By November 20, 2017 Read More →

1918 Oil

Middle Eastern OilAs a result of the war (e.g. World War I) that smashed several great empires, the British Empire actually grew to its largest extent, acquiring remnants of the old Ottoman Empire, including Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Transjordan, as well as former German colonies in Africa and the Pacific

One other feature of Britain’s post-1918 position in the region should be emphasized ― oil. Although Europe had gone to war in 1914 by steam train, the fuel that won the war was oil, not coal. The internal combustion engine proved crucial not only for tanks and aircraft but also for trucks to supply the troops, and Britain, France, and America were far better endowed with petroleum than the Central Powers. As Curzon put it, the Allies “floated to victory upon a wave of oil.” The British kept their eyes on this prize.

Oil in the next war will occupy the place of coal in the present war,” warned Cabinet Secretary Maurice Hankey in 1918, and the “only big potential supply” for Britain lay in Persia and Mesopotamia, which made control of them what he called “a first-class British war aim.”

Balfour entirely agreed but, he added, “I do not care under what system we keep the oil.” The Mesopotamian mandate proved a convenient alternative to annexation ― less costly to maintain and also less offensive to Wilsonian sensitivities. With the British government having a controlling interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and British finance prominent in the Royal Dutch/Shell combine, the country was well placed in the 1920s and 1930s with regard to the one vital natural resource that the British Empire lacked.

Source: Reynolds, David. The Long Shadow. (p. 100 – 101); Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Conquest for Oil, Money, and Power (New York, 1991), p. 183; V.H. Rothwell, “Mesopotamia in British War Aims, 1914 – 1918,” HJ (1970), pp. 383 – 84.

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