During the prewar years 1935-39 the Allied nations spent 86 percent of what the Axis spent on combat munitions production. However, by 1942 the Allies were outspending the Axis nations on a 3.61 to one ratio. Although the ratio wouldn’t grow the spending gap kept accelerating until the end of the war.
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Combat munitions are weapons, ammunition, and explosive devices designed and used specifically for military operations. These can include firearms, grenades, rockets, bombs, and other types of explosives. Combat munitions are designed to cause damage to enemy personnel, equipment, and infrastructure in order to achieve military objectives.
Germany attempted to manufacture a wide range of military equipment, including tanks, guns, airplanes, submarines, missile systems, fortresses, small arms, and V-1 and V-2 vengeance weapons. However, they did not initially standardize or focus on a select few platforms or models, resulting in a confusing array of trucks, motorcycles, aircraft, and other equipment that complicated production and logistics.
Whereas the Allies worked together not just on the operational aspects but how to best ensure that their industries were producing as much as possible. For example, Lend-Lease provided the Soviet Union extensive railway equipment. The USSR not having to produce 1,977 locomotives, 11,075 railway wagons, or 622,000 tons of railway rails allowed their internal industries to concentrate on other needed war production.
Additionally, the Allies from the start built a few models of trucks, tanks, and other platforms to better rationalize their production and logistic systems.
Germany anticipated conducting a series of brief wars or seizing control of neighboring states through political actions. And early events proved Germany’s expectations, beginning in 1935 when Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles by reinstating conscription, through France agreeing to an armistice with Nazi Germany in 1940.
During the 1930s, Germany mobilized its military and industry for war to a greater extent than other European nation. German self-sufficiency was a key principle in their war preparations, which included constructing synthetic fuel and rubber plants, prioritizing military over civilian economic policy, and stockpiling raw materials.
Although Germany’s prewar vision necessitated industrial and military mobilizations, it did not foresee total war or a prolonged conflict. As a result, Germany’s early war industrial mobilization geared up for swift victories. For instance, in 1942 only 10% of the workforce in tank, artillery, armor vehicles, and small arms industries was working double shifts.
It is almost counterintuitive that the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan which were all fascist governments would act so independently of each other. Whereas the Allied nations of the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) three nations with a constitutional monarchy, a representative democratic republic, and a communist government would coordinate at a high level.
Both the UK and the Soviet Union envisioned a long haul and coordinated their mobilization of manpower and economies accordingly. The US was the last entry into the fray, but they also mobilized their industries along the lines of their allied nation partners.
Mass production was key for the Allies, keeping designs simple and robust whenever possible. Minimizing numbers of model types and ensuring production runs which would benefit from economies of scale.
Combat Munitions Production
Germany attempted to manufacture a wide range of military equipment, including tanks, guns, airplanes, submarines, missile systems, fortresses (such as the Atlantic Wall), small arms, and V-1 and V-2 vengeance weapons. However, they did not initially standardize or focus on a select few platforms or models, resulting in a confusing array of trucks, motorcycles, aircraft, and other equipment that complicated production and logistics.
In contrast, the Allies collaborated not only on operational aspects but also on optimizing their industrial output. For instance, Lend-Lease provided the Soviet Union with significant railway equipment, enabling them to avoid producing 1,977 locomotives, 11,075 railway wagons, and 622,000 tons of railway rails and concentrate on other crucial war production.
Furthermore, the Allies streamlined their production and logistic systems by building a limited number of truck, tank, and other platform models from the outset, improving efficiency and coordination.
The Allies relied on mass production geared towards a long-protracted war. The Axis nations foresaw a series of short wars either overrunning their foe or quickly ending in a negotiated peace. By the time the Axis nations fully accepted that they were in a total war ending years away they had already fallen well behind the production curve with no capability of catching up.
Combat Munitions Production, Allies versus Axis, 1935-44
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Source Harrison, Mark. “Resource mobilization for World War II: the U.S.A., U.K., U.S.S.R., and Germany, 1938‐1945.” Published in the Economic History Review, 41:2 (1988), pp. 172
Note: * Figures for 1935-9 are given as cumulative expenditure in the source, annual average expenditure in this table. Source: Goldsmith, ‘Power of victory’, p. 75.