For many, their perception of the Germany Army is one of a highly mechanized force employing tanks and other motor vehicles. That perception was played up by the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda and reinforced with their early blitzkrieg victories.
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Germany’s Reliance on Horses
German logistics was highly reliant on horses and carts rather than motor vehicles to get materiel from railroad terminals to the front lines. Once away from a train depot approximately 80% of German logistics was horse drawn. About one in six German divisions were mechanized while the other five relied upon the foot soldier to march and the horse to pull. Even though the Soviet Union utilized more horses than Germany they utilized a far greater number of trucks, jeeps, and other motorized vehicles to transport men and materiel. Additionally, the food, materiel, and manpower Germany required to maintain their horses made these divisions less efficient and less mobile than their enemy counterparts.
Although Germany had the world’s third-largest prewar motor vehicle production capacity it did not have a true motor culture. In 1936 the ratio between US and German motor vehicle production was sixteen to one. Motor vehicles were common in the United States and young men grew up using and maintaining them. These skills would translate directly to the battlefield.
Allies and Trucks
Tanks received the headlines and general-public fascination, but it was trucks that the United States’ industry produced in huge volumes, 2,455,964 units. Logistics was a core US and Allied WWII strategy, and trucks were at the forefront when it came to supplying the ground-based troops. Through Lend Lease the US supplied the Soviet Union with 152,000 trucks making up 27% of the Soviet 550,00 truck inventory. The Canadians built over 500,000 trucks during the war years. The UK produced 480,000 army trucks.
Germany produced 347,490 trucks in WWII splitting them on all fronts. Japan produced 165,945 trucks. The Allied nations transitioned their commercial motor vehicle industrial capacity more readily to military vehicle production. The United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom all out produced Germany in truck production. The Allied nations were much more mobile than their Axis counterparts.
The Allied nations all had an industrial culture of mass production. The Soviet Unions’ culture was through five-years plans and centralize planning. The democracies were capitalist based and economies of scale and assembly lines were omnipresent in the auto industries. All the Axis nations had a more craftsman’s approach to manufacturing thereby never reaching the production numbers of their foes.
Germany did obtain approximately 100,000 French produced trucks during the war years. These trucks produced by a largely hostile labor force suffered from quality and reliability issues. A ‘go slow’ mentality was common at all French manufacturers during the war and sabotage was common. Axis production often relied upon small skilled teams accomplishing many production steps versus the Allied approach of repetitive tasks minimizing skill levels needed by the workforce.
Percentage of World Motor Vehicle Production, 1936 Data
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Source: McNab, Chris. “Hitler’s Masterplan.” Editor: Spilling, Michael, Amber Books, 2011, Page 105