In June 1913, Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, persuaded the House of Commons that the Treasury should spend £2.2 million on a 51% stake in Persian oil fields in order to guarantee the supply of fuel oil to the Royal Navy. The House approved the bill within a day, the investment was duly made and a twenty-year contract negotiated. I suspect today’s Sea Lords are jealous of the influence their predecessors once held.
In my second novel, Now the Darkness Gathers, I suggest that Germany would have wished to interfere with the negotiations, but in fact I have found no evidence to suggest this was true. Accordingly, although there is a naval saying that one should not spoil a good story with the truth, my plot contains a twist.
The Navy had decided to begin the change from steam to oil as it offered its battlecruisers an increased speed. Moreover, oil was easier to store than coal and could be replenished at sea. With this in mind, as early as 1905, the Admiralty concluded a contract for the supply of oil from Burmah Oil’s Rangoon refinery. When it heard that an Englishman, William Knox D’Arcy, had acquired a sixty year concession to drill for oil over 500,000 square miles in Persia, but was short of funds to develop the oil fields, the Admiralty, fearing the concession might fall into foreign hands, persuaded Burmah (the Victorian spelling of today’s Myanmar) to invest in Persia and establish the Anglo-Persian Company (APOC). However, the oil proved costly to refine and transport and by 1912, Burmah was unwilling to finance the venture further. This led to the Admiralty intervention to acquire the majority shareholding in APOC. APOC became British Petroleum in 1954.