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Part III: The Rationing System and the American Embargo   (cont'd.)

Chapter 24: Neutral Europe under the Rationing System: the Netherlands, Denmark and Norway

A general review of the control exercised by the ministry of blockade. – Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway under the rationing system. – The peculiarities of the Norwegian copper and fish agreements, and the German retaliation against them. – How British interests were affected by the tension between the German and Norwegian governments. – The Norwegian negotiations with the German government. – The British government's complaints about the operation of the fish and copper agreements.

This endeavour to turn the movement of neutral produce from Germany towards Great Britain was subsidiary to the far greater operation performed throughout the year 1916: That of administering the coercive machinery, which had been set up, and of using every instrument of pressure for the single purpose of reducing the enemy. Before attempting to follow the course of this operation, it will be convenient to make a brief review of those organs of coercion, which proved most powerful in the event.

i) A general review of the control exercised by the ministry of blockade

Although, in practice, we had less restrained British than neutral trade with Germany, it yet remained true that the produce, the mines, and the industries of the empire were in the government's hands, to be used for any coercive purpose that was thought proper. The most powerful of these organs of pressure was our control of coal exports; for it was by this that bunker control had been established. Bunker control has already been reviewed, and needs no further description, save only this, that, whereas this instrument of coercion had first been designed to close the holds of the trans-Atlantic freighters against German goods, it became, in practice, an organ for controlling other lines of traffic. White and black lists of ships were kept, and British coal was refused to any vessel that returned to the ocean routes, after carrying German goods in some local, Scandinavian traffic. As the system was perfected, our information about shipping movements accumulated, and this brought a larger and a larger volume of traffic under our control.

Second only in importance to our control of coal was our control of oil seeds, oil bearing nuts, copra, and linseed. These are grown in tropical countries, so that the British and French colonies were the sources of about nine-tenths of the world's supplies. This virtually placed all the margarine and soap factories in northern Europe at our discretion, together with a number of minor concerns, such as the paint and linoleum trades.

Thirdly, about eight-tenths of the world's supply of crude rubber was produced in the British empire. Ostensibly this gave us control over the world's motor transport; but, as rubber is only slowly consumed, the control was not so powerful an instrument as would have been imagined: the rubber of old tyres could be patched and partially reconditioned, and the heavy motor vehicles, which are used in military operations, were fitted with large, solid, tyres, made up from waste, and from old tyres. Actually, our control of rubber seems to have pressed most severely on the miscellaneous trades that use it. The persistent endeavour to pass parcels of rubber through the parcels and letter mails, shows that these small trades were severely pinched; but there is no indication that the motor transport of the enemy's armies was ever imperilled.

More important than our control of rubber, which, when reviewed through statistics, seemed formidable, was our control of two commodities that are essential to several great branches of industry: tin plates and jute. The tin plate industry was a [492] British speciality; the plant for it was in the industrial midlands, and the agencies for selling tin plates to the trades requiring them were British agencies; as a consequence, the American meat trades, the preserved fruit trades, the sardine and preserved fish factories of Scandinavia, the condensed milk factories of Switzerland, Holland, and Norway were all vassals to this great industry. Jute was a commodity of equal importance: we controlled both the raw material and the manufactured product; and, as cargoes of wool, coffee, vegetables, nitrates and other artificial manures are all carried in jute bags, we were dictators to a large section of south American trades. It is, indeed, interesting to see, roughly, how great a volume of trade was thus controlled. About seventy-eight thousand tons of raw jute were exported yearly from Great Britain; the exports of manufactured jute were valued at about one and a half million pounds sterling; the two together were therefore only a small proportion of British exports. But if we review the statistics of the trades that were obviously tributaries to our jute factories, in that the magnates of the trades subscribed to all our conditions, we get the following measure of our coercive machinery:

Table LVII:
Exports of coffee from Brazil, nitrates from Chile,
wool from the Argentine and Uruguay,
and of coffee from the Dutch East Indies

Normally the total exports of coffee from Brazil were 783,531 tons
of which European countries took the following:
                  Germany 110,160
Austria-Hungary 60,000
Belgium 26,280
Bulgaria 120
France 109,020
Great Britain 14,520
Greece 300
Spain 6,420
The Netherlands 87,540
Italy 13,980
Norway 1,860
Portugal 360
Rumania 420
Russia in Europe 1,500
Turkey in Europe     4,760
Total 437,240  = 55% of total.

Normally the total exports of nitrates from Chile were valued £23,745,516,
of which European countries took the following:

Great Britain 8,669,563
Germany 5,581,905
France 1,418,319
Spain 208,047
Belgium 1,087,688
The Netherlands 875,614
Italy     108,824
Total 17,949,960  = 70% of total.

Normally the total exports of wool from the Argentine were 120,157 tons,
of which European countries took the following:

Germany 39,087
Austria-Hungary 1,795
Belgium 9,913
Spain 61
France 36,284
Italy   2,895
Total 90,035  = 75% of total.

Normally the total exports of wool from Uruguay were 67,362 tons,
of which European countries took the following:

Germany 20,792
Austria-Hungary 2,388
Belgium 9,428
Spain 9
France 16,644
Italy 4,070
Portugal   2,541
Total 55,872  = 82% of total.

Normally the total exports of coffee from the Dutch East Indies were
25,609 tons, of which European countries took the following quantities:

The Netherlands 12,005
Germany 449
France 4,055
Austria-Hungary 445
Denmark 904
Sweden 22
Great Britain 439
Belgium 50
Italy 344
Norway 3
Portugal         5
Total 18,721  = 73% of total.

Merely because our factories supplied the world with jute and jute bags, these great currents of trade were virtually under our control.

Finally, our control was absolute over the re-export, or entrepôt trade of the British Islands. It is exceedingly difficult to give a satisfactory account of this commerce; probably the best description of it is that British re-exports make these islands into a shop, or general store, for all the miscellaneous trades of northern Europe. It is only by looking through the alphabetical list of these re-exports that one can get any measure of their importance, not perhaps to the great industries, but certainly to the daily existence of ordinary persons in northern Europe. To give a single example: two and three-quarter million pounds of brooms, and bristles for brooms were re-exported from Great Britain in the year 1916; and to this must be added the countless articles of re-export, which must have been of the greatest importance to some person, or bodies of persons, in that petitions for a supply of them were presented almost daily. In ten pages of the licensing committee's minutes, chosen at hazard, I find petitions that licences be given for white lead, talc, mica, quicksilver, small articles of hardware, and nickel sulphate. The total value of these re-exports to foreign countries was about ninety millions of pounds sterling, which was about a quarter of the value of our domestic exports.

These, in brief, were the coercive forces over which we had most control; for the authorities could forbid the export of British goods as often as they chose. Our control over the foreign trade of northern Europe was, nevertheless, very firm, in that the system of navicerting gave us the right to issue a sort of commercial passport, or to refuse it, to every consignment that was leaving the United States with a European destination. It is impossible to represent the power thus granted to us in figures approximately accurate, or indeed, to describe the system in a manner that would convey, even faintly, how much was effected by it. All that can be said is that those who operated the system, and who had that intimacy with it which is acquired in the daily transaction of business, were convinced that it was an organ of pressure [494] at least as powerful, and possibly more powerful, than coal control. In addition to this power of supervising the whole trade between the United States and Europe our agreements with the Vacuum and Standard oil companies, and with the Chicago meat packers gave us a control over the meats and oils imported into northern Europe, which was virtually as strong as any exercised, by legal right, over commodities purely British. Also, the control exercised over the cotton exports of the United States, by virtue of our agreements with the Scandinavian textile industries, was as well established, and as unshakeable, as our control over American meats and propellants.

The administrative process by which these various forces were operated was roughly this. The war trade statistical department was responsible for circulating monthly figures of neutral imports to all departments concerned; and, as every consignment was reported to them, they could, at any moment, report to the contraband committee what additions should be made to the figures in the last list circulated, or, in other words, how much of that commodity had been imported up to the date on which the enquiry was made. The contraband committee ordered the consignment to be held, if the total import was above normal. To all consignments that passed this first test, the contraband committee applied three others: whether it was guaranteed by the neutral associations with which we had agreements; whether the guarantees were sufficient, or whether further enquiries should be made; and whether any commercial intelligence in our hands was applicable to the consignment. In cases where importations were deemed to be excessive, and sometimes for purely political reasons, which will be described later, a general embargo was ordered. This meant that all consignments of the embargoed commodity were to be stopped; and that all letters of assurances for shipping the commodity, and all applications for exporting the commodity from Great Britain, were to be refused. This system was operated throughout the year. The greatness of the operation can be conceived, vaguely, by inspecting the tables and diagrams, which show what cargoes were stopped, what rations were imposed, and what embargoes were ordered; but all this, being an administrative operation, performed from day to day, can as little be described in narrative prose as the revolutions of an engine, which propels a ship across an expanse of ocean. If, however, it is impossible, or nearly so, to convey a just impression of the daily business transacted, and of the incessant labour of co-ordinating all parts of the machinery, it is fortunately easier to follow the track of the operation; for this is clearly traceable in its economic and political consequences, and these things, when reviewed, give a fair, though by no means adequate, representation of the intricacy and difficulty of what was done.

ii) Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway under the rationing system

The rationing of Denmark was productive of less disturbance than the attempt to secure a larger proportion of Danish domestic produce, which, when attempted, obliged the authorities most carefully to consider the political consequences of what they were trying to do. Politics never intervened to harass the operation of rationing, which was done as a matter of business throughout the year. It is true that the Danish guilds complained, formally, that our authorities were putting the agreement in danger by being so hard and arbitrary; but they cannot have been much aggrieved, for, at the end of the year, they entered into treaty with us for a new and more comprehensive agreement. This agreement was never ratified, for reasons that will be given later; but, as drafted, it contained a list of rationed commodities which was far longer than the list in the original agreement.

The Netherlands were also rationed, as a matter of business, throughout the year; but in this case the operation was productive of consequences that needed careful watching. From the outset, the Netherlands government had stood aside, [495] and had professed that all our arrangements for stopping contraband, and for enforcing the March order, were matters purely commercial, with which they were not concerned. During the year 1916, however, the Netherlands ministers were forced by circumstances to change their ground and to intervene. In the first place, the cabinet at the Hague were very anxious about the colonies. It is difficult to understand exactly what their anxieties were; for Doctor Alting, who has written an authoritative account of the East Indian commerce throughout the war, states, unequivocally, that, during the year 1916, the commercial houses and the plantation companies had no cause to complain. There was certainly a great deflection of East Indies trade from its usual channels towards America and Australia, but the total volume was well maintained. Nevertheless, it cannot be said, dogmatically, that the Netherlands governments' [sic] anxieties were groundless; for it has already been shown that some branches of this commerce between the Netherlands and the colonies are closely connected to policy. The Netherlands government, therefore, for reasons not easy to appreciate, did, on several occasions, consign goods of German manufacture and origin to the colonies, in a manner that we thought objectionable.

More important than this, however, was the Netherlands government's intervention in the matter of forages and fertilisers; for, in June, they began to order consignments on their own account. The Dutch government's motives are now easier to appreciate than they were at the time; for the economists, who have examined the consequences of the war upon the Netherlands trade and industries, have shown, beyond all possibility of refutation, that extra forage and fertilisers were much needed in the country. Our authorities, who well know that an abundance of forage would only stimulate meat exports to Germany, naturally desired that the country should be kept as short of both as was compatible with safety, and invariably answered, that, if the Netherland farmers were pinched in their supplies, it was because they had so much increased their exports to Germany. This, of course, was a contention to which the Netherlands government could give no countenance; for they, as guardians of the common weal, were concerned only with the bare question, shortage or no shortage. There was another, finer, reason why the Netherlands government were compelled to intervene progressively during the course of the year, which was that by standing aside, and, by leaving all to the Netherlands trust, the Netherlands cabinet had lost a great deal of the consideration that is ordinarily given to ministers. The people of the Netherlands, seeing that the magnates of the trust were empowered to regulate the overseas commerce of the whole country, and knowing that the trust had covered the land with intelligence agents, and could ruin a private trader at pleasure, were paying more deference and respect to the trust's officials, both in public and in private, than was given to ministers themselves. It can easily be understood how galling this must have been to men who had risen to the positions they held by courting the public favour; the Netherlands government were, in fact, driven to assert themselves by force of circumstances.

This intervention by the Netherlands government provoked a sharp controversy. Our authorities at once protested, that, by ordering cargoes on their own account, the Netherlands government were putting the trust in jeopardy, as, by all existing arrangements, the trust was to be the sole consignee of all cargoes of forage and fertilizers; in conclusion, we stated that we would not abandon our right to stop cargoes that were in excess of the agreed ration, merely because they were consigned to the Netherlands government. In all this we were strongly supported by the trust, who thought the government's intervention very dangerous. The Netherlands government gave way, and agreed that all cargoes ordered by them should be subtracted from the ration; they further promised not to order grains from any Argentine firm who was on our black list. They were also forced, by pressure from within, to undertake that all fodders and fertilizers sold by them should be sold [496] under trust contracts and guarantees. For the remainder of the year the rationing of the country provoked little disturbance, and, in November, a careful review of Dutch trade established that the re-exports from the country had practically stopped and that the only trade between the Netherlands and Germany was trade in domestic produce. Nevertheless, the operation was not, even then, considered to have been completely executed; for it will be shown, later, that, at the end of the year, the contraband department were contemplating greater severities to every neutral country, and were dispassionately estimating their probable consequences. This, to borrow an expression from arithmetic science, was a common factor, or denominator in all our reviews and surveys; and being so, it will be better to examine it, only when this survey of particular effects is completed.

In order to understand how the Norwegians were affected by the operation, it is best to keep a few dates in mind. Norway was effectually rationed (i) by the agreements with the cotton mills, (ii) by the agreements with the companies using petroleum and lubricants, and (iii) by the agreements with the margarine companies. The first was operative from November, 1915, the second from December of the same year, and the third from March, 1916. For imposing rations of grains and metals we were therefore dependent upon our agreements with the shipping companies, and upon our system of forcible rationing; for restricting meats to normal we were dependent upon the same instruments until April, when our agreement with the Chicago packers became operative. During the first four months of the year, therefore, forcible rationing was applied rather rigorously against Norwegian trade, and it was only as the rationing agreements became operative that the system relaxed.

The detentions that caused most commotion were detentions for regulating the Norwegian trade in copper; and the point at issue was a variant of the matter that had been argued a thousand times throughout the year: could we tolerate heavy importations of foreign copper into Norway, when we knew that these imports only released more copper from the Sulitjelma mines, and other concerns of the same kind? As in every similar case, our detentions caused great indignation; for it was beyond all doubt that these detentions and stoppages did cause confusion in the metal trades, and that a number of artisans were thrown out of employment. When the year opened, therefore, the Norwegians were smarting under a sense of grievance, and M. Ihlen, the foreign minister, was at no pains to disguise his anger. This revulsion of feeling against us did not, however, influence our negotiations with the margarine companies, who were in treaty with us when the agitation was strongest; and the vast sums of money that were paid into the country, when the first fish catch was bought in, probably served as a mitigant. The operation of forcible rationing was therefore pursued, without disturbance, during the first months of the year, although the contraband department were sufficiently anxious about the future to order a general enquiry into the position. This enquiry, when completed, served only as a warning against being guided solely by figures. The reporter doubted whether fodder and other cereals should be rigorously reduced, as the whole Scandinavian harvest in 1914 had been poor, and considerable deficits still remained to be made good; he also doubted whether meat could be rationed at the Norwegian end. As to metals and goods required for the electro chemical industries, there could be no thought of rationing them, as a large number of the firms were working for the allies. This caution was repeated by the French, who warned us, when the Norwegian agitation against our severities was strong, that their whole munition industry would be endangered if the Norwegians retaliated upon us, as all their supplies of nitrate of ammonia came from that country. More than this, the French asked us to remember, that the Norwegian shipping working in their service was essential to them, as the Norwegian colliers were carrying a great proportion of the French coal supplies. It can be said that what was recommended in this enquiry - which [497] was undertaken at the beginning of March - was substantially followed during the year. When placed on a list, the embargoes ordered against exports to Norway, and the cargoes stopped, look formidable: the curves of Norwegian imports during the year modify this first impression; for from them, it can be seen that we allowed ninety thousand tons more fodder and grains to pass into the country than would have been allowed if a strict ration had been imposed, and that we were extremely liberal in the matter of oils, oil-bearing nuts and textiles.1 The political difficulties in which we were involved were not, therefore, a consequence of forcible rationing or of embargoes, but were of quite different origin.

iii) The peculiarities of the Norwegian copper and fish agreements, and the German retaliation against them

In June the Norwegian government at last gave way on the question of copper, and made an agreement with us. By this agreement, the Norwegian undertook: (i) to prohibit the export of copper altogether, and to grant licences for export to Germany only in return for German articles that were to contain an equivalent amount of copper; (ii) to limit their export of copper to Sweden to an agreed figure, and (iii) to allow us to buy up eight thousand tons, when the home market and Scandinavia had been supplied. Similar stipulations were made in regard to pyrites, a substance used for making sulphuric acid. In return, Great Britain undertook to allow eight thousand tons of imported copper to go into the country in the year. M. Ihlen warned us he would have to manoeuvre carefully, before he could get a prohibition of export agreed to by the copper magnates of the country, who had great influence in the Storthing; the negotiations were, in consequence, much drawn out, and the agreement only became operative in September. The second agreement for purchasing the fish catch was concluded a month previously. The Norwegian government did, therefore, make two agreements with us, in the autumn of the year, whereby, with their assistance and co-operation, three domestic exports, fish, copper, and pyrites, were virtually stopped from going to Germany, and were placed at our disposal. The prohibitions of export by which these two agreements were operated were, thus, not comparable to the general prohibitions in force up till then.

It was for this reason that the Germans decided to retaliate sharply. They were able to do so, in that their campaign against commerce, after suffering many setbacks, was then an effective instrument of economic pressure. Since the beginning of the campaign, they had increased their submarine fleet to eighty boats, and were adding to it at the rate of from four to six boats a month: our counter measures were not checking this steady increase. Also, most of the losses that the German submarine fleet had suffered had been incurred in the southern end of the North sea; since the early summer they had been operating with great immunity, in fact, almost without inconvenience, in the western channel and the Irish sea. In addition, the German staff were keeping at least one, and sometimes two or three, submarines at the entrance to the White sea, to interfere with supplies for Russia. Here also, the German submarine commanders were operating with impunity. Norwegian shipping was working in both these zones; for Norwegian colliers were carrying coal from Cardiff to the northern ports of France, and Norwegian cargo boats were working on the Arkhangel route. It was against these vessels that the German submarine commanders directed their retaliatory attack: in September, twenty-eight Norwegian vessels were sunk.

It would seem as though the Norwegian authorities would have protested cautiously, if they had been left free, but that the Norwegian public forced their hands. The news that ships were being sunk on the Arkhangel route spread fast; the vessels in the northern port of Vardö were kept in harbour, and the survivors of the sunken ships reached the towns very destitute and miserable, after suffering [498] great hardships in open boats, off the bleak, wind-blown coasts of Murman and Finmark. In the first week of October, therefore, all the Norwegian papers were publishing inflammatory articles, and every editor of good standing was urging the government to demand satisfaction, and to retaliate, if it were not granted The Norwegian public were, however, not very well informed; for all their newspaper writers asserted that the German submarines were operating against Norwegian ships by lurking in deserted bays, and by receiving oil and supplies from Norway. The remedy suggested by the press was, therefore, that German submarines should not be allowed to enter Norwegian waters. Actually, the German submarine commanders were going straight to their zones of operation, and were not communicating with the shore at all; even if they had been using Norwegian waters surreptitiously, the Norwegians could not have expelled them, for the coasts of Norway are the most indented in the world, and the Norwegian navy was a force of four coast defence ships and a few torpedo boats, hardly enough to patrol a fjord. It seems certain, however, that the Norwegian naval command quite well understood how the German submarines were operating, and that the Norwegian admiral in charge of the naval forces advised his government accordingly. The Norwegian ministers were thus being pressed to take measures that their professional advisers told them would be of no avail.

Nevertheless, as the Germans imported more zinc, nickel, and nitrate from Norway than they could afford to lose in times of such scarcity, the Norwegians were by no means helpless. The issue between the German and Norwegian governments was, therefore, not merely whether a harmless decree about territorial waters was damaging to German interests. This, ostensibly, was the question in agitation; but, before they issued the decree, the Norwegian cabinet decided, that, if no satisfaction were given, they would supplement their proclamation by prohibiting all exports to Germany; the German minister was so informed when the decree was presented to him.

The Norwegian proclamation was issued on 13th October. It forbad submarines belonging to powers at war to enter Norwegian waters, unless their commanders did so to save human lives, or to shelter from a gale. Any submarine commander disobeying the order exposed his vessel to attack without warning. Submarines belonging to neutral powers were not forbidden Norwegian waters; but were warned that they would run great risks, unless they approached the Norwegian coasts on the surface, and in clear weather. It is hard to believe that this decree caused any submarine commander in the world the least anxiety or annoyance; but, as has been explained, it was not what the Norwegian government proclaimed by decree, but what they had decided in secret council, which the German authorities thought dangerous. Having ordered this retaliatory attack upon Norwegian shipping, because Norwegian supplies were being artificially deflected to the allied markets, the Germans could not order the attack to be stopped, without securing some satisfaction in the matter; and the first consequence of the retaliation was that the Norwegians were contemplating a wholesale stoppage of exports to Germany. The German minister at Christiania was, therefore, instructed to be harsh and peremptory; and, soon after he received the proclamation, the Norwegian authorities informed Mr. Findlay that they feared a German ultimatum and a declaration of war. The British government were now compelled to consider, whether it would be to our advantage or not that the Norwegians should be encouraged in their resistance.

iv) How British interests were affected by the tension between the German and Norwegian governments

It is not easy to say what the naval and military staffs recommended, for their joint report was more a report upon possible contingencies than upon bare military facts. They did not consider that the Germans would get any advantage by declaring [499] war upon Norway alone; but thought that they could invade the country, if they first invaded Jutland, and then established an operation base on the Danish side of the Skaggerak. Also, they thought that the Germans would get a great advantage by persuading the Swedes to invade Norway and seize Trondhjem. For the rest, the naval and military staffs seem to have disliked the prospect of a Norwegian alliance, as being a union which would increase our military liabilities to no profit. An allied expeditionary force would certainly be asked for, and the allies had no troops to spare; a naval base in southern Norway would be of no use to us, as it would only be an auxiliary base which Great Britain would have to equip and fortify; using this base would be: Equivalent to taking over more front, without having any more troops to do it with.

If this appreciation had been the government's only guide, then, the inference most proper to be drawn from it would have been that the Norwegians should be advised to do nothing that might provoke a rupture; but it so happened that the demands of military and economic strategy were sharply contrasted, and that Sir Eyre Crowe, who reported on these latter, presented a state paper in which nothing was ambiguous. Sir Eyre Crowe regarded the issue as a test case of the first importance. The German submarine campaign had at last become so formidable that the Germans were using it, not as a mere means for destroying shipping, but as a challenge to our whole system. The fish and copper agreements were a mere pretext for this attack upon the Norwegian carrying trade; and, if the Germans obtained the least satisfaction on the matters complained of, they would at once present new and more embracing demands, which, if complied with, would make all our trading agreements with Norway inoperable. Let the Norwegians yield, even on the immediate issue, and they would be hoisting a signal to every neutral government in Europe, who would at once make the calculation: Whether it was better to continue in the British system or to break away from it. It was by no means certain that neutrals would choose the first alternative: if they did not, and followed the Norwegian example, then, the British government would be driven either to relax the system, and to depend upon prize court decisions for stopping German supplies (which would never suffice for the purpose) or, alternatively, to impose something approximating to a blockade of neutral states. If attempted, this would probably be so ill received, both in Europe and America, that it would not be possible to persist in it. As these were the issues in the balance, Sir Eyre Crowe reported that the Norwegian resistance should be encouraged, even though it provoked a German declaration of war. The paper was so cogent that it is small wonder the war committee approved it, and recommended:

      That the secretary of state should put diplomatic pressure on Norway not to give way to Germany, and should promise the full support of the allies, if the result of following this advice should result in the outbreak of a war with Germany.

v) The Norwegian negotiations with the German government

But when the Norwegians were thus reassured, they had already determined to steer a middle course, their reason probably being, that they realised, that, if they resisted the Germans unflinchingly, they would be compelled to call in a great proportion of their merchant service; and that, if they complied too openly with them, we should ruin the country by refusing coal supplies and blockading it. This is certainly speculative; but the following known facts support the general inference that the Norwegian cabinet decided to offer something that they hoped would placate the Germans without exasperating the allies.

On 13th October the Norwegian decree was published; and on the following day, the British Foreign Office considered the position to be so serious that all the relevant papers were referred to the cabinet. A week later, 22nd October, M. Ihlen informed Mr. Findlay that he had received a protest from the German government to which [500] he would have to reply. The position evidently deteriorated during the next four days; for on 26th October, the Danish foreign minister told Sir Ralph Paget that his government were very anxious. On the same day, M. Ihlen told the allied representatives in Christiania that he could no longer hold back his answer to the German protest, and that his reply might be answered by an ultimatum. During the last days of the month, therefore, the Norwegian authorities were apprehensive that a war might be forced upon them. It was, however, just when the danger of a war between Germany and Norway seemed most pressing that the Norwegian authorities began to offer a strange explanation why they dared not go to war with Germany. They said, that they could not defend certain industrial districts against aerial bombardment; if they went to war, therefore, the plant and factories in these districts would be destroyed, and the allies would be the losers, in that their supplies of nitrate of ammonia came from parts of the country which would inevitably be laid in ashes. It is much to be regretted that our naval and military attachés at Christiania allowed this explanation to pass unchallenged, and never advised our minister that the risk to the nitrate of ammonia factories could be accepted, as Great Britain was then maintaining a great army and a great fleet, notwithstanding that the industrial midlands, the port of London, and two naval arsenals had been exposed to aerial bombardments for two whole years, and were suffering an increasing number of them.

The explanation offered by the Norwegians must therefore be regarded as a manoeuvre to excite French apprehensions about their nitrate of ammonia supplies, and so, to make the allies treat a Norwegian concession to Germany leniently. It is certain, at all events, that, while this talk about the nitrate of ammonia factories was circulating most freely in the capital, Mr. Findlay became aware that the Norwegian and German authorities were fast coming to a composition; for on 7th November, he was asking M. Ihlen why the German minister was likely to receive the Norwegian reply so calmly, and whether anything detrimental to Great Britain and the allies was being arranged. As all danger of a rupture was passed by 10th November, some compromise must have been agreed to during the first week in that month. It is impossible to state outright, and as a positive fact, whether the Norwegian cabinet promised anything specific, and if they did so, what it was they promised; for on these points we have only a few uncertain indications. First, it must be remembered that the Swedish authorities assisted the Norwegians to extricate themselves from their difficulties. Nothing more definite was ever said than that the Swedish government were supporting the Norwegian cabinet, but the Norwegians considered that the assistance given was substantial. Presumably, therefore, the Swedes advised the Norwegians on other matters than the treatment proper to be given to belligerent submarines. Sir Esmé Howard, at all events, suspected that they did so. More significant than this, however, is the conversation which took place on 1st November, at Berlin, between the Danish minister, and Herr Zimmermann the under-secretary for foreign affairs. At this interview, Herr Zimmermann stated that Norway's commercial policy was the source of the trouble, and tried to persuade the Danish minister to urge some small and unimportant concession. Finally, Mr. Findlay never doubted that something damaging to our recent agreements was promised, and that the troubles in which we were afterwards involved were the consequence of the promise given. All this suggests that the Norwegian government undertook to do something specific, which we could not have countenanced, if we had known what it was. As against this, it must be said, that, when accused of having struck a bargain by compromising the fish and copper agreements, M. Ihlen positively denied that he had done so. Against this again, it must be added that professor Keilhau, an honourable and patriotic Norwegian, who was allowed access to the state archives of Norway, judges M. Ihlen's conduct rather severely.2

[501] According to Dr. Keilhau, the Norwegians escaped from the position in which they found themselves in the following manner. When the attacks upon Norwegian shipping began, the Norwegian government were in treaty with the German authorities for a general trading agreement, but these negotiations were much protracted, as the Germans would conclude nothing, until they could learn more about the fish agreement. M. Ihlen used this incompleted negotiation as a means for extricating himself, and concluded an agreement whereby it was stipulated that Norway and Germany should exchange commodities to the best of their abilities; and that Norway should not prohibit the export of nickel, molybdenum, carbide of calcium, and tinned fish. In addition, the submarine ordinance was slightly altered; but as neither the original, nor the modified, ordinance was of the least importance to submarine operations, this concession was a mere satisfaction on the point of pride. This agreement, or rather the promise that some such agreement would be made, eased the diplomatic tension between the two governments; but it can hardly be said that the Norwegians struck a bargain, as they received nothing in return: after the crisis was passed, the Germans sank more ships than they had ever done before: twenty-nine were sunk in November, thirty-nine in December, and forty-one in January.

vi) The British government's complaints about the operation of the fish and copper agreements

There is, thus, no documentary proof that the concessions that were made to ease the crisis between Germany and Norway contained anything damaging to the agreements with Great Britain. On the other hand, the written agreement with Germany was so vague that the German minister must surely have asked for some verbal explanation how the article about exchanging commodities would be interpreted; and it is a certain fact, that, from November onwards, we had reason to complain that the fish and copper agreements were not being faithfully operated. The complaints were similar in both cases, and were, that licences for export to Germany were being improperly granted. It would be fruitless to review the long controversy that followed in any detail. The points at issue were roughly these. In the case of fish exports, the Norwegians claimed they were only granting licences for stocks of fish, that were unsold, when the agreement was signed. Our authorities argued that they had received returns, which showed that the total quantities of unsold stocks were far smaller than the quantities licensed for export. In the matter of pyrites, the Norwegians maintained that they had the right to licence the quantities exported, as they had only done so after one of our contracting companies, the Rio Tinto, had secured a delivery of pyrites equivalent to the first option provided for in the agreement. Our authorities could not admit this contention, as they regarded the contract between the Rio Tinto and the pyrites exporters association as a matter quite distinct from the agreement with the Norwegian government.

As no satisfaction was obtained from the exchange of arguments and protests, and as Mr. Findlay never wavered, that the agreements were being put out of operation in order to placate the German government, it was decided, late in December, to stop all coal exports to Norway; which was perhaps the severest treatment of a friendly power that had been ordered.3 But while deciding that this act of rigour was necessary, the British government were determined not to embark upon severities that were likely to provoke a counter retaliation; for they [502] received a warning from the ministry of munitions that we were depending progressively upon Norway for certain metals and minerals, and that our munition factories would be in a hard case, if the Norwegian government forbad these goods to be exported to us. No other restraints upon Norwegian supplies were therefore ordered; and an agreement with the Norwegian canners union was actually negotiated and signed, while the coal embargo was in force. Also, the Norwegians were allowed to increase their imports of grains and foodstuffs during the last months of the year, and the agreement with their corn dealers and provision merchants was operated, without dispute, while all coal supplies were being stopped. Meanwhile the Germans continued to attack Norwegian shipping and sank a rising number of ships in every month; it is hardly surprising therefore that the Norwegian government gave way altogether and promised us full satisfaction on all matters complained of. The coal embargo was raised in February. By then, however, the Germans had started a new campaign upon commerce, and it was a matter of speculation whether any agreement then in force was still operable.

1See Appendix IV. ...back...

2See Norway and the World War, Chaps. IV, V, and VI. ...back...

3An exception was made in favour of coal exportable under the fish and copper agreements and also in all cases when coal was required for producing commodities useful to the allies. The amount of coal allowed to be exported under these exceptions was, however, a very small proportion of the normal total. ...back...

A History of the Blockade of Germany
and of the countries associated with her in the Great War:
Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.

by A. C. Bell (Historical Section, Committee of Imperial Defence).