Life in Wartime Germany, 1939-1945

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The Outbreak of War

In September 1939 German invaded and quickly conquered Poland. Their war declaration brings Germany into conflict with Britain and France. By the end of 1940, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg had been invaded and overwhelmed. The TofV had been avenged, European domination achieved. Only GB holds out. This is partly due to the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain (1940) but also because Hitler's attention focuses on his main goal - destroying the USSR. German forces are distracted (must support ally Italy in the Balkans) but eventually invade Russia on 22nd June 1941.

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Operation Barbarossa

Hitler had always intended to invade the USSR in spite of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (Aug 1939). He saw them as a threat to his European Empire and the birthplace of Communism and Judaism. He hoped invading would win Lebensraum for Germans, use the large resevoir of Slav labour, and exploit oil reserves in the Caucasus and grain supply from the Ukraine.

Operation Barbarossa begins with 3 million troops. They were mainly German but had some from Italy, Hungary and Romania. The attack took place across three fronts: northern -> Leningrad, centre -> Moscow, southern -> Ukraine and Crimea before onto the Caucasus. He hoped to repeat the successful Blitzkrieg tactics. The Germans made rapid advances. By November 1941, Leningrad and Moscow were under seige and 3 mil Soviets were prisoner. But the vast distances, poor roads, partisan activity, and 'scorched earth policy' of the retreating Soviet Army delayed the Germans. By December weather conditions brought Germany to a standstill 30 miles off Moscow.

The army were completely unprepared for such extreme conditions. They had also underestimated the strength and resistance of the Red Army. The Societs also managed to uproot and transport 1500 key factories east of the Urals to become more productive than the German economy by late 1943. On 6th December 1941, the USSR counter-attacks, halting the German advance.

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In June 1942, Germans launch an offensive to capture the Caucasus oilfield. Hitler orders the Sixth Army to capture Stalingrad which guarded the river Volga. The city was beseiged from September and street fighting broke out. Stalin was determined to hold onto the city with General Zhukov organising resistance.

On 19th November, the Red Army launched a counteroffensive, trapping the sixth army in a pincer movement. Hitler orders General von Paulus to fight to the death but he surrenders on 31st January 1943. The Red Army captures 92,000 men including 24 generals. This is one of the most important turning points of the war.

The USSR goes on to win a crushing victory in a tank battle at Kursk in July 1943. Victory also paves the way for the Red Army's liberation of Eastern Europe and entry into Germany.

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North Africa

Troops led by General Erwin Rommel invade North Africa in February 1941 in support of their defeated Italian allies. Afrika Korps head towards Egypt in May 1941 after a series of victories, besieging the town of Tobruk.

The British, led by General Auchinleck, counterattack in November, forcing Rommel back to El Agheila. British forces are then weakened by the need to reinforce the Far East campaign against Japan, allowing Rommel to recapture Tobruk, taking 30,000 prisoners on 21st June.

The German advance is halted in October 1942 when the British Eighth Army, led by General Montgomery, inflict a heavy defeat at El Alamein. In November 1942, an Anglo-American force, led by General Eisenhower, lands behind Rommel in Morocco at Operation Torch. In May 1943, the Axis forces in North Africa surrender.

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Allied troops invade Sicily in July 1943, crossing to mainland Italy in September. Benito Mussolini is rescued that month by German troops, led by Captain Skorzeny and taken to Berlin. The new Italian gov surrenders to the Allies and German troops, led by Field Marshall Kesselring, seized important Italian cities and strategic points.

The Allied advance was slow and held up at Salerno, Anzio and Monte Cassino. Rome was captured by the Allies in June 1944. German troops fight on in Italy until May 1945.

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Defeat on the Western Front

British and American troops invade France on 6th June 1944 in 'Operation Overlord'. 326,000 troops, led by General Eisenhower and General Montgomery, land along five Normandy beaches.

Americans on Omaha beach encounter fierce German resistance but Hitler is slow to reinforce the Normandy sector. They captured Cherbourgand broke out to the South East, cutting off 50,000 crack German troops in the 'Falaise Pocket'. British troops suffer heavy casualties in the difficult conditions of the 'bocage' countryside of Normandy.

Outnumbered, German troops fall back. Paris is liberated on 24th August, and Brussels and Antwerp in the first week of September. Allied advance slows as supplies are exhausted. German troops rally to defend German soil.

General Montgomery launches the doomed 'Operation Market Garden' at Arnhem. Hitler launches an attack through the Ardennes Forest on 16th December. In the 'Battle of the Bulge', the German advance was halted, Allied advance resumed. American troops cross the Rhine on 22nd March 1945, and 320,000 German troops surrender in the Ruhr in early April. On 25th April, American and Soviet troops meet at Torgau on the River Elbe.

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War in the East

After their victory at Kursk, Soviet forces drive the Germans back to the river Dnieper, cutting off the units in Crimea. In the north, the seige of Leningrad was broken in January 1944. Western Russia was liberated by July. By the end of 1944 the whole of Russia had been liberated. German allies Romania and Bulgaria had surrendered.

In 1945, the Red Arny drove into Germany and are met with fierce resistance. Zhukov leads Soviet forces across the River Oder in March, beginning the final assault on Berlin. The Battle of Berlin was the greatest in the war, costing the Russians 300,000 men as they encircled Hitler's capital.

On 25th April, Russian and Allied forces meet at Torgau. On 30th April, the Red Army closes in on Hitler's underground headquarters - Hitler and wife Eva Braun commit suicide.

Admiral Dönitz, the new Head of the Reich, surrenders to the Allies on 8th May 1945.

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Morale on the Home Front - The Consumer

Very few Germans wanted war but there was some bedrock for the regime. The public were highly sensitive to the issues of rationing and shortages on the Home Front. The Nazi leadership aimed to avoid a repetition of the scarcities in foodstuffs and clothing which caused unrest in WW1. Despite rationing, considerable sacrifices were not made until 1942. The rationing system introduced late in 1939 was fair and sufficient but the quality of the product declined. However, for a meat-eating nation, the ration of 500g a week was seen as difficult, but as the Wehrmacht conqeuered more of Europe, there was an improvement in supplies, particularly after the defeat of France in the summer of 1940. The most serious rations reduction comes in April 1942 - the meat ration is cut to 300g, and due to the outrage was raised by 50g again in October 1942.

There is greater flexibility in rationing in Germany than Britain with extra rations for those in strenuous occupations. There were also Christmas bonuses - 1942, 200g meat extra. These were propaganda stunts to mask difficulties.

Clothing became more scarce in 1941 due to panic buying which reduced stocks. There are also shortages from inefficiency in distribution. By 1942 there were shortages of soap. Permits for furniture are introduced on 1st August 1942. Household goods are rationed from 20th January 1943. Conditions were never as bad as those of WW1.

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Morale on the Home Front - Early Victories

Germans fight patriotically and celebrate spectacular early victories in 1939. Most hoped for peace after victory in Poland and blamed the British for continuation of the war as they had not agreed to negotiate. On 8th November 1939, Georg Elser attempted to assassinate Hitler by exploding a bomb during Hitler's speech commemorating the Munich Putsch. The bomb exploded but Hitler was not in the hall. There was relief in Germany over the safety of the Furhrer but the British were blamed for the bomb. Elation at the victory in France in June 1940 was replaced with frustration at Britain's refusal to submit. Morale was further damaged with news in May 1941 when Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess had flown to Scotland.

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Morale on the Home Front - Greater Concerns

The war against the USSR began in June 1941. It caused great concern back home, especially when Goebbels appealed to the nation on 19th December for winter clothing. Failure to win outright victory leads people to question Nazi ideology. German fortunes appeared bleak after Stalingrad, causing a turning point in morale. Goebbels' 'Total War' speech (Feb 1943) rallied many. German forces are deated in N Africa, the USSR, the Atlantic and Italy causing greater contempt. Hitler's increasing isolation in his bunker in Berlin or headquarters leads to more criticism and jokes:

'What's the difference between India and Germany? In India one person [Ghandi] starves for many, in Germany everyone starves for one person.' - reported to party chancellery in March 1943.

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Morale on the Home Front - Bombing

Bombing campaign by the RAF and USAF aims to destroy the German war industry but also to undermine morale on the Home Front. 305,000 Germans are killed, 780,000 injured, and nearly 2 mil homes destroyed. Firestorms in Hamburg (1943) and Dresden (Feb 1945) kill a further 80,000 civillians. The state provides alternative accomodation and some financial compensation wherever possible.

The Blitz spirit is sustained but by 1943, population in systematically attacked areas such as the Rhineland, had become demoralised. Furtheremore, knowledge of the Soviet advance frightened many. Goebbels continued to offer hope, promises of a secret weapon or calls for Ausharren (perseverance). When it became clear that such weapons, like the V1 and V2 bombs, were not going to have the desired impact, morale lowered further.

Goebbels comissions blockbuster escapist films such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1943) and Kolberg (1945) but certain defeat was dawning.

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Opposition - Crucifix Crisis

From 1943 onwards there are few signs of resistance, but some signs of 'loyal reluctance' pushed to the limit. In April 1941, the Gauleiter of Munich and Upper Bavaria, Adolf Wagner, demanded the removal of all crucifixes in school. To him their presence showed the continuing influence of the Catholic church. The action was met with a storm of protest forcing him to oveturn his order.

However, the Bavarian protest was not against the regime but simply a defence of their culture.

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Opposition - Bishop von Galen

In August 1941 von Galen courageously challenges the policy of killing asylum patients as part of the T4 programme. Catholics had welcomes the attack on the godless USSR. But the closure of local monasteries causes von Galen to lash out. Hitler responds by calling off the campaign to close religious institutions and ended the T4 programme.

Again, the objection is to maintain independence rather than object to Nazism. Individuals opposed such as Dietrich Bonhöffer, who was arrested in 1943 and executed in April 1945, and Cardinal Faulhaber who condemned the Bomb Plot in 1944.

The Catholic Church knew of the systematic extermination of the Jews as early as 1942 but did not publicly condemn it.

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Opposition - The Left

Opposition came from individuals and underground groups. The KPD and SPD formed small groups, published reports and maintained contact with exiled leaders. Arvid Harnack (Reich Economic Ministry) and Harro Schulze-Boysen (Air Ministry) formed Rote Kapelle, the 'Red Orchestra'.

Resistance cells are set up in factories and coordinated by Rober Uhrig. In summer 1941, 89 factory cells exist in Berlin. Others exist in cities like Hamburg and Mannheim. They produced pamplets attacking the regime and calling for resistance. In 1942, the communist resistance united under Wilhelm Knöchel. The main weakness of the left opposition was its vulnerability to Gestapo infiltration. In 1943 Knöchel was arrested.

Herbert Baum led a Jewish communist group that fire-bombed an anti-Russian exhibition in Berlin in 1942. Socialists form splinter groups - the 'Red Patrol', 'Socialist Front', 'New Beginning'.

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Opposition - Youth

Soem young people felt alienated by the regimentation of youth groups. The absence or loss of a father encouraged delinquency. Some young people were repelled by the brutality of the dictatorship and actively opposed the regime.

Groups like the Edelweiss Pirates attacked members of the Hitler Youth. Munich Students distribute anti-Nazi leaflets in the White Rose group (led by Hans and Sophie Scholl). In 1943 they lead a demonstration in Munich, and are arrested, tried and executed in February 1943.

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Opposition - Conservative

Early victories limited the opposition to the war. In 1941, Carl Goerdeler created links with dissident General Beck and created a loose group of conservative and military opponents, including Ulrich von Hassell and Adam von Trott from the Foreign Office The group attempted to build diplomatic links with the Allies in early 1943. They objected due to conscience.

Another conservative opposition group was the Kreisau Circle (est. 1941) with members such as Helmuth Graf von Moltke and Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. They aimed to discuss the future of the WR after the Nazis had fallen. They had a range of members of different backgrounds and set up contacts with other conservative and religious groups. Their relationship with the Goerdeler circle was strained, largely due to a generation gap. They had common ground: wished to see a restoration of human  rights; end to the war; democratic Germany made up of Länder. However some wished for aristocracy once more seeing democracy as the reason for the Nazi takeover.

The KC was discovered by the Gestapo in 1944 and Moltke arrested. However they continued to meet throughout the year and are closely involved in Stauffenberg's plot to kill the Führer.

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Opposition - Army

In 1939 the army had become a subordinate part of the Nazi regime. The oath of allegiance continued to enforce loyalty to Hitler. The victories in war hushed the doubters. In 1943 a serious nationwide opposition movement led by generals emerged. Many had despised the war on moral grounds from the outset. For others: the increasing political interference of the SS had become intolerable; some generals on the Eastern front were shocked by treatment of Jews and partisans; their opposition was triggered by the growing belief that Germany was losing the war.

In March 1943 the attempt to kill Hitler in Operation Flash failed as the bomb placed on Hitler's plane by Major General Henning von Tresckow failed to explode. In autumn 1943, the Abwehr were arrested by the Gestapo.

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The Bomb Plot, 1944 - Aims

The oath of allegiance deterred many would-be plotters from joining conspiracies until Hitler was assassinated. Count von Stauffenberg emerges as a leading plotter in 1944 who plans to kill Hitler using a bomb with a preset timing device. Many Generals wished to make peace before Germany was invaded to perpetuate the myth of invincibility. Others advocated the plot to demonstrate that not all Germans had been corrupted by Nazism. The plot to assassinate Hitler was code-named Operation Valkyrie. The hope was for a new order with Beck as President and Goerdeler as Chancellor. This new gov would make a peace with the Allies and end the war before the Soviet invasion.

As Chief of Staff to General Fromm, Stauffenberg had access to Hitler's headquarters (The Wolf's Lair) at Rastenburg. On 20th July 1944 he left his bomb in a briefcase. Hitler survives the blast as it is moved away from him, and he is leaning over a map which deflected the explosion.

Goebbels broadcast that Hitler was alive. Loyalist troops led by Colonel Remer surround the army headquarters in Berlin. Fromm now switched sides and arrested Stauffenberg and other conspirators. He ordered the four to be shot in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock. General Beck - who had been unable to commit suicide - was executed in his own office.

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The Bomb Plot, 1944 - Outcome

Hitler's revenge was severe. Hundreds of suspects were arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Rommel and von Tresckow escaped by committing suicide. Others were garrotted at Plötzensee prison in north Berlin. The army was emasculated. The Hitler salute became compulsary in all ranks. Himmler became commander-in-chief of the Home Army.

Only 22 out of 2000 generals were executed for their part. Army resistance was heroic but belated. The Bomb Plot restored some dignity but failed to restore the image. The myth of military invincibility was shattered by defeat in 1945.

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War Production

The outbreak of war in September 1939 saw responsibility for the planning of the German war economy shared amongst competing agencies.

General Thomas led the economics section in charge of armaments at the Ministry of War. He had rivals in the form of the Ministry of Economics, led by Walter Funk, and the office of the Four Year Plan, led by Hermann Göring.

In March 1940, a Ministry of Munitions is created under Fritz Todt and this clears up some confusion.

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Early Economic Problems

The first three years of war were successful but placed strains on the economy as it was not fully mobilised for war. The army had fought a series of quick wars, Blitzkrieg, that did not place great demands on production. Output per head fell due to the effects of conscription and the concentration on consumer industries, but output on mass rose by around 16%.

Operation Barbarossa changes this with expenditure rising to 55.9 billion Reichsmarks in 1942, more than twice that in 1939. A shortage of labour becomes apparent.

By May 1940, there were 3.5 mil fewer workers than one year before. This was partially made up by prisoners of war (mainly French and Poles). A total amount of 2 mil foreign workers, but not enough to meet demand as 1.7 mil workers were drafted into the armed forces in 1941 and another 1.4 mil in 1942.

In February 1941, General Thomas callls for more rational production methods to increase efficiency but this does not help. However, a compulsory labour law for occupied countries (Aug 1942) brings 6.4 mil foreign workers in Germany by the end of the year.

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Speer and Total War

Hitler issues order on the 'Simplification and Increased Efficiency in Armaments Production' (3rd Dec 1941). Industry accepts responsibility for raising production levels with central direction from Todt. In February 1942, Albert Speer is appointed his successor as Minister for Weapons and Munitions. A campaign of total war is launched to support the fight against the USSR.

Goebbels makes a speech at the Berlin Sportsplatz in February 1943 calling for universal labour service and the closure of non-essential businesses. Speer is appointed as Reich Minister for Armaments and Production in September 1943, giving him responsibility for all industrial output and raw materials.

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Speer establishes the Armaments Commission in 1943 to standardise production, allowing greater mass production, with impressive results. Better use of floor space leads to production of the Me109 plane at Messerschmitt increasing from 180 per month in 7 factories to 1000 per month from 3. In 1944 the numbers of tank models and different vehicles are reduced to ensure greater productivity. Central control of raw materials and realistic contracts saw a rise in output per head - 32% higher in 1943 than 1939. Better processes reduces the amount of raw materials used - each gun uses 93% less aluminium. Production lines are intoduced, cutting the time to assemble Panzer III tanks by 50%. In the manufacture of munitions, output per worker rises by 60% from 1939 to 1944 despite the disruption of Allied bombing.

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Continuing Chaos

However, economic performance was still not coherently organised. The Nazi state was too chaotic with too many competing power blocs. The looting of conquered countries was undertaken in a systematic way by sections of German business - IG Farben uses its influence to become the largest chemical producer in Europe by 1942. Other companies acquired ownership of conquered enterprises. State-run Reichswerke took over steel, mining and related industry such as Skoda and Steyr-Daimler-Puch. The acquisition was overseen by the state who aimed to avoid private vs state competition.

Following the Bomb Plot, Goebbels is appointed as Reich Plenipotentiary for Total War, giving him greater control over production. From January 1945 the economy was in a state of collapse as a consequence of invasion and exhaustion from demand and the bombing. Hitler orders evacuation and a 'scorched earth policy' but Speer ignores this, knowing that German industry would be essential for recovery after the war.

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Use of Foreign Workers

The German economy increasingly relied on foreign workers, whose productivity was 60-80% lower than German workers. Many were treated appallingly, particularly poles who from 1940 had to wear a yellow badge marked with a P and forbidden from using public transport. From 1943, 2.5 mil extra foreign workers were employed.

In an attempt to increase production, Fritz Saucker (Plenipotentiary General for Labour Allocation) attempts to improve workers' situations, ensuring that all eastern workers are given the same pay and benefits as other foreign labourers. These attempts are too little too late. Thousands die in projects such as the V2 rocket.

Recruitment of forced labourers failed to solve Germany's economic problems.

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Raw Materials - Iron Ore

Germany lacked the natural resources needed for a sustained war effort, particularly that of high-quality iron ore. To compensate for this, Reichswerke and Hermann Göring attempt to develop low grade iron ore for manufacturing purposes. This could never meet the demands, making Germany dependent on imports, usually from Sweden. Ore imported from neutral Sweden remained constant - 5.4mil tons in 1940, 5.6 in 1943. The annexations of Austria, Bohemia, Poland and Alsace-Lorraine (1940) bring more. These areas alone produced 6.7mil tons in 1943 for the German war effort.

Other areas of conquered Europe gave resources - manganese ore from the USSR, nickel from Norway and bauxite from France.

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Raw Materials - Other

Germany needed to annex or have control over the natural resources of other nations in order to fight a war.

The invasion of the USSR was mainly ideological - destroy Bolshevism - but there are also economic considerations such as the desire to control the Caucasus oilfield. German access to oil was limited, mainly supplied by Romania - 3 mil tons in 1943. This was not enough to sustain an economy and army in total war. Conquest of other nations did not ensure increased supply needed.

Despite acquisition of steel industries there was a chronic shortage. In 1941 it was calculated that demands exceeded supply by 30%. There is a shortage of coal too, particularly due to the Soviet 'scorched earth policy' making acquisition impossible. The production of German coal remained static, stunting steel production. Coal from countries such as Belgium was used to fuel home industry.

The failure of the Nazis to exploit the raw materials of occupied countries prevented the expansion of the German economy.

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Female Labour

Between 1939 and 1944 only 200,000 extra women entered the workforce. Hitler refuses to allow conscription of women into work due to ideology - he felt the role of women revolved around 'Kinder, Küche, Kirche' (childre, kitchen, church). Even during 'total war', only 400,000 women were recruited for work.

Women had been very much encouraged to marry and raise families. 1 mil more children were born in 1939 than six years prior. A higher proportion of women were married. Benefits paid to soldiers' wives were a good disincentive to work.

Despite this, many women were in work. 52% of those aged between 15-60 were working, and 88.7% of single women worked. Large numbers of women worked in agriculture - in 1944, 65.5% were women, and many were also employed in the textiles industry (58.2%) and could not be spared due to industry demand.

Nazi ideology was not the sole reason why women were not fully mobilised - the proportion of women in the workforce was already significantly high.

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War Economy - Conclusion

The economy did not expand significantly enough to meet the demands of 'total war' primarily due to shortage of raw materials and labour. Conquest also did not make up these shortfalls.

In the early years of the war, the consumer goods sector shifted to meet the demands of the military. The slow growth in armaments and lack of industry restructuring reflects the continuity of the pre-war period. The Nazis had come to power due to their shunning of the actions of other parties and they wished to avoid the chaos on the Home Front during WW1.

There was a conflict between the impulsiveness of an ideologically destructive regime and one in need of economic growth. The greatest irony of WW2 is that whilst the Nazi regime scoured Europe looking for labour it was murdering 6 mil Jews.

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