Allies Used Gestapo Tactics To Loot Devastated German Industry After World War 2
They came in the night. Kicking in doors, dragging people from their beds, kidnapping and forcing them into trucks and onto planes and trains that carried them away from the hometowns and families.
That description sounds very much like the way the Gestapo rounded up Jews across Europe during World War 2, and it was. But it also accurately describes the way British soldiers and private contractors abducted German scientists and corporate executives during the wholesale looting of the war-shattered nation.
Military, commercial and scientific assets and secrets were stolen by the British, and Americans (along with the French and the Russians) leaving Germany bereft of the skills and personnel and information needed to rebuild, and delaying the day when German industry could once more compete with the best of the British.
It is another example of the dirty secret financial and corporate war that raged behind the scenes of hero-packed battlefields, navies shredding each other on the world's oceans and air battles that became the stuff of legend.
More than 60 years later, the mainstream media has barely begun to scratch the surface of the other side of the World War 2 - where American corporations got rich off Nazi gas pellets, where Australian steel manufacturers shipped the material to build navies and air fleets to enemies, even when they know war was coming, and where the kings of British industry used the infamous Bomber Command to destroy their competitors in some of the most horrific scenes of mass slaughter of civilians in the history of the world : a campaign in which the first bombs were dropped before World War 2 even officially began.
Congratulations then to the UK Guardian, which has uncovered one of these remarkable secrets of the corporate war behind World War 2.
T-Force was the name of the elite British unit that abducted "hundreds of German scientists and technicians and put them to work at government ministries and private industry". But there's much more to the story than just that. Read on for a stunning memo from the British government, lost for 61 years :
The programme was designed to loot the defeated country's intellectual assets, impeding its ability to compete while giving a boost to British business.
In a related programme, German businessmen are alleged to have been forced to travel to post-war Britain to be questioned by their commercial rivals, and were interned if they refused to reveal trade secrets.
The economic warfare programmes are detailed in batches of Foreign Office files, marked "Top Secret", many of which lay unseen at the National Archives at Kew until discovered by the Guardian.
The files detail the way in which the scramble to uncover the Nazis' military secrets during the dying days of the conflict in Europe, to assist the continuing war effort in the Far East, turned rapidly to an early cold war campaign to prevent Germany's scientific and industrial assets falling into Soviet hands. This, in turn, offered the British government an opportunity to exploit the scientific and technical know-how of the defeated nation, with scientists being regarded as a form of human booty who could help give the UK an economic and commercial edge
While it has long been known that German scientists and technicians worked in the US and Britain after the war, it has generally been assumed they were all volunteers, lured by the promise of good pay and accommodation. However, the declassified papers make clear that for more than two years after the cessation of hostilities the British authorities were subjecting them to a programme of "enforced evacuation".
One memo found at Kew, written in August 1946 by a senior civil servant working with the British military government in northern Germany, makes clear how this programme worked. "Usually an NCO arrives without notice at the house or office of the German and warns that he will be required. He does not give him any details of the reasons, nor does he present his credentials. Some time later the German is seized (often in the middle of the night) and removed under guard.
"This procedure savours very much of the Gestapo methods and, quite apart from causing great and unnecessary inconvenience to the individual and to the industry employing him, it is bound to create feelings of alarm and insecurity.
"I have not been able to get to the bottom of the matter, but there appear to be two bodies which carry out these kidnappings."
While many factories were being dismantled, as part of a post-war plan to limit Germany's industrial capacity, the investigators would look for state-of-the-art machinery to be shipped back to Britain, research papers to be taken away and patents to be appropriated. These teams would often include representatives of firms such as ICI and Courtaulds, and others from the shipbuilding, steel or aerospace industries, usually wearing British army officers' uniforms. As well as deciding which equipment and documentation to take, they also identified scientists and technicians to be removed.
Many of the detainees had indeed been involved in armaments work. The papers show that among those most sought after were men with expertise in underwater acoustics, infrared technology, electron microscopes, munitions, optical glass and aircraft engine design. Other target lists at Kew reveal a determination to trace technicians with knowledge of a "method of causing temporary blindness by ultra violet rays", the manufacture of Sarin gas, and "physiological trials of chemical warfare gases" - which had been conducted on concentration camp inmates.
In November 1946 the New Statesman reported that three members of a six-strong Bios team, which included representatives of Pears Soap, Max Factor and Yardley, had called at the home of an elderly woman whose family firm manufactured 4711 eau-de-cologne, a famous brand, and attempted to bully her into handing over the recipe. When she was taken ill the team threatened to call a prison van to take her to a prison hospital. Next day they telephoned to try again.
Scientists were not the sole targets. The papers disclose brief details about Operation Bottleneck, which aimed to extract business information.
"An English manufacturer would name his German counterpart and competitor and 'invite' him to England (whether the man comes voluntarily or not is questionable). They then discuss business and the German is gently persuaded to reveal secrets of his trade. When he refuses, he is kept in polite internment until he gets so tired of not being allowed to return to his family that he tells the Englishman what he wants to know. Thus for about £6 a day the English businessman gains the deepest secrets of Germany's economic life."
The rationale for this had been set out by Herbert Morrison, lord president of the council, who told the prime minister, Clement Attlee: "It is most important at this formative stage to start shaping the German economy in the way which will best assist our own economic plans and will run the least risk of it developing into an unnecessarily awkward competitor."
The Full Story Is Here
Don't ever kid yourself that World War 2 was all about defeating those evil Nazis and stopping the spread of fascism. And don't think Australian, British and American troops who fought that war were completely ignorant about what was going on in the boardrooms of the corporations upon whose half they unofficially were fighting.
Many of those soldiers knew, and some knew more than they could live with.
As I heard one WWII veteran state in 2003, shortly before his death, his voice cracking with rage, "Where's the John Wayne movie where he humps his platoon from Europe to Wall Street to finish off the enemy?"
The soldiers got shiny medals and pretty ribbons. The bankers got country estates.
Just like the Iraq War today, World War 2 was a corporate war, first and foremost.
And on the Iraq War, here's a story that will probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the corporate feeding frenzy going on there right now. But don't read 'The Great Iraq Swindle' after midnight. Your screams of fury and disgust just might wake up the entire neighbourhood.