Hitler, Bogart, and The Banker

There was talk of a movie, starring Humphrey Bogart, after the “Ball Bearing” mission to Sweden was completed and Hitler’s war machine was dealt a crippling blow.

Bogart was the name mentioned, in a Washington Times piece, as a likely candidate to play Stanton Griffis. A 57-year-old investment banker who was the central figure in the story, a chapter in the history of World War II now virtually lost outside my family and Griffis’s long out of print book “Lying In State.” And calling him an “investment banker” is a bit like calling Warren Buffett, with whom Griffis shared some interesting traits, “a business guy.”

Before marrying my Grandmother’s sister, Griffis was an Oregon fruit farmer. Then, from way across the whole of the American continent, he heard the siren song of serious money singing about Wall Street.

So goodbye fruit farmer.

Along the way, Griffis popped in and out of public service serving as the ambassador to Poland, Egypt, Spain and Argentina during the time of Eva Peron.

Making friends world wide, his business interests involved running Madison Square Garden, and senior roles at Paramount pictures and Brentano Bookstores.

That and making money.

Within that circle of friends, were some folks from the OSS, the precursor of the CIA. And that’s where Hitler’s ball bearings entered the story.

The German war machine needed ball bearings for just about every weapon of moderate destruction they had. Planes wouldn’t fly without ball bearings. And when the Allies bombed German ball bearing factories, the Swedes took up the slack.

And that’s when “they”—Griffis’s friends who worked outside the normal channels of the State Department—called up and asked if Griffis could do a better job than the State Department at keeping the Swedish ball bearings out of Nazi hands. Griffis answered:

“I couldn’t do a worse job.”

Within 24 hours he and an associate were strapped into a British Mosquito bomber hurtling through the polar night at 400 mph bound for Stockholm.

Unbound the conventions of normal diplomacy, Griffis relates this moment of the negotiations with both the Swedish manufacturers and the Swedish government.

“One of the most effective suggestions occurred when the other side seemed to be making more progress then we liked, So I told them, “You know gentlemen, you have a lot of fog on your coast and you know that our bombers sometimes get lost even going to Germany. It would be a very sad thing if a thousand of our great bombers should loose their way along your coast and mistake Goteborg for Hamburg. It would be a very sad thing to wake up one morning and find your factories missing. We would be very sorry to have this happen and of course we would apologize, and I am sure that many years from now when the war is over and the reparations commissions complete their testimony, we would pay for the damage. But these things take time.”

The negotiations were soon over.

America bought the stock of ball bearings and the Swedes agreed to sell less than 10% of the former quota to the Nazi’s.

And before a hail of official Nazi diplomatic protests could hit the first Swedish diplomat’s desk—Griffis and his associate were back on that British bomber zooming back to London.

The number of Allied lives they had saved by cutting off the supply of ball bearings? Uncountable.

I met Griffis once. A family wedding on the sparkling warm shore of Lake Michigan. He was likely the oldest one there. And I was very young.

Fruit farmer, investment banker . . . .war hero without firing a shot.

All that and a life long, Democrat.

4 Responses to “Hitler, Bogart, and The Banker”

  1. Paulhaider74 Says:

    Roger, thank you for forwarding this post to my siblings and me. Was Stanton Griffis still alive for the Nixon/Wright family reunion in early July of 1982? Griffis was wise enough to know a fact that was reiterated by Fletch (Chevy Chase) when telling the airplane mechanics how to fix the bypass line with the statement: “It’s simple. It’s all ball bearings these days! I’m sure that Fletch was a Democrat too in spite of the fact that he used the alias of Gordon Liddy with those two Boyd Aviation mechanics.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

  2. Ted Schneider Says:

    Thanks for sharing the story, never heard of Stanton but interesting that he was able to cut through the diplomatic red tape and he got results – something that seems to be unheard of in today’s political world. Also reinforces the notion that one person can make a difference (even a Democrat).

  3. Jayne Says:

    Wow. Thanks for opening that chapter up for us, Roger. “Unbound by the conventions of normal diplomacy…” is what it takes sometimes. Sounds like he was a real man’s man.

    Hope you’re well. 🙂

  4. Raoul : Granqvist Says:

    I am writing about Eliot Elisofon who made a dinner for him in Stockholm on June 5, 1944. They had salmon, Beef Stroganoff, Guinea Hen Casserels, and Ingrid’s Trifle (Ingrid was Eliot’s Swedish cook and maid).
    They met in Eliot’s hotel room. Eliot was as a ‘spy’ for SHAEF and LIFE magazine. Stockholm

    RaoulJ. Granqvist,

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