The diversion of manpower and resources for the war effort afected the civilian economy. This was also the case in all combatent countries. The situation in Germany, however, was aggrevated by several factors. The preminent factor was the Allied naval blockade. The British and French had access to suppliers in America (American only entered the War in 1917) and ther neutral countries. The Germans did not. This had a major impact on the German economy as raw material and food shortages grew as the War dragged on. Surprisingly given the shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade, the Germans did not use their available resources efficently. Not only could the Germans no longer import food, but conscription of farm laborers had serious reduced agricultural production. This was combined with the failure to implement a rationing system. The Germans also did mobilize women for war work as did the British and Americans. By 1917 there was wide-spread hunger in Germany. Even potatos were in short supply. Many people were barely surviving on the less nutritious turnip. A German reader reports, "My great aunt (she is 92) told me, that for the people year 1917 was the worst: there was nothing to eat!"
With the outbreak of World War I, there was great public enthusiasm and support for the Government. The German Aermy was perhaps the most prestigious institution in Germany and the population strongly supported the war effort. All the important political parties rallied behind the Kaiser and the military. Even the Social Democrats (SPD) supported the war effort. The SPD was a diverse working-class political movement. The SPD were a socialist party that before the War had opposed the militarism that came to dominate German society under the Hohenzollerns and Chancellor Bismarck. They had also been critisal of Kaiser Wilhelm II's belicose foreign policy. Throughout Germany, the population loyzally rallied berhind the Kaiser. Men and youth of all ages volunteered for military service. Most Germans anticipated another war like the short, successful wars that had led to unification.
Assessments of the World war I naval war often focus on Germany's U-boat campaign to blockade Britain. The U-boat campaign failed. Much more important was the Allied naval blockade of Germany. That campaign succeeded and had an enormous impact on the War. The British when the Germans invaded Belgium (August 1914), had only a small force to send accross the Channel to assit the Belgians and French. The British Expodintinary Force (BEF) was a small but effective force which played an important role as did the Belgian Army, but if the Germans were to be stopped it would have to be done by the French Army. What the British did have was the Royal Navy. The Government ordered the Royal Navy to immediately cut the flow of raw materials and foodstuffs to Germany. The blockade would not effect the German offensive, but it was the launch of a war of attrition which would ultimately play a major role in the Allied victory. The Royal Navy was issued contraband lists. The Royal Navy patrolled the North Sea and intercepted cargo vessels suspected of carrying cargo destined for Germany. The British also layed minefields to sink German ships and force neutrals to comply with the terms of the blockade. The British subsequently declared the North Sea a British 'military area' (November 3, 1914). Neutral shipping thus had to enter British ports for inspection. Ships without contrband were then escorted through the North Sea minefields.
Contrary to what both the generals and population on both sides had anticiipated, there was little glory and dashing military victory. Rather there were huge casualties and what seems like intermenable battles. The War turned into a protracted, bruising struggle in which great demands were placed on the each country's population and economies. Here the Kaiser's disasterous foreign policy was largely popular. The Kaiser's bombastic behavior and confrontational diplomacy turned Germany's neigbors into an alliance that was just strong enough to blunt the initial German offensive. As a result, the Germans for the first time since the Napoleonic Wars found themselves involved in a war lasting more than a few weeks. And this time Germany's new industry had to contend with a Royal Navy blockade. Germany with its large, professional army had an advatage in a quick, short war. The advantage graually began to shift to the Allies as the conflict turned into a war of attrition. This was not the type of war in which the German ARmy and its Pussian predecesor excelled. The Germans bece experts in defensive warfare on the Western front, but this was not the kind of war that the German Army had been trained to fight. The Allies had larger economic resources, both industrial and agricultural. In addition, the Royal Navy's command of the seas gave the Allies access to the resources of both the Dominions and neutrals like the United States. German had no such access to world markets. The consequences were frigtening for a protracted War. Not only did German industry need raw materials, but Germany was not self sufficent in food. Shortages gradually began to affect uindustrial production as well a living standards at home. The terrible casualties shocked civilians. And unlike previous wars, fthers, sons, husands, and brothers did not return home have a short victorious campaign.
We do not know much about youth groups in Germany during World War I. We know that the Hitler Youth played an important role in World War II. We know much less about World war I. This is an ininteresting topic on which we have not yet succeeded in acquiring information. We see many images of Boys Scouts in Britain, France, America, and other countries. We see nothing comparable in Germany. The Wangervogel was the primary German youth group, but we just do not know much about their World war I activities. The Boy Scouts were not as important in Germany as they were in the rest of Germany. The popularity of Scouting was probably impaired by their association wuth the British. There were many different youth groups active in Germany after the War in the 1920s. The number of groups we believe was much more limited during the War. Why so many groups appeared after the War, we are not yet sure. Groups were organized along both religious and political lines after the War.
Germany formed a government of national solidarity. The government was joined even by the SPD and the Zentrum which had been critical of the Kaiser's foreign policy and the massive military spending.
The Germans steamrolled through Belgium (August 1914), but the French stand on the Marne (September 1914) meant that the War would not be a quick one and ultimately it would be settled by the economies of the various national economies. Unfortunately for the Germans, the military advantage they had at the inception of the War was undermined by substantial economic weaknesses and their major ally, Austria-Hungary was even weaker. And if this was not bad enough, policies pursued by both countries as well as Allied naval power only weakened their economies and undermined their war effort as the War progressed. Germany had the largest industrial power in Europe, permitting it to equip its very professional army which launched the War by invading neutral Belgium. The whole German war plan was to avoid the French border defenses by striking through Belgium. The objective was to envelop Paris as they had done in the Franco-Prussian War (1870), winning the War in a few weeks of fighting. They came very close to doing just that. The French victory on the Marne proved to be a disaster for Germany. While Germany had the largest industrial base, Britain and France combined had a larger industrial capacity. And there were serious weaknesss to the German war economy. Germany had few natural resources. German industry not only had to import raw materials, but food to feed its industrial workers. And the Allies implemented a naval blockade to cut off the needed imports. As a result German industrial output declined while British industry increased production as the War progressed. The economic inbalance did not impair German military performance at first, but gradually undercut both arms production and eventually civilian morale. The Germans even before defeating the Russians decided to add the United States to the beligerants it faced. Pushed by economic declines, the Kaiser decided to stake everything on one final massive offensive in the West.
Henri Dunant, a Swiss businessman who became a social activist, witnessed the Battle of Solferino during the Franco-Austrian War (1859). He published a book Un Souvenir de Solferino addressing the need to protect the sick and wounded during combat. The impetus for what became the Internationa Red Cross came from Switzerland a few years after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Awiss Army general, Switzerland did not participate in the Franco-Prussian War, but its German and French population was deeply disturbed by the carnage and loss of life. The Société genevoise d'utilité publique (Geneva Public Welfare Society) established a committee of five Swiss citizens to pursue the ideas in Durant's book (1863). The committe called for an international meeting. Sixteen nations attended the meeting and adopted a series od resolutions including the internatuinslly recognized Red Cross symbol--the reverse of the Swiss flag (1863). One resolution appealed to countries to organize voluntary national societies. Germany organized its Red Cross Society (1864). Fürst Hatzfeldt headed the German Red Cross during World War I. The War imposed huge demands on what was still a relatively new orhanization. We have little information on the Society's operations. We do know that like other national Red Cross units, they were heavily involved with caring for wounded soldiers and prisoners of war (POWs).
Germany had the most advanced chemical research capability and industry in the world. German scientists were mobilized to deal with the critical situation Germany faced. The Allied naval blockade cut Germany off from critical raw materials. Such of the most important were rubber, salpeter (needed for gunpowder), natural fertilizer, and many more commodities. Germany was also cut off from the cotton needed for clothing production. The most critical situation was the supply of gunpowder. The stocks of gunpowder were quickly exhausted in the intense fighting on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. The Army's stock was exhausted after only 4 months. German scientists created synthetic gunpowder as well as synthetic rubber. Scietists were unable, however, to create practical synthetic fertilzer, although they finally did after the War.
The diversion of manpower and resources for the war effort afected the civilian economy. This was also the case in all combatent countries. The situation in Germany, however, was aggrevated by several factors. The preminent factor was the Allied naval blockade. The British and French had access to suppliers in America (American only entered the War in 1917) and ther neutral countries. The Germans did not. This had a major impact on the German economy as raw material and food shortages grew as the War dragged on. Surprisingly given the shortages caused by the Allied naval blockade, the Germans did not use their available resources efficently. Not only could the Germans no longer import food, but conscription of farm laborers had serious reduced agricultural production.
German officials focused primarily on industrial production. Less attention was given to the needs of the less glamerous agricultural sector. Large numbers of men from rural areas were drafted. Officials assumed that the war would soon be short and conscripts could be reyurned to the rural work force. Significant problems soon developed. The massive losses on the battlefield mean that more and more men had to be conscripted. This further depleted the rural workforce. And the Royal Navy blockade made it impossible to import food. Germany unlike Britain could not import food from America and the Dominions. In addition, fertilizer imports were also cut off. German factories were used for the production of munitions. The shortage of fertilizer resulted in a sharp decline in agricultural productivity. Food was not the only commodity in short supply. Shortages developed for fuel (coal) as well as clothing and footwear. Food shortages were, however, most keenly felt. Clothing purchases could be deferred. Food was a different matter. Of course the War did not end quickly and production short falls began to cause serious food shortages on the domestic market. We do not yet have details on the response of the German Government to the developing shortages.
Much of the discussion of German World War I shortages concerns food because of the significant impact on health and well being. Clothing production was also affected by the Allied blockade. In this case German was even more dependent on imports for raw material. Cotton was he most important raw material for clothing. Germany did not produc cotton. Germany had a very important agricultural sector, but cotton to supply mills was all imported, primarily from America, Egypt, India and other countries. Virtually all of this was cut off by the blockade. Thus manufacturing of clothing plummeted. Germany's advanced chemical industry produced many substitute or Ersatz products during the War. One of those products was a cloth based on paper. One reader tells us that it was "durable", but we know little about it at this time. We due note a Leibchen made from this paper fabric. A German reader tells us, "Sounds
amazing, isn't it. I even saw a "paper"-teddy bear."
Boys play war even in peace time. Almost always this is boys and not mixed groups. Playing war surely must have been even more common during the war, although I am not sure about a protracted war. The number of casualties or the outcome of the war may also affect children's play patterns. This group in 1915 seems exceptionally well equipped. The German successes at the beginning of the war and U-boat and air aces must also have stimulated boys interests. We wonder if the photograph here pictures a real play session or just a set up for a photograph (figure 1).
The German like the Allies turned to women to fill vacancies created by men leaving for military duty. Some began referring to the Weiberwirschaft (female economy).
We do not yet have detailed information on rationing in Germany. One source describes cupons that were introduced for scarce goods, a system called Wartime Socialism. A black market soom developed. Another source indicates that Germany did not introduce a rationing system. We have not yet been able to find a good source of information on German rationing.
Germany experienced hunger winters. Mothers turned their flower gardens potato and vegetable gardens. Many began raising rabbits.
Food shortages in Germany became severe as early as 1916. France produced adequate food domestically. The British maintained domestic food production and imports until mid-1917, when the U-boat campaign began to affect food imports. Germany could not, however, feed itself and the British blockade severely affected the availability of food. Garman and even more so Austrian families were affected by severe food shortages in 1916. Coffee a German staple was impossible to obtain. Consumption of fish and eggs declined sharply. Even potatos became difficult to obtain in the winterof 1916-17. Civilians had to turn to less nutritious turnips. Basic necesities like coal for heating and soap were raioned. Most civilians by late 1916 were increasingly affected by the War. Life for all but the rich " ... became a time of eating meals never entirely filling, living in unheated homes, wearing clothing that proved dificult to replace and walking with leaky shoes. It mean starting and ending the day with substitutes for nearly everything." [Moyer, p. 164.] The poor were most severly impacted. The bread winners in many families were at the front leaving their families destitute. State allounces were provided, but were inadequate and brought less and less food as the War progressed. [Wall and Winter , p. 117.] by the end of the War food
shortges were at crisis levels. Malnutrition affected many and real starvation loomed. Without a surface fleet strong enough to challenge the Grand Fleet, the Germans were left with only one response--unrestricted submarine warfare. This had the impact of alienating neutrals--most importantly the United States.
German civilians by 1917 were experiencing hunger. Even potatos were in short supply. Many people were barely surviving on the less nutritious turnip. A German reader reports, "My great aunt (she is 92) told me, that for the people year 1917 was the worst: there was nothing to eat!"
The food shortages and deprrivation on the home front resulted in riots and political turmoil which eventually led to the Kaiser's abdication (November 1918).
The NAZIs in World War II recalled the food shortages during the War. As a result Hitler was reluntant for German civilians to face austerity. Occupied countries were essentially pillaged to maintain food supplies in Germany. As the war cintinued and the Reich had to conscript German workers, the manpower situation was resolved by recruiting or simply drafting people in occupied countries for war work in Germany. Many were worked as slaves under dreaful conditions. The conscripting of workers for war work in Germany helped fuel the growth of resistance efforts in occupied countries where the populations had been generally complacent.
Moyer, L. Victory Must Be Ours (London, 1995).
Wall, R. and J. Winter. The Upheaval of War (London, 1988).
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