World War II Home Front: Country Trends

World War II home fronts
Figure 1.--These thre schoolboys are at a rural school in San Augustine County, Texas. The photograph was taken in April 1943 by John Vachon. He worked as a filing clerk for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) before Roy Stryker who headed the FSA Special Photographic Section recruited him and others to join a small group of photographers tasked with the documenting the condition of the rural poor which the FSA was trying to ameliotate. After the outbreak of the War they also provided views of the World War II homefront. Source: Library Of Congress

Although not as dramatic as the major military campaigns, in large measure, it was on the home front that the War was decided. Germany and Japan could achieve military victories by striking before their advesaries were prepared. And Germany suceeded in defeating and occupying the small countrues of Western Europe. Once their adversaries prepared for war the huge inbalance in industrial capacity and natural resources doomes the Axis. And to further inblance the calculation, the Axis countries did not mobilize womdn gor the war effort. The Germans launched the War with the incredibly unfounded belief that they had the ability to make far superior weapons than other countrie. Reich Marshall Göring sneered, 'The Americans only know how to make razor blades." The same Göring 5 years lter seeing P-51 Mustangs over Berlin realized that the War was lost. The Germans certainly could make excellent weapons, but their initial successes were due primarily to the fact that Allied military budgets were very low and the German military had developed highly effective tactical doctrine. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Allies could replicate both, in fact the industrial capacity of the United States enabled the Allies to finance a war effort that Hitler could only dream about. Combatant countries took different appraoches to the home front and the need for increased production to supply their fighting men. The American home front was a war production center unparalled in humn history. Often neglected in World war II histories is that it was he productive capacity created by free market and the energies of a free people that created the Arsenal of Democracy. And it proved to be the British not the Germans tht geared for total war, 3 years before Giebels first used the term. The Axis cointries believed that democracies could not mount major war efforts. France failed on the home front, Britain nd America did not. And at the end of theWAr, few Germans an Japanese looking up from destroyed cities dounted the war-making capacity of democracies.

America, North


United States

American children were not affected by World War II like children in Europe and Asia. The Atlantic and Pacicific Oceans acted as an affected barrier to the Germans and Japanese. Many American children lost their fathers, but unliked European children were not orphaned or displaced. American children, however, did particiapte in a variety of war-time activities to support the war effort. Children studied current events. Air raid drills and alerts were common. Both children and their families were involved with conservation and recycling of goods. The Scouts and other youth groups were actively involved in may home-front activities. Children often worked in sponsored rallies, parades and cultural events (such as dances) to raise money to buy war stamps and bonds to finance the war. Some children were more adversely affected by the war. Although not separated from their patents, Japanese Americans in Pacific coast states were interned in concentration camps. Italian and German families were also interned, but only those who parents were believed to have been involved in subversive activites. America after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 also reorganized the economy. There was some resistance on the part of industry, but for the most part industry and labor cooperated im producing staggering quantities of weapons and other war materials that the Axis could not match. America agriculture was also an important factor, not only feeding the Americam military, biy Allied armies as well. Rationing was introdced in the Unites States, but it was not nearly as severe as in Britain or Germany. Many Americans remember the blue and gold stars in the windows.



The Chinese home front is a very difficult topic because it is such a complicated one. Our information is still very limited. There was no one China. The Japanese occupied much of China, including the costal areas and major cities. Japanese control was only nominal once one move inland. So called Free (unoccupied China) included the Nationalists in the southwest and the Communists in the northwest. The Japanese converted Manchuria into the puppet state of Manchukuo--essentially a colony. Here they promoted Japanese colonization with only limited syccess. In China proper the Japanese attempted to negotiate arrangements with military warlords in areas they occupied. Some of these war lords also had relations with Chiang creating quite a complicated situation. At this time we do not have much information on living conditions in the various regions. The War affected the Chinese economy. Many men were killed or conscripted into the various armies which affected farm production. The Japanese could be very brutal and conducted an especially dreadful repriasal campaign agains Chinese civilians after the Doolittle Raid (April 1942). Their Rice Offensives also disrupted the rural economy.


Japan was the most industrialized country in Asia, but the country's industrial capacity was a fraction of that of America and Britain. And the country had to import raw material, including vital resources like petroleum. Nor was the country self-production in food production. The Militarists who made the decession for War calculated that Japan could seize the resources it needed in a quick war and that the Americans and Eutropeans would not be willing to wage a costly war to recover the lost territory. That was essentially the gamble made at Pearl Harbor. That gamble was lost at Midway. Not only did Japan suffer that disastrous defeat, but it suffered it at a time that the Imperial Navy was still dominant in the Pacific and before American industrial production had decisively shifted the ballance of forces. The Japanese militarists absolutely controlled the press in Japan. Only news of Japanese victories were allowed in the press and for the first 6 moths there were plenty of those. When Japanese defeats began to occur, they were strictly prohibited in the press. When the sailors and surviving air men returned from Midway (June 1942) they were held incomunicano least news of the disastrous defeat leaked out. Even Army commanders were not fully informed.) We are not sure when the Japanese people began to realize that their country was losing the War. In fact Japan lost very little territory until 1944. And the fighting was very distant from Japan. The militarists believed that the NAZIs in Europe would occupy America's military and thus Japan's smaller industrial output would be suffient for a short war. Japan mobilized the country's industrial capacity. Women and children were ordered to work in factories as well as on farms. Japanese industry, however, proved totally incapable of matching America production in quantity or quality. The Japanese did succeed in seizing vital natural resources in Oceania and Southeast Asia, including oil and rubber (1942). Unfortunately for the Japanese the U.S. Navy was successfully waging a sunmarine campaign that made it impossible to ship these resources to Japanse factories (1943). Worse still the Americans took the Marianas which brought Japanese industry within the range of the new American B-39n bombers. The losses of the tiny attols and islands in the central Pacific, however, brought the Japanese Home Islands within reach of the new American B-29 bombers. The strategic bombing of Japan was a disaster that could not be hidden by control of the press. These raids must have come as a huge shock and may well have been the first infication to the Japanese people that the War had turned into a national disaster. The first raids were of marginal effectiveness, but by 1945 the U.S. Arny Air Firce was burning the heart out of one Japanese city after another--including Tokyo. There was also a poor harvest which combined with the destruction of the Japanese merchant marine meant that there were growing food shortages. Rationing reduced rice and other food purchases to 1,500 calories--subsistence levels. But as the war continued into 1945 even that amount was often not available. The stategic bombing campaign had by mid-1945 destroyed Japan's transportation system. Had Japan not surrendered (August 1945), Japanese civilians would have starved in large numbers during the Winter of 1945-46.




The British were one of two countries that fought the NAZIs from the onset of the World War II (September 3, 1939). to VE-Day (May 1945). The other country of course was Poland. The experiences of the two countries were very differemt, because the NAZIs occupied Poland, dismembering the coutry and persusing genocida racial policies. Britons were not, immeiately affected by the fighting, except the children in the city were evacuated and men mobilized for the military. The War first came hime to Britain after the fall of France (June 1940). The Luftwaffee in the ensuing Battle of Britain destroyed large areas of London and other major British cities. The cost of the War and the U-boat campign in the North Atlantic resulted in increasingly strict rationing of both food and clothing. For 12 months Britain fought alone. American assistance like Lend Lease playerdca major role in keeping Britain in the War. Britain mobilized its resources as few countries had ever done. Civilian units were mobilized go support both farm and industrial production. Finally Hitler turned east, redeploying the Luftwaffe for the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). And American joined the War (December 1941). With Hitler's focus on the East and deployment of the American 8th Air Force to Britain, the Allies established air superiority in the West. Even so, the NAZIs with their V-1 and V-2 programs conducted two more air campaigns against Britain. While Vritin was part of the winning Allied coalition, the country paid a heavy price. Shortages and rationing continued for several years following the War.


Living conditions in Denmark were better than anywhere else in NAZI occupied Europe. This was in large measure because of NAZI racial policy. Denmark like the Netherlands and Norway were countries tht Hitler eventually wanted to include in a an Aryan greater-Germany after the War. With no racial concerns, Hitler allowed the occupation authorities to pursue a pragmagtic policy designed to best use the country's economy to support the German war effort. For many Danes, life went on much like it did before the German invasion. The schools continued to function. We even see Danish children going to summer camps along the country's extensive coasts. That was something that did not happen in Britain. Danish politicans, especially after the fall of France, so no alternative, but to cooperate with the Germans. And they had some success in obtaining important concessions from the occupation authorities. The Danish Government was left in tact and largely able to function until late in the War. The Danes held the only democratic election permitted in the NAZI empire. Something not often mntioned is that the first serious discussions of European integration occurred during the NAZI occupation. The Danes considered, but ultimtely rejected a customs union with Germany, largely because the Germans insisted on emlininating the Danish krona. [Meyer-Gohde] The Germans did not press the issue, concerned about destabilizing the political situation. The Danes had other successes, including dragging out negotiations over the return of South Jutland to the Reich, baning 'closed-rank uniformed marches' rejected includung National Socialists in the government, successfully conducting a relatively free election, and preventing actions against Jews for 3 years. One of the most devestating aspect of NAZI occupation in occupied countries was food policy. Occupation authorities were primarily concerned with exploiting the local economy and shipping food and other commodities back to the Reich. This was also true in Demark, but the German authorities exerciaed more restraint than in other countries. And the country's productive agricultural sector was able to keep food consumption levels higher than in other countries. We do not yet have details on rationing in Denmark. One of the mahor problems was inflation. This immediately arose with the German invasion. The German military made extensive purchases on military instalations and supplies after it moved into the country. They paid in military script which they simply printed. The National Bank of Denmark was required to convert the German currency for Danish krona. This essentially meant the Danes had to finance the German occupation as the military script had no real value and could not be spent in the Reiuch even if German products wre available for purchase. The vast sums of military script never was redemed by the Germans. Eventually the Government negotiated a more realistic exchange rate. [Giltner, p. 488.] In addition to inflation and German exploitation of the economy, Denmark's principal economic problem was that manufacturers lost access to raw materials. Denmark had a range of industries, but very few raw materials, virtually all of which had to be imported. Coal and oil were especiially difficult to obtain. The Allied naval blockade cut off the ability of imports even if German occupation authorities would have permitted the exports needed to pay for imports. And Denmark lost its principal trading partner--Britain. Danish economic activity becamne essentially meeting demands made by the occuoation authorities. Here there were a variety of manufacturing operations, especually the production of munitions, but the major German demands was for food produced by Danish farmers.


The French homefront is a complicated topic because it concerns three very different periods. Thus topics like war production, rationing, labor, civil unrest, police repression, and a range of other topics varied widely depending on the chronological period because of the German invasion and occupation (May-June 1940). France followed Britain into the War after thev invasion of Poland. There were not as many had expected German bombing raids targetting French cities. France has a substantial agricultural industy. Thus apart from calling the men up for military service, the impact on civilians was limited. This changed with the German Westrern offensive (May 1940). Within in weeks, France capitulated and signed and armistice with the NAZIs (June 1940). France was divided into an occupied and unoccupied zone (Vichy). Hitler disatisfied with the Vichy resistace to the Allied Torch invasion of North Africa, ordered the occupation of the unoccupied zone (November 1942). As part of the armistice, France had to pay repriations to Germany. This essetially was cover for the NAZI looting of the French economy. Hitler concdption of the War was that the seizure of Lebensraum in the East would provide the resources needed to wage war. In fact, the resources of the East were barely sufficent to meet the needs of the Whermacht forces deplloyed there. It was France that proved fotal for the German sar effort. Food, raw materials, and food was sipped in large quantities to Germany. Food consumption in France itself was strictly limited and gradually became more and more difficult to obtain. The NAZIs targeted the Jews, but did not behave barbarically agauinst the non-Jewish French. Thus Marshall Petain and the Vichy regime was a first fairly popular. This began to change with German military reversals and the conscription of French civilians for war work in the Reich.


The German people were elated with the succes of Hitler and the NAZIs in remilitarizing the Rhineland, uniting with Austria (the Anchluss), and then reclaimong the Sudetenland. There were, however, still many memories of World War II. There are many indications that there was no desire for war. War when it came resulted in spectacular German victories. Hitler believing the War had been won, actually scaled back war production in 1940-41. He was concerned about stressing the home front. This decession delayed critical work on weapons development (such at jet aircraft). Hitler was very concerned with maintaining German civilian consumption levels. Hitler even before the War began was concerned about the home front. He was aware that food shortages had destroyed civilkian morale and that disorders at home were a factor in the Kaiser's abdication. Hitler also did not want mothers not be taken out of the home to work in factories. German women were not mobilized for War work, rather slave labor was brought in from occupied countries to work in factories and on farms. The hard-pressed British in 1939-40 completely reorganized the economy for war production which included the use of large numbers of women and youths. The German approach to a war economy was to pillage occupied countries and to transport workers to concentration camps for slave labor, often under horendous conditions. As the War went against the NAZIs, severe rationing became necessary. And then in 1944 the War came home to the German people as the Allies finally cracked the Luftwaffe and Allied armies approached the borders of the Reich.


Italy when Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took the country to war was not a major indudtrial power. Much of he country, virtually the entire south had a largely an agriculural economy. As a result, the country did not have the industrial capacity to equip its military with first class weaponry, especially heavy weapns like tanks. Nor did the country have the industrial capacity to fully motorize its army. Italy was first affected by the War as a result of the Allied naval blockade of Germany. Neutral countries (like Italy and Spain) were not allowed to import material in excess of their needs which might be shipped on to the Gerjmans. Mussolini bragged about 8 million bayonets, but it took more than bayonets and rifles to win a war against modern industrial powers. Italy entered the War on one man's enthusism, Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. There was not a great deal of public enthusiam for the War. On the other hand there was no resistance to the War. Then the failures on distant battlefields finally came home when the Allies began bombing targets in Itatly, includung Rome (1943). Italians found themselkves sitting in bomb sheters--if they were lucky. Few sich shelters existd, Italians had to seek shelter as best they could. There was no real opposition to the Fascist ledership until the Allies landed (September 1943). Unlike Germany, Italy as a peninsula was very vulnerable, especially when going to war against a naval power. Not only did Italy not have an adequate industrial base for the War, it like Germany was a resoirce poor country. Thus early on, shortages of raw material developed, affecting production. In addition, drafting millions of soldiers affected the work force. This was especially the case of the agricultural sector. Italian agriculture was not significantly mechanized. Thus agricultural production fell, creating food shortages which by the time of the Allied invasion were becoming severe. The black market grew in imprtance and cwas often the only way to obtain needed food in the cities. As the war progressed, it became increasingly diffivult to survive on rationed food stuffs, even if they ciould be found in the shops. Unlike the Germans, the Italians did not bring in forced laborers. There were also problems created with northern and southern Italy were sparated during the Italian campaign (1943-45). Th Allies helped feed the liberated south. Conditiins deterirated in the German-occupied north.


The Dutch Army capitulated after a few days of fighting (Mayn 1940). The Germans began the occupation with an effort to 'correctly' administer the country, except for Jews. As in other occupied countries, the Germans exploited the localm economy to support the war effort. Both manufactured goods and food was shipped to the Reich. Ration levels fell as the war begabn to go against Germany. The Dutch were, however, still in relatively good shape when the Allies liberated the southern part of the country (September-October 1944). The failure of Market Garden left the north and east of the country beyomd the Rhine in German hands. And the Germans decided to punish the Dutch for Allied sympathies. The cities were cut off from suroundin agricultural areas. The Dutch experienced ghat has become known as the Hunger Winter. By the time the Allies finally reached them (April 1944), the Dutch were starving.


German and the Soviet Union launched World War II by invading Poland (September 1939). We do not have much information on conditions in Soviet-occupied Eastern Poland, except for the reign of terror launched by the NKVD against a range of individuals thought to be the cor of Polish national identyity. military officers, police, government officials, non-Communist politicians, teachers, university professors, business men aristiocrats, and many more categories of people. The goal was top destroy once and all the Polish nation and polish national identity. Some were shot outright. The Katyn killings are the bes known.. Most other killings are lost to history. Other Poles were committed to the Gulag. Families also were targetted, large numbers of Poles were deported to barren areasv of Central Asia undera ppauling conditions where many more died. The Germans in Western Poland did much the same in addutiin to targeting Jews even more viciously. Poles were made second class citizens. Many were deported from the areas of Western Poland annexed to the Reich. Poles were given very low ration allocations, above whay Jews recerived, but still impossible to live on. Himmler wabnted to move aggresively to clear Poles from western Poland, Hitler slowed down, but did not end the priocess as it was disrupting preparations for Barbarossa. Himmler was ordered to proceed with the Holocaust which was begun after Hitler launched the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). The Germans quickly overran eastern Poland which became a killing field for Jews. Unknown to the Poles and other Slavs was that under Generalplan Ost, their future in the NAZI state was to be much the same as the Jews. Meanwhile Poles in occupied Poland struggled to survive, facing terrible food shortages. The NAZI occupatiinal authories targeted all Polish institutions. The Government was disolved. Other institutions such as universities and professional groups were disolved. The Churchb was attacked with thousands of priests and other opreklats arrested and interned in concentratiion camps where many were killed.

Soviet Union

We do not know a great deal about the Soviet home front yet. The most significant aspect of the home front was Soviet war production. The Soviets were able to maintain and even expand war production despite the huge area conquered by the Wehrmacht during Operation Barbarossa. The NAZIs did not fully understand this. What the NAZIs failed to appreciate was that much of the areas conquerred were the non-Russian areas of the western Soviet Union (the Baltics, eastern Poland, Bylorussia, and the Ukraine). Enormous damage occurred n the occupied areas and the three great cities (Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad) targetted by the NAZIs. Other areas of Russia were largely undamaged by the War. The Luftwaffe did not have a long0-range fleet of heavy bombers with which to conduct a strategic bombing campaign. Children cntinued to attend schools, although all supplies including teachers were in short supply. We have little information on the rationing system. Nor are we sure how Russia survived without the Ukranian bread basket. America provided substantial food supplies, but this was primarily used for the military. One huge problem encountered was large numbers of displaced children. This problem was especially severe in the occupied areas and had to be addressed when they were liberated.


Stability did not bring economic prosperity to Spain. The Spanish economy was devestayed by the Civil War. The economy recovered only slowly from the damage to the country's physical infrastructure. There were severe food shortages following the Civil War that persisted throughout World War II. More than 80 food products were rationed. Milk for children in particular was in short supply. The Franco regime found a variety of excuses for the poor economy: Civuil War damage and drought. The principal reason, however, was mismanagement of the economy by Franco's bureaucracy heavily staffed with military officers with no background or great interest in economic matters. Franco also persued Fascist policies of autarchy and sponsored expensive and ultimately unsuccessful programs aimed at making Spsain self-sufficient in all economic sectors. Another problem was that skillked workers and engineers, which had largely supported the Republic, were politically suspect and thus largely excluded from giovernmental processes. The poorly run state-controlled economy proved so inefficent that the black market became a flourishing economic sector.



Australia and the other Dominions declared war to support Britain (September 1939). Few felt actually endangered. Thus Australia was one of the few countries that was involved in the War from the onset. At the time, the War in Europe seemed very far away. Many Australians remembered very well what had happened in World War I and the terrible losses and like the British entered the War reluctantly. It did not at first have a great impact unless they had family members deployed overseas. The Australian Army was sent to the Middle East which helped the hard-pressed British facing the Germans on the Western Front. For many the major impact was rising prices. The fall of France changed the strategic balance (June 1940). And although Britain survived because of the Channel and Royal Air Force, bad news kept coming. The failure of the Greek campaign hit Australia hard as their men were involved (April 1941). The casualties in the Western Desert continued. Then the Japanese menace grew with the seizure of Indo-China. Australians began feeling vulnerable in a way they had not in World War I. The primary feeling had been disgust over the casualties during World War I. Now many began to fear a Japanese invasion. The Australian Government conscripted both men and women into industries essential to the war effort. The Government converted factories to war productions. Many civilians signed up for voluntary work. Political changes occurred. Prime Minister Robert Menzies resigned in favor of Arthur Fadden, the leader of the Country Party (August 1941). The Labour Party leader, John Curtin, became the new Prime Minister (October 1941). He would lead the country through the war. Soon after Japan launched the Pacific War by striking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941). Japanese forces launched an offensive that would bring them to the borders of Australia. The fall of Singapore (February 1942) removed the bastion that most Australians saw as vital to their defense. Australians suddenly saw the war very differently. The Government and military chiefs braced for a Japanese invasion.

Dutch East Indies (Indonesia)

New Zealand


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Created: 4:11 AM 10/16/2012
Last updated: 7:36 PM 12/27/2013