted so much as one dime of profit for their epic feat.
Special thanks to my fellow scribe Bill Boudreau of OKC, who first put me onto this memorable tale!
The Royal Air Force’s legendary Supermarine Spitfire short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft. The Spitfire proved the equal of any propeller-driven opponent that Nazi Germany could muster. It needed fuel to fly, however, and that was in very short supply when the Oklahoma roughnecks arrived in Sherwood Forest.
Book cover for biography of Oklahoma oilman and philanthropist Lloyd Noble.
The Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest just before they left America on the troopship H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth. They came from two Oklahoma companies, Noble Drilling of Tulsa and Fain-Porter Drilling of OKC. Courtesy American Oil & Gas Historical Society.
One of the Oklahoma Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest.
Oklahoma derrickman Herman Douthit, who fell to his death during drilling work in Sherwood Forest.
Renowned Tulsa sculptor and Oklahoma Hall of Famer Jay O’Meilia at the 1991 dedication of his seven-foot bronze Oil Patch Warrior monument in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England. Fourteen surviving Oklahoma Roughnecks of Sherwood Forest joined him there. Courtesy American Oil & Gas Historical Society.