Map of the North Sea showing both distant and close blockade lines in 1914-1916

Much to fury of British naval officers and ratings of the blockade fleet who had risked life and limb to prevent American oil getting through to Germany between 1914-1916, faceless men in the highest echelons of the British government gave orders that apprehended ships be released and allowed to continue their journey. [1] Germany was certainly aided by quantities of oil which had been inexplicably allowed through the naval blockade, but the vast bulk of her supplies throughout the war came from Romania, by way of the river Danube. Romania remained neutral for the first two years of the war thus its government was free, by international law, to supply anyone it wished. However, the oil fields were neither owned by the Romanian government nor Romanians, but by individuals closely linked to the Secret Elite. [2] Romania’s neutrality was convenient but immaterial.

Had there been the will to turn off the Romanian oil wells owned by Rothschild and Rockefeller, and bring Germany’s only major supply to a standstill, it could have been effected. Royal Dutch/ Shell could perfectly reasonably have claimed to be British, but instead played the neutral card held by Holland. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil followed suit, using its Austrian connections. French banks controlled the Aquila Franco-Romana field, and Rothschild banks and companies centred on Rue Lafitte in Paris, owned and supplied most of the Kaiser’s oil. While Germany’s Deutsche Bank held considerable shares in the Romanian Steaua oil field, they did not own these fields wholesale. Unquestionably a shut down would have come at a huge cost in terms of profit to the investors and the banks, though they were already making massive profits by supplying the Allies. A concerted Allied attempt to isolate Germany from Romanian oil was never attempted. Indeed the very opposite took place. Barriers to supplies were mysteriously removed and thousands of Danube barges constantly sailed back and forth with oil for Germany without the slightest obstruction. Criticism inside Parliament became vociferous and increasing pressure was put on Asquith’s government to take action. [3]

Rumania joins the war. Poster image taken from Punch magazine.

By 1916, with the rapid and massive developments in mechanical warfare, sufficient oil was critical for Germany’s survival. [4] Without oil, defeat was certain. How fortunate then for the warmongers and oil barons that in August that year the Allies enticed Romania into the war with lavish promises of increased territory from Hungarian spoils once victory was finally assured. [5] On the face of it, this might have appeared as a masterstroke to increase the Allied forces and relieve pressure on the Western Front. Furthermore, once Romania declared war on Germany and Austria, their vital supplies of oil and grain would cease. Effectively the war would brought to an end within a few months. But this was never the intention.

The Romanian army of 650,000 men in 23 divisions quickly routed Austro-Hungarian forces in Transylvania, but German troops under General Falkenhayn entered the fray and overwhelmed them. [6] By Christmas 1916, the German army had conquered most of the country and occupied Bucharest. Before reaching the capital, they had captured the oil fields at Ploiesti, and so the same oilfields and wheat fields that had provided much of her needs through 1914-16, continued to serve the German war effort. It was a disaster. According to Lloyd George, ‘it was a blunder of the most inexplicable character’. [7]

‘Inexplicable’? Not so. Let’s examine the facts. The Allies knew that the Romanian army had no heavy guns or adequate supplies of ammunition. Lloyd George went so far as to write; ‘our military advisers [the War Office] must have known that if the Germans chose to withdraw from the attack on Verdun and send a few of their reserve divisions to Roumania’ the Romanian forces would be ‘quite unequal’ in the face of such an attack. [8] Allegedly no-one considered the possibility that Germany, faced with the loss of vital resources, would react. Consignments of ammunition sent from Western Europe were deliberately side-tracked on Russian railways [9] and it was only after the German attack had advanced into a near defenceless Romania ‘that the Allies improvised hurried expeditions to rescue Roumania from her doom.’ [10] Lloyd George accepted that if Germany conquered Romania, ‘the Germans’ stores, much depleted, will be stocked with great quantities of oil and corn, which will place the Central Powers above any anxiety in these two important respects – and yet no one seems to have thought it his particular duty to prepare a plan … which would avert a possible disaster of the first magnitude to their cause.’ [11]

No one seems to have thought of it? How likely was that? In reality, Romania was hung out to dry; deliberately sacrificed. Why? Why would anyone approve a strategy that would so clearly enable the enemy to fight on, unless that was the intention all along? And this from the pen of Lloyd George. Under the cover of Allied incompetence and blunder, the oil companies could continue to supply Germany without any criticism from inquisitive parliamentarians.

John Norton Griffiths the alleged wrecker of the Romanian oil fields

A story was put about in Britain that the Romanian oil fields had been utterly destroyed [12] and the country’s wheat stores despoiled so that the Central Powers gained little from the capitulation of Romania. It was a fantastic story; the stuff of legends. [13] A British Lieutenant-Colonel and member of parliament Norton Griffiths MP, had, according to reports placed in newspapers, single-handedly sabotaged the Romanian oil fields, which were spread over several hundred square kilometres, minutes before the German troops marched in. He had, allegedly, destroyed the oil wells together with 70 refineries and 800,000 tons of crude oil.[14] The plumes of smoke over Bucharest some 60 kilometres away were reported to have blocked out the sky, such was the devastation Griffiths was reported to have caused. It was as though Indiana Jones had taken on the might of the German army and thwarted their designs on Romanian oil. Unfortunately Norton Griffiths was a legend in his own mind, a maverick self publicist with a history of ‘incredible’ adventures. John Buchan could not have penned a more daring tale for Richard Hannay. It made great copy for the propaganda machine but in reality the greater part of Romania including its wheat and oil, ‘lay under the heel of the invader.’ [15]

There was some damage and disruption to production, but before the end of the war over one million tons of oil had been transported from the Ploiesti fields to the Central Powers, mainly Germany. Had it been otherwise, the German war machine would have ground to a halt. This is not some lame theory. After the collapse of Bulgaria on 3 October 1918, the German General Staff asked the question:

‘If to-day Roumania falls away, how long can we last out with petrol? Will the collapse of Roumania compel us at once to abandon hostilities?’ The stark truth was that ‘aircraft can maintain their full activity for roughly two months (one month’s service at the front, one month’s service at home). Then they will have to cut down to half service. Lubricating oil is available for six months. Then all machines will be brought to a standstill. … the illuminating oil industry ( i.e. provision of petroleum for the civil population, agriculture which is very important) will collapse in one to two months…’ [16]

In a session lead by the Reich Chancellor on 1 October 1918, the Minister of War explained that Germany could only carry on fighting for a month and a half if Romania was not at their disposal. Lloyd George wrote in his memoirs that if the Allies had taken steps to secure the Balkans, and thus control of Romanian oil in 1915, ‘as we ought to have done … the failure of oil supplies would have shortened the war by at least two years.’ [17] Make no mistake, the Germans knew that the war would have been over within six weeks without access to Romanian oil. Lloyd George as British prime minister later agreed that war would not have lasted beyond 1916. Hindsight lends itself to wise conclusions, but if the British government knew this before war was declared, which they most assuredly did, why was appropriate action not taken in 1914-15 to halt the supplies to Germany?

And that oil continued to be supplied by Royal Dutch/ Shell and all of the other allied companies, including Standard Oil once America entered the war in 1917. Money has no loyalty; it is the currency through which greed may be measured. The oil companies amassed vast wealth in the war years, serving whichever master paid the asking price. Between 1914 and 1919 Anglo-Persian declared consolidated current assets that rose from £266,297 to £4,352,083,  or roughly eighteen-fold. [18] Their group financial performance rose from £62,258 in 1914/15 to £2,651,931 in 1918/19 or just over forty-fold. This allowed an annual return on investment of 30.1% and a dividend rate of 10%. [19]

Sir Marcus Samuel Lord Mayor of London and Chairman of Shell

The story at Royal Dutch/ Shell was equally awesome. At the end of the war, Sir Marcus Samuel  announced to a stockholders meeting in London that cash resources amounted then to £24,000,000 and the Shell company fleet  had risen from 255,965 tons  before the war to 263,746 tons in 1919. Investors might well have expected a serious decline in shipping tonnage, given the U-Boat menace and its impact over the last two years of  warfare. The New York Times reported that profits and dividends were outstanding. ‘Despite the cutting off of the Romanian and Prussian (Galician) oil fields, while war was on, the Shell company continued to pay large dividends’ . [20]

In truth, the Romanian oil fields had never at any time been ‘cut off’ from Germany. From 1913 to 1918 the annual disbursement to share owners amounted to 35%. In 1918 a 60% stock dividend was paid. Sir Marcus assured bankers who were interested in a 1919 Wall Street share issue, that the cut in excess profit tax from 80% to 40% in Britain, meant that the company could look forward to increased profits. [21] Truly enormous profits were made by the share-holding classes; but at what a cost to the men in the trenches or on the High Seas?

Matters would have been so different if oil had been blockaded from the Central Powers from 1914. The senior executives of all the great oil monopolies, trusts and merchant banks were close to their governments and moved inside the circles of influence. Rothschilds in London and Paris acted as agents for Allied loans, Marcus Samuel and Henry Deterding (Royal Dutch/ Shell) met with Sir Edward Grey, Winston Churchill and senior cabinet ministers. J D Rockefeller had instant access to Mandell House and President Wilson; they were already in his gift. The political, financial and business worlds operated with mutual co-operation. Why then did they fail to take concerted action to sever Germany and the Central Powers from oil? Is greed a sufficient answer? No. Primarily, the Secret Elite was determined to destroy Germany in a prolonged and exhausting war, not defeat her in a manner which left the primacy of British domination undecided. The accumulation of massive profit margins was a welcome but subsidiary bonus.

For the Secret Elite it had to be a bitter crushing war that would exhaust and forever end Germany’s threat to the Empire, it’s future, and the ultimate triumph of British ‘values’.

[1] Blockade 10: The Worms Turns, 4 February 2015.
[2] The Oil Story 2,, 16 December 2015.
[3] Time and again questions were asked in Parliament about Romanian oil and its ownership, who owned shares in various companies and where the war profits were going. One example of this can be appreciated from Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 06 January 1916, vol 77 cc1079-80.
[4] Daniel Yergin The Prize,  p. 163.
[5] C R M F Crutwell, A History of the Great War p. 292.
[6] Winston Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918, pp. 675-9.
[7] David Lloyd George, War Memoirs of David Lloyd George, vol 1, p. 548.
[8] Ibid., p. 549.
[9] Sir William Robertson, Soldiers and Statesmen 1914-1918, vol II, p. 127.
[10] Lloyd George, War Memoirs, vol. I, p. 549.
[11] Ibid.
[12] The Times, 11 December, 1916, p. 8.
[13]  Yergin, The Prize, pp. 164-5.
[14] David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918, p. 225.
[15] Liddell Hart, History of The First World War, p. 350.
[16] David Lloyd George, War Memoirs, vol.II, p.1921.
[17] Ibid.
[18] R W Ferrier, History of the British Petroleum Company, Table 6.9, p. 236.
[19] Ibid., Table 6.6, p. 231.
[20] New York Times, 24 July 1919.
[21] Ibid.