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How Well Did Governments Organise Their Resources During The Second World War

A Level History - the organisation of the state for war looking at the USA the USSR Nazi Germany and Britain

Date : 11/01/2016


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Uploaded by : Paul
Uploaded on : 11/01/2016
Subject : History

The Second World War

This article looks at the relationship between relevant domestic factors and warfare: the organisation of the state for war, public opinion, conscri ption, economics, manpower and resources.

The Organisation of the State for War

I am going to focus here on four nations in the years running up to WW2 and the war itself

The Soviet un ion (USSR and Stalin) The Russian Civil War followed the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 and you are into the early 1920’s before the Russian Bolsheviks or Communists finally gained real control over the country. The communists believed that they could not be the only communist nation and survive in a hostile world and through the 1920’s they looked for security by promoting world revolution and encouraging the communist parties to seize power as they had. This was carried out through an organisation known as the Comintern or communist international but by the early 1930’s this policy had failed and Russia stood alone, more to the point her promotion of world revolution meant she was alienated from the other (western) nations and had no real allies beyond the communist parties of the various nations. The CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) changed its policy under Stalin’s leadership to one of Socialism in one Country if security could not be achieved through world revolution then Russia must be made strong. Thus the Soviet un ion embarks on not just one but two five year plans to modernise and industrialise the USSR and the building up of the RED ARMY was an integral part of that. This was always ruthlessly done and the creation of the labour camps to supply the needs of industrialisation – often in remote areas of Siberia, was fed by the purges as the communist party turned on itself and its people with show trials of major leaders fed by Stalin’s increased paranoia . The main point here is that while the Soviet un ion made rapid gains as a modern industrialising nation it came at tremendous cost to the people and its own communist party. The numbers of people arrested on suspicion of the slightest thing, followed by a swift trial, execution or long sentences in the Gulags (labour camps) weakened the country and left it ill prepared for the coming war. On paper the Red Army was the strongest force in the world, but its leadership was endlessly purged and many of its best leaders were shot. It lacked initiative, (not surprising in a system where even slavish obedience to orders was not a guarantee of survival) and all units of the Red Army had a ‘Political Commissar’ attached to it to ensure compliance with Party Lines. Whether Stalin saved Russia or weakened it to the point where it crumbled quickly under Nazi attack in June 1941 is a debatable point. Its survival can be explained by the ruthlessness which it then fought the war. In the face of attack whole factories were moved east of the Ural Mountains and rebuilt and working again in weeks. Russia mobilised the whole of the nation to the needs of the war.

Nazi Germany in many ways copied the Soviet 5 Year plan with their own Four Year Plan of 1936. The big difference is the poor organisation of the Nazi state. The 4 Yr. plan was supposed to provide for a limited war in 1940 but the 4 Yr. Plan office with its six major departments was in direct completion with the existing economics ministry and the chaotic power struggle that ensued is typical of the Nazi State. Constant interference in the industrial processes led to excessive waste so again while great progress was made none of the targets were really met. The point of the 4 Yr. plan was to provide Germany with the essential war materials it needed to survive a blockade and one should remember that the economic blockade of German ports in WW1 had brought the country to starvation and the edge of revolution in 1918. One example is steel, Germany had no effective steel industry and German iron ores were very low quality, a very expensive steelworks (the Hermann Goering Steelworks) was created to produce high quality steel from low grade ore but at an excessive cost and far more than the cost of importing high grade ore from Sweden. The same idea was applied to producing fuels and lubrication oils from low grade German ‘brown coal’ and synthetic rubber. Goering famously said that ‘the cost did not matter what was important was to produce’ needless to say this nonsensical attitude pushed Germany close to an economic crisis by late 1938 as she ran out of money, particularly the ‘hard’ foreign currencies that other nations wanted, Swiss francs etc. Germany’s response was to trade with emerging economies in South America and South Eastern Europe and either insist that these nations accepted Reich marks or swop them for German technology and factory goods. One example that is easy to remember is Guano. Guano is bird droppings and nations like Chile and Argentina had thousands of miles of coastline and cliffs and millions of seabirds. Guano is rich in nitrates which are needed both as fertiliser and as a key ingredient in explosives. Germany could impose terms on these developing nations that the developed economies such as Sweden would simply not accept. Even so the Marxist Historian Tim Mason has argues that Germany went to war partly in 1939 to avoid a developing economic crisis and that she would use the captured economies of Poland (and Czechoslovakia and all the other occupied nations) to make up the shortfall in her own economic policy. Either way Germany was not fully prepared for war with Poland in September 1939 and only had enough resources (including ammunition) for a short war.

Germany’s chaotic economy was allowed to continue into the war years and it is only in February 1942 with the appointment of Albert Speer as armaments minister that attempts are finally made to cull the pet projects of Nazi bigwigs, reduce waste and bring the economy under control. Speer is very effective in reducing waste and increasing production of all vital war resources including weapons but it takes time and the month of the highest production for Nazi Germany is September 1944 which is very late indeed. One wonders whether had Speer run the economy from 1936 might Germany had one the war. If Germany fails to grasp the need for the mass production of weapons in quantity she also failed to fully exploit her workforce. Germany never used women to the extent that the allied nations did. Instead she relied on slave economies and slave or forced labour to augment her industry. Auschwitz was not just a death camp it was a vast economic factory run by the SS to provide goods for the war and key German firms relocated there and to other similar sites. Whether Germany could ever have defeated the combined economic might of the USA the USSR and Britain is debatable, but it never really tried!

Britain while damaged by the economic depression of the 1930’s started to organise to the threat of a possible new war from 1936. One key development was the building of shadow factories famously at Castle Bromwich these would not only be able to increase production (of planes like the Spitfire) without disrupting the original factory (at Southampton) they also ensured that the destruction of a single factory through would not be a disaster from which there could be no recovery. In Britain’s case it is not just the industrialisation process that is important more the advanced planning that enabled us to get the very most out of our limited means particularly after the fall of France in 1940 and before the entry of the USSR (June 1941) and the USA (December 1941). Rationing was introduced from the very start of the war. It was completely fair in that everyone had a ration book and enough food to eat but there was far less meat and fat in the diet and it was monotonous. People in the cities could get fish easier while in the countryside it was easier to grow and get vegetables. Private cars were not allowed and most were confiscated with only essential people like doctors having a car and a petrol ration. There was a thriving black market nevertheless. Britain not only evacuated its children from cities like London to safety in in countryside in a well prepared plan it had also organised civil defence through Air Raid Wardens (ARP) the building and issue of air raid shelters (E. G Anderson Shelters) even gas masks for the whole population. So when the Blitz began in 1940 there was a radar and observer network built to spot the attackers in time to issue warnings, ARP wardens to direct people to safety, an Auxiliary Fire Service (a second line volunteer fire service) and special heavy rescue teams to dig out the trapped survivors of any bombing, and NATIONWIDE. In December 1941 Britain formally conscri pted its women, and all young women (unless they had small children) were directed into the factories or into one of the woman’s armed forces (WRAF, Wrens, and ATS)

The USA might not have formally entered WW2 until December 1941 but under President Roosevelt she had given every assistance to Britain short of war especially in the crucial period May 1940-June 1941 when Britain stood alone. The best example is Lend –Lease where the British allowed the USA to use bases in the Caribbean and elsewhere and in return the USA lent us weapons including a large number of old US warships which we could use to escort convoys across the Atlantic. American factories filled up to war production levels as British orders for tanks and planes flooded in but this was as nothing when compared to the huge economic expansion that took place after the USA formally entered the war. Like Britain the USA fully exploited its economic manpower especially women in factories, unlike Britain she finished the war as a superpower, Britain by contrast was exhausted and broken by the cost of victory.

Political control all the nations above took measures to restrict the threat from within

Britain – as in WW1 Britain used censorship extensively and had the active support of Newspaper editors and the people themselves. Reversals were minimised, achievements and victories lauded and in some cases blanket censorship imposed. When Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament were hit by bombs this was widely reported as it could be used to show that ‘We are all in it together and encourage the Spirit of the Blitz’ some disasters were covered up. The passenger liner Lancastria was sunk while evacuating troops from France in 1940 and the news of this was supressed as thousands died on the liner. The British set up an organisation known as Mass Observation. Thousands of ordinary people regularly filled in questionnaires and reported back to the government on every aspect of life during the war from rationing to conditions in the factories. This allowed the government to manage the developing situation and avoid discontent and have a genuine finger on the pulse of the people’s feelings during war. Those seen as a threat at the start of the war were arrested and imprisoned, the best example is Oswald Moseley who was the leader of the British un ion of Fascists and all its membership was rounded up. Less fairly many Germans (and German Jews and Italians) who had fled the Fascist and come to Britain were also interned. Most of the Germans posed no threat and were opponents of the Nazi’s. Even so the spent the early years of the war as prisoners on the Isle of Man, mostly in commandeered hotels.

USSR Stalin’s control of the USSR in the first month following the German invasion was fragile, he had not believed that Hitler would attack as Germany and Russia had signed a Non-Aggression Treaty in August 1939 and he refused to believe the reports of the German attack. Many Soviet citizens initially welcomed the Germans as liberators from the oppressive communist regime, however the German treatment of civilians was so bad that this did not last that long. Stalin cleverly made the war not a defence of the USSR but a defence of mother Russia and appealed to Russian patriotism rather than a defence of Communism. The use of political commissars was abandoned as the war progressed and unlike Hitler Stalin allowed the Generals to fight the war (provided that they produced results). The Germans fought a War of Annihilation in Russia and Hitler’s famous Barbarossa order basically cancelled the Geneva Convention. It is enough to say that the war dead of the USSR for WW2 stands at above 40 million and that eight out of ten of all German soldiers fought on the Russian front. Soviet censorship was extreme and it was very difficult for British and American journalists based in Moscow to find out what was really happening. In all cases they were treated with great suspicion by the Soviets.

Nazi Germany – here focus on Goebbels and the propaganda ministry (RMVP) who while not universally successful were adept at controlling the German people though a sophisticated and modern propaganda ministry.

Conscri ption

USSR – everyone and always!

Nazi Germany – conscri ption existed from the mid 1930’s as soon as the German army began to expand

Britain reintroduced conscri ption for 18 year old males from the start of 1939, this lasted throughout the war and well after. (Don’t forget women – see above)

USA basically yes, but its massive manpower pool (again including women) made it less of an issue, there was a very strong patriotism that ran through the nation after the attack on Pearl Harbour in Dec 1941.

Franceconscri pted all the way through the 20th C so all French soldiers were conscri pts, obviously she surrenders in 1940 and France is divided with many of its soldier’s prisoners of the Germans. After D-Day and with the liberation of France the French managed to put six divisions back into the war by 1945.

Conclusion – This will cover your needs as regards knowledge but as usual it is what you do with it. In answering any question students must be able to

ü Analyse and synthesise material across a span of 150 years comparing and contrasting

ü Identify key developments and outcomes

ü Understand patters of continuity and change and cross reference making links

ü Recognise the importance of turning points, explain their significance and justify their importance

ü Develop a chronological framework of how things fit together over time

ü Explore links between the four key themes and periods within the 150 year study period.

ü Use two or three knowledge examples to support a statement/explanation and/or argument

ü Start to develop an essay approach using question stems such as ‘how far…’ ‘Do you agree that…’ and ‘to what extent…?’

Task – I want you to make links and comparisons using the information above and comparing it with another period for similarity and difference. Find a fact, topic or statement from this hand out and compare it for similarity or difference with another situation it can be the same nation or a different one

Some ideas to get you started

* How different was Britain’s approach in WW2 to that of WW1

* How different was Russia WW1-WW2

* How similar was the USA in its response to the American Civil War and WW2?

* Which nation best mobilised the resources of the nation for war in WW2 and why?

Possible essay titles (these are from my essay revision list)

The organisation of the state for war was the decisive factor in winning wars between 1792-1945. How far would you agree with this assertion?

Public opinion had little impact on the conduct of war between 1792-1945. How far would you agree with this assertion?

The use of conscri ption was a more important factor than the quality of soldiers in the changing nature of warfare 1792-1945. How far would you agree with this assertion? (x)

Nations who could effectively harness the economics, manpower and resources of a nation usually win wars. How far would you agree with this assertion?

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