- Historic Sites
After The Air Raids
An insider’s account of a startling— and still controversial—investigation of the Allied bombing of Germany
April/may 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 3
The American and British belief, as noted, was of a highly organized Germany—the taut string. And equally in the early years of a dilatory, uncommitted Britain. In 1940, from an economy with a total output some 30 per cent smaller than that of Germany, the British produced more military aircraft than Germany, nearly as many tanks, and many more of other kinds of armored vehicles. In 1941, a year for which more complete comparisons can be made, British war production far surpassed that of Germany in almost all categories. “The general picture of the German war economy...is not that of a nation geared to total war,” according to the economist Burton H. Klein. “It is rather of an economy initially mobilized for fighting relatively small and localized wars, and subsequently responding to the pressure of military events only after they became harsh facts....For the war against Russia, fuller preparations were made, but preparations which hardly strained the capacity of the economy....Soon after the attack began some important types of munitions output were allowed to decline on the premise that the war would soon be over....[T]he Germans did a far from distinguished job in managing their wartime economy. Both Britain and the United States moved much faster.…”
As the production objectives in Germany were low, so were the standards of performance. This was Speer’s first point of emphasis. The Nazi cabinet members and the Gauleiters were men thrust suddenly into high position and great power. Few were technically or intellectually up to wartime tasks. Nearly all responded to their new income and authority with unabashed hedonism. They did not generally see the need for sacrifice in civilian consumption, and in any case, they were stoutly unwilling to set an example. “If a Gauleiter won’t give up his servants, he cannot tell others to do so,” Speer told us. In September, 1944, Germany had 1,300,000 domestic servants as compared with 1,600,000 in May, 1939. As late as 1943 fully 50,000 Ukrainian women were imported for household service. Meanwhile, German women were not mobilized for factory work in any appreciable numbers. Speer, an ardent reader of Life magazine, told of his discontent at seeing pictures of American war plants full of seemingly eager women workers. Nazi doctrine held that the proper concern of women was with Küche, Kirche, Kinder.
More incredibly, few industries, continuous-process operations apart, had a night shift in Germany during the war. Nor was the work week much lengthened. Foreign workers, voluntary and compelled, seemed in limitless supply, but the slave workers, needless to say, were not highly motivated. Expansion was by adding more plant capacity and more day shifts.
Speer observed, as had Goebbels, that the German wartime slogan was wrong. It was, repetitiously, “Victory is certain”; “Blood, sweat and tears” would have been better.
Speer was eloquent on his efforts to have French workers produce weaponry in French factories for the Germans, this instead of bringing them to Germany. But as the war progressed, Frenchmen, not retarded in such matters, learned that being at work in one place made them vulnerable to the agents of Fritz Sauckel, the German plenipotentiary for labor. They could be seized en masse or in the needed skills. Accordingly, absenteeism became a matter of elementary caution. Speer then had especially important French factories placed under the protection of his ministry with the promise that their workers would not be carried off. Sauckel responded with plans for raiding these establishments, although this roundup did not, it appears, come off. Nonetheless, the vigor with which Sauckel pursued Frenchmen earned him the title in Berlin of “Father of the Maquis.”
Surrender did not end the animosity between Speer and Sauckel. In Flensburg Speer left us with the impression, without ever quite saying so, that Sauckel should rank high on any war-criminal list. Sauckel, under interrogation in the same days in southern Germany, was more forthright. Of Speer he said, “There is a man you should hang.” Sauckel was hanged.
Speer gave other less persuasive reasons for Germany’s casual performance. Britain by Dunkirk, the United States by Pearl Harbor, had, he thought, been shocked into great effort; no similar disasters had shaken Germany out of her accustomed bureaucratic and administrative habits. Not even Stalingrad had wholly served.”...The soft men and the weak were never sorted out and discarded as they were in Britain and the U.S. The weak remained in positions of responsibility to the last,” Speer said. In his journals, published thirty-three years later, he observed, as had Goebbels, that the German wartime slogan was wrong. It was, repetitiously, “Victory is certain”; “Blood, sweat, and tears” would have been better. George Ball, Paul Nitze, and I, veterans of wartime Washington and the frequently easygoing or delaying tendencies there, were not so greatly impressed.