German Economic Shortcomings

I’ve watched a few episodes of the WWII timeline closely and in my readings over the years have formed my own theories. But there is no doubt in my mind the Germans never grasped creating a full war time economy, and/or never fully utilized their economy for all out war production. Speer began to do this later in the war but by then it was too late. In The West Point Military History Series, The Second World War Europe and the Mediterranean, the book says that by June 1941, Germany only had 1,090 Panzer III tanks and 550 Panzer IV tanks ready for Barbarossa. Indy mentioned in a video Germany’s lack of rubber, I wonder how much of this played a part in this failure of economic output, plus Germany was terribly overconfident it would crush the Russians. But it seems despite these two problems, Germany could have produced far more tanks, planes, and other weapons and vehicles which were lacking for the Russian campaign including tracked prime movers, heavy infantry weapons, and field artillery. I guessed at what would have been “appropriate numbers” for the Russian campaign, had the Germans allowed reality into their minds. I would think, at least 1500 Panzer III tanks, 1500-2000 Panzer IV tanks, and 3500-5000 aircraft… Had the Germans made these realistic preparations or near these numbers for Barbarossa, how do you think the Eastern Front would have played out? At the very least militarily I think the Germans would have taken Leningrad and/or Moscow in 1941. Wonder what you all think


I think they would have run out of gas faster, had more problems getting ammunition to the front and gotten a modest improvement in performance. I don’t realistically think they could have increased the number of Panzer formations but maybe they could have kept their unit at closer to full strength. But even getting spare tanks to the front uses a ton of gas they didn’t have. Ok maybe I’m gas crazy but look at the supply problem for this one item and you get the scope of the overall logistics problem.

Look at The 1942 offensive. Less than 2 weeks after the start whole Panzer formations are out of gas and they had months to prepare for this. And that was after a year to rebuild train transport.

Another problem was manpower. German industry counted on soldiers being released to do production. They had not cranked up the slave labor yet so they sacrificed production for military numbers.

In Panzer Leader, Guderian details how the troops were broken down and comments on how he though too many troops were garrisoning the west as opposed to being used in combat. If you added in these infantry formations you just have to feed and equip them.

The other thing you mentioned was the shortage of rubber. More vehicles would only have made this worse. Shortages of certain metals impacted industries greatly such as Chromium I believe as this was important for aircraft in particular jets. I am no engineer but I did read somewhere this was a problem.

This was not purely a German problem but certainly German misunderstanding of logistics and economics was a severe limit to their abilities.


I’ve read Panzer Leader, great book… I take your points, but in my readings I still conclude that from the start of the war in September 1939 to June 1941 the Germans could have produced a lot more weapons, especially tanks and planes. Manpower it seems could still have been a problem in June 1941 but this is open for debate. Maybe they could have taken divisions from the west, or men who were overseeing their many horses and converted them to infantry or panzer troops. It definitely seems the halving of the strength of panzer divisions to create “more” for Operation Barbarossa was unnecessary and with more Panzer IIIs and IVs ready for June 1941 the German Panzers should have been even stronger.


There is a lot of merit to what you say. In 1939 and 1940 I think they could have produced more tanks and even in 1941. Practically speaking they might have been able to send in better tanks rather than more.

It’s been a while since I have read Panzer Leader but I think a lot of the upgunning of the tanks was delayed and largely in response to what they saw in Russia so maybe they would not have been that much better. You also talk about the doubling of the panzer divisions by halving the tanks in each division and when I read it, it sounded bad but in hindsight I’m not so sure. There was a lot of experimentation as to the right number of tanks vs support troops in armored divisions by every country. So it might just be some of that.

Would it have allowed Moscow and Leningrad to be taken? I’m highly doubtful still. There were a lot of reasons they didn’t fall and I think their planning and changing plans on the fly were not conducive to specific results. They had a very hard time concentrating on which objective they wanted because they wanted Russia to collapse and it just didn’t happen.

Score one there for the Ruskies.


I support the gas perspective. in Speers memoirs he writes than when the US focused bombinig on the petro plants it was felt instantly. Industrial workshops are very difficult to destroy and easy to repair. Not so with the petro plants. I also read that it was lack if fuel that brought Luftwaffe to in knees, not lack of men or machines.

Speer also writes he was stunned by the US standardisation. You could dismantle a Sherman and build 2 jeeps in stead on the spot. Germany also had an insane amount of different types of ammunition and planes

Industrial production could have changed something, but I dont think they could have built more, because of lack of rawmaterials, just produced it at a earlier time. Also the Germans had a tendency to overcomplicate their machines.

The main issue, I think, is that the German army was still driven by horses and the infantry was supposed to walk. They needed reliable trucks more than they needed more panzers. Many of the trucks used in Barbarossa, was driven over from France and could not be repaired, due to lack of spares.

But overall, when You se a map of what territory Germany held at the high peak, it is difficult not to be impressed, when you realize what they actually had in men and materials.


I hear you. This is why in my original post the book I mentioned said the Germans lacked in tracked prime movers… I should add on to what I quoted from the West Point Military History Series book that Panzer IVs were already in service during the summer of 1940, they only had 550 of thse tanks ready for Barbarossa. The panzer IV was a solid tank and there should have been way more produced and ready for the Germans by June 1941 than 550. Either because of their overconfidence or failure to mass produce the Germans failed to produce larger numbers of tanks such as the Panzer IV. With at least 1,000 Panzer IVs for Barbarossa I wonder how things would have played out. Also later in the war they could have had a war changing plane, the ME-262… It could have been ready for mass production as a fighter sometime in '42 or '43 but Hitler wanted bombers, not fighters. Also there definitely were issues with the initial ME-262s but had the Germans taken building the ME-262 seriously in '42 they may have worked out those issues sooner. Therefore getting that powerful plane into the war sooner and in greater numbers. Definitely the war would most likely have still resulted in an Axis loss and hopefully so, but if they had been wiser things would surely have gone on longer and situations would have been that much more difficult to unravel.


I think they could have built more tanks and had more panzer iv’s. I’m. Of sure where the raw material shortages were felt the worst but I do remember that some of the alloys for jet fighters were in short supply.

Could they have done better with production? Sure. They had serious reliability issues with their equipment but some of that was because it was forced into roles it wasn’t designed for. Chieftain did a great video on how good the tiger was when it was used as a breakthrough tank. But it’s maintenance issues came when they didn’t have time to do maintenance between uses.

I don’t think there is anything which would have been a war winner but it could have been more difficult for sure. Thank God they were not as it was bad enough.


I’ve always felt that Ferdinand Porsche deserved some credit for the Allies winning the war. Though Porsche only designed a few, the Nazis had at various time 36 different tanks and self-propelled guns in production. Apart from the massive fuel logistics problem, their armor was a mess.


Yeahh - like a VW nowadays - custom made to each tank commander :joy:


Here you hit the nail on the money: as good as the Panther and Tiger tanks where, had Germany developed and mass produced the Mark IV, as the USA did the Sherman, the battle for resources even would have been different.


I actually think Germany was economically ready for war as they were meticulous in planning and building equipment, tanks, planes and other instruments of war and had plans to utilize conquered territories raw materials and factories which is a pretty sound strategy and forward thinking.

One of the biggest problems the Germans faced was logistics. Many historians say Germany was a mechanized army and in many respects it was true but again it also wasn’t true as they relied like most nations of the time they relied heavily on animal transport.

Europe had extensive transportation networks and getting food, fuel and supplies to the western front was relatively easy however the same can’t be said for the eastern front. Roads were few and even fewer were well maintained and the rail system was not compatible with Europe’s leading to strained supply lines which lead to vehicles breaking down running out of fuel and often being abandoned due to lack of everything.

Add to the fact that the Germans advanced faster than expected straining the supply lines didn’t help either. Some units took weeks and months to fully resupply as it was difficult to move both motorized and animal transport through difficult terrain to front line units and vice versa.


The entire German strategy was based on ‘get there the first with the most’ to overcome their logistical limitations. It falls apart when someone fights a war of attrition and elastic defence (the Soviets) and is fatal when someone fights a war of attrition through logistics (the Americans most of the time and the Soviets on the offensive later).

Since we’re getting into the ‘wonder weapons’ era, I should note that the true purpose of many of these weapons was to improve the morale of the German Army when confronted with poor logistics on their side and an abundance of enemy logistics. It’s a magic weapon that’s going to win the war; nevermind that there are so few of them. Stop staring at all those jeeps and trucks Fritz, look, shiny…

Germany was crushed by the wheels of Detroit, the propellers of Malton and the tank treads of Kazan.


And the brains of Bechley. (With nods to both Poland and America).


The one thing I will question on their preparedness is that their stocks of needed materials were not that high. They had plans for the war but they had done a poor job of gathering materials. -art of the problem is that Germany didn’t not have a lot of capital to purchase this. Their economy was healthy but it was not an export economy generating capital. Hard to stockpile ore, rubber and oil that way.


I think you are right about that. The Panzer iv was a good tank. It was one of their most reliable ones and given the right gun it could take on any Allied Tank. They probably still needed the Tiger for offensive operations but they could have skipped Panther.

They also needed to standardize guns more. Too many different ones. Of course if they did all this, they wouldn’t have been Germans lol.


Very good point Finn, John Parshall who holds a MBA on top of being an historian has an excellent presentation on tank production and how the systems of production differed. The US had lots of money and standardization, the Soviet standardized but rationalized down to the bone (everyone who fired a PPsH on the range know what I am talking about. The Germans used the classic “Let it all run by engineers approach]”.

See from 26h20s.

Kursk: The Epic Armored Engagement (2013) - YouTube

Good point, I think there were 3 things at play which are hard to quantify but play a much much bigger role that e.g. even the best computer simulation games show.

1 Standardization, think Sherman/ T-34 would have helped as tanks and WW2 tech in general was prone to breaking down no matter what. I used to do consulting for these high tech firms which hated standardizing and the simple thing is if 1 you have 2499 of the 2500 parts available you have a non-working machine wasting space and installing that 1 item mostly required taken most of the 2499 items apart. Getting such an item today takes time as well as in a lot of countries it has to clear customs, might be out of stock as it tends to be the same items that break all the time. (and this is in peacetime with lots of 747 cargo planes). The repair business is still a mess for new hi-tech stuff with “Just Too Late” being the norm and NOT Just in Time. (hope this makes sense)

Now, back to WW2 with small JU-52s which can carry very little. Now this items have to come by rail almost all the time, just as the tank. Everything takes ages and instead of a comfy warehouse things have to be repaired or patched up on the Steppes. Non standardization means that the need to be an ginormous number of spare items all the time. So in my view had Germany standardized earlier they could have brought more power. The US more or less flooded the supply lines with standard spare items or standard upgrade kits to “pimp” their tanks.

2 Logistics for Germany.

I think (prove me wrong) transport was still virtually only rail. There is tons of footage of tanks racing the Steppe and very little of tanks being sent on trains/off-loaded and then going into action. Trains are cool but are obviously not flexible. The Allies had tons of trucks have no combat value in computer games but which are REALLY important as they go anywhere but eat tons of fuel. Not sure how the Germans would have handled the transport constraints. They were kind of lucky that the training of the Soviets was lousy early on but got better quickly.

3 Ease of use. I am not a tanker but understood that the T-34 drives like a tractor and a lot of Soviets did have tractor experience, the Sherman drove like a car and unlike the rest of the World the US had lots of cars. The Germans tanks drove like a Porsche and the e.g. the ME-109 is e.g. very prone to accidents unlike e.g. some USA planes like the Wildcat which you cannot overspeed (which is great when giving it to 18-25s as most parents would know). There is such a thing as overengineering. I am a lot better at planes that tanks but the Allies also had the T-6 Advanced trainer allowing for better trained pilots unlike the Germans and Japanese were the less capable pilots end up dying in too advanced aircraft. (in effect wasting a lot of aircraft). This is totally incomparable to today where a pilot generally needs 1500 hours before being hired. New young men (sorry sexism warning :wink: )tend to trash planes/tanks and thus increase the need for spare parts.

As for tank effectiveness, Nicholas Moran/Chieftain seems to have great vids. Not sure I don’t know a lot about tanks.


Very entertaining video and tells you a lot in a few minutes why Germany had no chance to win this war. Don’t go picking a fight with the biggest bully without realizing he has 10 brothers lol.


Well I wasn’t talking about producing the Panzer IV in preference to the Tiger or Panther. I was talking about from June 1940 to June 1941 the sad fact that in that year only 550 Panzer IVs were produced and ready for Operation Barbarossa… Germany absolutely should have had at least 1,000 Panzer IVs for the Russian campaign. Their failure to mass produce helped the Russians and the Allies out tremendously.


I don’t agree that Germany was as ready for war as they could have been. At least by June 1941 they should have had an even stronger Army than they had. I will quote a section from the West Point Military History Series Book I’ve mentioned before. “Prior to the invasion of Russia, German industry mirrored the blitzkrieg style of war. The Germans neglected to initiate all-out war production, despite the impression they have abroad. Instead, German factories produced relatively modest amounts of first one weapon, then another, in response to the various needs of several campaigns. Even as Barbarossa began, Hitler was planning a shift to production of planes and ships to defeat Great Britain. As a result, the Germans were unprepared for a protracted war in Russia.” The rest quotes the small amounts of Panzer IIIS and IVS which were ready for Barbarossa. Through overconfidence or simply not realizing an all-out war production economy was needed for WWII, the Germans deprived themselves of greater strength. To our benefit they did this.


Interesting, I will check out the video. But I want to refocus the discussion towards what I asked. I was basically getting at if Germany had been smarter and realized it needed to mass produce, especially in a strong tank like the Panzer IV before June 1941, how do you think the second half of 1941 would have played out? The few that have answered this more directly seem to think Barbarossa would have played out more or less the same but I am not so sure. With the force as it was the Germans reached the gates of Moscow and surrounded Leningrad… I’m wondering with an even more powerful group of Panzer Armies and more aircraft if the Germans could have taken either one of the great Russian cities. And I wonder how this would have affected the rest of the war in the East.