THE RECORDS OF THE PERMANENT UNDER-SECRETARY’S DEPARTMENT, Liaison between the Foreign Office and British Secret Intelligence, 1873-1939 | March 2005. Pages 27-41

“Chocolate for Zedzed | Basil Zaharoff and the secret diplomacy of the Great War”

‘If your Chairman considers my yesterday’s letter as important as I do he should spontaneously do the chocolate.’ Basil Zaharoff (1)

Basil Zaharoff had a reputation for private wheeler-dealing. He also had an appetite for public honours. Born in 1849 to Greek parents then resident in Mughlia in outhwestern Anatolia, he was baptised Basileios.

His family, which during a period of exile in Odessa had abandoned the name of Zacharias in favour of the slavic Zaharoff, subsequently migrated to Constantinople and the young Basileios was brought up in Tatavla, one of the poorest quarters of the Ottoman capital. There he learnt the wisdom of the streets, finding employment first as a guide to the red-light district of Galata, and then as a fire-fighter in a service better known for its success in extracting commissions for the rescue of threatened treasures than for its skills in extinguishing flames.

Later, after working as a money-changer, he travelled to London, appeared in court in an action concerning the misappropriation of funds, and departed in haste for Athens, where, aged 24, he had the good fortune to befriend the political journalist Stefanos Skouloudis.

It was on the latter’’s recommendation that in 1877 Zaharoff was made a representative of the Swedish arms manufacturer, Thorsten Nordenfeldt, a position in which he soon exhibited both his commercial ingenuity and his flare for bribery and deception. He sold steam-driven submarines to the Greek, Ottoman and Russian, navies; he subverted Hiram Maxim’s efforts to demonstrate his automatic machine gun to the Austrian and Italian armies before buying a half share in Maxim’s enterprise; and by 1897, when Vickers purchased the Maxim Company, he was already on the way to amassing an immense personal fortune.

The ease with which Zaharoff, as arms vendor, and eventually as company director, banker and minorpress baron, moved within the worlds of politics and high and low finance earned for him the description of ‘mystery man of Europe’. (2)

After the outbreak of war in 1914 his business contacts and knowledge of the Balkans made him a useful agent of the British Government. His companies profited and he was further rewarded with the recognition he craved – the ‘chocolate’ of his cryptic correspondence – elevation to the rank of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire.

Instrumental in securing ‘Zedzed’, the name with which Zaharoff signed off his letters, his ‘chocolate’ was Sir Vincent Caillard. Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, Vincent Henry Penalver Caillard, had, after service with the Royal Engineers and in the War Office’s Intelligence Department, embarked on a career in business management. Between 1883 and 1898 he was delegate of the British, Belgian and Dutch bondholders on, and alternate president of, the Council of Administration of the Ottoman Public Debt.

The latter, as guardian of the interests of Turkey’s foreign creditors, had supervision of certain state revenues, and in consequence assumed a quasi-political role in Constantinople. Its members mixed easily with the diplomatic community and their advice was rarely ignored in chancelleries eager for information on banking and capital investment projects in the Near and Middle East. Caillard himself was to become involved in a number of such ventures, including those sponsored by his friend, the German-born banker and financial adviser to King Edward VII, Sir Ernest Cassel.

Yet Caillard’s association with Zaharoff probably dates from 1898 when Caillard was appointed to the board of Vickers, a company of which he subsequently became financial director. In any event, by 1915 Caillard was well-placed to act as a channel of communication between Zaharoff, then usually resident in Paris, Monte Carlo, or his chateau at Boulaincourt, and the powers-that-be in London.

His correspondence, now to be found amongst the newly-released PUSD papers in FO 1093/47-57, sheds fresh light on Zaharoff’s role as wartime propagandist in neutral and politically-divided Greece.

It also adds significant detail to, and expands upon, the story first related by Victor Rothwell, largely on the basis of material in the Lloyd George papers, of the British Government’s funding of Zaharoff’s efforts to persuade elements within the Ottoman leadership to abandon Turkey’s allies and engage in negotiations for a separate peace. (3)

In the aftermath of the war Zaharoff was popularly perceived as a merchant of death, an evil genius and profiteer, who for his own pecuniary gain had sought to stimulate and prolong international rivalries and conflict. And Zaharoff’s own assertion, made to a journalist in 1936, that he had made wars in order to sell arms to both sides, did little to discourage this view.

However, from the commencement of the Great War Zaharoff identified with the entente powers and his correspondence with Caillard was evidence of his readiness to work for their victory and the early conclusion of hostilities. Given his background, it is hardly surprising that he should have followed intensely developments in the Near East, an area in which, prior to 1917, neither Britain nor France could claim many conspicuous successes.

Their diplomacy had failed to prevent Ottoman Turkey from entering the war on Germany’s side; their armed forces had failed in their Dardanelles campaign to secure the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean; and their diplomacy had failed again when in October 1915 Bulgaria aligned itself with the central powers and declared war on a beleaguered Serbia.

Henceforth, their attention was fixed firmly upon Greece, a country whose territory they had only recently been ready to bargain away in the hope of securing Bulgarian support, and whose neutralist King, Constantine, they labelled ‘pro-German’ largely on the spurious grounds that he was brother-in-law to the German Emperor.

The entente powers wanted Greek assistance for the Serbs and looked to Greece’s liberal premier, Elefthverios Venizelos, to achieve their ends. With his connivance British and French forces were landed in Salonika and, following Constantine’s dismissal of Venizelos, Limnos and other Greek islands were occupied.

Relations between the Royal Government, which tried desperately to maintain Greece’’s neutrality, and the entente powers steadily deteriorated; a rival provisional administration was established under Venizelos at Salonika; and finally in June 1917 Constantine was toppled and Greece coerced into the war. (4 )

In the meantime Zaharoff had volunteered his services as salesman of the Franco-British cause in Athens. Zaharoff set out his stall in a letter to Caillard of 12 November 1915. He claimed that over the past nine years he had given Greece £1.2 million, and that if he were to add a further £300,000 to this ‘he could make Greece join the Allies and start fighting the Bulgars within 20 days’. He and Venizelos, he added, were ‘dear friends’, and the octogenarian Skouloudis, whom Constantine had appointed Prime Minister, ‘would gladly follow me’. ‘All that is needed’, Zaharoff observed, ‘is to buy the Germanophile papers, also 45 Deputies and one Frontier Commander.’ For
£1,500,000 properly spent, he reckoned, the war could be shortened by months. (5)

Some of this must have seemed implausible. Skouloudis had only just called for the disarming of the British and French forces at Salonika, and within six months he was to order the surrender to the Bulgarians of the strategically important fortress of Rupel. (6)

In any case, as Caillard’s own ‘friends’ in Whitehall pointed out, it was difficult to see how Zaharoff could possibly influence the Greek parliament when Venizelos was insisting that neither he nor his party would participate in any fresh elections. And any attempt to bribe a divisional general might easily be traced to source. (7)

Nevertheless, the British Government was well aware that the central powers had a firm grip over the Athenian press, and that under the able leadership of the Freiherr von Schenck they had an estimated 3,000 agents in Greece. (8)

Such thoughts appear to have overcome initial scepticism about Zaharoff’s proposals. In a letter of 11 December 1915 Herbert Henry Asquith, the Prime Minister, informed Caillard that he had discussed the matter with Reginald McKenna, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that Caillard was to let his ‘friend go straight ahead: the sum named by him [would] be paid by the Govt.’. (9)

The money in question, £1,407,000, was subsequently placed to Zaharoff’s credit at Barclays, and, after communicating the news to Venizelos via the French Legation in Athens, Zaharoff prepared to leave for Naples and Messina with a view ultimately to meeting disaffected politicians and representatives of the Greek press in Athens. (10)

‘Early this morning’, he wrote to Caillard on 18 December, ‘I received your wire saying that Barclays had transferred to my a/c at the Banque de France, & I immediately wired you that such being the case I start this A.M. full of go & praying for just a little luck & wishing you goodbye in a certain eventuality. I am off in forty minutes and will do my best. Lovingly Zedzed.’ (11)

Whether this Grecian odyssey offered the British government real value for money is questionable. Both Asquith and McKenna were evidently impressed by what they learnt of Zaharoff’s achievements. (12)

But their concern had been that Zaharoff should ‘deliver some immediate and effective blow’ in Greece, and that the account they had set up for this purpose should not be extended beyond the end of financial year in April, lest inconvenient questions be asked.13 One million French francs was paid through Cassel’s National Bank of Egypt to Georgios Averoff, Venizelos’s friend and agent, presumably with a view to providing direct aid to the Venizelists. The main idea to emerge from Zaharoff’s talks in Greece was, however, for the establishment of an Anglo-French news agency in Athens. This eventually materialised in the spring of 1916 as the Radio Agency, an institution which was intended to combat Germany’s influence over the Greek press and which Zaharoff hoped would develop into ‘an honest international organ of propaganda’. (14)

Zaharoff already had experience as a publicist. By 1910 he had acquired a controlling interest in two Parisian dailies, the Quotidiens illustrés and the politically more influential Excelsior; and following the outbreak of war he had joined with others in a combination which aimed at publishing and distributing literature on behalf of the entente powers. He also spent £37,000 of his own money on a printing house for the Venizelists, and by the summer of 1916 he was boasting to Caillard that of late the Greek parliament had neither voted nor proposed anything ‘against the Allies’. (15)

Yet, nor did the Royal Government seem any closer to declaring war on Bulgaria, and in July Caillard, urged on by Zaharoff, persuaded Asquith to share with the French in a further subsidy of 5 million drachmas to Venizelos to assist with anticipated election costs. (16)

This was fantasy diplomacy.

There were, despite the demands of the entente powers, no new elections and Greece,
on the verge of civil war, was finally brought into the war as a result of a naval blockade of the Greek mainland and the military intervention of Britain and France, Greece’s so-called ‘protecting powers’. (17)

The British Government supported Zaharoff’s operations in Greece. But neither Asquith nor McKenna was ready to take up Zaharoff’s other suggestion that he be allowed ‘to invest some money in Roumania’ out of funds already in his hands. (18)

They also appear to have been less than enthusiastic about an idea, mooted by Zaharoff in a letter to Caillard of 19 April 1916, that Enver Bey, the Ottoman War Minister, and forty or fifty of his Young Turk associates might be prepared to open the Dardanelles to the British fleet in return for a substantial sum (according to one account £4 million was mentioned) (19) and their safe passage to New York.

The matter was first raised with Zaharoff by Abdul Kerim Bey, who had represented Turkey in Athens and in Vienna, and with whom Zaharoff had dealt when Abdul Kerim was cosecretary to the Sultan Abdul Hamid. In early April 1916 the two men met secretly in Marseilles (20) and some weeks later Abdul Kerim wrote from Athens proposing that Zaharoff travel to Adrianople for further discussions. (21)

Zaharoff was himself uncertain as to how far to proceed with this plan. He claimed that in Nordenfeldt’s time he had paid Abdul Kerim many thousand lira and, although he had only met Enver on a couple of occasions (first at a ministerial dinner in Paris and then on the Orient Express), Enver had once commissioned him to purchase of treasury bonds on his behalf. (22)

Nevertheless, Zaharoff ‘did not think it wise to go on this expedition’ unless he had adequate funds at his disposal, and these the British government must provide. (23)

‘I should’, he observed to Caillard in a letter of 26 June, ‘feel very uncomfortable if the Chairman [Asquith] and Treasurer [McKenna] were even to dream for a second that I was encouraging this expenditure; consequently, if they decide upon taking action you will please very clearly state from me, that, although willing to act, I make no suggestion whatever, and am under great delicacy touching the money.’ (24)

He need not have worried. McKenna told Caillard on 9 July that he thought the ‘idea about Turkey worth “risking the toss” to the extent of £100,000’. (25)

By then, however, the moment had passed, and Zaharoff was warned by Abdul Kerim that in view of the British Government’s lack of haste the offer had been withdrawn. (26)

This was not the end of the affair. By the spring of 1917 Zaharoff evidently thought that the time had come to revive the idea of his negotiating with Abdul Kerim. (27) On 23 May he wrote to Caillard that he was contemplating going to Switzerland where, ‘by accident’, he was bound to come across some of his Ottoman friends. He was, however, insistent that if he were to proceed further with the business he must ‘be properly backed’ and ‘more than ample confidence’ placed in him. (28)

Caillard made soundings in Whitehall and seemed confident of securing Government support. Both he and Zaharoff had dealt previously with David Lloyd George, Asquith’s successor as Prime Minister, in his capacity Minister of Munitions and Secretary of State for War. Caillard was also on good terms with Walter Long, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and on 11 June he sent the latter a cutting from the Tribune de Genève, received by Zaharoff from Abdul Kerim, reporting that Young Turk representatives in Geneva were seeking a separate peace.

He added in a covering letter that he regarded the matter as urgent because Abdul Kerim was ‘now throwing out his hooks again’ and because the moment seemed propitious. (29)

The Prime Minister was evidently impressed. Although he was initially sceptical about Zaharoff going off to Switzerland to meet ‘second-raters’, he told Caillard on 17 June that a separate peace that year would be ‘worth a great deal’. In 1918, he observed, ‘it would probably be worth nothing, as by that time probably Russia would be in good trim again, and certainly the United States would be coming on in considerable force’.

Lloyd George was even prepared to sketch out the basis of such a peace: Britain must retain Mesopotamia, the Russians would keep the Armenian provinces they had occupied, a ‘suitable arrangement which would involve at least Internationalisation must be mad for Palestine’, and there must be some ‘satisfactory arrangement’ for Constantinople by which ‘European Turkey should be practically free from Turkish rule as known hitherto’. (30)

Caillard felt it necessary to remind Lloyd George that ‘it was a pretty tall order to negotiate separate terms of Peace on the basis of the practical dismemberment of the country with which you would be negotiating’. He also explained to the Prime Minister that Zaharoff’s previous exchanges with Abdul Kerim had concerned not a separate peace, but the opening of the Straits and the ‘Deportation’ of the Young Turks leadership. Lloyd George nonetheless considered it well worth while Zaharoff going to Switzerland to find out what was on offer. (31)

This turned out to be much the same as before. On or around 20-22 June Zaharoff met with Abdul Kerim in Geneva, and the latter announced that Turkey was ‘ruined & lost’, that Enver and his colleagues were willing to ‘throw up the sponge on “reasonable conditions” and get out with their lives’.

According to Abdul Kerim they wanted a retaining fee of $2 million to be placed immediately at Morgans in New York; Abdul Kerim would take $500,000 of this himself, after placing Zaharoff in contact with Enver and the Turkish finance minister, Djavid Bey; the remaining $1.5 million would buy certain indispensable people; and a total sum of $10 million would pay for everything. The money was to be paid in stages as Turkish troops withdrew first from Mesopotamia, then from Palestine, and finally from both sides of the Dardanelles so as to allow entente forces to land and their ships to pass through the Straits. The Turks would then ask for an armistice which could lead in Enver’s opinion to a general armistice with the central powers. (32)

Zaharoff had serious doubts about Abdul Kerim and his associates. ‘You know’, Zaharoff subsequently wrote to Caillard, ‘what a rogue he is, & what reliance should be placed on any of the Forty Thieves.’ (33)

But Lloyd George, to whom Caillard reported on Zaharoff’s discussions in Switzerland, seems not to have been startled either by the character of Abdul Kerim or the sums involved.

He did however wonder whether Enver was open to such bribery and, while he was ready to place the equivalent of $2 million to Zaharoff’s credit, he thought that the most that Abdul Kerim should be shown was a banker’s receipt for this and that he should be given to understand that this would be transferred to an agreed nominee only when Enver and Djavid met Zaharoff for serious discussion. Otherwise, he feared that any money Abdul Kerim received ‘would stick without getting any further’. (34)

Sensible though this condition was, it was clearly not what Abdul Kerim wanted, and when he next met Zaharoff in mid-July, he insisted that he wanted $500,000 placing to his credit at the Crédit Suisse in Zurich, and a further $1.5 million to be place at Enver’s credit in the Banque Suisse et Française. He had, he said, fixed an appointment for a meeting with Enver at Lucerne exactly thirty five days after the money was deposited. When Zaharoff revealed his instructions, Abdul Kerim protested ‘c’est à prendre ou à laisser’, and remained mute to all Zaharoff’s subsequent attempts to re-open the conversation. (35)

Zaharoff was personally of the opinion that it would have been worth taking the risk and paying the money Abdul Kerim demanded. (36)

But Caillard, suspecting ‘a plant’, disagreed. (37)

So too did Lloyd George, though his main concern was that the time was not right for such a gamble: he believed that the Turks were preparing with German assistance for an assault on British forces in Baghdad, and that with senior German officers in Constantinople Enver would be in no position to engage in the sort of scheme envisaged by Abdul Kerim.

He was also confident that the army would be well able to defend itself in Mesopotamia, and that it would be better to allow the attack to proceed and fail before engaging in further talks in Switzerland. (38)

In any event, there appears to have been no further contact between Zaharoff and his Ottoman interlocutors until mid-November, when he spent three days in Geneva once more in discussion with Abdul Kerim. (39)

On this occasion, however, Abdul Kerim maintained that he could take no cash until instructed by Enver who was then seeking urgent assistance from Germany. During breakfast with Lloyd George in Paris on 27 November Zaharoff was able to reveal all that he had thus learned of Turkey’s plight (40) and within a fortnight he returned again to Geneva. This time he did so in the knowledge that the Prime Minister was not seeking the destruction of the Ottoman Empire or the surrender of Constantinople.

The Bolshevik revolution and Russia’s impending departure from the war meant that Russian requirements had no longer to be taken into account. Indeed, events on the eastern front made a separate peace with Turkey all the more attractive. Lloyd George insisted that the freedom of the Straits must be absolutely secured, that Arabia must be entirely independent, that Mesopotamia and Palestine be governed on Egyptian lines (i.e. effectively under British protection), and that some autonomy be granted to Armenia and Syria. (41)

But in the meantime he was ready to sanction the transfer of $2 million to the accounts
specified by Abdul Kerim. (42)

Instructions handed by the Prime Minister’s secretary to Caillard on 9 January 1918 made it clear that the Government was ready to pay $5 million in return for the opening of the Straits to British submarines, and their being afforded a favourable opportunity to sink the Breslau and the Goeben, the German warships acquired by Turkey in September 1914. Another $2 million would follow once Turkish forces had withdrawn from Palestine and the Hedjaz railway. (43)

These instructions were subsequently amended when news reached London that the two warships were already hors de combat, and Zaharoff was required instead to offer $10 million to the Turks in order to secure the permanent safe passage of the Straits for the British fleet, including the withdrawal of forces from littoral fortifications. (44)

But Zaharoff, who committed the original instructions to memory, had departed for Geneva before the new ones arrived at his residence in Monte Carlo. He left by train on 23 January, thus embarking on what, according to Zaharoff’s own detailed account, turned out to be an exceptionally hazardous journey. (45)

He had for some time been in poor health, suffering from a skin complaint which required the generous application of gelatine to his lower quarters, (46) and he took the precaution of travelling with his personal physician and a supply of his special diet food. Even, however, before the train reached Genoa his private carriage, which he had hired at the cost of twenty-four first class tickets, was invaded by Italian troops.

They molested Zaharoff and his companion, stole some of their money, their luncheon basket and their seats, and forced them first into the corridor and then off the train. When, four days later, Zaharoff finally reached the Swiss frontier he found that his ‘martyrdom’ had only just begun. Swiss immigration officials insisted on subjecting the two men to the humiliation of a strip search; they were left naked for three hours in sub-zero temperatures; and Zaharoff came close to being denied entry into Switzerland when a quarantine doctor spotted his ‘bleeding skin’ and declared him to be suffering from a contagious disease. (47)

After spending a night in a Swiss hospital, Zaharoff was allowed to continue to Geneva. But, as Zaharoff realised, the Swiss, whom he denounced as ‘more German than the Germans’, evidently suspected his intentions, and during his stay in Geneva he was regularly followed by detectives. This was an ominous start to a mission which ultimately proved fruitless. Zaharoff was two days late for his meeting with Abdul Kerim, and although the latter arranged for Enver Bey to travel from Lucerne to Geneva, there was to be no face-to-face meeting between Zaharoff and Enver.

Such discussions as there were took place on 27 January with Abdul Kerim acting as an intermediary. From these it emerged that while Enver felt it possible to arrange for Turkish forces to withdraw from Palestine and the Hedjaz railway to a line from Haifa to Deraa, he could offer no guarantees with regard to the Straits since these were now held by German forces. Moreover, Enver felt that the crumbling of Russia and Romania had made Talaat Pasha, the Ottoman Grand Vizier, more confident and that there was little chance of his accepting a separate peace. He could not, he insisted, accept the proffered $1.5 million.

Abdul Kerim was, however, equally insistent that he personally would not ‘part with a piastre’: he had arranged the exchange and fulfilled his part of the bargain. Zaharoff was for his part more than a little upset by the outcome. ‘I have’, he confessed to Caillard in a letter of 29 January, ‘given my heart and soul to this scheme and its failure has broken me up.’ (48) He was also two stone lighter as a result of his diplomatic exertions. (49)

Contact was nevertheless maintained between Zaharoff and Abdul Kerim. A letter to Caillard of 21 August 1918 reveals that Zaharoff had once more been to Geneva, and that Abdul Kerim had informed him that Enver, whose star was in the ascendant, was again putting out peace feelers. (50)

Lloyd George was impressed by the intelligence Zaharoff was able to glean from Abdul Kerim about relations between the central powers, and seemed ready to contemplate a payment of $25 million to buy Turkey out of the war.

He was also prepared to pay for further news of what passed between Germany and its allies. (51)

For his part, Zaharoff was reluctant to contemplate any such payments. ‘I fear’, he wrote to Caillard, ‘that the money already paid, though somewhat insignificant has not produced the “delivery of any goods”.’ (52)

Such doubts did not, however, deter Zaharoff from meeting with Abdul Kerim and Enver in Geneva on 3 October. The diplomatic consequences of their liaison remain uncertain.

Bulgaria had concluded an armistice with the entente powers on 29 September, and soon afterwards Lloyd George decided against Zaharoff going to Switzerland.

Unfortunately, a telegram from Caillard of 1 October reporting the Prime Minister’s change of mind failed to reach Zaharoff before his departure from Paris. (53)

Moreover, Enver’s initiative was only one of several then being pursued by official and unofficial agents of the Ottoman Government. (54)

What Enver held out to Zaharoff was the prospect of Turkey leaving the war with Austria-Hungary in tow, and he suggested that this could be achieved at the cost of no more than 10 million francs for the Turks and 15 million for the Hungarians. The idea certainly appealed to Zaharoff.

‘I jumped at this suggestion’, he noted, ‘and told him [Enver Bey] that I would within an hour, place five million francs at his disposal, which with the money he intended sending me to Paris, would be sufficient for his Turks. He accepted and the finances were arranged before luncheon.’ Enver left immediately for Constantinople, via Vienna, Budapest and Constanza, and Zaharoff returned to Paris. (55)

Within three weeks armistice negotiations had begun between British and Turkish representatives at Mudros. (56) It is, however, difficult to establish any direct link between the opening of these talks and what passed between Zaharoff and Enver at Geneva. Caillard and Zaharoff later credited Enver with having usefully applied the 7 million francs he actually drew from the funds offered by Zaharoff. Both thought that the action taken by Enver ‘with the strength of that seven millions upholding him probably hurried on the surrender of the Turks by some days, which were well worth saving’. (57)

Zaharoff also recalled that at a luncheon with Lloyd George on 23 October the latter twice stated that Zaharoff had been ‘most valuable to him’. (58)

But Zaharoff was never one to understate his own contribution to diplomacy. An intensely private man, who was clearly delighted to find that the Foreign Secretary was ignorant of his ‘various doings’, he still craved public recognition. In the spring of 1916 he appears to have raised with Caillard the possibility of his receiving some honour from the King as a reward for his Secret Service work in Greece.

As, however, Frederick Ponsonby, George V’s private secretary, explained to Caillard, the conferring of such a favour on an individual when it could not be revealed on what account it had been conferred might create jealousy in the minds of others, and ‘weaken the perfect secrecy which it was desired should be most scrupulously observed with regard to the whole business’. (59)

Zaharoff would have to wait.

A more patient man might have reconciled himself to this situation. Zaharoff was not such a man: he required his reward, and had no qualms about specifying what it should be. Ponsonby had assumed that the appropriate class of either the Order of the Bath or that of Saint Michael and Saint George might suffice. But the news that the British Government was instituting a new order, the Order of the British Empire, persuaded Zaharoff to write to Caillard in June 1917:

‘I would like to have the Grand X of the new order & I certainly risked my hide sufficiently to merit it’. (60)

‘I am’, he later noted, ‘like a child who has been promised chocolate.’ (61)

The new Greek Government’s conferment on him in July of the Cordon of the Order of the Saviour, encouraged him to remind Caillard that he had already received from the French the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour, and that everybody, but those for whom he had ‘especially [run] the gauntlet’, had recompensed him. (62)

Lloyd George was sympathetic, (63) though he first wanted to see the outcome of Zaharoff’s Turkish diplomacy before taking matters further, and he had in any case to take account of the protocol requirement that foreign nationals should only be honoured on the recommendation of the Foreign Office. (64)

Meanwhile, after Zaharoff’s unsuccessful mission to Geneva in January 1918, Caillard took up the matter with Robert Cecil, the Minister of Blockade, claiming that Zaharoff’s activities would not be hampered by the award of a GBE. (65) And Zaharoff himself continued to supply snippets of information on Germany and its allies which he hoped would ‘do the chocolate trick’. (66)

They evidently did. In a letter of 12 April 1918 Lord Bertie, the British Ambassador in Paris, informed Zaharoff that the King had been pleased to award him the Grand Cross of the British Empire in recognition of his ‘eminent services in the cause of the Allies’. (67)

Other honours followed, including the award in 1921 of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. By then, however, Zaharoff was developing new interests, particularly in the commercial exploitation of fuel oil, and rumours of his meddling in the post-war politics of the Near and Middle East soon abounded. The servant of Mammon, Asquith and Lloyd George, he eventually purchased a half-share in the Casino at Monte Carlo, married the love of his life, the Duquesa de Villafranca de los Caballeros, and appeared briefly to settle for life of chocolate and champagne at Beaulieu on the Riviera. Unfortunately, the Duquesa, the widow of an insane Spanish Bourbon and Zaharoff’s junior by several years, soon fell seriously ill and died in 1926 only eighteen months after their marriage.

Zaharoff survived another ten years. Still a dominant figure, he was nevertheless set upon further fostering the image of a man of mystery and, according to one account, he came close to burning down his Paris home in a determined effort to destroy his private papers. (68) It is little wonder that his life should have given rise to so much historical and journalistic speculation.

For some he was a valued intermediary, a useful informant, an innovative manufacturer of arms and a generous public benefactor; for others he was little more than a charlatan, a Levantine villain who in the ruthless pursuit of his own ends was ready to exploit and sacrifice friend and foe alike. His correspondence with Caillard in the PUSD files is hardly extensive, but it offers a rare glimpse of the world as he perceived it, and of the means by which he sought to change it.

Keith Hamilton
Historian, Foreign & Commonwealth Office


1 The National Archives (TNA), FO 1093/54, telegram to Caillard, 17 Feb 1918.
2 Donald McKormick, Pedlar of Death: the Life of Sir Basil Zaharoff (London: 1965).
3 V H Rothwell, British War Aims and Peace Diplomacy, 1914-18 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 175-78.
4 Douglas Dakin, The Unification of Greece, 1770-1923 (London: Ernest Benn, 1972), pp. 203-20.
5 FO 1093/47, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 12 (misdated 23) Nov 1915.
6 Dakin, p. 212.
7 FO 1093/47, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 23 Nov 1915.
8 Dakin, p. 210.
9 FO 1093/47, letter, Asquith to Caillard, 11 Dec 1915.
10 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 15 Dec 1915; telegram, Caillard to Zaharoff, 16 Dec 1915.
11 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 18 Dec 1915.
12 FO 1093/49, letter, Asquith to Zaharoff, 6 March 1916.
13 FO 1093/48, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 4 Feb 1916.
14 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 3 April 1916.
15 Ibid, letters, Zaharoff to Caillard, 30 June 1916.
16 FO 1093/50, letters, Zaharoff to Caillard, 11, 15 and 28 July 1916; Caillard to Zaharoff, 16 July and 17 Aug 1916. FO 1093/51, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 18 Aug 1916.
17 Dakin, p. 216.
18 FO 1093/48, telegram, Zaharoff to Caillard, 9 Feb 1916; letter, Caillard to Asquith, 9 Feb 1916;
letter, Maurice Bonham-Carter to Caillard, 9 Feb 1916. FO 1093/49, telegram, Caillard to Zaharoff, 9 Feb 1916.
19 Rothwell, p. 174, note 110.
20 FO 1093/48, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 19 April 1916.
21 FO 1093/49, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 8 June 1916.
22 FO 1093/48, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 19 April 1916.
23 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 19 June 1916.
24 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 26 June 1916.
25 FO 1093/50, letter, Caillard to Asquith, 9 July 1916.
26 Ibid, letters, Zaharoff to Caillard, 7 and 11 July 1916.
27 FO 1093/52, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 21 May 1917.
28 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 23 May 1917.
29 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Long, 11 June 1917.
30 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 14 June 1917.
31 Ibid.
32 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 23 June 1917.
33 Ibid.
34 Ibid, letters, Caillard to Zaharoff, 27 June and 10 July 1917.
35 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 28 July 1917.
36 Ibid, note, Zaharoff to Caillard, 28 July 1917.
37 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Long, 1 Aug 1917.
38 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 17 Aug 1917.
39 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Lloyd George, 23 Nov 1. 917.
40 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 27 Nov 1917.
41 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 7 Dec 1917.
42 Ibid, transcript of letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 15 Dec 1917.
43 FO 1093/54, instructions enclosed in letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 9 Jan 1918.
44 Ibid, revised instructions, 21 Jan 1918.
45 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 29 Jan 1918.
46 FO 1093/52, letters, Zaharoff to Caillard, 5 June and 2 July 1917.
47 FO 1093/54, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 29 Jan 1918.
48 Ibid.
49 FO 1093/54, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 11 Feb 1918.
50 FO 1093/56, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 21 Aug 1918.
51 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 30 Aug 1918.
52 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 4 Sept 1918.
53 Ibid, telegram, Caillard to Zaharoff, 1 Oct 1918.
54 Rothwell, p 237.
55 FO 1093/56, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 3 Oct 1918. Zaharoff’’s mention of the money which Enver intended to send to him in Paris is evidently a reference to a commitment made by Enver in January 1918. Unable then to carry out his part of the bargain, he had returned 5 million francs to Zaharoff, and had promised to let him have the outstanding balance later. FO 1093/54, letter, Caillard to Bonar Law, 24 May 1918.
56 Rothwell, pp. 240-45.
57 FO 1093/56, memorandum by Caillard, 5 Nov 1918.
58 Ibid, message from Zaharoff to Caillard, 23 Oct 1918.
59 FO 1093/48, letters, Ponsonby to Caillard, and Caillard to Zaharoff, 22 June 1916.
60 FO 1093/52, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 24 June 1917.
61 Ibid, letter, Zaharoff to Caillard, 12 July 1917.
62 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Long, 1 Aug 1917.
63 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 10 July 1917.
64 FO 1093/54, letter, Caillard to Zaharoff, 1 Jan 1918.
65 Ibid, letter, Caillard to Cecil, 30 Jan 1918.
66 Ibid, letters, Zaharoff to Caillard, 4, 15 and 17 Feb 1918.
67 Ibid, letter, Bertie to Zaharoff, 12 April 1918.
68 Robert Neumann, Zaharoff the Armaments King (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1938), p. 283.

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Originally posted 2020-08-17 18:00:05.

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Ο Ιωάννης Νασιούλας είναι Διδάκτωρ Κοινωνιολογίας, Εμπειρογνώμων της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής και Διευθυντής του Ινστιτούτου Κοινωνικής Οικονομίας. Είναι Επικεφαλής της Δημοτικής Παράταξης "Νέα Αρχή για την Θεσσαλονίκη", Δημοτικός Σύμβουλος και Υποψήφιος Δήμαρχος του Δήμου Θεσσαλονίκης.