Jacques Allier

A banker in the secret war

 

Jacques Allier was president of the French-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce for seven years and played a prominent role in the history of the French-Norwegian relations. The CCFN’s former President Jacques Allier first came to Norway as an employee of the French Bank BNP. During WW2, because of his connections to Norway and to Norsk Hydro, he was assigned a secret mission by the French Minister of War.

The story begins in 1905…

When Norsk Hydro was established in 1905, the company had primarily sought French capital, as Paris was, in the early 20th century, a leading financial marketplace. French investors, grouped under the umbrella of Paribas, had subscribed 90% of the founding capital and the bank had maintained close links with the company ever since.

In 1939, Norsk Hydro had been producing deuterium oxide for several years – generally known as ‘heavy water’ – for use by laboratories’ cancer research. Professor Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Director of the nuclear chemistry laboratory at the Collège de France, demonstrated that heavy water could be used as a neutron-moderator in the process of unleashing atomic energy. During the following months, France and Germany became locked in a relentless struggle to get their hands on the stock of heavy water held by Norsk Hydro.

In February 1940, the Armaments Minister Raoul Dautry entrusted Jacques Allier with the task of secretly purchasing the available stock of heavy water (185kg), and transporting it to France. The Minister was counting on the traditional commercial links between the French Bank Paribas and the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro to smooth the transaction. That is also why he entrusted the mission to Jacques Allier, who was one of the persons in charge of international relations at Paribas.

The Norsk Hydro General Manager, Axel Aubert, who was favorable to French interests, immediately accepted Allier’s offer. This is how the valuable product came to be shipped from Norway to France via Scotland under the noses of the German military and then, as the invasion progressed in June 1940, sent to safety in England. In December 1940, in Cambridge, two scientific colleagues of Joliot-Curie called Halban and Kowarski, who had been evacuated to England, proved for the first time that by using heavy water it is possible to obtain a nuclear fission chain reaction.

In 1948, Jacques Allier and his old comrades starred as themselves in the French-Norwegian film “La bataille de l’eau lourde” (‘The Battle for Heavy Water’), directed by Jean Dréville.

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