Great armament firms have no national or political prejudices ;  they are concerned not with the ulterior objects of war, but with immediate means by which victory may be secured ;  and the value of such abstract ideas as justice and liberty they leave to the discussion of idle and metaphysical minds, or employ the terms as convenient euphemisms by which the real objects of statesmen may be cloaked and the energies of a people directed .  Biographer of Sir William White .

THE World War was waged by 27 nations ;  it mobilized 66,103,164 men of whom 37,494,186 became casualties.1  Its direct costs are estimated at $208,000,000,000, its indirect costs at $151,000,000,000 .  And these figures do not include the additional billions in interest payments, veterans' care and pensions, and similar expenses which will continue for many decades to come .2  The world had never before witnessed so gigantic a conflict .

Not only were the number of combatants and the financial costs of the war without precedent, but the number and variety of death machines had never been equalled .  All the sinister engines of war invented and perfected in the previous half century were used in the fighting, and, naturally enough, there was a further development of these during the war itself .  The machine gun was improved, artillery was motorized and its range became longer, sights and fire-control apparatus became more scientific and more accurate .

Many new implements of war were also invented .  The tank, a combined American and French invention, was first used by the British .  Hand grenades were supplied to the trenches, and rifle grenades increased the range of these deadly missiles .  The airplane gave its first prophetic demonstration as a war machine, and aviators learned to drop bombs and to fire machine guns from their lofty perches .  Poison gas made its first appearance, spreading the gruesome "silent death."

In the trenches soldiers wore helmets to protect them from flying fragments and gas masks to guard them against the 63 different kinds of death-dealing chemicals .  Trench periscopes enabled them to see without exposing themselves to the rifles of sharpshooters.

In naval warfare the submarine created a radically new situation, involving changes in naval policy, battleship construction, sea fighting, and international law which even now remain unplumbed .  The first ships had a very limited cruising radius, but constant improvement made them extremely dangerous .  Many new devices were evolved to fight this menace, including sub-chasers, depth-bombs, antisubmarine walls, specially constructed mines, and various highly ingenious scientific instruments to reveal or dispose of the sub-sea enemy .

The prevailing pre-war international traffic in armaments made it inevitable that many of the armies and navies were met by guns and armaments which had been manufactured and sold to the enemy by their own countrymen .  Germany and Great Britain, in particular, had sold arms to virtually all countries, while France and Austria lagged only a little behind.

The Germans had armed Belgium, and the German army marching into Belgium was met by German-made guns .  They had helped to rearm Russia, building part of its fleet and its artillery factories ;  German soldiers marching into Russia were confronted by German-made cannons .  Krupp armour plate had been supplied to all the great navies of the world ;  in every naval engagement of the war the German fleet had to face armour-plated vessels made by Germans or from German patents .  Just before the war Germany had supplied to England, Japan, and Russia some of her very successful dirigibles, particularly the smaller Parseval type .  The British order had been filled by a company in Bitterfeldt in 1913 .  From this model the British developed their own small airships, a type of craft which proved especially useful against submarines .  The English Parsevals accompanied ships as convoys, readily sighted the hiding submarines and summoned the patrol .  No ship accompanied by a Parseval was ever sunk by a submarine .3  Finally, the Germans helped to arm Italy, and German-made arms were turned on the Central Powers when Italy threw in her lot with the Allies .

Great Britain had sold as widely as Germany, but it was her good fortune that she was faced by no more than four hostile nations, two of which supplied most of their own armaments .  Maxim and British arms companies had introduced the modern machine gun to all of Europe, and though Maxim patents were run out, the Maxim principle underlay all the new developments in machine gun construction .  The British had established a torpedo factory at Fiume in Austria-Hungary ;  if the Austrian navy had been more formidable, these British-made torpedoes might have done considerable harm to the Allies .  The British had built the Italian fleet in two great yards, Vickers-Terni and Armstrong-Pozzuoli ;  only Italy's defection from the Triple Alliance prevented the use of this British-built fleet against the Allies .  The British, finally, had helped to build and train the Turkish navy, and the disastrous Dardanelles campaign found British ships foundering on British-made mines and crippled by British cannons .

France had also helped to arm her enemies .  Italy and Bulgaria were both equipped with the best mobile artillery, the French 75mm gun .  The fortune of war placed Italy on the side of France and Bulgaria on the side of the Central Powers .  French troops in Bulgaria were later repulsed by the French '75's .  France's arms traffic worked out still an other way .  Both Bulgaria and Rumania had bought French armaments .  When these two countries met as enemies in the war, both of them fought with French guns .

Austria-Hungary, finally, with its well-known Skoda factory, had helped to rearm Russia, and the Russians turned these Austrian-made guns against the Austrian armies .  Other countries in the Balkans and Belgium also had received some of their arms from the Austrians .

All these complications arose through pre-war sales of arms .  After war was declared, the great armament companies were kept busy day and night supplying their own governments and its allies .  With millions of men engaged and battle-fronts running for hundreds of miles, the demand for arms and munitions was staggering .  Every available man and woman was put to work in war activities, all resources of the various countries were strained to the limit .

It is impossible here even to outline the colossal activity of the armament industry during the war .  The subject has been studied in a series of monographs published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace .  It is feasible, however, to include some figures on the profits of the great armament makers .  The following tables throw a vivid light on this subject .  Great as the net gains of most of these companies appear, in reality they were even greater, for increasingly heavy taxation cut into these profits and in every country there have been charges of rigging reports by various tricks of bookkeeping with the express purpose of making net gains appear smaller .  Even these doctored figures show how profitable war is for the arms merchants .


Net War Profits of some European Arms Comapanies4
Rhein M. & M.F.
Deautche W. & M.F.
Koeln. Pulverf.
Usines a Gaz
Usines Metallurgiques

Last 3 peace years

First 3 war years


Of the great arms merchants comparatively little is known during the period of the World War.  They kept themselves hidden from public view .  Two revealing incidents are told about Basil Zaharoff .  The first occurred at the outbreak of the war .  When Jaures was assassinated, one of the first acts of the French government was to throw a guard around the house of Sir Basil — an act which was far more than a perfunctory tribute to an important personage .5  The second is derived from one of the critical periods of the war, when peace sentiment was making headway among many of the war-weary Allies .  Then it was that the great arms salesman declared himself in favour of carrying on the war "to the bitter end" (jusqu'á bout) .  His sentiment uttered in the council of the mighty, must have become pretty well known, for Lord Bertie records it in his diary .6

Little as the arms merchants and the war contractors attracted public attention, they were nonetheless busy as usual .  Numerous incidents have become known which show the vast power of these groups and their "trafficking with the enemy" in the midst of the war .

Take, for example, the story of the Nobel Dynamite Trust .  This huge international trust combined German and English companies and it was found expedient at the outbreak of the war to dissolve the trust .  This was done and the shares of the company were distributed between German and English stockholders .  The strange part of this transaction was that both governments permitted it .  Any other company would probably have come under the Provisions of the law by which enemy property was confiscated .7

The international solidarity of the arms makers is shown in another incident .  The great iron mines of the French armament industry are in the Briey basin .  This is the veritable home of the Comité des Forges and the Union des Industries Metallurgiques et Miniéres .  But these mines are geologically so closely related to the German mines in Lorraine that Briey was partly owned by German steel makers .  Early in the war the Germans took control of the Briey basin and they immediately began to work the mines for themselves .  A German map had fallen into the hands of general Sarrail on which the great mines of the French arms industry were marked with the notation "Protect these."  These orders had been carried out, and the Germans took over the properties virtually intact .8

One would suppose now that the French would bend all their efforts to destroying the advantage the Germans had gained in the Briey basin .  No such thing .  The region was .never effectively bombarded, either by cannons or by airplanes, though sham attacks took place .  And practically all through the war the Germans were extracting valuable ores here for the prosecution of the war .

This fact became known to several people and they tried persistently to bring the matter to the attention of the proper authorities .  They approached the French GHQ and told their story, but their documentary evidence was returned to them and no action was taken against the Briey mines .  Curiously enough, the officer at GHQ with whom they dealt happened to be an official of the Comité des Forges .  Finally the matter was taken up by various journals, including the Correspondant, the Echo de Paris, l’Œuvre, and Paris Midi .  The government replied that it dared not bombard the Briey basin and stop the German exploitation of its mines, because if it did the Germans would certainly bombard the mines operated by the French at Dombasle (Meurthe-et-Moselle), now virtually the chief source of iron ore of the French war forces .

Here then was the situation .  By a kind of supernational power the arms makers of France and Germany had brought it about that their sources of supply — and profit — were not disturbed .  Had both Briey and Dombasle been destroyed, the war would have ended much sooner ;  but the hand of destruction which dealt so ruthlessly with human life, with famous cathedrals, libraries, and art treasures, was stayed when it approached the iron mines of the arms merchants .

The press of the arms makers was also busy during the war .  Any tyro might have told the arms merchants that their interest lay in prolonging the war .  The stock market was very sensitive to peace talk .  Every time news of peace feelers was published, the stock quotations of the arms makers plunged immediately .  In 1917 France was tired of the war .  Even the army longed for peace .  This natural reaction to years of slaughter and superhuman exertion was promptly labelled "defeatism" and stern measures were taken to suppress it .  The pacifists shot by the French during the war far outnumbered the victims of the famous French Reign of Terror of 1793 .9

This situation alarmed the French armament press .  It immediately branded the entire movement for peace as inspired by the Germans and paid for by German money .  On the face of it this was ridiculous, because the Germans were far more concerned with decisive victory than with a negotiated peace .  But the armament press scored and the desire for peace was henceforth outlawed as treason and pro-Germanism .

Then the armament press took another step to prolong the war .  In both Germany and France there was suddenly an outbreak of almost fantastic plans for annexation .  The German plans, fostered by the Pan-Germans, among others, included a great expansion of German territory, the crippling of France, and the creation of various protectorates in Europe to insure German hegemony in Europe and German dominance in world affairs .  These German "peace plans" were immediately paralleled by French ones, which demanded, among other things, the left bank of the Rhine, German colonies, and the destruction of the "German menace."

The result of both these press campaigns was to destroy utterly all efforts for peace .  Each side professed fear and horror at the other's plans for annexation, and both were stimulated into further desperate efforts to carry on the war .10

A most significant and important phase of the World War was the widespread and continuous international trade in war materials, even among enemy powers .  Consider the situation concretely .  Germany was effectively cut off from the rest of the world by the British fleet. Theoretically, according to international law, Germany could buy from all neutrals whatever she wished, but contraband goods were subject to confiscation and had to run the blockade .  France and Great Britain, on the other hand, needed certain materials for which they had hitherto depended on Germany .  Would it not be possible in some way to supply to both groups what they needed ?  The solution of the problem lay with the neutrals round about Germany, especially Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries .

At this point a very troublesome feature of modern war entered into the situation, the problem as to what really constitutes war material .  Many raw materials invaluable in carrying on war are also very useful in ordinary industrial processes .  Many chemicals, for instance, are basic in the production of fertilizers ;  they are also used to make poison gas .  Aluminum may be made into cooking utensils and also into submarines .  Electrical power has a thousand peace-time uses ;  it is likewise necessary in a hundred processes in the arms industry among others, in extracting nitrates from the air .  Cotton is used in textiles and also in gunpowder .  This situation paved the way for an extensive and highly important commerce in war materials almost straight through the war .  The details of this trade are very interesting .

Rear Admiral M.W.W.P. Consett was British naval attaché in the Scandinavian countries during the war .  After the war he published a highly sensational volume, The Triumph of Unarmed Forces, on the events which he had witnessed Among the matters discussed by Consett are the following :

The various nations in the war soon learned the importance of fat, because glycerine, so vital in the manufacture of explosives, was derived from it .  In the British army, for instance, all scraps of meat were carefully collected, and whatever fat remained was used for glycerine .  The need for fat produced one of the most astonishing stories of German atrocities—since disproved—that the Germans derived some of their glycerine from the dead bodies of their soldiers .  It was relatively easy for the Allies to secure all the fats they needed, because their vessels sailed the seven seas with little interference .  But what was Germany to do when her borders were almost hermetically sealed ?  Germany's situation was so serious that Consett declares that a really air-tight blockade in 1915 and 1912 would have compelled her to sue for peace before the breakdown of Russia and the entry of Rumania into the war.

That this blockade was not enforced was due to the British merchants .  When they received orders for vegetable oils, fats, and oil-cake from Denmark, they did not inquire into the ultimate destination of these products, even though the orders far exceeded the normal demand of Denmark .  They forwarded similar orders to the British possessions in the Far East where they were filled with the aid of British shipping .  For almost three years this trade went on undisturbed and all through this period the Germans had no difficulty in making their explosives.

Consett tells further of the shipment of copper to Germany from the United States, via Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland .  The Germans were badly in need of this metal, as may be seen from the fact that they appealed to their own people to turn in all their copper cooking utensils and from their confiscation of almost everything made of copper in Belgium .  Now the British merchants came to their aid .  They delivered copper to these various neutrals, whence was immediately trans-shipped to Germany .  The statistics or Sweden and Norway alone show an export of copper to Germany (in metric tons) as follows :  1913-1,900 ;  1914-4,366 ;  1915-3,877 ;  1916-2,563 ;  1917-202 .  The vigorous protest of Consett finally put an end to this traffic.

A similar story concerns the supply of nickel to Germany before and during the war .  The chief sources of nickel in 1914 were Norway, Canada, and New Caledonia, a French colony .  The British rigorously controlled the Canadian nickel supply, refusing to permit sales even to the United States, unless its use in this country was proved .  They also made an agreement with the Norwegians contracting for most of their output .  Still there was some traffic in nickel between Norway and Germany which barely exceeded 1,000 tons a year.

The situation was different in regard to French nickel from New Caledonia .11  The French company Le Nickel was controlled by the French bankers, the Rothschilds .  Its board of directors included two Germans closely associated with Krupp and with the Metallgesellschaft of Frankfurt, of which the Kaiser was a large stockholder .  Already in 1910 Krupp felt the war-clouds ominously drawing closer, and he began to lay in an adequate supply of nickel .  The normal German demand for nickel is about 3,000 tons a year .  From 1910 to 1914 Krupp received from New Caledonia about 20,000 tons .  More of it was under way when the war broke out.

Now nickel is extremely valuable in the manufacture of various armaments .  In Great Britain it was immediately placed on the list of contraband materials, and a steamer flying the Russian flag loaded with nickel destined for Krupp was confiscated .  The story was significantly different in France .  On October 1, 1914, a Norwegian steamer loaded with 2,500 tons of nickel from New Caledonia, consigned to Krupp, was stopped by the French navy, taken into Brest harbour, and claimed as a prize of war because it carried nickel .  Immediately an order came from Paris to release the ship .  The local authorities and the prize court were surprised and questioned the decision, but it was at once reaffirmed and the shipment of nickel proceeded to Hamburg .  It was not till May, 1915 that nickel was declared contraband by the French and that the export from New Caledonia was controlled .  By that time, Le Nickel and the Rothschilds had adjusted their affairs-and Germany was well supplied with nickel for several years.

But not for the entire war period .  Uncertain as to the duration of the war, the Germans decided to make sure of their supply of nickel .  The commercial submarine, the Deutschland, made its sensational and dramatic trip safely to America carrying cargo of much needed chemicals .  It returned with 400 tons of nickel valued at $600,000 .  This nickel was supplied to the Germans by the American Metal Company, a firm closely allied with the Metallgesellschaft of Frankfurt .  Where did it come from ?  Not from Canada, because that source of supply was closely supervised .  The only other place of origin was again New Caledonia .  Export figures show that there existed a lively trade in nickel with the United States, and apparently some of this French nickel was carried back to Germany by the Deutschland and helped to prolong the war.12

A similar story concerns the lead of Spanish Penarroya .  The Société Minière de Penarroya controls the most important lead mines of the world .  The annual production of these Spanish mines is about 150,000 tons, that is, one-eighth of the world total .  Since 1883 the French bankers, the Rothschilds, have controlled these mines, but in 1909 the Rothschild Bank entered into an alliance with the Metallgesellschaft of Frankfurt, the company in which both the Kaiser and Krupp were heavily interested.

This international partnership was to continue until December 31, 1916 .  It was very profitable to both sides .  The Rothschilds did not reveal that they were allied with the Germans in this company until the fact was about to be disclosed by hostile informers .  Thus this company remained under German and French control for about two years of the war .  At the outbreak of hostilities, 150,000 tons of lead were shipped from these mines to Germany, via Switzerland .  Meanwhile France had to wait for its lead .  When shipments into France were resumed, the price of lead was raised to such an extent that it more than doubled the figure which the English paid for their lead .

Spanish lead from another mine also was jointly controlled by Germans and French in the Société Française Sopwith .  A German, Hermann Schmitz, was on the board of directors .  In May, 1915, he was finally relieved of his position, "because under present circumstances he cannot effectively discharge his duties ."13

This sort of thing was not the prerogative of the British and the French .  The Germans also knew their way about .  Senator Possehl of Luebeck was a German steel king, whose possessions lay in Sweden, Norway, and Russia .  His chief factories were in Fagersta in Sweden .  Possehl was a very patriotic German and made a great display of his patriotism .  He was proud of the German "boys" and rarely missed an opportunity of seeing them off at the railroad station when they left for the front .  His great problem was the disposition of his Russian factories .  If he continued to operate them, he would be aiding the Russians in the war ;  if he should attempt to shut them down for the duration of the war, the Russians would confiscate them .  He solved his problem by declaring for "business as usual ."  That is, his Swedish factories supplied raw materials to his Russian factories, where they were used to produce war materials for the Russians .  The German military authorities heard of Possehl's strange patriotism and charged him with treason .  He was tried, but the courts accepted his contention that he had merely forestalled the confiscation of his properties by the Russian government .  Even the Kaiser rejoiced at this verdict .  Meanwhile the man on the street and the German soldier wondered why the products of Fagersta might not have been diverted to the Fatherland or why a loyal German should not prefer to lose his Russian factories rather than supply the enemy .14

The role of Switzerland during the World War as an intermediary for enemy trade was very important .  Switzerland found itself hemmed in by warring nations, all of which were desperately in need of valuable war materials, and ready to pay handsomely for them .  The temptation was too great, and before long the little mountain country was the center of a very profitable international trade .  In fairness to the Swiss it must be added that they were threatened with reprisals of various kinds if they failed to comply with the demands of their warring neighbours .  Officially there was an embargo on war materials, but smuggling and a loose interpretation of terms encouraged an active traffic .

The details of this business were frequently very curious .  Germany needed chemicals for explosives and bauxite for aluminum ;  France, deprived in part of her iron resources, was sorely in need of iron and steel .  The Swiss engineered this matter for both parties .  For a long time during the war the Germans exported an average of 150,000 tons of iron and steel every month into Switzerland .  In some months a peak of 250,000 tons was reached .  It went in the form of scrap iron and manufactured products, such as railroad tracks and barbed wire .  The German trademark was removed from steel rollers in Switzerland .  The German companies carrying on his trade were accused of treason, but their defense was that they were merely fulfilling their part of what was virtually an international bargain by which France and Germany supplied vital materials to one another during the war .  Their contention was accepted by the court and they were found not guilty .15

The French also lived up to their part of the bargain .  A great ado was made about the affaire des carbures when it became known in 1917 .  It happened in November, 1914 .  The Lonza Company was a Swiss industrial firm, owned by Germans, which had one of those international boards of directors so typical of the armament makers .  It was made up of French, Italian, German, and Austrian nationals .  Under the pretext of paying a debt, the French Societé ;  Commerciale des Carbures delivered to the Lonza Company in Switzerland 300 tons of carbide-cyanamide, a chemical which is readily converted into saltpeter, which in turn is an essential of gunpowder .  The French company did owe money to Lonza, but the value of the chemicals delivered was very much greater than the debt .16

When this story became known in 1917, there was great excitement in some quarters .  A trial was ordered for the great industrialists who were charged with treason .  Immediately a great "hush" fell over the entire affair .  Hardly a word concerning it appeared in the press .  Only the radical papers knew that a scandal had broken .  The accused protested that they had merely paid a commercial debt and that they had believed the chemicals were to be used for—fertilizer .  Of course, this was possible .  At that point mysterious influences began to make themselves felt in the trial, supposedly set in motion by Poincaré, a close friend of the great industrialists .  The entire prosecution had been carried on reluctantly and half-heartedly and the final acquittal surprised nobody .

French bauxite also entered Switzerland freely during the war, was there manufactured into aluminum, and then shipped into Germany for the construction of submarines .  The Swiss delivered about 20,000 tons of aluminum annually to Germany and 200 tons to the Allies .  As to saltpeter, it is reported that the Swiss supplied annually to Germany enough for 56 billion rifle shots or 147,000,000 grenades .  In 1917 alone Germany produced with the help of the Swiss 300,000 tons of saltpeter .  Before the war, the world production had been 214,000 tons a year .

The Swiss were not only intermediaries between the warring nations ;  they also supplied to both sides vast amounts of electrical power, useful especially in the new process of extracting nitrates from the air .  The lack of coal during the war compelled the Swiss to develop their hydroelectric resources .  All along their frontier, facing Germany, France, and Italy, great power houses sprang into being, using the vast water power of the country .  It was an easy matter to transmit this current to the three neighbouring countries .  The export of electrical power reached enormous proportions :  382,000 HP to Germany and 76,500 HP to the Allies .

The profits of this war traffic in iron, bauxite, chemicals, and electric power were colossal .  Swiss statistics for the period are utterly unreliable ;  in some cases they are only 25 per cent correct .17  Swiss aid to both belligerents, given under tremendous pressure undoubtedly did much to prolong the war .

Various other stories are told about the international commerce of the belligerents during the war .  The German Zeiss factory was famous for its lenses and optical instruments which were in demand throughout the world .  Armies and navies everywhere used Zeiss instruments for gun sighters and firing directors .  The British needed the Zeiss products during the war and they managed to get them .  Stories differ as to how they did it .  One account declares that they reached England via Holland .18  Another has it that the British got hold of some Zeiss workmen and "persuaded" them to produce these instruments in the Vickers factory in England .19  Whatever the method employed, there seems to be no doubt that the British fought the battle of the Skagerrak with Zeiss instruments acquired after the beginning of the war .

The Germans came to grief elsewhere through materials manufactured by their own countrymen .  In the terrific fighting around Verdun, Fort Douaumont was repeatedly a bone of contention .  It changed hands several times .  In one of the attacks, the Germans ran into some barbed wire entanglements which only two months previously had been shipped into Switzerland by a German factory, the Magdeburger Draht-und-Kabelwerke .20

The most important matter relating to the World War was the colossal demand for arms and munitions and the vastly profitable business of the arms makers .  This fact will stand out in even sharper relief when the role of the United States in the war is considered .

1 World Almanac.

2 Kirby Page, National Defence, pp. 16o-161 ; 170-173.

3 Murray F. Sueter, Airmen or Noahs.

4 Rudolf Fuchs, Die Kriegsgewinne der verschiedenen Witschaftszweige in den einzelnen Staaten an Hand statistischer Daten dargestellt.

5 Tomaschek, Die Weltkrise, Sir Basileios Zaharoff and die Frage des Weltfriedens.

6 The Diary of Lord Bertie.  June 25, 1917, Vol II, p. 141.

7 Launay and Sennac, op. cit., p. 102ss ;  Lehmann-Russbueldt, Die Blutige Internationale, p. 31s.

8 Documents Politiques (1932), pp. 419ss.

9 Mathiez, “ Robespierre Terreuriste,” Annales Revolutionnaires (1920), pp. 178-179.

10 Documents Politiques (1923), pp. 380ss.

11 Documents Politiques (1923), pp. 410-415.

12 Gaudin de Villaine, Les Briseurs de Blocus, pp. 1-23 ;  J.E. Favre, L'Internationale Financiere.  Les Metaux Sanglants, pp. 22ss.

13 Gaudin de Villaine, op. cit., pp. 23-26 ;  Favre, op. cit., pp- 7-19.

14 Berliner Tageblatt, Jan. 4, 1925.

15 Arthur Saternus, Die Schwerindustrie in and nach dem Kriege, pp. 14-16.

16 Documents Politiques (1923), pp. 415-418 ;  Launay and Sennac, op. cit., pp. 133ss ;  Rusch, Die Blutschuld.  Rote Zahlen and Bluttropfenkarte.  Von einem alten Schweizer Industriellen.

17 Traugott Geering, Handel and Industrie der Schweiz unter dem Einfluss des Weltkrieges.

18 Lehmann-Russbueldt, Die Blutige Internationale, p. 27.

19 Paul Allard, “ Les Marchands des Canons ont-ils besoin de la Guerre ? ”  Les Annales, April 7, 1933.

20 Allard, op. cit.