*** World War II German Military Weaknesses specufic natural resources strategic materials

World War II German Military Weaknesses: Natural Resources--Specific Strategic Materials

NAZI natural redources
Figure 1.-- The NAZI had serious problems as they prepared for war. The most serious is the lack of natural resources, especially oil. The only natural resources Germany had in quantity was coal and iron ore and even these were inadequatre for war time needs. IG Farben partially solved this problem. It created synfuel plants thay could profuce gasoline from coal. They could alsdo produce synthetic rubber called Buna. The problem was, hjowever, not solved. IG Farben could not produce the qwuantities needed and synfuel nd Buna were very expdnsive.==six tune the cost of natural oil. Here we see a public exhibition showing off Continental tires made from IG Farben Buna. Continental was a German company founded in 1871 as a rubber company.

The one critical resource Germany possessed in abundance was coal and even that would not prove sufficent as the War unfolded. Germany also had some irion mines. Other important strategic materials it either titally lascked oe only had small domestic resources. They would have to be imported. This made Germany vulnerable to blockade. ASnd as in World War I, Germany did not have the naval power to contest a Royal Navy blockade. Germany was particularly defecient in access to petroleum, a necesity for the modern mechnized war it planned to wage. Germany's answer to this was a synthetic petroleum industry, but this did not even meet the country's need in peace time. While oil while by far the most imporant resource Germany lacked, it was not by any means the only raw materoal Germany needed to wage another world war. Hitler gave considerable thought to this and was an issue he addressed in the Hossbabach Memorandum. He explained how the Autarky Policy adopged by his government had gelped Geramny prepare for war, there were many materials that Autarkey, even under National Socialist leadership, could not provide. 【Hossnach】 Oil was by far the most important, but there was a long list of other problematic materials. Some of the most imprtantbeing: was cobalt, copper, iron, rubber, tin, tungsten, and other meral ores. The limited resource base was why Hitler in his strategic thinking from a very early stage looked east to the copious resources of the Soviet Union--resources that were not subject to a Royal Navy blockade. Germany was able to overcome thesec shortsges by obttining supplies through the alliance with the Soviet Union and seizing supplies in occupied countries. But when thec quick victories ended, Germany was unable to meet the industrial requiremnts of a prolonged war of attrition--the same situatiion it faced in World War I.


Coal became the fuel that poered industry during the v19th century as well as heating homes. This continued to be the case after thgevturn of the 20th century and in gact was still the case unti well after World War II. Oil began to become important in the Unites States thanks in no small part thanks to Henry Ford and the Model-T Ford which put cars within the purchasing power of the average induvidual worker. This was not the case in Europe. Some niddle-class people could afford cars, but not workers. Oil was, however, important for military purposes. This began before Workd War I with navies, although not all had made the transition. During Wirkd War I oil was alsoneeded gpor aircraft at at thend if the war tanks and trucks. Pil was much more important. Germany needed it g[fir tbE bkitzkrieg ooerations thatnit oerfected amd in large quantities--quantitiies that it could never obtain. This would be a major factor in the War. The Allies were slower to adopt Blitzkrieg tactics, but from the start of the War both Britain and America were more fully motorized than Germnan, but not France and the Soviet Union.


Germany lacked virtually every natural resourc needed by an industrial nation. The one critical resource Germany possessed in some abundance was coal. The Ruhr Valley is located in the central part of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia at here were located major coal deposits. The Ruhr region in western Germany thus became the core of the German industrial powerhouse that developed in the mid-19th century. The Ruhr was not the only place in Germany that had coal deposits, but the bulk of the contry's coal was located in the Ruhr. The first coal was mined in Germany (12th century). Coal mining only became important in the 19th century with the Industrial Revolution. This transformed the mining regions of the Ruhr Valley and neighboring Saarland into the industrial hearr of Germany and of Europe itself. It propelled Prussia's unification of Germany as Austria failed to industrialize. Germany at the turn of the 20th century was one of the the world's chief miner of coal, after only the United States and Britain (1900). Coal powered German industry and the rail trnsport system. It was the primary fuel for home heating. And with the advent of electrification, coal powered German generators. Germany was basically self-sufficent in coal, but it was not an important exporter. German industry required almost all of the production of German mines. This was a factor in World War I. German industry was dependent on imports, but not for fuel. The War was fought before oil and the internal combustion engine had become critical to warfare, although the lack of oil affected German air, naval, and mechanized warfare (tanks and trucks). World War II was very different. To wage war, Hitler neded oil, coal wold not due. Coal was vital for industry, but oil was needed for military operations. Ironically, while Germany had most of the coal it needed for domestic industry, the Wehrmacht's stunning industry caused an energy crisis. While German had coal, two developments emerged. First, domestic demand for coal increased because of the War. Second many of the countries Germany conquered or came to influence did not have coal or the quntity they needed. This was espeially the case of Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, but even France needed to import some coal. Most of the coal they had been importing before the War came from Britain, primarily the Welsh coalfields. Thus if the Germans wanted the economies of these contries to contine to operate and support the war effort, they had to supply coal from domestic production. Ths created a fuel shortage in Germany that did not exist before the War. The operation of the German Grossraum actually worsened the energy situation in the Reich. The Germans even had to share some of their precious oil supply for the same reason. The operation of the captive economies varied in importance. The functioning of the Swedish economy was vital because Sweden was Germany's primary source of the iron ore needed to manufacture steel. German technology devloped a synfuel indstry to convert coal to petroleum products. This along with the Ploesti oil fields were German's primary sources of oil after Soviet deliveries ended as a result of the Barbarossa invasion (1941).


Germnany's electriucal generating system was based on two primary sources. The orimary source was mostly coal-fired plants, using both brown and gard coal. These were mostly small and spread throughout the country. USAF planners found that the 50 largest plants supplied abiut 40 percent of Germany's electrical mpower and were potential, if diffucult targets. {Griffith, p. 18] We have been unable to determin relative importance, but believe that hydro-electric power provided about 20 percent of Germany's electrical power. It was, however, highly regional. Hydro was very important in southern Germany, more important than coal. Hydro was importantbin the heavily industrialized Ruhr valley, although coal was much more important. It was in the Ruhr that the British decided to bomb the dans there used for hydro-electric production.


It is widely assumed that the Germans did not produce an atomic bomb because they lacked the resources to devote to the project during the War. That was part of the reason, but the full story is much more complicated. Actually tremendous resources were available to the NAZIs who had conquered much of Europe. It is true that they did not have the resources of the United States, but is also true that if the bomb had been made a priority, there is every reason to believe tht the Germans could have suceeded. Available resource were poorly utilized by the NAZIs. Many resources were simply waisted. Huge resources were used to develop technological marvels, but had no measurable impact in the Wat, like the V-2. Some authors claim that the leading German scientists led the research down a fruitless path on purpose. There is little evidence to substantiate this claim other than his word. We do know that other factors affected the NAZI bomb program. Driving out leading physicists because they were Jews or sympathetic to the Jews deprived the NAZIs of some of the greatest minds in physics. The failure to use the resources of captive narions and the view of nuclear physics as 'Jewish physics' were other factors. Quite a number of nuclear pysicists lost their draft examptions and were drafted for military service. As unbelieveavle as it may seem, the NAZI actually drafted nuclear phyicists for front-line service. Also Hitler was uninterested in long-term projects. There is, however, reason to believe that the Germans made more progress than commonly assumed. They seem to have made considerable progress in nuclear enrichment. The Germans could have made deadly dirty bombs which the V-2 could have delivered. It is one of the great ironies of history that Hitler, who launched a massive arament proram, unilaterally disarmed Germany in the one area that Germany held a substantial lead which could have insured victoty.


Germany was particularly defecient in access to petroleum, a necesity for the modern mechnized war it planned to wage. Oil was not such an imprtnt factor in World war I, but the importance if oil had steadily increased during the inter-War era. And the the key to Blizkrieg ws mobility. And this required vast quntities of oil. Germany's answer to this was a synthetic petroleum industry, but this did not even meet the country's need in peace time. Germany before and during the War. A major objective of German diplomacy was to bring Romania with its Ploesti oil fuelds into the Axis. This gave the Germans their only important source of natural resources and after occupying the country, did not have to pay the Romanians for theur oil, it was their contribution to the war effort. Another source of oil in the early phase of the War was the Soviet Union. The Soviets which under the terms of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact agreed to provide the Germans large quantities of oil and other important natual resources. These deliveries ended bruptly after Hitler invaded to destroy his former ally and its people in addition to seizing those resources for Germany (June 1941).

Metal Ores

Metals are needed to make miltary weapons. And Germany prepring for World War II was in even worst shape than for World War I. And both wars were wars Germany elected to launch. The British and French were well awarev of this and thought could stop the Germans on the Western Front as they did in World War I the German economy wouild colapse again. This did not, however, work--largely because ohe Soviet Union was a NAZI ally (1939-41) and supplied the NAZIs with massive quantities of food, oil, and metal ores. Oil was especially important, but Germany was also lacking in almost all metal ores. It had some small mines, including some important iron deposits. alyjough evn herethe ore grades were generally poor. And Germany could in no way could approach the domestic demand even for iron. And this was in peace time. Once the war broke out there would be massively increased demand for all metals. And for almost all of these metal ores were no important dosmestic source. The one option Germany had was to stockpile, but as the result of the Depression and the NAZI autarky policy, Germany was no longer exporting as it once did. Thus it did not have the foreign exchange earnings needed to amass huge stockpiles. Hitler was well aware of this and in the Hossbach Memnorandum told the assembed military commanders, but even as regards ores, the position was much more difficult. Iron requirements can be met from home resources and similarly with light metals. but, but with other raw raw materials -- copper, tin -- this was not the case. 【Hossbach】 Here Hitler was wrong. With the nost important metal (iron ore) German production was in no way sufficuent to support domestic demnand, especially as demand escalted once the war began. Amazingly until the final year of the War, the Germans were able to make do. This was primarily because of their pre-war sucesses (Austria and Czechoslovakia) and astonishing military successes in the firat year and a half of the War (Poland, Scadnanavia, France and the Low Countrirs, Yugoslavia, and Greece). These successes also gace them access to force cioynries into the Axis (Bulgasria, Hungry, and Romania) and to obtasin shipment from neutral countries (Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey). They occupied neigboring countries wih important mines as well as seized the stockples of conquered countries. The French strategic stockpiles were especially important. The Germans managed their lack of metal ores remarably well, with some exceptions. Their major economic problem would be industria policy, not lack of metal ores.

Other Materials

Heavy water

Heavy water, deturium oxide (D or 2H2O was needed for the German nuclear program. The hydrogen atoms are all deuterium (2H or D). It occurs in small quantiies in nature, but substantial quantities could be produced. This required, however, massive quantities of electricity. The Reich did not have such klarge spare generating capacity. After the invasion and occupation of Norway (April 1940), enornmous hydro-power capacity fell into NAZI hands.


Leather became a strategic material dyurung World War II. Tiday when we think of leather we often think of leather flight jackets. But leather was used for much more, especially military boots, but also field equipment and gear. The United states began using cotton wenning for a great deal if fiekd equioment, the Gernmasns contuinued using leather. We have not yet found much information on this, but surely shorages devloped. We don know that the jck boots the German Army was famouus for vert quicjky wwentv out of suopoply because if leather shotages. .



Metals like alluminum and steel are obvious components of metal weapons. Rubber is less so, but in fact was a vital comonent of World War II militat=ru weapons. Rubber compnents were part of an incredible amount of war items. Some were obvious like gas masks and life rafts. In most cases it was less so, but there were was very substantial quanities of rubber used in planes, tanks, and naval ships. This was in part because rubber was wrapped around every inch of military wiring used in the war and there were many rubber parts in weapons systems. We do not have figures for German weapons, but data for American weapns are illustrative. Sherman tanks were amazingly made with half a ton of rubber. The much larger German tanks used even more rubber. An American B-17 bomber used 1,1825 pounds of rubber. The Germans mostly used smaller planes, but rubber was important. American battleships contained an incredible 20,000 rubber parts! This surely was the case for the German battleships. U-boats were much smaller, but rubber was still important, probably more imprtant. The problem for the Germans was that 90-95 percent of the world's rubber supplies were grown within 15 degrees of Singapore, especially Malaya and almost all of this was in British hands. As a result, imports plummeted with the advent of the War. The Germans imported 92,000 t of rubber in 1938 and only 17,000 t in 1940, showing the impasct of the Allied nsvl blokde. Imports increased slightly in 1941-42, but them plummted further in 1943. We are not sure where these imports came from, but probably relate to the possibilities created by the additinal ports made available after the fall of France (1940). Germany's Axis ally, Japan within day of Pearl Harbor launched an offensive with seized Malaya and Singapore and the surounding area. This gave them control of the bulk of the world's production of natural rubber, but it was no benefit to the Germans. The Axis had no way of transporting the rubber from Japanese occupied Southeast Asia through the British and American naval blockade of Germany. The primary source of German rubber syntheic production. This increased from 5,000 t in 1938 to a high of 117,000 t in 1943. Reclaimed rubber was another important source, peaking at 44,000 t in 1941. 【USSBS The USSBS data does not include crumb rubber which may have totaled 6,000 tons. Like the synfuel plants, these plants were mostly built in the Reich, but there was a Buna factory in Auschwitz. 【Clarence-Smith】 The main source rubber for Germany and Italy was synthetic Buna rubber. They were able to obtain some natural rubber from Japanese controlled Southeast Asia via the Soviet Union (until June 1941) and limited amounts by blockade runners who could reach French ports. There were also pre-war stockpiles, but ghese were limited because NAZI Germany before the War had verry little foreign exchange needed for imports. Some was obtined from from French stockpiles seized after the fall of France (1940). There was also some rubber recoverable from cars. When Hitler came to power, he immediately began to plan for war. Germany had faced all kinds of shortahes during World War I which was a factor in their defeat. He asdopted a policy of autarky (economic self‐sufficiency), especially in metals, oil, and rubber. He turned to I.G. Farben which in the inter-War era had developed Buna. It did not, however, manufcture it because it was too expensive, far more expensive than natural rubber . But he guaanteed Farben a price making manufacure possible. 【Harp】 The same deal he made for suntheic oil. Unlike oil, the Germans appear to have fully supplied their rubber needs during the War. This was mostly from syntyhetic rubber developed by IG Farben--Buna. We note that Armaments Minister Albert Speer does not even mention rubber in his book after the War. 【Speer】 This suggests to us that rubber was not a major problem for the Germans. (The opposite was true gfor the Americans who rationed gas, primarily because of gthe rubber shortag. Buna rubber would eventually supply 90 percent of Gerrmany's rubber needs. 【Tully】 Of course this was partly because Germany was far less mechanized tham the Americans. There was benefit to the Americans. Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey (odern Exxon), working with the German firm of I.G. Farben before the War, reformulated Buna into Butyl rubber, which holds air 13 times better than natural rubber, and resists aging, weathering, chemicals, moisture, and tearing.

Textile Fibers

The two most important fibers used by the textile industry were cotton and wool. The military mostly used wool, but cotton was important for the civilian population. Germany had no domestic production of cotton and very little of wool. As a result of the World War I experiece, the Germany Government promoted a synthetic textile industry to make the country less dependent on foreign sources which in the case of textiles was very substantial. Germany had a large textike industry, but was almost totally dependent on imported raw material. With symthetic materials Germany had a decided advantage over other countries. Germany had the leading chemical industry in the world. Its scientists routinely dominated Nobel Prize awards and published a wealth of scientific papers on related fields. German and other European scientists were working on textile fibers. Swiss chemist Matthias Eduard Schweizer (1818–60) discovered that cotton could be dissolved in a solution of copper salts and ammonia and then regenerated (1857). Switzerland and Austria were part of a larger German community. French chemist Louis Henri Despeissis invented the cuprammonium process for spinning fibers from cotton dissolved in Schweizer's reagent (1890). German chemist Max Fremery (1859–1932) and Austrian engineer Johann Urban (1863–1940) were jointly manufacturing lamp filaments in Oberbruch near Aachen (1891). They were using cotton inpregnated with Schweizer's reagent. Fremery and Urban decided to expand their operation to produce artificial silk (Glanzstoff). They patented a version of the Despeissis process with the addition of a practical method for spinning the fiber. To confuse competitors they filed a patent under the name of Dr. Hermann Pauly (1870–1950). Their patent was challenged but was upheld. Fremery and Urban moved their offices to Elberfeld and founded Vereinigte Glanzstoff-Fabriken (VGF) (1899). The VGF product that began to be sold early in 1900 had relatively coarse yarns of 100–200 denier. Although VGF's product was less versatile than rayon produced by the viscose process the scale of the operation allowed for it to be sold at a lower price point, but eventually VGF shifted to the vicose methis and brought up German patents. Before World War I VGF cooperated with foreign companies to share technology and limit competition--essentially a Euroopean rayon cartel. The cartel was shattere vby the outbreak of World War I (1914). VGF during World War I concentrated on producing the staple fiber later which we now know as rayon. It was produced as a blended fabric with cotton. This was badly needed in Germany because the British naval blockade prevented the importation of cotton. The German Government ordered 3,000 tons of viscose staple from VGF. It was used for different military textiles including clothing. German consumers, however saw the rayon fabrics as inferior to natural cotton and associated it with other ersatz wartime producrs, one more privation. VGF's Iedermorschweiler plant was destroyed by fire. Germany's eventual defeat (1918) resulted in lost market share both domestically and internationally. VGF became the largest producer or rayon in continental Europe, but faced challenges from other firms, especially I.G. Farben which wanted to expand its relatively small textile operations. VGF negotiated a Japanese venture. The European cartel was renegotiated (1925). To deal with debt loads, VGF became part of a Dutch-German joint vebture--Algemene Kunstzijde Unie (AKU). AKU opeated from Britain and had subsidiaries in Italy, Czechoslivakia, and Austrai an added an important American operation. After the NAZIs seized power there was an interest in reducing foreign entagments and AKU came under fire. There was an effort to enable I.G. Farben to take over the company, bur VGF had contacts in the Government and survived. Deutche Bank enabled VGF to buy up Dutch shares. VGF benefitted from Governmnt orders and by cotton and wool import restrictions (1934). VGF increased production 600 percent (1933-41). The company's basic product was rayon. They also made tyre-corduroy using synthetic yarn that the Ministry of German Basic and Raw Materials ordered in large quantities. But the compamy largely lost its foreign markets and contact with foreign companies making technological innovations. Hitler when Hjalmar Schacht balked at the growing defecit, put Reichmarshall Herman Göring in charge of the German economy through the Second Four Year Plan (1936). Schacht thought Germany should be strong, but did not want another war. (This is why he was not convicted by the Nurenmberg Tribunal after the War.) Göring pushed for Autarky and bragged that Germany would no longer have to import cotton and other raw matetials. Göring did reduce imports, but his syntheic materials were hugely expensive. Jews became an imprtant part of the clothing industry as they were emancipated (19th century) and by the 20th century owned major department stores. All this was stolen from them as part of the NAZI Aryanizatuion process (1930s). 【Loscheck, p. 52.】 Göring who Hitler had placed in charge of the econmy continued to demand that VGF be natioanalized. VGF explained that if it was, the Americans would seize the large U.S plants. After America entered the War, the U.S. Office of Alien Property seized control, but did not formally seize the assetts as they were partly Dutch owned. VGF was an important part of the German textile industry throughout the War. Jewish slave labor from Cologne was used (1940). They were subsequantly deported to Minsk and murdered (1942). They were replaced by French POWs and then Dutch, Belguan, and French conscript workers. As the Allies approched the Rhineland, many of the remaining German workers were conscripted for defense efforts. A less important fiber was silk fabric. Silk highly valued since ancient times giving its named to the famed Silk Road, a term coined by German geographer and geologist Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen -- Seidenstraße (1877). The famed World War I flight commander Red Baron with a silk scarf was his nephew. The Silk Road connected China with Europe until (16th century). The Byzantines finally figured out how to produce silk (6th century AD). Silk production was well established in Italy, France, and Spain. In modern times Germans attempted to found a silk industry. There was some production in eastern Germany. 【Krause】 No industry, however, of any importance developed. Climate was a major factor. German manufcturers did import silk and it was used for scarves, stockings and some limited garment mnufacturing. Germany seized control of Qingdao in China providing German textile firms access to inexpensive silk (1897). 【Chung, p. 928.】 Germany was the first country to use paratoppers in war (May 1940). We are not sure if the chutes were silk or synthetic fabric. They were used to take Crete (May 1941). Losses were so high that Hitler forbade any further jumps. That was curious because, just a month later he launched Operation Barbarossa where the losses dwarfed those sustained on Crete.


Chung, Jae Ho. "A Sub-provincial recipe of coastal development in China: The case of Qingdao," The China Quarterly No. 160 (1999), pp. 919–52.

Clarence-Smith, William G. "The battle for rubber in the Second World War: Cooperation and resistance," Global Histories, Imperial Commodities, Local Interactions Chapter 10 (2013). This is part of the Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series book series (CIPCSS).

Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich at War (New York, NY: Penguin, 2008).

Frøland, Hans Otto. Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Griffith, Thomas E. Jr. Strategic Attack of Nationjal Electrical Systems, (Air University Press: Maxwell Air Force Base Alabama: October 1994), 64p.

Hossbach, Friedrich. ' Memorandum' (November 5, 1937). This was the summary prepared by Col. Hossbach , Hitler's Military Adjutant at time. It was a record of a meeting in Berlin on November 5, 1937. Hitler announced his expansionist plans to the NAZI militaryy and vforeign poolicy nleadership. The meeting was a turning point in Hitler's foreign policies which with growing NAZI power had begun to radicalize.

Joy, Oliver. "Bank of England helped sell NAZI gold in 'cold blood'"CNN (Audgust 2, 2013). Joy's report is factually correct, but the title is a good example of the tendency of many modern jouramlists to try to demonize American and British history by twisting facts. In Fact American and British policy kept mosdt of Europe's gold out of NAZI hands.

Krause, Udo. "Germany" Black,Caspian Seas and Central Assia Silk Association (undated, accessed March 2024).

Loschek, Ingrid. "Contributions of Jewish Fashion Designers in Berlin," in Roberta S. Kremer, Broken Threads (Berg: 2007), pp. 49-75.

Speer, Albert. Richard and Clara Winston, trans. Inside the Third Reich (Avon Books: New York, 1970), 734p.

Taber, George M. Chasing Gold: The Incredible Story of How the Nazis Stole Europe’s Bullion.

Tully, John. The Devil's Milk: A Social History of Rubber'

United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS). The Effects of Strategic Bombing on the German War Economy (Overall Economic Effects Division: 1945), 296 p.

U.S. State Department. "Allied Relations and Negotiations With Turkey" (1997-2001).

"Germany," Encyclopedia Britanica (1902).


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Created: 7:46 AM 10/15/2020
Last updated: 12:36 AM 4/30/2023