1942 to 1945
1942 – 1945, Total War: Completely militarized economy and a reaction to disaster
The transition into a total-war economy was initiated out of the annihilation of an entire German army at Stalingrad, completely reversing the tides of the war. Germany was finally forced to enter a total-war mode, as the loss of six million men, nearly a thousand tanks and several hundred aircraft was far too great for a partial-war economy to recover from. Goebbels gave his now-infamous ‘Total War’ speech, calling for a war ‘more total and radical than anyone could imagine’. Now, the sole economic policy of the Nazi party was for war, with personal gain and improvement cast aside completely.
In 1942 Albert Speer took over as the “Minister of Armaments” as the influences of Goering faltered after the failure of his Luftwaffe (air force) in 1939 and his empty promises of how the air force would save the entire Germany army trapped in the USSR at Stalingrad in 1942 (3 out of 4 men were killed, showing the success the Luftwaffe had in saving the army). Historians argue that Germany didn’t have an effective economy to cope with war until 1942 and regarded Speer as the key player in allowing for Germany to remain capable in war for as long as it did. These were Speer’s strategies in militarizing Germany’s economy.
1. Establishing a central planning board with representatives from all branches of German industry. Major decisions were being made in the board and Speer had a more concentrated control over the entire German industry. This was responsible for a great increase in output because nearly all factories now worked under the government. They could complete tasks more effectively they cooperated under clear instructions. This was also an act where Speer consolidated his power as an economic dictator in Germany.
2. Setting several industrial laws. Only elites and specialists that were within the age of 40-55 could become industrial department heads. Speer claimed that the people 55+ were too arrogant and people under 40 were not experienced enough. Through this, Speer hoped to maintain the quality and success of war production.
3. Use of forced labor. As mentioned in point 1, not only were the civilian factories forced to work under the government, but over 6.5 million workers were imported from other parts of Europe. Speer also called for more humane treatment of the labourers, both for easing his own conscience and for the simple, pragmatic fact that workers needed training and all that training would be wasted if the worker ended up dying from starvation.
Speer’s policies proved to be very successful. Despite the heaving bombing of major German cities by the Allies in 1942-44, production of tanks doubled and aircraft production increased by 80% in 1943. It continued to increase until late 1944s where the armaments were enough to support the double of Germany’s army size. This showed the ineffectiveness of Allied air attacks; attempts to annihilate the German economy only succeeded to a certain extent. This was also an indication of how successful was Speer’s policies and his role as the economic minster. In crucial times of WW2, Germany could still supply its army with enough armaments. In comparison to the supply of armaments for the army in Blitzkrieg and for the disastrous failure in the invasion of the USSR, Speer was very successful.
Eventually, Germany still lost war due to out-production by enemies. The Allies, in particular the UK, had been gearing for total war ever since 1939 and other Allied nations followed suit within the year, while Germany only initiated the change in 1942. Although it was able to struggle on, the German economy was completely overshadowed by its opponents and would not have saved Nazi Germany regardless of how many armaments or military hardware was produced, even without the Allied air raids.
Ironically enough, Speer, who would direct the Reich’s total war effort, was the one who saved Germany from being reduced to all but a third-world nation. Hitler, realising that the war was lost, was determined to take Germany down with him in death; as such, he issued the Nero decree, ordering a scorched-earth policy (destruction of anything and everything usable in a territory) in all Germany. Speer despaired at Hitler’s insanity and, via political maneuvering, convinced Hitler to put him in charge of exercising the decree, and thereafter ordered most of the military commanders not to undertake this suicidal act, followed by his own attempts to redirect the German economy to production of tools which would aid in recovery, such as agricultural implements, fertiliser and textiles in order to sustain Germany come the inevitable occupation by foreign powers. This would be the last successful ‘Nazi’ economic policy (or lack thereof) as it, if undertaken in its original form, would have reduced Germany’s territory to literally barren wasteland, and Speer’s final attempts to aid Germany post-war greatly supported its ability to provide basic needs such as food and water to its people.