No single indicator so affected arms production as steel, the core of heavy industry. Most weapons systems required steel, normally large quantities of steel. The major exception was aircraft which normally used aluminum or to a lesser extent plywood for the air frame. But even with aircraft large quantities of steel was needed. The armament, engines, and munitions carried on aircraft involved large quantities of steel. Thus a fully loaded plane commonly carried more steel than aluminum. And this doesn't include the steel needed for aircraft plants and tools. It was in terms of steel that America out shown all other World War II belligerents. This was not classified information. Yes the Axis powers dismissed it as a key factor. They essentially made a bet that they could win the War before America could convert its industry from peace time to war production -- the Arsenal of Democracy. And the American steel industry was at the heart of it. The Axis bet proved to be a very bad one. Hitler actually had some idea about the danger posed by American industry. It is why he ordered Admiral Dönitz to avoid sinking American shipping. The Japanese actually studied the issue, but decided that China could only be defeated incredibly by attacking America leading to Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Hitler declared war 3 days later. Ironically at the same exact time, the Red Army launched a massive winter counter offensive which insured that there would be no quick German victory but instead a war of attrition in which the American steel industry would play a central role. No country could outproduce America in tank or any other major weapon system. It was all a matter of the priorities that the United States set. But what is also notable is the significant German advantage over the Soviets in steel production. Stalin had put a priority on heavy industry, meaning primarily steel production. This significantly expanded steel production. It was a central component of his Five Year Plans. This enabled the Soviet Union at the onset of World War II to amass the world's largest tank force. Even so, the Soviet steel industry was only a fraction the size of the German steel industry. Two resources are necessary for a steel industry--iron and coal. Hitler launched World War II without the natural resources needed for an extended war. But steel was not a problem. Germany had coal, but little iron. The Germans were able as in World War I to obtain all the iron ore it needed from neutral Sweden throughout the War. Other natural resources were problematic, especially oil, but iron ore was not a problem. This meant that Germany had the potential to significantly exceed Soviet tank production. The fact that they did not was a key factor in the outcome of World War II. Part of the reason for this was that Germany while concentrating its manpower in the East could not concentrate its industrial production to support the Ostheer--largely because of the Western Allies. Most of German industrial production, unlike its manpower, went to wage the war in the West. Britain also had a substantial steel industry but had to use much of it to support the Royal Navy.
Parshall, Jonathan. "Tank production: A comparative study of output in Germany, the US, and the USSR," (November 23, 2013). 2013 International Conference on WWII - Kursk The Epic Armored Engagement.
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