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Peter Shand

Trading with the Enemy

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Peter Shand

A review of Adam Hochshild's To End All Wars in today's Toronto Globe and Mail indicates that during WW1:

" the enemies traded during wartime, such as the British government striking a deal with Berlin to exchange binoculars and other optical devices (only Germany had the technical capacity to manufacture high-quality optical lenses in quantity) for rubber from the British Empire (which the German army desperately needed to keep the machines of war rolling".

Has any member heard of this and can they support or refute this statement? Are there any similar examples of trade of military goods or any other commodity during the war?

Pete

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centurion

Sounds like a similar story (myth) that circulated post WW2 in this case depending on which version of conspiracy theory you followed it was either Britain or the USA government involved and the optical element was bomb sights, Some one wrote a novel based on it.

In the absence of any evidence I would say its another myth. There was an extensive piece published between the wars on the subject and whilst it did pick up a couple of trading with the enemy cases one was between Germany and Russia (via Sweden)and the other between France and Germany (via Switzerland) in this case trading German steel for nickel. Certain industrialists made a lot of money. In both cases an official investigation was launched and in both cases the industrialists had friends in high places (the Kaiser and the President of France) and it all got kicked into the long grass. No evidence though that it was a direct government to government transaction in either case.

Britain and Germany did negotiate at The Hague over a number of issues of mutual interest such as treatment of shipwrecked sailors, maintenance of certain lighthouses and beacons, prisoner exchange and the like and agreements and minor treaties were signed. At the same time commercial arrangements were made when companies in one country were using patented technology from the other under pre war licence or owned subsidiaries in each other. Fuses and Torpedoes come to mind. In such cases no monies changed hands directly but escrow accounts in Switzerland were used to collect royalty payments and a reckoning and payout took place post war. Vickers and Whitehead certainly benefited as did, I think, Krupp and possibly Daimler

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centurion

The story over the binoculars may have arisen from an allegation made by Lehmann-Russbueldt in Die Blutige Internationale (The bloody international defense industry) 1929 but this appears to be an short allegation with no evidence trail. An alternative explanation is that Vickers acquired workmen with Zeiss experience and used them to set up its own manufacturing facility Paul Allard, “ Les Marchands des Canons ont-ils besoin de la Guerre ? Les Annals 1933 (A respected historical research journal) ”. Vickers certainly did establish its own optics production facility but the first makes a better story.

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Alan Tucker

More broadly trading may have been done indirectly via intermediaries e.g. in Holland. There were campaigns in Birmingham at the start of the war to make what we previously imported from Germany - lists of examples were given in newspapers. There was a particular problem, however, with patent rights.

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jhill

There was the issue with magnetos for aircraft engines, which before the war had been supplied from Germany. Domestic supply was totally inadequate, and American products, designed for automobiles, proved unreliable in Aeroplanes. Until domestic suppliers could be developed the Admiralty and the War Office bought direct from third-party powers, such as Switzerland, who had stocks of German magnetos. Those supplies dried up in the summer of 1916. For what it is worth, I am taking this from Peter King's "Knights of the Air".

On a roughly similar note, when the First Canadian Contingent was being sent over, there was a lively controversy in the press due to the alleged fact that the soldiers had been issued with razors inscribed "Made in Germany". In the rush to equip the contingent, contractors had filled orders by buying whatever their American suppliers had in their warehouses.

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centurion

There was the issue with magnetos for aircraft engines, which before the war had been supplied from Germany. Domestic supply was totally inadequate, and American products, designed for automobiles, proved unreliable in Aeroplanes. Until domestic suppliers could be developed the Admiralty and the War Office bought direct from third-party powers, such as Switzerland, who had stocks of German magnetos. Those supplies dried up in the summer of 1916. For what it is worth, I am taking this from Peter King's "Knights of the Air".

On a roughly similar note, when the First Canadian Contingent was being sent over, there was a lively controversy in the press due to the alleged fact that the soldiers had been issued with razors inscribed "Made in Germany". In the rush to equip the contingent, contractors had filled orders by buying whatever their American suppliers had in their warehouses.

Provided that the items were not classified as contraband it was perfectly legal to buy a product originally made in an enemy country from a dealer in a neutral country. Where it got iffy was when German soldiers attacking Verdun forts had to negotiate barbed wire made in Germany and traded through a Swiss firm.

In the case of magnetos Peter King may be mistaken. Bosch were the main suppliers pre 1914. They had two factories, one in Germany and one in America. When war broke out the US government confiscated the American one even though the US was still neutral. The American factory under government ownership increased production and any supplies of Bosch magnetos bought by Britain from various dealers were almost certainly American Bosch. At the same time Thomson Bennet began production of the AC1 which was an exact copy of the Bosch. By 1916 most engine manufacturers in Britain were switching to the AC1. There was a problem in 1917 when the US joined the war and sequestered supplies of the American Bosch for its own intended (but never realised) huge production of domestic aircraft. designs.

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centurion

Looking further into the original story I find that here was another version in which gun sights were traded for rubber - this is so close to the WW2 story of bomb sights for rubber that one smells a rat somewhere.

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Malcolm

In the " Naval blockage " certain articles or materials were banned but Object d' Art were not hence Sweden sent lots of copper sculptures to Germany who melted them down for driving bands. Marc Ferro's "The Great War " ISBN 0-88029-449-3 is worth a read.

Aye

Malcolm

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centurion

In the " Naval blockage " certain articles or materials were banned but Object d' Art were not hence Sweden sent lots of copper sculptures to Germany who melted them down for driving bands. Marc Ferro's "The Great War " ISBN 0-88029-449-3 is worth a read.

Aye

Malcolm

Given that Sweden was exporting vast quantities of iron ore to Germany along Baltic routes protected by the German Navy (and therefore not subject to blockade) it seems somewhat implausible to have to go to the expense of casting copper statues. Just send the copper on the iron ore ships.

In 1914 America produced 50% of the Worlds Copper and exported 50% of its production. Its largest customer was Germany either directly or via the Netherlands. When war broke out direct shipments continued to Germany and also via the Netherlands as Copper was not initially contraband but Britain soon declared it so (which the USA regarded as illegal but didn't push the matter). Thereafter copper exports to The Netherlands, Sweden and Italy (who were not at war with Germany until 1916) rocketed, most of this was re-exported to Germany (in the case of Italy via Switzerland). Britains first reaction was to lean on the Netherlands who in October 1914 ceased to import copper from America. The effect was a switch of the trade to Sweden and Italy and in October 1914 their trade in copper leapt by 18,468,371 lbs in the case of Italy and 11,731,118 lbs in the case of Sweden (which is a hell of a lot of statues to cast)*. Given these figures you'll forgive me for casting some doubt on the statue story.

Germany realised that this trade could not last and used her chance to build up stockpiles of copper.

Sweden once the main supplier of copper to all of Europe by WW1 could not even meets its own domestic demand for copper.

*Figures from Economic aspects of the war, by Edwin Clapp

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truthergw

There was the issue with magnetos for aircraft engines, which before the war had been supplied from Germany. Domestic supply was totally inadequate, and American products, designed for automobiles, proved unreliable in Aeroplanes. Until domestic suppliers could be developed the Admiralty and the War Office bought direct from third-party powers, such as Switzerland, who had stocks of German magnetos. Those supplies dried up in the summer of 1916. For what it is worth, I am taking this from Peter King's "Knights of the Air".

On a roughly similar note, when the First Canadian Contingent was being sent over, there was a lively controversy in the press due to the alleged fact that the soldiers had been issued with razors inscribed "Made in Germany". In the rush to equip the contingent, contractors had filled orders by buying whatever their American suppliers had in their warehouses.

Lucky beggars! Those Solingen razors were like gold dust before the war. Most men only dreamed of having one.

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Mk VII

The History Of The Ministry Of Munitions, Vol. XI relates that a deal was indeed contemplated to exchange German optical instruments for British rubber through a series of Swiss intermediaries. The Germans offered around 30,000 binoculars at once and 20-30,000 a month within six weeks. 500 rifle telescopes were offered at once and 5-10,000 a month. In the end, this deal did not go proceed, supposedly because the British supply position had improved although it may have been because somebody got cold feet and said "look, this really isn't on".

This may have been the inspiration for the plot of Robert Ludlum's novel, The Rhinemann Exchange

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centurion

This may have been the inspiration for the plot of Robert Ludlum's novel, The Rhinemann Exchange

Not one of his best. However see my post at the beginning of the thread.

There are a number of well documented cases of trading with the enemy (it's not new many of Napoleon's Grand Army wore boots made in Northampton or Wellingborough). German companies with Russia and French companies with Germany both of which led to heavily suppressed scandals as mates of the Kaiser and French President were involved. However whilst I have seen various references to optics for rubber I've never seen a shred of actual evidence. The same rumour surfaced in WW2 which is probably what Ludlum picked up.

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