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Hitler's Oil Broker (Hardback)

Thomas Brown, Harbinger of Worldwide Conflict

Military WWII

By Prof John W M Chapman
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 288
Illustrations: 88 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399060073
Published: 20th September 2023

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Thomas Brown is an unknown figure of Scottish origin who played a significant role in the onset and development of both world wars in the first half of the 20th century. In the First World War he contributed to the Anglo-German conflict in the Middle East particularly in his switch from UK to German nationality in 1914 by contributing directly to the expansion of German imperialism in the Persian Gulf and Ottoman Empire. His most important role was in providing logistical support to German and Turkish forces in support of the Turkish jihad in November 1914. Despite his arrest by MI5 as a suspected traitor in 1919,he returned to Germany as a business middleman aided by former political and military colleagues in the Weimar Republic. After promoting German interests in Iran, he was able as a company director to represent German steel manufacturers who bought into the Anglo-Italian British Oil Development Company (BOD) in Iraq. He helped to obtain an oil concession from independent in Iraq in 1932, and used his skills as a negotiator with British, German and Arab speakers to promote a large oil strike and major expansion of the company in 1935.

It is here that the German-Italian axis comes to centre-stage. Brown initially rejected Italian approaches to take over the company - exactly when Mussolini was trying to conquer Abyssinia - in favour of support for the UK investors, Lord Glenconner and Sir Percy Hunting. Brown was not fully aware of the manoevering by the Hitler regime since autumn 1933 to promote alliances with Britain, Italy and Japan aganst the USSR and France, which ended in December 1935 with Hitler's preference for Italy. This was accelerated by Gestapo investigations into Italian involvement and Hitler's calculation that it would promote divisions among former allies and decrease German dependence on the world oil economy they dominated. Access to oil was key to military and political success. Brown belately understood that Britain was opposed to permitting Italy and Germany access to to key raw materials.

Brown reported directly to Berlin even though he was mistakenly identified as a 'Scottish Jew' but he failed to recognise that Hitler's support for Italy enabled access to Italian oil while maintaining domestic sources of fuel for rearmament of the army and air force. Brown was terminally ill by 1936 but had provided the template for a successful search by the German navy for access to oil, independent of the Anglo-American dominance of the world oil industry.

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About Prof John W M Chapman

PROFESSOR JOHN W M CHAPMAN has worked extensively on Anglo-German and Anglo-Japanese relations and conflict from pre-First World War to the Second World War and beyond, and especially on Anglo-German conflict and rivalry for control of Middle East oil, as vital in naval warfare after the switch to oil pre-1914. His academic record is impressive: MA in Medieval and Modern History, University of St Andrews; D.Phil, in social science, University of Oxford; Post-Doctoral research, University of Chicago; William Waldorf Astor Foundation Fellow in USA and Japan; Junior Research Fellow, Antony’s College, Oxford; Lecturer in International relations, School of African & Asian Studies, University of Sussex; Founding General Editor, Japan Forum OUP; Professor of International relations, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan; Hon Senior Research Fellow, Scottish Centre of War Studies, University of Glasgow.

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