Perhaps the most searching question is why, on the outbreak of war, the British government did not force home-based multi-national oil companies, such as those owned by the Rothschilds or Marcus Samuel, to use their influence to stop supplying Germany. There can be no excuse that the government did not realise what was happening. Its close scrutiny of the oil industry in the run up to the war meant that the Foreign Office, the Exchequer, the Board of Trade, the Admiralty, and key members of the Cabinet understood the precise nature and structure of the global oil industry. [1]

Britain's fleet which protected the nation also depended on oil, as did modern developments like aircraft.

Churchill defined the prevailing situation to Parliament one year before war broke out:
‘Our power to obtain additional supplies of oil fuel in time of war depends on our command of the sea’, and spoke of ‘Two gigantic corporations….In the New World there is Standard Oil; In the Old World the great combination of Shell and Royal Dutch with all their subsidiary and ancillary branches has practically covered the whole ground and has even reached out into the New World’. [2] The British government had analysed and itemised the world supply of oil in fine detail in order to assure itself of reliable supplies. It knew exactly where the oil was, who owned it and precisely how Germany obtained her oil.

On the outbreak of war, Germany should have been unable to source oil supplies directly from America. However, oil was not initially included in the definition of contraband, and as a result she could still legally import oil from the USA and other neutral countries. [3] That situation was supposed to have been changed in November 1914 when the House of Commons was informed: ‘His Majesty’s Government have reliable information that in the present circumstances any oil, copper, and certain other substances that may be imported into Germany or Austria will certainly be used exclusively for warlike purposes, and His Majesty’s Government have for this reason felt justified in adding those items to the list of absolute contraband. Every possible care is being taken to ensure that oil and copper intended for neutral countries should not be interfered with.’ [4]

Examine Prime Minister Asquith’s words. His government acknowledged that any oil allowed into Germany ‘would be used exclusively for warlike purposes’. Despite this, parliament was informed that oil intended for neutral countries should not be interfered with. It was classic double-speak. The government was well aware that much of the oil and other goods allowed through the naval blockade to neutral Scandinavian countries was being transferred on to Germany. Placing oil on the absolute contraband list was a sham. It changed nothing. Germany was still allowed to purchase oil from her neighbours in vast quantities.

Enticements were breathtaking. Rear-Admiral Consett, the British Naval Attache in Scandinavia revealed that in 1915 Germany was offering 1,8000 marks (£90) per barrel of oil whose market value in neighbouring Denmark was 125 kroner (about £7) Lubricants were always in short supply in Germany, but most especially in 1915 and 1916 [6] By December 1915 the American Ambassador in Berlin (Gerrard] recorded in his war diary that ‘probably the greatest need of Germany is lubricating oil for machines’. [7]

General Ludendorff in 1915

General Ludendorff, Deputy Chief of Staff, wrote later in his Memoirs ‘As Austria could not supply us with oil, and as all of our efforts to increase production were unavailing, Romanian oil was of decisive importance to us. But even with deliveries of Romanian oil, the question of oil supplies still remained very serious, and caused us great difficulty, not only for the conduct of the war, but for the life of the country.’ [8] Two points should be considered here. Yet again, the German High Command acknowledged that without oil the war could not have continued. He also considered Romanian oil crucial. Who owned the ‘decisively important’ Romanian oil fields? International conglomerates closely linked to the Secret Elite.

German imports of American oil through Scandinavia were well known to the British authorities from an early stage in the war. Rear-Admiral Consett repeatedly sent detailed and urgent alerts about this from his office in Copenhagen to the Admiralty, but nothing was done. Such large-scale abuse of the contraband restrictions became a scandal. In Copenhagen, German ships were openly berthing alongside tankers from America, transferring the oil, and trans-shipping every drop to Germany. Likewise in Sweden, virtually every consignment of oil imported through Stockholm was re-exported to Germany. [9] Profits for the Americans and the Scandinavians were enormous, but what did it profit the British government to turn such a biblical blind eye?

Their empty promises to prevent oil reaching Germany made a mockery of the valiant efforts of the Royal Navy in the dangerous, storm tossed waters of the North Sea. [10] The naval historian Keble Chatterton, likewise exposed the charade. He later wrote about Admiral de Chair, commander of the navy’s blockading fleet, complaining bitterly that the work of his brave sailors was deliberately undermined:

‘Those British authorities who sat in their office chairs on shore went on blundering. With some difficulty and trouble the American SS Llama [Standard Oil] carrying a large cargo of oil, had been chased by vessels of 10th Squadron and finally captured.

SS Llama 1915

An armed guard had run the prevailing risks of submarines and taken her into Kirkwall, [Orkney Islands] yet by a mysterious mentality, someone in authority had ordered her release and allowed her to proceed on her way to Germany. She duly arrived at Swinemunde, where her most welcome cargo fetched a high price. It seems incredible that after a year’s war experience, we should deliberately allow such supplies to reach the enemy after the carrying ship had been intercepted.’ [11]

It did, of course, run much deeper than the ‘blundering’ of office bound officials as expressed by Admiral de Chair. It is inconceivable  that the oil tanker was released and allowed to continue its journey to Germany unless someone at the highest level of the British government had approved it. American vessels, including the Lusitania with the loss of 128 American lives, had been sunk by German U-boats. Outrage was being expressed by the American government, [12] yet American companies were providing the oil which fuelled those very U-Boats. It was not all they were providing.

On 9 July 1916 the large German merchant submarine Deutschland sailed into Baltimore harbour after a 16 day journey from Bremerhaven. She was welcomed with siren blasts from American and other vessels, and an official dinner was given by the Mayor of Baltimore. [13] Her cargo of chemical dyes, gemstones and medicinal products was unloaded and when she left for Germany on 2 August she carried 341 tons of nickel, a mineral essential for hardening steel for weapons production, 93 tons of tin and 348 tons of rubber.

Deutschland the German Merchant U-Boat

On a second journey in November 1916 to New London, Connecticut she returned with a full cargo which included 6.5 tons of silver bullion. [14] America not only provided Germany with oil and the means to produce heavy weapons, she also helped fund her war effort. The hypocrisy was breathtaking. While the U S President apparently urged peace on Europe, American money enabled both sides to continue the war.

The hypocrisy was by no means confined to America. In exactly the same manner as raw materials such as silver, nickel, tin and rubber, and essential supplies of foodstuffs were deliberately allowed through the British naval blockade, critical supplies of oil poured into Germany from British -owned companies in the first two years of the war. In the House of Commons in July 1916, Walter Runciman, President of the Board of Trade was asked: ‘Whether he can ascertain what sales and deliveries, if any, of petrol, benzine, kerosene or other petroleum products have been made to enemy countries during the period of the war and which of the companies under the control of the Shell Trading and Transport Company, or any of their associated companies, have done this, other than the Astra Romana Company?’ Runciman did not reply in person, but sent his deputy, Lewis Harcourt, a long-time associate of the Secret Elite [15] to provide a typically cryptic non-answer: ‘I have no reason to think that any such sales or deliveries of petroleum products have been made, and the Shell Transport and Trading company inform me that they have not.’ [16]

Shell tanker Trigonia, built in Newcastle in 1898, typical of a fleet that flew the Dutch Flag

The MP who put forward the question, Major Rowland Hunt, was well aware that the British company’s field at Astra Romana was selling to Germany. In effect he was not wanting to know if they were supplying oil to it, but how much. The answer was stunning in its conceit. Harcourt, as the government’s spokesman ‘had no reason to think that any sales or deliveries’ had been made. Shell said they had not, so that was the end of the matter. No further discussion, no independent investigation was required on this crucial matter. The Government appeared to accept without question the word of a multinational company that multiplied its profits by supplying the enemy.

It was, however, not a matter of naivety that shaped the official answer. It was a cover up. The war was deliberately being prolonged by oil companies partly owned by British shareholders supplying the enemy, and the top echelons of power in Britain colluded with them.

[1] F.C. Gerretson, History of the Royal Dutch, vol 4, p. 282.
[2] Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 17 July 1913, vol 55 cc1465-583.
[3] Blockade 2: Britannia Waives the Rules, Wednesday 7 December 2014.
[4] Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 17 November 1914. vol 68 cc314-7.
[6] Rear-Admiral M.W.W.P. Consett, The Triumph of Unarmed Forces p.180. Consett’s book is so important that our readers might want to peruse it.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Pierre de la Tramerye, The World Struggle for Oil p. 103.
[9] Consett, The Triumph, pp. 180-189.
[10] E. Keble Chatterton, The Big Blockade, p. 73.
[11] Ibid., pp. 213-214.
[12] The United States and War: President Wilson’s Notes on the Lusitania and Germany’s reply, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, vol. XXX (1915) p. 47.
[13] Paul Konig, Voyage of the Deutschland, The First Merchant Submarine, p. 19. Konig was the Captain of the Deutschland.
[14] Dwight Messimer, The Baltimore Sabotage Cell, German Agents, American Traitors and the U-boat Deutschland During World War 1, p. 139.
[15] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 38.
[16] Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 31 July 1916 vol 84 cc 2044-6.