World War II: German Industry

World war II German automobile industry
Figure 1.--An American viewing this photograph will surely ask, "Where are all the cars?" We see photographs in German villages where we see no cars. Here we see the main street of a town and we do not see a single car. A similar American town would have shown astreet full of cars. Notice that they are sactually standing in the middle of the street for the snap shot. You would never see that in a period American snap shot. This explains why Germany entered World War II without afully mechanized army. It did not have the industrial capability to manufacture the motorized vehiches needed. Note the Germany boy here with his father is wearing a HJ shirt and scarf with his suit. His father was a Wehrmacht non-commissioned officer.

Germany even after World War I had the largest industrial establishment in Europe. It was that industry that was the backbone of the Central Ppwers war effort. The War had not been fought on German territory and except for the Saarland and Rhineland, Germany was not occupied by the Allies. Germany did loose some territory as a result of the Versailles Peace Treaty, but the country's industrial complex was left largely intact. The country's scientific establishment supporting that industry was also intact. The strength of that establishment can be seen by the number of Noble Prizes German scientists were awarded, One loss to German's industrial capacity was the disolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This meant that the Skoda arms complex was now in Czechosolvakia, a new independent democratic country, orieted toward Britain and France. While Germany remained the most important industrial country in Europe, one area that Germany did not pursue intensively was the automobile industry. Germany of course had some notable automobile manufacturers (Mercedes and Porch), they did not mass produce cars like American automobile companies (Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Studabaker, and others). The average german worker could not afford cars, especially the expensive cars made by German manufactuers. There were also weaknesses in the German industrial economy, the need to import raw materials. The most notable being petroleum. Nor did Germany have anywhere near the capability to build aircraft that its poptential opponents have. The availability od aluminum which required enormous quantities of electricity was a weakness. Imperial Germany in World War I did not have the same indistrial capability of the Allies--even before America entered the War. The industrial ballance of power was even less favorable for NAZI Germany as Hitler comtemplated another war. Not only had American industry grown, but so had Russian (Soviet) industrial capacity grown, The Germany that the NAZIs seized control of was by any objective assessment not a country capable of wageing another world war. Only a leader patholically commotted to war would have contemplted such a decission. Germany would go to war with essentially the same industrial and scientific complex of Imperial Germany (the NAZIs did little to expand either).

Industrial Establishment

Germany even after World War I still had the largest industrial establishment in Europe. It was that industry that was the backbone of the Central Powers war effort. The War had not been fought on German territory and except for the Saarland and Rhineland, Germany was not occupied by the Allies. Germany did loose some territory as a result of the Versailles Peace Treaty, but with the exceotion of Alsace-Loraine, mostly aricultural territory in the east. The country's industrial complex and thus its war-making capability was left largely intact. One loss to German's industrial capacity was the disolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This meant that the Skoda arms complex was now in Czechosolvakia, a new independent democratic country, orieted toward Britain and France. Hitler was able, however, to regain control of the Skoda Works after in violation of the Munich Accords, he invaded an occupied Czechoslovakia (March 1939). This an the alliance with Hungary provided him the safe industrial industrial base that the Central Powers had possesed in World War I. Germany had one of the largest and most sophisticated industrial complexes in the world. It possessed the heavy industry, es[ecially the steel production, needed to produce the heavy artillery, armor, and ships needed in warfare. The country developed an aviation industry, after World War I based io civil aviation. Germany like other European countries had a small automobile industry geared to produce expensive, high-performance cars. This meant that Germany, even the expanded Reich, did not have the ability to mass produce huhe quantities of motor vehicles. Thus when Hitler launched World War II, the Wehrmacht was not yet fully mechanized. And Germany was unable to equip its allies with needed equipment, especially vehicles.

Scientific Establishmet

he country's scientific establishment supporting that industry was also intact. The strength of that establishment can be seen by the number of Noble Prizes German scientists were awarded. Germany was a leader in both chemisdtry and physics. Many German physicists, especially nuclear physicists were Jewish. Many like Einstein emigra\ted after the NAZI seizure of power. Hitler and the NAZIs did not realize how critical nuclear physics was. The rest of the scientific community largely remained loyal to the NAZIs.

Mass Production

While Germany remained the most important industrial country in Europe, one area that Germany did not pursue intensively was the automobile industry. Germany of course had some notable automobile manufacturers (Mercedes and Porch). They were finely engineered cars thatwould win international competitions. The German companies did not mass produce cars like American automobile companies (Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Studabaker, and others). The average German worker and farmer could not afford cars, especially the expensive cars made by German manufactuers. And German industry made no real effort to produce an inexpensive car they could afford. Hitler actually did support a people's car--the Volkswagen. Production had not yet begun when the War broke out. The failure to develop a mass market restricted the development of German industrial capacity. It also meant that the Germans had not developed some of the skills of mass production when the War broke out. This was a serious weakness for a country which planned to wage war on an unprecedented scale with a modern, mechanized army. The Whermsacht could not field as lsarge a force as the countries it sought to conquer. The German generals planning military operations planned to make up for this with greater mobility and fire power. The limited capacity of German industry was a major flaw in German design. And the Germans during the War would produce many finely enginnered weapons, but weapmns that were difficul to profuce cheapky in large numbers and often difficult to maintain.

Raw Materials

There were also weaknesses in the German industrial economy, the need to import raw materials. The most notable being petroleum. Nor did Germany have anywhere near the capability to build aircraft that its poptential opponents have. The availability of aluminum which required enormous quantities of electricity was a weakness.

Industrial Utilzation

Germany was able to achieve a commanding military position not because its industrial capacity was dominant. It was not. It was greater than Britain and France individually, but not combined. And the Soviet Union also had a sunstabntial industrial base. Germany achieved military parity with the West because the British abnd French for several nyears spent so little on defense. Thus superiot German tactics resulted in victory in the West. Germany's failure to defeat the British eventually resulted in an British, Soviet, American alliance that had a far greater industrial capacity. Despite this the industrial disadvantage, the suposed advantages of dictatorial rule never suceeded in fulling gearing the Reich for War. Hitler and most of the NAZI leadership had other interests ans priorities. Hitler was ever mindful that the collapse of home-front morale had undermibed the German World War I war effort. He also had to be concerned about German finances until tghere were conquered countries to exploit. Göring who was in charge of the economy during the early period made no real effort to gear the economy for War. Himmler focused on romantic notions of SS racial purity and building a SS state within a state and a concentration camp system. Rather than rationalize the economy, Hitler was intent on killing millions who could have provided labor and skills. Goebbels seems to have been the only top NAZI who understood that the economyb had to be geared for war, but did not have the authority to do it. Poweful vested interests resisted rationalization. Finally, Hitler plaxrf Albert Speer, his archecht, in chzrge of expabding producrd in charge of the increasing war production.

Industrial Comparisons

Imperial Germany in World War I did not have the same industrial capability of the Allies--even before America entered the War. The industrial ballance of power was even less favorable for NAZI Germany as Hitler comtemplated another war. Not only had American industry grown, but so had Russian (Soviet) industrial capacity grown, The Germany that the NAZIs seized control of was by any objective assessment not a country capable of wageing another world war. Only a leader patholically committed to war would have contemplted such a decission. Germany would go to war with essentially the same industrial and scientific complex of Imperial Germany (the NAZIs did little to expand either). Hitler's only hope was to win an early victory before other countries could prepare for war. The failure to defeat the British (1940) and the Sovuiet Union (1941) doomed Germany to defeat, Unlike Germany, the United States had the massive industrial base which could not only equip armies ahnd airforces of its own, but its allies cas well. As Churchill wrote in his memoirs after Pearl Harbor, "Hitler's fate was sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground ton powder. All the rest was merely the proper applivation of overwhealming force. The British Empire, the Soviet Union, and now the United States, bound together with every scrap of their life and strength, were accotding to my lights, twice or even thrice the force of the antagnosts. [HNC note: In terms of economic capacity abd war production this proved to be an understatement.] No doubt it would take a long time. I expected terrible forfeits in the East;but all this would be merely a passing phase. United we could subdue everybody else in the world. Many disasters, immeasurable cost and tribulations lay ahead, but there was no more doubt about the end." [Churchill, pp. 506-507.]

Front Orientation

We all know that the bulk of the Heer (German Army) was deployed in the East during World War II and it was here that the Soviet Red Army tore the heart out of the Heer. There is no question of that. From Operation Barbarossa (June 1941) was emloyed on the Eastern Front. There are no Western historians of any importance that do not agree on the massive contribution made by the Red Army. In contrast, I find many Russians today believe that the Soviet Union single handedly won World War II. We see many down playing the important role of the Western Allies. But what I would like to know more about, is what share of German industry, science, and technology was devoted to the two fronts? Russian contributors seem to just assume that industry simply was a reflection of the men deployed. This is simply not the case. Naval and Air warfare requiters a greater industrial component than land warfare. I began to think about this while reading the Weinberg book on the War. He states that more than half of German industry was devoted to the War in the West. [Weinberg] His book is well documented, but here he does not run the numbers or offer sources. Now I have not seen this topic discussed in other World War II histories. I would be very interested if any readers have seen assessments as to how much of the German war effort besides manpower, was devoted to the two theaters.

Sources

Churchill, Winston S. Memoirs of the Second World War (Bonanza: New York, 1978), 1065p.

Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambrige Universit Press: New York, 2005), 1178p.






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Created: 8:11 AM 2/10/2009
Last updated: 4:15 AM 8/13/2019