*** World War II France French agriculture

World War II: French Agriculture

Figure 1.--One immediate impact of Europe moving toward warthe outbreak of World War II was the mobilizatiion of the French Army. This meant calling up the reserves, meaning workers, bithg farm and industrial workers. Here we see a farm family heading out to the fields in the moning with the father. The press caption read, "France at Work: Women and children are replacing men, called from industrial and agricultural tasks. Here a child drives a family out to the fields." The photograph is is dated October 7, 1939, but may have been taken a few days earlier.

France by virtue of its climate France and fertile soil is one of the most productive countries on earth. And before the Industrial Revolution this made France the richest and potentially most powerful country in Europe. Before the Industrial Revolution, France was at the center of of European affairs. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain. France and Germany lagged behind, but by the mid-19th century both countries were rapidly developing. Here Germany forged ahead of France. Except for the northeast, much of the rest of France remainder remained little changed, basically a country dominated by peasant agriculture. France was much less dependent than Germany on food imports than Germany and this the food situation was better than in Germany during World War I. Germany and Low Countriew were the largest food-deficit area in World. [Collingham, p. 23.] And obtaining food producing territory was a major German goal of the War. The flood of refugees from Belgium and northeast France as well as the conscription of farm workers caused a serious problem. France was kept in the War by American and British loans and American food shipments. In the inter-War era, most European countries attempted to expand domestic agricultural so that there would be no future repeat of the terrible Workd War I food shortages. France was not preparred for major changes. The country peant farmers were part of its nationsl identity. Tariffs were raised on food imports to protect high-cost peasant farmetrs. moved to modernize its still peaant agricuture. Some finding was made availavlke ton help peasant farmers increase productivity. French farmers, however, were not as productive as British farmers. France with the out break of World War II took steps to huband its resources (Seotembe 1939). They reduced wheat imports and cancelled apple and bear orders. The German World War II invasion and occupation put the French economy under German control (May-June 1940). The Vichy leader, World War I hero Marshall P�tain, believed that Germany had won the War and this adopted collaboration as the only possible policy. Hitler's strategic vision was to finance and supply the War through conquests in the East. As those conquests did not materialize as envisioned, it was the occupied West, especially France that supported the German war effort. Hitler fantsized about vast quanties of food that could be obtained in East. It was a theme that he focused on in Mein Kampf. The failure of the Wehrmacht to destroy the Red Army and the grossly inefficent Soviet agruculture meant that the food obrained in the East barely nmet the needs of the Wehrmcht forces fightunhg there. It was in the efficent agricultural sectors in the West that Germany was able to exploit to obtain food for its war machine. France supplied more meat than the East (758,000 tons). Denmark, the Netherlands, and France, including the deliveries to occupatin forces, provided 21.4 million tons of grain to only 14.7 million tons from the Soviet Union. [Collingham, p. 165.] French agriculture helped supply German food needs. Many French POWs also worked on German farms. Vichy had to ship large quantities of French agricultural produce to the Reich, causing serious food shortages in France. Of all the occupied countrie, France was the leastaffected by Gman occupation. France before the War imported only about 15 percent of its food consumotion. [Tooze, pp. 418-19.] Some countries like Norway had to import nearly 60 percent of its food. The French and other occupied countrues in the West experienced increased death and infant mortality rates as well as widespread malnutrition. The impact on children was especially severe. While German food policies were not as genocidal as in Poland, the Soviet Union, Greece, and th Netherlands. The French experienced severe shortages, but not only becauuyse of shipmebts of food to the Reich. A major issue was raw materials. Lacjked of fuel affected transport. Hetting milk into the city dazily, for exmple, was a major problem. Anothr prtoiblem was feritkizr. French farmers were unable to get fertilizer for their crops. The Germans converted most factories to munitions manufacvture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was concerned about a repeat of post World War I fsrm crisis when American farmers expanded productin only to have Europeand canced orders as their farmers recivered. As a result, the rapidltadvancing American Army in France did not hsve the food need to distribute to French civilians. [Matusow, p.8.] Horses were widely used in European agriculture at the time of World War I. Except in the Britain and Soviet Union mechanization was limited. Much of the European livestock supply was killed in the War. The Germans seized many horses for use in the East. Mosdt of the Ostheer was unmedchzanized infantry using hirs-drawn carts. After the War, this sugnificantly impaired efforts to get agricultural sector bscks on its feet. Canada which was rapidly mechanizing was able to ship some 40,000 horses to Europe, invluding France. [Britnell and Voake, pp. 166-69 and 269-72.]


Britnell, C.E and V.C.- Voake. Canadian Agriculture in War and Oeace, 1935-50 (Stanford University Press: Sanford, Cslifornia, 1962).

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (Penguin Books: New York, 1962), 634p.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf.

Matusow. Allen J. Farm Policies and Politics in the Truman Years (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1967).

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of th Nazi Economy (Penguin Group: New York, 2007), 800p.


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Created: 7:50 AM 5/25/2018
Last updated: 7:31 AM 4/23/2022