** war and social upheaval: World War II -- nationl industrial trends

World War II: National Industrial Trends

Nazi industry
Figure 1.--Here we see a surburban American street crmmed with cars about 1925-30. compable German snapshot of city streets, even in the central cities, commonly did not have as many cars. This difference in the automobile industry as well as other industrial sectors would have major consequences in the War.

The Industrial Revolution began in Britain (mid-18th century) and after the Napoleonic Wars gradually spread to the Continent, especially France and Germany. And by the turn-of the 20th century was beginningvto transform other countries such as Russia. Industrialization and the advance of science which accompanied it transformed warfare. The major industrial powers became the most important Military powers. Russia and Austria declined as great powers while Prussia was able to unite Germanhy around it and emerged as the dominant power in continental Europe. And the highly militarized Prussian state becanme a dominant force in the German Empire. Industry also developed in Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland but were too small to develop important bmilitary forces. Partialy because of this they sought refuge in neutrality, despite the Belgian experience in World War I. America emerged as a great industrial power, but lagged behinf Europe in Scientific expertise although the science establishment was growing. America except for the Civil War and World war I declined to devote important resources to the military. America after the turn-of-the 20th century thanks to Henry Ford developed the industrial assemby line which transformed the country into the preminent world industrial power. Industries in Europe such as automobile companies continued to be more craft shops. Producing often high-quality products, but on a smaller scale and at higher prices. The autmobile industry was particulrly important in a mechanized war of movement. The Soviet Union emerged in Russia and continued the country's industrialization which had begun during the Tsarist period and devoted great resources to the military. Stalin speed up the developmentb of heavy industry by starving the countryside. There was also impotant industrial development in northern Italy and Czechoslovakia which emerged from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Japan emerged as the only indudrtrial power in Asia. While Japan modrnized economically, it had a relatively small scientific establishment. In contrast to the economic advances, the country retained a very traditional political outlook with military built around a medieval code of honor and conduct--Bushido. These industrial and scientific developments played an important role in World War I and would play an even more important role in World War II.


At the time Hitler launched World War II, there was only one country in the world that had the potential to wage modern war on mltiple fronts and a world-wide basis. That was the United States. America would prove to have the capacity not only to fully equip its own forces, but those of its allies as well. The question became when would a country determined to stay out of another Europen war, recognize the growing danger and begin to prepare for it. The United States had the capacity to build modern weapons, but did not do so. It had no conscription law and its small army ws not equipped with modern weapons. World War II would prove to be a mechanize war. And only the United States had the aility to build the implements of modern war. Unlike the Europeans, the United States Army did not have a modern tank. The Congress has severly limited military sprnding, cutting expenditures to the bone. U.S. industry had the technical and indutrial capacity to build tanks, other mechinized vehicles, artillery, and other weeapons. This has come from the enormous American industrial expnsion during the late-19th and early-20th century. The result was amnechanized America, including American agriculture. In contrast, European agricultural was not mechanized. This affected the industrial capacity of European countries, including Germany. A key element of American industrial development was taken by Henry Ford who introduced the assembley line and mass production. The result was the Model-T Ford which put an automobile within the price range of the average American worker and astronomical prodution runs. It also signicantly incresed stell production in America--the single most important metal needed to conduct war. Europen workers at the time for the most part were buying bicycles. Europen automobile companies were more like craft shops, producing high-quality automobiles for well-to-do customers. This meant that America had the capacity to build mechanized vehicles in huge numbers and a time when the vaunted German Wehrmat went to war still heavily dependent on draft animals. And it was not just capacity, but techolgical advances and manufacturing techniques made America such a powerful potential adversary. As a result, American autombile companies plyed a major role in the economies of most the World War II combatant countries (England, France, and the Soviet Union). And here we are not just talking about cars, but trucks and farm vehicle as well--including tracked vehicles. It would be an American inventor that created the suspension system used by the Soviet T-34 tank. He tried to sell it to the U.S. Army rejected it. It was well known that America had ahuge industrial capacity. Churchill from the the fall of France realized that America with its immense resources and idustrial capacity was Britain's only salvation. Hitler was vaguely aware of the danger and avoided taking on America until the Red rmy was destoyed. Japan was less aware and commited the central error of the Axis--bringing America wih its massive potential into the War.


Britain was the first country to indusrialize as part of the Industrial Revolution. It was for a time the preminent industrial power with an empire that spanned the world. Britain's indutrial dominance was challenged in he late-19th century by America and Germany and to a lesser extent France. American industry began to under cut Britih manufacturing with inovative methods. The British continued using existing plants and methods. They also faced competition from the Germans where the Government supported industrial expnsion, especially in areas of military importance like steel manufacturing. World War I shattered the foundation of British finance. The country was bankrupted by the War. The human cost was also enormous. Some 7 million metric tons of shipping was lost. Industry no matter how inefficent did wellduring the War. This changed after the War as a bankrupt Britain had to face highly efficent American cometition. The Government sharply cut back on military orders. Factories had to retool for consmer indutries. Britain lost importnt foreign markets as other countries also bankrupted by the War could not afford to import. One of the most important was Germany. Another was Russia and the new Soviet Government which also not could not afford to import as well as new policies which essentially withdrew the country from world trade. The Labor Party, came to power under James Ramsay MacDonald, supported by socialist groups and trade unions and put new pressure on industry (1924). And both the United States and Japan had won important export markets. British industry suffered a serious decline even before the Great Depression (1929). Britain and France combined had a greater indutrial capacity than Germany, but the public demanded social selfare rather than military spending. British autombile prpduction exceeded 237,000 units for the first time in 1930, but was still only about 10 percent of American production. Rekatively low incomes compared to America, punblic transport, demographics, and a general preference on on engineering quality had combined to limit the market for automobiles in Europe. Britain emerged as the continental leader in par bcause aveage incomes were the largest in Europe. Morris Motors became the first British manufacturer to begin mass production, adopting the moving assembly line for production (1934). Limited production runs as well as a traditional disdain for such methods had preented the adoption of American methods. The assembly line required considerable invdestment in plant and equipment and thus substantial production runs were required. The image of the automobile as a high-end luxury helped maintain the tradition of small-scale, craft tehnoques throughout Europe. Military spending for several crucial years while Germany engaged in a massive rearmaments program waa limited. Britiain used only a fraction of its still very formidable industrial establishment for military production and thus fell behind the Germans in several crucial areas.


Canada unlike the other Dominions had a substantual industrial base. The Canadian contribution began early and made a crucial difference to the winning of the war. For a nation of 11 million people it was an incredible accomplishment, one out of all proportion to its population. The plans to launch another War were laid in Hitler's mind without any careful study. In his ameturish assessment, he failed to appreciate the importance of the Domimions. Canadian industry would make a substantial contribution to the Allied war-effort. The Canadian government after declaring war on Germany (September 1939) took full control of the economy. It rapidly turned it into a vital part of the Allied war effort. And Canadian war plants were safe from Axid bombing. Canada became like America an arsenal of democracy. The country proved to be Britain�s chief overseas supplier of war materiel. America was also a major supplier to Britain, but unlioke America whivh had a much larger military to supply, Canada shipped most of its production to Briatain. The Canadian Federal government set up the Department of Munitions and Supply--DOMAS (April 1940). DOMAS to coordinated the production of munitions for the Canadian armed forces and those of its allies. The Government appointed Clarence Decatur Howe (1886-1960) to head DOMAS. Through DOMAS, Canadian industry not only equipped Canada�s own armed forces but other Allied forces, primarily Britain. DOMAS allocated the available raw materials to war plants and helped created new industries to manufacture needed arms. Canada did not accept American Lend Lease aid, the only Allied nation not to do so. Canada created its own Lend Lease program for its Allies which it called Nutual Aid. The single most important area of production was escort craft for the Royal Canadian Navy. Thanks to aprodigious industrial effort, Canada went from a country without a navy to one of the world's major navies in numbers of ships. The Royal Canadian Navy thus played a key role in one of the most important battles of the War--the Battle of the Atlantic. The Canadian contribution, however, did not stop here. Many other arms and munitions were manufactured in Canada. Canada was a small, but highly industrialized country. It in particular had a substantial automobile industry which like the American automobile industry could be converted for war production. This had not been the case in World War I, but there was considerable industrial development in the inter-War era. The Canadians supplied its allies C$4 billion dollars worth of war materiel, a much larger figure if calculated in today's dollars. About 70 percebnt of Canaduian production went tom its allies. A further credit of C$1 billion dollars was given to Britain. Canadian industries manufactured war materials with a total value of almost $10 billion - approximately $100 billion in today�s dollars. Canada�s war production was fourth among the Allied nations, only exceeded by that of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The Canadians did not develop weapons, but Canadian factories produced weapons developed in Britain and to a lesser extent the United States.


Czechoslovakia was a small country, but one with a substantial industrial base. During World War I, Bohemia had the most important industrial complex supporting the Austro-Hungarian military. Especially important was the Skoda Arms Complex. The Allied decesion to turn the Sudetenland over to Hitler at Munich left the country essentially defensless (September 1938). Hitler seized the rest of the country 6 months later without firing a shot (March 1939). As a result, Hitler added the substantial, modermn Czech arms industry to the German war economy. This substantially increased the German industrial capacity. The Skoda Arms Works would be a major supplier of tanks and artillery to the Wehrmacht throughout the War.


France had one of the largest economies in Europe, after Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union. France France of all of the four major countries had the smallest industrial plant, but it also had a very substantial agricultural sector. Unlike Britin and Germany, France could largely feed its population and was not dependent on large-scale food imports. France had an important automobile industry. At the end of World War I it was the second largest world manufacturer, howver far behind the United States. World production was 2.4 million cars and America produced 2.3 million of that total. Of the 0.1 million cars produced, France produced about half or 40,000 units. The French motor industry was the largest and most modern in Europe. One author describes it as highly 'innovative'. Like other European automobile industry, they had not mastered mass production like the Americans. This was because French workers and farmer could not affird to buy cars and trucks. The automobile was a luxury item for the well-to-do. The automobile industry was particularly importnt because not only did it helped to enlarge other baic industries such as steel and rubber, but in time of war it could be conveted into military producrtion, including trucks, armored vehicles, aircraft and other war material. Car oroduction grew in France, but the French industry gradually lost its lead. The United States would never again so completely dominate the world automobile industry, although even by 1930 about 60 percent of cars were built in America. France which had been the european leader was replaced by Britain which produced 237,000 units. france produced only 230,000 units. European manufacturers were still not using American methods. Unlike other countries (Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union), American manufacturers did not have a French subsidiary or joint venture. The German invasion and occupation put most of French industry, largely undamaged in the fightening, at the disposal of the Germans. And the Vichy policy was colaboration. The Germans seem more intent on plans to dismantle French industry than incorporating it into the German war economy. The Germans did import large quantities of consumer goods, paid for by reparations and over-valued Reich Mark. The enormouus potential for warv oproducftion was not tapped to any serious degree. [Speer] Albert Speer after his appointment as Armaments Minister sought to increase the use of French industrial capacity. Speer sought to use French plants for armd production, guaranteeing the workerts from conscription for compulsory war work in the Reich. This led to a major confrontation with Franz Saukel, General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment.


Germany even after World War I had the largest industrial establishment in Europe. It was that industry that was the backbone of the Central Ppwers war effort. The War had not been fought on German territory and except for the Saarland and Rhineland, Germany was not occupied by the Allies. Germany did loose some territory as a result of the Versailles Peace Treaty, but the country's industrial complex was left largely intact. The country's scientific establishment supporting that industry was also intact. The strength of that establishment can be seen by the number of Noble Prizes German scientists were awarded, One loss to German's industrial capacity was the disolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This meant that the Skoda arms complex was now in Czechosolvakia, a new independent democratic country, orieted toward Britain and France. While Germany remained the most important industrial country in Europe, one area that Germany did not persue intensively was the automobile industry. Germany of course had some notable automobile manufacturers (Mercedes and Porch), they did not mass produce cars like American automobile companies (Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Stutabaker, and others). The average german worker could not afford cars, especially the expensive cars made by German manufactuers. There were also weaknesses in the German industrial economy, the need to import raw materials. The most notable being petroleum. Nor did Germany have anywhere near the capability to build aircraft that its poptential opponents have. Imperial Germany in World War I did not have the same indistrial capability of the Allies--even before America entered the War. The industrial ballance of power was even less favorable for NAZI Germany as Hitler comtemplated another war. The Germany that the NAZIs seized control of was by any objective assessment not a country capable of wageing another world war. Only a leader patholically commotted to war would have contemplted such a decission. Germany would go to war with essentially the same industrial and scientific complex of Imperial Germany (the NAZIs did little to expand either). Yet the countries they would wage war against had greatly expanded their industrial and scientific complexes. The relative industrial ballance between Germany and the Allies (Britain and France) did not change appreciably in the inter-War era. What did change was the industrial capacity of the two European outriders--the Soviet Union and the United States. Tsarist Russia in World War I did not have the industrial capacity to properly equip its spldiers. The Soviet Union did. American had greatly expanded its industrial capacity. And one area that grew out of all prortion to Germany was the automoble industry--particularly important in a modern mechanized war.


Italy was Germany's Axis partner. In terms of population, Itly was amajor European country. In economic terms ot was an industrial light weight. Much of the country ws agricultural and southern Italy was almost feudal with agricultural methods little changed from the Middle Ages. The low yields was part of the reason that although an agricultural coyntry, Italy had to import food, especally grains. The large population and backward agriculture was one reason Italy pushed for African colonies. The demogragraphics of the country we more like a developing country. Several European countries had a more modern economy than Italy, including Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. Italy did have an industrial base in the north, but it was not large enough to support modern war with major military powers. Under-Secretary for War Production, Carlo Favagrossa, calculated that Italy could not be prepared for major military operations until at least October 1942. It is difficult to see how this date was reached as Italian industry even if fully mobilized did not have capacity to manufactue the implements of war insuffient quality or quanity. And Hitler's prelinary projections were to launch the war in the early-1940s. The Italo-German negotiations which led to the Pact of Steel May 1939) clearly stated that neither signatory was to make war without the other earlier than 1943. [Walker. p. 19.] The timidity of Hitler's adversaries caused him to accelerate his war plans. Italy's industrial sector was small compared to Britain and France amd miniscule compared to the United States. The automobile industry was key to World War II. The autmobile industry that was needed to manufacture the motrized vehicles needed for mobile war. One estimate suggests that Italy's automobile ondustry wa only abut 15 percent the size of that of Britain and France. There were about 0.4 million cars in Itly, compared to some 2.5 million in Britain and France. Not only did Italy have a relativelly small industrial sector, but it dd not have one which could be coverted tp supply the Italain Army the number of vehicles needed to mechanize or heavy tanks equal to those of the British and Americans. And if the size of Italian inustry suggested the country was not ready for war, worse still ws the fact that most daw materials hd to be imported. Much of this was dome by sea transport, exposing Italy to a Royal Navy blockade. Musolini's decesion to join Hitler in the War ws not an informed one based on Italy's industrial capacity, but on frustration that he was missing out on the booty of conquest. Finally with France already about to fall, Mussolini led an entirely unprepared country to War (June 1940).


Japan w the first Asian country to begin to industrailze. Even so industrail production wa a small fraction of that of the United States. They only began to produce automobiles (1930). Production totaled a mere 500 units. Japanese industry even before the carrier strike on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor was on a war footing. When the resultung War prioved not to be a short one as the Japanese miklitary expected, the country set about mobilizing its industrial capacity for total war. The bulk of the Japanese Army was deployed in China, but the vast expansion of the Japanese Empire required more men to garison. And as the Allies recovered from the initial Japanese offensives, more men were needed to fight the increasingly powerful Allied thrusts in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and thus workers and middle-aged men were drafted. Women and children were ordered to work in factories as well as on farms. As the military made increasing demands on manpower, school children were drafted to replace men drafted into military service on far-flung battlefields. Factories were put on a 7-day work day (summer 1944). Trains were increasingly crowded, largely because because fuel was becoming increasinly scarce. Japan had gone to War to obrain peteroleum nd other resources, but by 1943, the American submarine campaign was methodically destroying the Japanese maru (merchant) fleet. Japan was left with the oil fields in Southeast Asia, but no way to get it back to the Home Islands. Petroleum was the biggest problem, but shortages of other raw materials also developed, including rubber, nickel, tin, and others were increasingly duifficult to obtain. The same was true of other cruitical raw materials. Japanese industry, however, proved totally incapable of matching America production in quantity or quality. A good example was the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. It was an extrordinarily effective aurcraft against Allied aircraft (1941-42). The Americanhs rapidly introduced new advanced aircraft types. The Japanese were still using the Zero, albeit with some modifications) at the end of the War. Even running their factories 7 days a week, the Japanese could not begin to match the output of the United States which was rapidly expanding. Even before the strategic bombing campaign, Japan's industry was producing only a small fraction of American output and was severly impacted by raw material shortages.

Soviet Union

Stalin had built an industrial base capable of producing war material on an immemse level. The Germans were not aware of the full Soviet potential, neither the quantity or the quality of Soviet production. Soviet industrial production plyed a major role in the War.


Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich

Walker, Ian W. Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts; Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa . (Ramsbury: The Crowood Press, 2003).


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Created: 5:09 AM 2/18/2013
Last updated: 10:54 PM 8/22/2014