Military production during World War II

Women metalworkers during the siege of Leningrad
Russian women working in city factory at the height of the Siege of Leningrad
Assembly line of Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6s fighters in a German aircraft factory

Military production during World War II includes the arms, ammunitions, personnel and financing which were mobilized for the war. Military production, in this article, means everything produced by the belligerents from the occupation of Austria in early 1938 to the surrender and occupation of Japan in late 1945.

The mobilization of funds, people, natural resources and materiel for the production and supply of military equipment and military forces during World War II was a critical component of the war effort. During the conflict, the Allies outpaced the Axis powers in most production categories. Access to the funding and industrial resources necessary to sustain the war effort was linked to their respective economic and political alliances. As formerly neutral powers (such as the United States) joined the escalating conflict, territory changed hands, combatants were defeated, the balance of power shifted in favour of the Allies (as did the means to sustain the military production required to win the war).

Historical context

German-language poster illustrating wartime production
German poster entitled "Designing and Building the East"

During the 1930s, political forces in Germany increased their financial investment in the military to develop the armed forces required to support near- and long-term political and territorial goals. Germany's economic, scientific, research and industrial capabilities were one of the most technically advanced in the world at the time and supported a rapidly growing, innovative military. However, access to (and control of) the resources and production capacity required to entertain long-term goals (such as European control, German territorial expansion and the destruction of the USSR) were limited. Political demands necessitated the expansion of Germany's control of natural and human resources, industrial capacity and farmland beyond its borders. Germany's military production was tied to resources outside its area of control, a dynamic not found amongst the Allies.

In 1938 Britain was a global superpower, with political and economic control of a quarter of the world's population, industry and resources, in addition to its close allies in the independent Dominion nations (such as Canada and South Africa). From 1938 to mid-1942, the British coordinated the Allied effort in all global theatres. They fought the German, Italian, Japanese and Vichy armies, air forces and navies across Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, India, the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. British forces destroyed Italian armies in North and East Africa and occupied overseas colonies of occupied European nations. Following engagements with Axis forces, British Empire troops occupied Libya, Italian Somaliland, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran and Iraq. The Empire funded and delivered needed supplies by Arctic convoys to the USSR, and supported Free French forces to recapture French Equatorial Africa. Britain also established governments in exile in London to rally support in occupied Europe for the Allied effort. The British held back or slowed the Axis powers for three years while mobilising their globally integrated economy and industrial infrastructure to build what became, by 1942, the most extensive military apparatus of the war. This allowed their later allies (such as the United States) to mobilise their economies and develop the military forces required to play a role in the war effort, and for the British to go on the offensive in its theatres of operation.

Mushroom-shaped cloud
The first atomic bomb

The entry of the United States into the war in late 1941 injected financial, human and industrial resources into Allied operations. The US produced more than its own military forces required and armed itself and its allies for the most industrialized war in history.[1] At the beginning of the war, the British and French placed large orders for aircraft with American manufacturers and the US Congress approved plans to increase its air forces by 3,000 planes. In May 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt called for the production of 185,000 aeroplanes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 anti-aircraft guns and 18 million tons of merchant shipping in two years. Adolf Hitler was told by his advisors that this was American propaganda; in 1939, annual aircraft production for the US military was less than 3,000 planes. By the end of the war US factories had produced 300,000 planes,[2][3] and by 1944 had produced two-thirds of the Allied military equipment used in the war[citation needed] — bringing military forces into play in North and South America, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, Western Europe and the Pacific.

The U.S. produced vast quantities of military equipment into late 1945, including nuclear weapons, and became the strongest, most technologically advanced military forces in the world. In addition to out-producing the Axis, the Allies produced technological innovations; through the Tizard Mission, British contributions included radar (instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain), sonar (improving their ability to sink U-boats), and the proximity fuze; the Americans led the Manhattan Project (which eliminated the need to invade Japan). The proximity fuze, for example, was five times as effective as contact or timed fuzes and was devastating in naval use against Japanese aircraft and so effective against German ground troops that General George S. Patton said it "won the Battle of the Bulge for us."[4]

The human and social costs of the war on the population of the USSR were immense, with combat deaths alone in the millions. Recognising the importance of their population and industrial production to the war effort, the USSR evacuated the majority of its European territory—moving 2,500 factories, 17 million people and great quantities of resources to the east.[5] Out of German reach, the USSR produced equipment and forces critical to the Axis defeat in Europe. Over one million women served in the Soviet armed forces.

Overhead view of assembly lines in large airplane factory
Assembly line production of fighter aircraft near Niagara Falls, New York

The statistics below illustrate the extent to which the Allies outproduced the Axis. Production of machine tools tripled, and thousands of ships were built in shipyards which did not exist before the war.[6] According to William S. Knudsen, "We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, nor dreamed possible."[7]

Access to resources and large, controlled international labour pools and the ability to build arms in relative peace were critical to the eventual victory of the Allies. Donald Douglas (founder of the Douglas Aircraft Company) declared, "Here's proof that free men can out-produce slaves."[8]

Production summaries 1939–1945

Personnel

Service Allies Axis
Combat 25,000
Auxiliary force 30,000
Merchant Marine 50,000
Irregulars 90,000
Total 80,000,000 30,000,000

Major weapons groups

System Allies Axis
Tanks, self-propelled artillery, vehicles 4,358,649 670,288
Artillery, mortars, guns 6,792,696 1,363,491
Aircraft 637,248 229,331
Missiles (only for test) 45,458
Ships 54,932 1,670

Economy

In thousands of international dollars, at 2014 prices.[citation needed]

Service Allies Axis
GDP 97,707,908,723.20 10,268,201,776.37
Expenditure

[9]

Vital commerce and raw materials

To move raw materials and supply distant forces, large numbers of cargo ships had to be built
Category Allies Axis
Cargo ships 47,118 12,762
Merchant shipping 46,817,172 5,621,967
Coal 4,581,400,000 2,629,900,000
Crude oil 1,043,000,000 66,000,000
Steel 733,006,633 x
Aluminium 5,104,697 1,199,150
Asbestos 3,934,043 x
  • Cargo and resources in metric tonnes

Production overview: service, power and type

Land forces

Power Tanks & SPGs Armoured vehicles Other vehicles Artillery Mortars Machine guns Personnel
British Empire 47,862 47,420 1,475,521 226,113 239,540 1,090,410 11,192,533
USA and territories 108,410 2,382,311 257,390 105,055 2,679,840 10,000,000
USSR 119,769 197,100 516,648 200,300 1,477,400
(excluding 6 million
sub-machine guns)
34,401,807
Other
Allies 270,041 47,420 4,054,932 1,000,151 544,895 5,247,650
Germany and territories 67,429 49,777 159,147 73,484 674,280 1,000,730 16,540,835
Hungary 973 447 4,583
Romania 91 251 2,800 10,000
Italian Empire 3,368 83,000 7,200 22,000
Japanese Empire 4,524 165,945 13,350 29,000 380,000
Other
Axis 76,385 50,028 408,092 97,281 725,280 1,395,313

Air forces

Power Total Aircraft Fighters Attack Bombers Recon Transport Training Other Personnel
British Empire 177,025 38,786 33,811 38,158 7,014 12,585 46,256 415 1,927,395
USA and territories 324,000 99,000 97,000 123,900 57,000 2,400,000
USSR 136,223 22,301 37,549 21,116 17,332 4,061
Other
Allies 637,248 164,087 71,360 256,274 7,014 153,817 107,317 415
Germany and territories 133,387 57,653 8,991 28,577 5,025 8,396 14,311 11,361 3,402,200
Romania 1,113 513 272 128 0 200 0 0
Italian Empire 13,402 6,157 34 3,381 388 2,471 968 3
Japanese Empire 64,484 33,405 9,558 11,943 3,709 1,073 3,420 1,376
Other 9,849 881 4 395 318 1,880 5,145 57
Axis 222,235 98,609 18,859 44,424 11,002 14,020 22,944 12,794

Naval forces

Munitions

Munitions Production in World War II
(Expenditures in billions of dollars, US 1944 munitions prices)
Country/Alliance Year
Average
1935-39
1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 Total
1939–44
U.S.A. 0.3 1.5 4.5 20.0 38.0 42.0 106.3
Britain 0.5 3.5 6.5 9.0 11.0 11.0 41.5
U.S.S.R. 1.6 5.0 8.5 11.5 14.0 16.0 56.6
Allies Total 2.4 10.0 20.0 41.5 64.5 70.5 204.4
Germany 2.4 6.0 6.0 8.5 13.5 17.0 53.4
Japan 0.4 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.5 6.0 16.9
Axis Total 2.8 7.0 8.0 11.5 18.0 23.0 70.3

Source: Goldsmith data in Harrison (1988) p. 172

Commercial forces

British Empire USA USSR Germany Hungary Italy Japan Romania
Harbour craft 1,092
Cargo 1,361
Cargo tonnage 12,823,942[citation needed] 33,993,230 [10] 1,469,606[citation needed] 4,152,361 [11]

Resources

Country Coal Iron ore Crude oil Steel Aluminium Nickel Zinc
!a -9999 -9999 -9999
USA 2,149.7 396.9 833.2
Britain[12] 1,441.2 119.2 90.8 3.700 0.205
Australia 83.1 1.56
India[13] 196.7 6.0 1.12
Canada 101.9 3.6 8.4 16.4 3.500[14]
New Zealand[15] 18
USSR 590.8 71.3 110.6 0.263[16] 0.069[17] 0.384[17]
Total Allied 4581.4 597 1043
Germany 2,420.3 240.7 33.4[18] 1.9[19] 0.046[19] 2.1[19]
Japan 184.5 21.0 5.2
Italy 16.9 4.4
Hungary 6.6 14.1 3.1
Romania 1.6 10.8 25.0
Total Axis 2629.9 291
~z 99999999 99999999 99999999

All figures in millions of tonnes

Reference data for summary tables

Ratio of GDP between the major Allied and Axis powers 1938–1945

GDP

GDP provides insight into the relative strength of the belligerents in the run up to, and during the conflict.

Gross domestic product [nb 1] [20] [21]
Country 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
United Kingdom 284 287 316 344 353 361 346 331
Dominions 115
Colonies 285
British Empire 684 687 716 744 753 761 746 731
France 186 199 82 130 116 110 93 101
Colonies 49
French Empire 235 248 131 179 165 159 142 150
Soviet Union 359 366 417 359 274 305 362 343
Occupied
Soviet Union Total 359 366 417 359 274 305 362 343
United States 800 869 943 1094 1235 1399 1499 1474
Colonies 24
United States Total 824 893 968 1118 1259 1423 1523 1498
Nationalist China 320.5
German Reich 351 384 387 412 417 426 437 310
Occupied 77 430 733 733 430 244
German Reich Total 351 461 817 1145 1150 856 681 310
Italy 141 151 147 144 145 137 117 92
Colonies 3
Occupied 20 20 20 20
Italian Empire 144 154 170 167 168 160 140 115
Japan 169 184 192 196 197 194 189 144
Colonies 63
Occupied
Japanese Empire 232 247 255 259 260 257 252 207
Romania 24
Hungary 24
Bulgaria 10
Albania 1

Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Albanian GDP calculated by multiplying the GDP per capita of the four countries in 1938 ($1,242 for Romania, $2,655 for Hungary, $1,595 for Bulgaria and over $900 for Albania)[22] by their estimated populations in 1938: 19,750,000 for Romania,[23] 9,082,400 for Hungary,[24] 6,380,000 for Bulgaria[25] and 1,040,400 for Albania.[26]

  1. ^ Billions of international dollars, at 1990 prices. Adjusted annually for changing compositions within each alliance.

Table notes

  1. France to Axis: 1940:50% (light green), 1941–44:100% (brown)
  2. USSR to Allies: 1941:44% (light green), 1942–1945:100%.
  3. US direct support to the Allies begins with Lend Lease in March 1941, though the US made it possible for the Allies to purchase US-produced materiel from 1939[27]
  4. Italy to Allies and Axis: 1938:0%, 1939–1943:100% Axis (brown), 1944-1945:100% Allies
  5. Japanese to Axis begins with Tripartite Pact in 1940
  6. The Allied and Axis totals are not the immediate sum of the table values; see the distribution rules[clarification needed] used above.

United States World War II GDP (compared to other countries)

GDP during World War II

  • Debt and higher taxes led to GDP growth percentages over 17%. This trend continued throughout the war and stopped increasing after the war ended. For the United States, government spending was used as a positive indicator of GDP growth. However the high rates of government only was beneficial for a short period of time, a trend that can be seen in most wars.[28]
  • In 1939, Britain spent 9% of its GDP on defence, this raised drastically after the start of World War II to around 40%. By the year 1945 government spending had peaked at 52% of the national GDP.[29]
  • Before joining World War II US government spending in 1941 represented 30% of GDP, or about $408 billion. In 1944 at the peak of World War II, government spending had risen to over $1.6 trillion about 79% of the GDP. During this three-year period the total GDP represented by government spending rose 394%.[30]

US unemployment during World War II

  • During World War II unemployment by 1945 had fallen to 1.9% from 14.6% in 1940. 20% of the population during the war was employed within the armed forces.[31]
  • The beginning years of World War II shows a spike in employment, but towards the end of the war decreased significantly. The employment spike was in relation to the tremendous amount of production the United States was making. Examples of high numbers of employment could have been seen in at Gulf Shipbuilding which obtained 240 employees at the beginning of 1940 and increased to 11,600 employees in 1943. Alabama Dry dock also was an exemplary business in employment that raised number from 1,000 workers to 30,000 in the most productive years of the war. Demographics of employment consisted of eight million women including African Americans and Latinas, adding to the 24 million that searched for defensive jobs outside of the war.[32][33]

Price of war

Many concerns and political influence come from the price of war. While GDP can easily increase Federal expenditures, it also can influence political elections and government decision making. No matter how much percentages of GDP increase or decrease we need higher amounts of GDP in order to pay for more investments, one of those investments being more wars. To pay for these wars, taxes are held at a very high rate. For example, by the end of World War II tax rates went from 1.5% to 15%. Along with tax percentages reaching high amounts, spending on non-defense programs were cut in half during the period of World War II. Tax cuts allow one to see GDP in effect for the average American. Still, almost ten years after World War II, in 1950 and 1951 congress raised taxes close to 4% in order to pay for the Korean War. After the Korean War, in 1968 taxes again were raised 10% to pay for the Vietnam War. This caused GDP to raise 1%. Although research can support positive relationship between production and jobs with GDP, research can also show the negative relationship with tax increases and GDP.[34]

Prior to the Second World War, the United States was cautious with regard to its manufacturing capabilities as the country was still recovering from the Great Depression. However, during the war, Franklin Roosevelt set ambitious production goals to fulfill. The early 1940s were set to have 60,000 aircraft increasing to 125,000 in 1943. In addition, targets for the production of 120,000 tanks and 55,000 aircraft were set during the same time period. The Ford Motor Company in Michigan built one motor car (comprising 15,000 parts) on the assembly lines every 69 seconds. Ford's production contributed to America's total production of vehicles totalling three million in 1941. American production numbers caused the US employed workforce to increase massively. America's yearly production exceeded Japan's production building more planes in 1944 than Japan built in all the war years combined. As a result, half of the world's war production came from America. The government paid for this production using techniques of selling war bonds to financial institutions, rationing household items and creating more tax revenues. Some contribution to the US wartime manufacturing boom can be ascribed to the prior creation of the Alcoa plant in the 1930s. The Alcoa plant prepared thousands of tons of aluminum used for the production of 304,000 aeroplanes during the war. The United States quickly adjusted to the levels of production required to equip its military with the millions of war products used during World War II.[35]

Personnel – Allied – Britain, dominions and possessions

Including all non-British subjects in British services.[36]

Note:

  1. Auxiliary units include Home Guard, Reserves, Police regiments, etc.

Personnel – Axis – German Reich

This includes all German and non-German subjects serving within German Reich forces.

Note:

  1. Auxiliary units include Home Guard, Wehrmachtsgefolge, Reserves, Police regiments, etc.
  2. USSR includes Armenia 4k SS,14k Wehr, 7k Aux; Azerbaijan 55k SS, 70k Wehr; Belarus 12k Wehr, 20k Aux; Cossack 200k Wehr; Estonia 20k SS, 50k Wehr, 7k Aux; Georgia 10k SS; 30k Wehr; Kalmyk 5k Wehr; Latvia 55k SS; 87k Wehr, 300 Air, 23k Aux; Lithuania 50k Wehr, 10 Aux; North Caucuses 4k SS; Russia 60k SS, 26k Wehr; Turkestan 16k Wehr; Ukrainian 300k Wehr; 2k Aux; Tatar/Urals 12k Wehr

Aircraft – Allied – British Empire

Within the UK, initially aircraft production was very vulnerable to enemy bombing. To expand and diversify the production base the British set up "Shadow factories". These brought other manufacturing companies – such as vehicle manufacturers – into aircraft production, or aircraft parts production. These inexperienced companies were set up in groups under the guidance or control of the aircraft manufacturers. New factory buildings were provided with government money.[38]

Fighters Australia Britain Canada India NZ SA Total
Bristol Blenheim[note 3] 5,519 626 6,145
CAC Boomerang 250 250
Bristol Brigand 147 147
Boulton Paul Defiant[note 4] 1,065 1065
Blackburn Firebrand 230 230
Fairey Firefly 872 872
Fairey Fulmar 600 600
de Havilland Hornet[note 5] 197 197
Gloster Meteor 250 250
North American Mustang 200 200
Blackburn Roc 136 136
Supermarine Seafire[note 6] 2,334 2,334
Gloster Gladiator[note 7] 98 98
Supermarine Spitfire 20,351 20,351[39]
Hawker Tempest 1,702 1,702
de Havilland Vampire 244 244
Westland Whirlwind[note 8] 116 116
450 37,705 626 5 38,703
Attack Australia Britain Canada India NZ SA
Bristol Beaufighter 364 5,564 5,928
Curtiss SB2C Helldiver 1,134 1,134
Hawker Hurricane[note 9] 14,231 1,451 15,682
de Havilland Mosquito 212 6,199 1,134 7,545
Blackburn Skua 192 192
Hawker Typhoon 3,330 3,330
576 29,516 3,719 33,811
Bomber Australia Britain Canada India NZ SA
Fairey Albacore 800 800
Fairey Barracuda 2,607 2,607
Bristol Beaufort 700 1,429 2,129
Bristol Buckingham 119 119
Handley Page Halifax 6,178[note 10] 6,178
Handley Page Hampden[note 11] 1,270 160 1,430
Handley Page Hampden 152 152
Avro Lancaster 7,307 430 7,377
Avro Lincoln[note 5] 73 530 1 604
Avro Manchester 202 202
Short Stirling 2,383 2,383
Fairey Swordfish[note 11] 2,396 2,396
Vickers Wellington[note 11] 11,461 11,461
Armstrong Whitworth Whitley[note 11] 1,780 1,780
773 36,794 591 38,158
Reconnaissance
& patrol
Australia Britain Canada India NZ SA
Taylorcraft Auster 1,800 1,800
Bristol Bolingbroke[note 12] 676 626
Bristol Bombay[note 13] 51 51
Blackburn Botha 580 580
Piper Cub 150 150
Saro Lerwick 21 21
Hawker Osprey 9 9
Consolidated Canso 721[40] 993
Supermarine Sea Otter 292 292
Short Seaford 10 10
Blackburn Shark 17 17
Supermarine Stranraer 17 40 57
Short Sunderland 767 767
Supermarine Walrus 746 746
Vickers Warwick 845 845
5,410 1604 7,014
Transport Aus Britain Can India NZ SA
de Havilland Albatross 7 7
Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle 602 602
CAC Gliders 8 8
Northrop/Canadian Vickers Delta 19 19
De Havilland Australia DHA-G1/G2 8 8
de Havilland Dragon 87 87
de Havilland Dragon Rapide/Dominie 474 474
Short Empire 42 42
Armstrong Whitworth Ensign 15 15
de Havilland Flamingo 14 14
Fleet 50 Freighter 5 5
General Aircraft Hamilcar[note 14] 412 412
Slingsby Hengist 18 18
Airspeed Horsa[note 14] 5,000 5,000
General Aircraft Hotspur 1,015 1,015
Avro Lancastrian 82 6 82
Westland Lysander 1,445 225 1,670
Miles Messenger 93 93
Miles Monarch 11 11
Miles Monitor 22 22
Noorduyn Norseman 861 861
Short S.26 3 3
Whitley 1,814 1,814
Avro York 259 1 259
Other
103 11,380 1,117 12,600
Training Aus Britain Can India NZ SA
Avro Anson 8,488 3,197 11,685
Fairey Battle[note 15] 2,201
Bristol Buckmaster 112
Fairchild Cornell (PT-19/26) 1,642
de Havilland Don 30
Fleet Finch 606
Fleet Fort 101
Harlow PC-5 5 50
North American Harvard 3,985
Miles Magister 1,303
Miles Martinet 1,724
Miles Master 3,250
Miles Mentor 45
de Havilland Moth Minor 100
Airspeed Oxford 8,586
Percival Proctor 1,143
de Havilland Tiger Moth 1,080 5,738 1,748 150 8,716
Avions Fairey Tipsy B 15
CAC Wackett 202
CAC Wirraway 755
2,037 32,735 11,284 50 150 46,256
Other Australia Canada Britain India NZ SA Empire
Prototypes[note 16] 2 3 61
Other 10 339
2 13[note 17] 400[note 18] 415
Total 'x x x x x x x

Aircraft – Allies – France, Poland and minor powers

Production numbers until the time of the German occupation of the respective country. Some types listed were in production before the war, those listed were still in production at the time of or after the Munich crisis.

Fighters Belgium Czechoslovakia Denmark France Netherlands Poland Yugoslavia Total
Avia B.534-IV/Bk.534 274
Caudron CR.714 90
Dewoitine D.520 403
Fokker D.XXI 10 110 120
Koolhoven F.K.58 20[note 19]
Avions Fairey Fox VI/VII 106
Fokker G.I 63
Hawker Hurricane I 15 20
Ikarus IK-2 12
Rogozarski IK-3 12
Bloch MB.151/152 636
Morane-Saulnier MS.406 1,077
Potez 630/631 280
PZL.50 Jastrząb (6)[note 20]
PZL P.24 118[note 21]
Arsenal VG.33/36/39 40[note 22]
Total 121 274 10 2,526 193 119 (+5) 44 3,287[note 23]
Attack Belgium Czechoslovakia Denmark France Netherlands Poland Yugoslavia Total
Breguet Br.690 230
Laté 298 121
Loire-Nieuport LN.40 68
Fairey P.4/34 (12)[note 24]
Rogožarski PVT[note 25] 61
Total (12) 419 61 480[note 26]
Bombers Belgium Czechoslovakia Denmark France Netherlands Poland Yugoslavia Total
Aero A.101 64
Aero A.304 19
Amiot 351/354 80
Avia B-71 61
Fairey Battle I 18 [note 27]
Fokker C.X/Fokker C.XI 53
Dornier Do 17K 70
Farman F.222.2/F.223 25
LeO 45 452
LWS-6 Żubr 17
Bloch MB.131 143
Bloch MB.174/175 79
Bloch MB.210 298
Potez 633 55
PZL.37 120
PZL.43 54[note 28]
PZL.46 2[note 29]
Rogožarski SIM-XIV-H 19
Fokker T.V 16
Fokker T.VIII 36
Total 18 144 1,132 105 193 89 1,681

Aircraft - Axis - All

Occupied countries produced weapons for the Axis powers. Figures are for the period of occupation only.

Propaganda posters

See also