Munitions 9: Zaharoff and the Secret Elite

I’d reblog First World War Hidden History’s entire munitions series if I had time and it wouldn’t overwhelm every other subject on First Night History; I am slowly doing so with their Gallipoli posts, mind you! FWWHH sniff out the appalling goings-on of the secret élite during The Great War. The stench of hypocrisy is breathtaking. Not surprisingly, money is at its root and it’s the people who suffer, never the politicians or the corporate élite. Some things never change as anyone with half an eye on current affairs will know. So much for leadership. It stinks.

First World War Hidden History

Sir Basil Zaharoff Amongst many of the allegations against Basil Zaharoff is the claim that he was an advisor to Lloyd George and influenced British foreign policy. [1] That Zaharoff was used by the Secret Elite as an arms procurer and expert is unquestioned; that he dictated foreign policy during the war is an exaggeration too far. He was never a member of the Secret Elite but had close associations with those who were, including Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland and Leander Starr Jameson. [2] Zaharoff shared a financial stake in the Sunday Times with Steel-Maitland, a Fellow of All Souls and associate of Alfred Milner, [3] and Jameson, the man whose folly brought about the fall of Cecil Rhodes. [4] He used his money to buy favour and honours. He was the richest of salesmen and had no qualms about the source of his wealth, but the extent of his influence between 1914-18 had much less impact…

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Munitions 3: Fighting For Control Of Supplies

First World War Hidden History

Crowds of young men desperate to recruit in London, August 1914

Despite all the advantages which private British armaments companies enjoyed, the supply of guns, shells and ammunition was hindered by the infighting, lack of co-ordination and traditional red-tape that haunted the War Office when war broke out. Richard Haldane’s reforms from 1906 onwards had created the small, well-armed British Expeditionary Force, but leadership of the army was controlled absolutely through the ‘Roberts Academy’ [1] which remained wedded to the primacy of cavalry regiments and was rooted not in the coming war, but in the Boer War. Britain’s reserves of shells in 1914 were reckoned to be two and a half times greater than they had been in 1899. [2] The requirements had been based on guess-work and assumptions, covering a notional supply for four major battles of three days duration each over the first two months. [3] No-one suggested otherwise in August 1914. Lloyd George’s later condemnation of the War…

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Munitions 2:  Vickers, Rothschilds and the Death of Patriotism

First World War Hidden History

Vickers, the world renowned armaments giant, began life in 1828 as  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…

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Briey (3) Comite des Forges; Rule of the Iron Masters

First World War Hidden History

The Comite des Forges represented a powerful group of iron and steel producers whose links with the French government were so dominant that the two were often as one. Imitating the American business practice by which major manufacturing heavy industry companies acted together in monopolistic collusion, the Comite des Forges harmonised its prices and liaised with other international iron and steel groups which completely dominated the world market. The Comite was the epitome of capitalist power structure in France. [1] It bound together individual iron and steel companies by strict agreements on quotas and prices. These ranged from large conglomerates like the Comptoir Siderurgique de France to smaller units like the Comptoir des Rails.

Portrait of Comite des Forges with Wendel (2nd left seated) and Schneider (4th left seated).

The Comite neither sold nor produced products. It acted in a far more subtle manner, retaining political, strategic and economic influence by means of elected politicians and well financed propaganda. The Comite des Forges had no…

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Briey (2) The Scandal Of The Phantom Army

This article details an action that could have changed the entire course of the First World War but which was not taken.

First World War Hidden History

French iron ore mines in the Briey basinOn the outbreak of war no attempt was made by the French army to strike at the crucial Thionville area of Lorraine, a target so close to the border that it was almost part of an extended Briey, even although it produced the iron and steel that provided the bulk of Germany’s armaments. In addition, no attempt was made to defend Briey or destroy it before it fell into enemy hands. Such an incomprehensible decision should have merited a flurry of high level court martials, yet no-one accepted the blame.  At the post-war commission investigating the ‘catastrophe’ of Briey. [1] Joffre insisted that the Briey basin constituted a very small part of the overall defence strategy, which few could fully comprehend without all the facts at their fingertips. [2] It was a card often played in the aftermath of the war when difficult questions were raised by journalists or ex-servicemen…

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