The Americans Who Fueled Hitler’s First Military Victories

Mary Jo McConahay's book The Tango War covers the struggle for the hearts, minds, and riches of Latin America during World War II. Read on to learn about the money-hungry Americans that launched themselves into the fray. 

Mary Jo McConahay
4-minute read
The Tango War

A few days later, as Davis was presenting his plan to reluctant German bankers, fearing the worst, the Fuehrer unexpectedly walked into the room and all jumped to “Heil Hitler.”

“Gentlemen, I have reviewed Mr. Davis’ proposition and it sounds feasible,” he said, then turned and left. Eurotank received the financing it needed.

Davis contracted Winkler-Koch Engineering, which Koch had co-founded in Wichita with another MIT graduate in 1925, and with Koch providing the new thermal cracking unit, the two men gave the Reich a key tool of the Nazi rearmament campaign.

To feed Eurotank, Davis bought up small concessions in Mexico and developed a sales and distribution network that allowed him to fulfill his dream of competing with Big Oil. When Mexico nationalized its petroleum resources in 1938, Big Oil refused to abide by new contracts and boycotted the country’s production, to the advantage of Davis, who sold the Mexican oil to Axis countries. Davis met with Hitler several times, and became an inscribed agent of the Reich’s military spy agency, the Abwehr, code number C-80.

Koch appeared to confirm his intellectual commitment to the fascist way of life in 1938, favorably comparing the Axis countries to the United States with the observation that, “The laboring people in those countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.”

Koch, who had heart problems, experienced palpitations while duck hunting in Utah in 1967 and died at age 67 after downing a bird from the air. Davis, a fit age 52, died in 1941 on the eve of Washington’s entry into the war from what was officially termed “a sudden seizure of the heart.” Nevertheless, it may have been murder.

J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI prevented an autopsy or police investigation on a request from the British secret service, whose files recorded Davis’ business deals with the Nazis, and claimed “the mystery man” was planning hidden fuel drops for U-boats.  The British file on Davis ends abruptly: “The swiftest way to put a stop to this scheme was to remove Davis from the scene.”