14

When the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941, the authorities quickly decided to move their factories east across the Urals in anticipation of the Blitzkrieg. This saved a lot of production capacity and helped win the war.

I don't know whose idea it was or how it was conceived, because as far as I know, this is the only mass migration of factories in the history of war.

So I'm here to ask if that's really true. Is there any other instance of major migration of factories in any other war, before or since?

  • 3
    Would have to be post-industrialization (or no factories to move), facing a directed invasion (i.e. no civil war), highly mobile attacking forces (i.e. no WWI-style trench warfare) but no far-reaching air power (like the strategic bombing forces post-WWII), plus lots of space to move the industry to. I doubt those criteria ever applied together aside from the USSR in WWII. Germany attempted it to get industry out of reach of the western allies, but on a much smaller scale. – DevSolar May 13 '16 at 8:44
  • 1
    IIRC China also tried to do that (or at least build a new industrial base outside Japanese reach) but due to lack of industrial base it was in a very smaller scale. – SJuan76 May 13 '16 at 9:44
  • @SJuan76 Was that during WW2? I thought China's industrial base was tied to Manchuria, and they cannot move the natural resources themselves. – DrZ214 Sep 10 '16 at 20:27
  • @DevSolar I agree with your first 3 points, plus your 5th point, but an enemy with a "far-reaching air power" does not necessarily mean you have to move your factories. That would depend on air defenses too. – DrZ214 Sep 10 '16 at 20:29
  • The move saved my wife's family in the Ukraine. – Bruce James Apr 4 '17 at 14:04
4

The simple and essentially correct answer is that the massive relocation of Soviet industry in response to Barbarossa was and remains historically unique. There is no other example of which I am aware. About one million railroad cars were required to move about 1,500 plants to the eastern side of the Urals. It is only when one pauses to reflect on the scale of this undertaking that its truly remarkable nature becomes clear. The Soviets accomplished this while under invasion by a force of 3 million men.

3

No. Up to that time, only the U.S. had more factories than the Soviet Union (Germany came a distant third).

The U.S., the one country that could have pulled off a similar feat, didn't have the incentive to do so. And these Soviet factories produced about as much as all of German industry. So the Germans couldn't have matched the Soviet migration unless they had moved essentially all of their industrial base. And they didn't, if for no other reason that Germany then was much smaller than European Russia; nowhere to move things to.

The command came from Stalin himself. No one else would have had the authority to order such a move, and few men (maybe Hitler or Mao) in history would have had the will to do so.

Source: Relative industrial strengths and outputs can be found in Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers."

3

America's migration in that same war was comparable in magnitude, though incomparable in method.

In that same period, America moved over a million citizens from rural areas to industrial cities to man new and expanded factories. (Precise numbers are hard to compute, as there is little census data of use.) Of course, the USA had no reason to dismantle their existing factories and move them, as there was no fear of invasion and little vulnerability to attack. But countless rural workshops and farms were shut down, to be sure. This migration of manpower and production was certainly 'comparable' to the Soviet operation in terms of magnitude, though totally incomparable in coerciveness.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.