Who's Who - Albert Thomas
Albert Thomas (1878-1932) was a French socialist politician whose wartime tenure at the munitions ministry led to significantly increased output of munitions throughout World War One.
Born on 16 June 1878 in Champigny-sur-Marne the son of a baker, Thomas graduated from the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris before, in 1904, receiving an appointment as an assistant editor of L'Humanite, the Sociality Party's own newspaper.
A moderate within his own party Thomas was a gradualist, favouring an alliance with other liberal parties as a means of attaining social reform. In 1910 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies where he gained a reputation as a moderate leader.
With the outbreak of war in August 1914 Thomas gave immediate backing to Prime Minister Rene Viviani's call for a cessation of normal party politics in the name of wartime unity. He was subsequently rewarded for his loyalty in May 1915 with an appointment as Under-Secretary for Munitions at the War Ministry, a key post.
A new post, Thomas was appointed Under-Secretary as a means of circumventing what was widely (and correctly) perceived as a too-close relationship operated by War Minister Alexandre Millerand and the military high command led (and personified by) Joseph Joffre.
In this Thomas succeeded beyond expectations. He immediately set about reorganising France's method of munitions production. He acted to retrieve a half million men already serving with the army to aid in munitions production. He also introduced a policy of military exemptions for munitions personnel, in addition to encouraging a greater working role for women. Refugees and prisoners of war were similarly recruited to aid in the French war effort.
Aware of the potentially devastating impact of labour disputes, Thomas moved to bring the unions on board by encouraging generous wage rises, while placating employers with the removal of restrictions upon working hours for the duration of the war. Within a year French shell production soared from 9,000 to 300,000 per day, with artillery production rising twelve-fold.
In December 1916 Thomas was promoted to full ministerial status. In the wake of the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia he was despatched as a special ambassador to Petrograd, his brief to encourage continued Russian participation in the war against the Central Powers. His influence in Russian politics however was slight.
Returning to France shortly before the international socialist conference at Stockholm, the French government's refusal to issue passports for French socialists to attend led to the latter's walkout from government. This in turn led to Thomas's resignation on 12 September 1917.
Playing no further wartime role Thomas nevertheless attended the Paris Peace Conference in a labour-relations capacity and helped to draw up relevant provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
Following the war Thomas worked as the first director of the League of Nations' International Labour Organisation.
He died on 7 May 1932 at the age of 53.
French tanks were used for the first time in battle on 17 April 1917, when the 'Char Schneider' (as they were known) was used during the Second Battle of the Aisne.
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