The strategic self-sufficiency or deficiency in raw materials played a critical role in shaping the military and economic strategies of the major belligerent nations during World War II. The Allied nations, including the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), pursued diverse approaches to address their raw material needs, while the Axis nations, comprising Germany, Italy, and Japan, faced distinct challenges and policy choices in this regard.
Snapshot of each nation’s self-sufficiency or lack thereof in strategic raw material and foodstuffs. A glance at the chart shows that 51% of the indicators are red, deficient. The most glaring for the Axis nations were oil, rubber, most of the metals, wheat, and meat. The Allied nations also struggled with the metals and rubber as well. However, the Allies were better off regarding oil and foodstuffs.
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Table of Contents
Both Germany and Italy had adopted a policy of autarky, aiming for economic self-sufficiency to reduce their dependence on external sources of raw materials. However, Italy’s lack of preparedness and limited reserves in gold, foreign currencies, and raw materials posed significant challenges. Italy’s industrial base was only a fraction of Germany’s, and its rearmament program was hindered by these deficiencies. As a result, Italy became dependent and effectively subordinate to Germany, highlighting the limitations of its autarkic policy.
Germany, with its advanced economic, scientific, and industrial capabilities, faced constraints in accessing and controlling the resources and raw materials required for its long-term goals. The expansion of Germany’s control of natural resources, industrial capacity, and farmland beyond its borders was necessitated by political demands. Germany’s military production was tied to resources outside its area of control, creating a dependency dynamic not found among the Allies. The acquisition of new territories during the war forced these territories to sell raw materials and agricultural products to Germany, reflecting the complexities of Germany’s raw material strategy.
Japan, as an Axis power, faced unique challenges in raw material self-sufficiency. The country’s limited domestic resources, particularly in terms of oil and other critical materials, prompted its expansionist policies in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan’s reliance on external sources for essential raw materials, coupled with its ambitions for territorial expansion, contributed to its strategic vulnerabilities and eventual conflicts with the Allied nations.
In contrast to the Axis nations’ pursuit of autarky, the Allied nations looked to make up for deficiencies from trade partners. Both the United Kingdom and the United States had vast trade networks facilitated by large merchant marines and navies. The United Kingdom, with its extensive colonial holdings and global trade connections, sought to leverage its international trade networks to address its raw material needs. The United States, with its industrial capacity and global economic influence, pursued strategic trade partnerships to secure essential raw materials for its military and industrial requirements.
The Soviet Union while facing significant challenges in the early stages of the war, also sought to address its raw material needs through domestic production and strategic alliances. The Soviet Union’s vast territorial expanse and resource-rich regions played a crucial role in sustaining its military and industrial capabilities during the conflict.
The availability of key energy resources, such as oil and coal, significantly influenced the operational capabilities and resilience of the nations involved in the conflict.
The United States and the USSR were largely self-sufficient in oil, providing them with a significant advantage in sustaining their military and industrial operations. The United Kingdom, having fought the First World War largely with oil from the United States, continued to rely on imports to meet its energy needs during World War II. This reliance on oil imports from the US underscored the strategic importance of maintaining trade partnerships for essential energy resources.
Germany, while importing oil, also produced synthetic oils. But neither of these sources was ever in great enough quantities to meet its wartime demands. Italy faced similar challenges in achieving energy self-sufficiency, highlighting the limitations of their autarkic policies. Japan, on the other hand, captured oil resources in the Dutch East Indies, seeking to address its energy deficiencies. Throughout the war, the US and the UK interdicted Japanese oil supplies from the Dutch East Indies, further exacerbating Japan’s energy vulnerabilities.
In terms of coal, all major Allied nations were self-sufficient, providing them with a reliable source of energy for many of their military and industrial needs. Germany, similarly, self-sufficient in coal, even exported coal to Italy, reflecting its capacity to meet its energy requirements. Japan, facing resource constraints, reallocated manpower to the most efficient coal mines and prioritized resources for military usage, underscoring the strategic significance of coal in sustaining its military operations.
The strategic self-sufficiency or deficiency in strategic metals, including iron, aluminum, and copper, played a crucial role in shaping the military and economic strategies of the major belligerent nations during World War II. The availability of these strategic metals significantly influenced the operational capabilities and resilience of the nations involved in the conflict. The United States and the USSR were largely self-sufficient in iron, while the United Kingdom relied on imports from the US. Germany, Italy, and Japan faced distinct challenges and policy choices in addressing their strategic metals needs.
The United States and the USSR were largely self-sufficient in iron, providing them with a significant advantage in sustaining their military and industrial operations. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, relied on imports from the US and its colonies to meet its iron needs. Germany relied on significant imports from Sweden to address its iron requirements.
Germany faced significant challenges in securing aluminum, utilizing occupied Norwegian aluminum production facilities, and exploiting bauxite sources in Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania after the occupation of these countries. The scavenging of aluminum from occupied Europe and Vichy France, as well as the extensive use of recycled aluminum from wrecked Allied and German aircraft, underscored the complexities of Germany’s aluminum strategy. Italy was self-sufficient in aluminum and even exported to Germany.
On the Allied side, although the USSR was self-sufficient in bauxite, it accepted finished aluminum from the US. The United States imported bauxite from South America and provided finished aluminum to the UK and USSR.
The United States, while self-sufficient in copper, took various actions to support exports to the UK and USSR, including closing gold mines and transferring workers to copper mines, discontinuing copper pennies, releasing copper miners from active duty to mine copper, and forming the Metals Reserve Company to buy up ore from neutral countries. The UK imported copper from South Africa, Canada, Chile, and the Belgian Congo to meet its copper needs. Germany relied on sources such as Yugoslavia and Sweden for copper.
The strategic self-sufficiency or deficiency in raw materials significantly influenced the military and economic strategies of the major belligerent nations during World War II. The Axis nations’ pursuit of autarky and the challenges they faced in achieving economic self-sufficiency underscored the complexities of their raw material policies. In contrast, the Allied nations’ reliance on trade partnerships and global networks reflected their strategic approach to addressing raw material deficiencies.
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Self Sufficiency or Deficiency; Strategic Raw Materials and Foodstuffs Data
*includes Austria and Czechoslovakia
**Includes: Korea, Kwantung, Manchukuo, and Mandates
Source: Ellis, John, “The World War II Databook”, BCA by arrangements with Aurum Press Ltd., 1993, Page 274, Table 77
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