Britain asked Germany for Gunsights - During WWI?

In Fred Watson’s book Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope, he wrote what is to me a stunning sidenote with no followup.

Wow. Britain asked Germany to sell it war munitions during the war!

I have to assume that the Germans laughed until they peed themselves and then went out and drank schnapps until they got their pants wet a second time. But who knows, maybe they took them seriously for the money or trade supplies. Can anyone tell me more about this?

The quote says “barter”, not “sell”. It doesn’t say what was offered in exchange, perhaps it was something the Germans might find valuable?

(I’ve just read that, in 1941 during WW2, the British C-in-C Middle East, Archie Wavell, suggested offering any six captured Italian generals in exchange for General Richard O’Connor, so barter during wartime is not without precedent)

The US Civil War was full of this. At a lower level it was Union canned rations for Confederate tobacco, but it went all the way up the chain, with Southern cotton being exchanged for Northern manufactured goods on levels which suggest there was a certain degree of official cooperation, or at least blind eye turning.

If you don’t think that barter of goods is the equivalent of sales, talk to the IRS who insists on taxing barter transactions.

It is of course possible that the British were proposing a prisoner swap. But that’s what I trying to find out. What other people did in other times doesn’t help me any.

Its well knwon that through muh of WW1 the British company ‘Blue Circle’ was selling cement powder to Germans, which was often used in the construction of German bunkers.

I remember seeing a touching story of a WW1 vet who, after finally getting across no mans land, recalled that in the dug outs, the Germans were using the empty cement bags as a makeshift floor covering, and the contempt that he held British company directors that he felt from that date onwards.

In this vein, is there any truth to the notion that IBM continued doing business with Nazi Germany even after the U.S. declared war?

As you might guess, Wikipedia has an article detailing the story of IBM’s relationship with the German (i.e., Nazi) government during World War II.

The History Of The Ministry Of Munitions, Vol. XI relates that a deal was indeed contemplated to exchange German optical instruments for British rubber through a series of Swiss intermediaries. The Germans offered around 30,000 binoculars at once and 20-30,000 a month within six weeks. 500 rifle telescopes were offered at once and 5-10,000 a month. In the end, this deal did not go proceed, supposedly because the British supply position had improved although it may have been because somebody got cold feet and said “look, this really isn’t on”.

This may have been the inspiration for the plot of Robert Ludlum’s novel, The Rhinemann Exchange

Which has exactly what to do with Britain and Germany in WW1? Barter and sales, the IRS be damned, aren’t the same thing. Try taking a frozen chicken into Macy’s and barter it for a pair of jeans if you don’t believe me.

Archie Wavell was, as well as a senior general in WW2, a staff officer throughout WW1. And he was British. Sounds exactly like the sort of people you were asking about.

Deals of the kind Mk VII mentions would actually make a cynical kind of sense in a war between alliances of countries - the binoculars and gunsights would have benefited British forces fighting against not necessarily German but any Central Power forces, while the rubber would have benefited German forces fighting against not necessarily British but any Entente Power forces. A net benefit to both parties of the deal, to the detriment of their respective allies.

Thanks Mk VII. That’s exactly what I was looking for.

I’m picturing the rifle scopes having a small optical deviation, like 180 degrees or so,

My first post, hello all. I’m pleased that you got your reply Exapno Mapcase… Things got a little sidetracked, but in an interesting way.

I think you have it Ale. These will be the same scopes as the one the French sold to Nelson just before the battle of Trafalgar. The deal was that they threw in a glass eye… but they missed.

Well, O’Connor was one of the very best generals the British had.
They should have offered 12 generals.

Do you have a cite?

There’s a lengthy discussion of the issue here.

No time to read the thread and the links to threads within the thread, but it appears that it was the Dutch and Belgians selling cement to the Germans; not the British.

nice theory, but for the Germans it does not work very well. The British were fighting in two theaters of war, against Germany in Flanders and against the Turks in the Mideast, and guess which theater got the most and the best resources? Those gunsights, if obtained, would most likely have gone straight to the snipers on the Western front.

Welcome to the Dope, Paris7!

There is evidence that (neutral) Switzerland carried on a big trade with France and Germany-in particular, French made aluminum was sold to German aircraft manufacturers (via Switzerland)-this was reported in “wold’s End” (Upton Sinclair). German steel likewaise was sold to France, via the same arrangements.