Vickers, the world renowned armaments giant, began life in 1828 as a steel foundry. It grew through a number of acquisitions into a vast concern with ordnance works in Glasgow, factories at Sheffield and Erith, and naval dockyards at Walney Island. It typified how the Secret Elite classically invested in armaments and munitions and, though their names never appeared on the register at Company House or on the factory gates, their domination represented a mosaic of amalgamations, take-overs, and buy-outs which concealed their influence and ownership.

Vickers pre- First World War War Sheffield works

In 1885, Vickers set up the largest forging press ever made to enable it to manufacture heavy marine work  in Sheffield, [1] and the first armour plate for warships soon followed. By 1888, the company stretched its tentacles north towards the Naval Construction and Armaments Co. of Barrow-in-Furness which had itself expanded into the construction of submarine torpedo boats under license from the Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company. [2] In that same year, Rothschild issued £1.9 million of shares to finance the merger of Nordenfelt with the Maxim Gun Company. Nathan Rothschild retained a substantial shareholding in the new Maxim-Nordenfelt combine and ‘exerted a direct influence over its management’. [3] The scene was set for Vickers to become the major British armaments giant. Guided and financed by Rothschild and another Secret Elite financier, Sir Ernest Cassel, Vickers absorbed the Naval Construction and Armaments Co., and the Maxim-Nordenfelt armaments conglomerate in 1897 to become Vickers, Sons and Maxim. The expanded company could then build and equip the largest battleships in the world. [4]

Vickers maxim gun promotional  photograph

The significance of the Maxim-Nordenfeldt takeover lay in the fact that Vickers gained control of the world’s deadliest machine gun.  Highly accurate, and able to fire 600 rounds per minute, the Maxim was described as ‘the key to European hegemony.’ Vickers offered every lethal weapon in its arsenal – from machine guns to battleships – to any customer with the means to pay. It sold the 37 mm Nordenfelt-Maximm or “QF 1-pounder”, better know as the pom-pom to the Boers during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and a variety of armaments to both sides in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5).  [5] Essentially, their salesmen and agents helped manipulate nations into wars and supplied all sides with the weapons to fight them. [6] They were indeed, Merchants of Death.

Vickers had been launched on the international road to prosperity by funding from Rothschild and Cassel, two bankers who held sway at the very heart of the Secret Elite. [7] The Rothschilds had always understood the enormous profits generated by the armaments industries, and financing wars had been their preserve for nearly a century. Bankers, industrialists and other members of the Secret Elite, the men who planned the destruction of Germany, had carefully positioned themselves to make massive profits from it. War, any war, was a means of garnering wealth. But the stealth with which they created a vast network to produce armaments beggars belief. Firms which were apparently independent were strengthened by absorption, and linked together by an intricate system of joint shareholding and common directorships.

vickers - beardmore advert Vickers Advertisement  Janes Fighting Ships1914

In addition to ownership of the Naval Construction Co., of Barrow, the Maxim-Nordenfelt Co., and the Electrical Ordnance Co. Ltd., Vickers held half the shareholdings of their supposed rivals Beardmores (shipbuilding and engineering), as well as directorships in Cammell, Laird and Co., (shipbuilding), Whitehead and Co., (torpedo manufacture), the Chilworth Gunpowder Co., and the Harvey Armour-Plate Co. [8] Each of these in turn owned shares in associated subsidiary manufacturers so that the entire gamut of armaments production became an interwoven tapestry of Secret Elite vested interests. It was a massive, illegal and secret cartel which no-one dared challenge.

Their behaviour during the Russo-Japanese war provided a perfect template for future tactics. Secret Elite bankers had provided Japan with high-interest-yielding loans to build a modern navy with which to attack Russia. The greater part of that victorious Japanese navy was constructed by the British yards from which the Secret Elite made even more profits. The Japanese people were, of course, left to foot the bill. After the Russian fleet had been destroyed at Tsushima, Russia was provided with high-interest-bearing loans of £190,000,000 to rebuild her navy. Much of the construction work went to factories and shipyards owned by the Secret Elite. And so the cycle repeated itself, with the Russian people left to pay the price. [9]  It was no different in Britain where the ‘naval race’ produced millions of pounds of profits for the owners and shareholders in armaments while the cost was met by the ordinary tax-payer. Little wonder that Nathan Rothschild was an enthusiastic supporter of increased naval construction. [10] Every dreadnought built increased his income.

Armstrong  Pozzuoli armaments factory in Italy

One of the most enduring deceptions perpetrated by the Secret Elite before the war was in regard to Italy. Although they knew otherwise, [11] it was widely propagated that as a signatory to the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary, Italy would have a dangerous naval presence in the Mediterranean when war broke out. All comparative naval statistics on the combined size of opposing fleets given in Parliament or the British press before 1914 included Italian warships [12] and torpedo-boats alongside the German and Austrian totals. By adding the Italian numbers to the total they presented a far greater naval threat than existed, and consequently promoted the need for greater warship construction in Britain and France to meet that threat. They studiously ignored the irony that it was British armaments firms who owned the very yards that were building those warships for Italy. [13] The British Armstrong-Pozzuoli Company, on the Bay of Naples, employed 4,000 men and was the chief naval supplier to Italy. The Ansaldo-Armstrong Company of Genoa, which belonged to the same British firm, built dreadnoughts and cruisers for Italy even although it was regarded as Germany’s ally. [14]

Vickers was also an important supplier to the Italian navy through combination with three Italian firms that constituted the Vickers Terni Co. In addition to being defence director of the parent company, Rear Admiral Ottley was a director of the Armstrong works at Pozzuoli. Ottley again. Surely he should have been charged with treason? Here was the former Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence, the most secret of all government committees, whose duty was to advise the prime minister on sensitive matters of defence and war, accepting payment as a director of a company in a country allied to Germany. But it was precisely because Ottley had held that position that he knew Italy would not join Germany in a war against Britain. Given that he had insider information about the real alliances made by King Edward VII, Ottley was in a uniquely privileged position. How much did he share with his fellow directors at Vickers? How much was such information worth to them when Vickers invested in Pozzuoli?

  Whitehead torpedo in 1890s. This weapon of death was widely sold to any buyer

Such corruption was bad in itself, but worse still was the fact that both Vickers and Armstrong (the other British armaments giant) held a large proportion of the shares of Whitehead & Co., the torpedo manufacturer at Fiume in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the war, Labour MP Philip Snowden angrily stated in the House of Commons: ‘Submarines and all the torpedoes used in the Austrian navy, besides several of the new seaplanes, are made by the Whitehead Torpedo works in Hungary … They are making torpedoes with British capital in Hungary in order to destroy British ships.’ [15] Between 1914-1918, those Whitehead torpedoes were also loaded into the tubes of German U-Boats and used against British shipping. Individuals in the warm comfort of Westminster or their exclusive London clubs or grand gothic cathedrals, profited from the torpedoes that sent thousands of brave British seamen to cold graves in the Atlantic. These shareholders made untold fortunes on the products of death and misery. How bitterly shocked would the widow of a seaman drowned when his merchantman was sunk in the North Atlantic have been, had she ever learned that both the British company which made the weapon, and the German company which held the license for its construction, earned dividends from its sale?

This was the modus operandi of the armaments industry universally. Patriotism was not in their vocabulary; massive profit most certainly was. In America, the Du Pont company monopolised the supply of gun-powder and fixed the price accordingly. The Schneider Company had likewise bought its way into a similar position in France to the extent that Eugene Schneider also served in the Chamber of Deputies in the French Assembly. Coal and Iron were similarly monopolised in France where the Comite des Forges was dominated by the De Wendel family. At one stage the De Wendel’s had representatives in both the French Assembly and the German Reichstag. Krupps had promoted itself as the Kaiser’s armaments maker and had doubled its profits in the immediate pre-war period, as had Skoda in Austria-Hungary. [16]

Lord Rothschild invested very heavily in armaments companiesArmaments firms prostituted their services across all national boundaries, shared patents and profits, and were intrinsically linked to the Money-Power, the banking fraternity which financed wars. [17] Vickers had been financed by the Rothschilds, Du Pont by J.P. Morgan and Co., and Schneider was directly associated with Credit Lyonnais and the Banque de l’Union Parisienne, as was the Austro-Hungarian Skoda company.  Krupps had been rescued from financial disaster in the 1870s and its first public bond was issued through Deutsche Bank in 1879. [18] The symbiotic relationship between Armaments and the most powerful banks was one which closely involved Secret Elite members and associates like Rothschild, Sir Ernest Cassel and JP Morgan.

In 1921, a sub-committee of the Commission of the League of Nations concluded that armaments firms had been active in the decades before the war in fomenting war scares and in persuading their own countries to adopt warlike policies that increased their spending on armaments. They were found guilty of bribing government officials both at home and abroad, and of disseminating false reports about the military and naval programmes of various countries in order to stimulate armament expenditure. The litany of accusations further indicted them for influencing public opinion through the control of newspapers in their own and foreign countries. The ring was directly criticised for all these activities and not least for ensuring the outrageous price of armaments. [19]

Nothing of any consequence was done about it.

[1] The Times, 5 January 1885.
[2] The Morning Post, 21 February, 1888.
[3] Niall Ferguson, House of Rothschild, The World’s Bankers, 1819-1999, vol. 2. p. 413.
[4] The Times, 17 November, 1897.
[5] Engelbrecht and Hanighen, Merchants of Death , Ch 1X p. 2.
[6] Webster Tarpley, George Bush, p. 15.
[7] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins Of The First World War, p. 141.
[8] George Herbert Perris,The War Traders: An Exposure, p. 9.
[9] Walton Newbold, War Trusts Exposed, p. 7.
[10] Ferguson, House of Rothschild, vol. 2. p. 413.
[11] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History,  p. 76.
[12] Hansard House of Commons Debate 7 July 1913, vol. 55. cc10-11.
[13] Walton Newbold, How Europe Armed for War, pp.76-77.
[14] Perris, War Traders, p. 10.
[15] Hansard House of Commons Debate 5 May 1915 vol 71 c1091.
[16] T. Hunt Tooley, Merchants of Death Revisited, p. 39.
[17] Ibid., p. viii.
[18] Jeffrey Fear and Richard Kobrak, Banks on Board, German and American Corporate Governance, 1870-1914 in Business History Review 84,  pp. 703-736.
[19] The First Sub-Committee of the Temporary Mixed Commission of the League of Nations, Report A.81. 1921, p. 5.