Britain's Quest For Oil

The First World War and the Peace Conferences

Martin Gibson

Date Published :
April 2017
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Wolverhampton Military Studies
Illustration :
3 b/w maps, 22 tables, 1 chart
Format Available    QuantityPrice
ISBN : 9781911512073
Pages : 230
Dimensions : 9.25 X 6 inches
In stock


The First World War showed the vital importance of oil. Use of oil fuelled aircraft, tanks, motor vehicles and especially warships increased greatly during the war. The war made it clear that major powers had to have secure oil supplies. Britain and its allies found themselves in an oil crisis in 1917. It was overcome, with difficulty, and the Allies' greater oil resources, mostly supplied by the USA, contributed to their victory. The situation was, however, been tight and it was not certain that the USA would be willing or able to provide such large quantities in a future conflict. It might not be friendly and there were fears that its oil production would soon peak. These proved to be wrong, but they influenced policy makers, including US ones, at the time. The most obvious place to obtain oil supplies was the Mosul province of the Ottoman Empire. Britain had several reasons to want the League of Nations mandate over Iraq, but oil was the main reason why it wanted Mosul to be part of Iraq. France, Italy and the USA were all also interested in Mosul's oil. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed before the need for oil became apparent, had put only about half of Mosul in the British zone. Britain successfully argued at the series of post war peace and inter-Allied conferences that it should have the mandate over an Iraq that included all of Mosul. Britain made several attempts to form a large, British controlled oil company, but it was impossible to create a scheme that suited all parties or that guaranteed that the company would act in the national interest. A realization that control of oil bearing territory was more important than the nationality of companies allowed the British to give French and US companies a stake in Mosul's oil. This helped to improve relations between Britain and these two countries. The Italians, who had little to offer in return, did not get a stake in Mosul's oil. Oil did not cause the First World War, but the war showed Britain and other major powers that they needed secure oil supplies. As Mosul was the obvious place to obtain them, this quest for oil helped shape the post war Middle East

About The Author

Martin Gibson was for many years an investment analyst for a leading asset management company, latterly specialising in the global oil industry. He was awarded an MLitt in War Studies by the University of Glasgow in 2006. His dissertation received the Ewing Prize for the best Modern History dissertation at Glasgow that year. It later became the basis for the chapter on the Royal Navy's conversion from coal to oil before the that he contributed to Michael LoCicero, Ross Mahoney, Stuart Mitchell, eds, A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945 (2014). He completed a history PhD at the University of Glasgow in 2012 and currently writes the War and Security blogs on military history and national security issues.


"A good, academic analysis of the oil industry as it was in the early 20th Century; Britain's position and strategy, both military and political; and the diplomacy and disputes that shaped the eventual carve-up.”

- Long Long Trail

"Unquestionably recommended reading, both for the subject matter itself, to better understand the nature of the post-war negotiations, and as an excellent example of how to turn a thesis into a book.”

- Society of Friends of the National Army Museum

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