For instance, aircraft production rose from 15 thousand in 1942 to 40 thousand in 1944, while tank production approximately doubled over that span, according to Paul Kennedy's "Rise and Fall of the Great Powers." Yet many weapons in the latter year weren't properly deployed because of lack of fuel.

I was wondering whether Germany's war effort might have been better served by producing fewer weapons and using the fuel savings to deploy them better.

But perhaps that isn't the right question. So the question is: How did the fuel expenditure needed to produce a tank or airplane compare to its fuel usage over the course of say, a year?

I know that Albert Speer's mass production techniques had a lot to do with the productivity increase, so could the allocation of resources to production as opposed to use had something to do with Hitler's greater trust of Speer than his generals?

  • 3
    Purely a political calculation by Hitler - home front morale broke (relatively) quickly in World War I after Germany had adopted a full-scale war footing. He didn't want to risk the same, and prior to 1943 there was seemingly no reason to. The basis of Hitler's popular support was that he was making Germany great again, and even more so doing it painlessly. May 6 '17 at 23:37
  • 4
    Also, relatively little oil would be used in production. IIRC Germany had a good bit of coal, enough that they had some plants turning it into liquid fuel.
    – jamesqf
    May 6 '17 at 23:50
  • @jamesqf: That's a good comment. You might want to put it into an answer that I can upvote.
    – Tom Au
    May 6 '17 at 23:52
  • You might consider reading The Wages of Destruction, which goes into great detail about the German wartime economy and industry.
    – AlaskaRon
    May 7 '17 at 4:44

    Germany used around 44 million barrels of oil pre-war (1938). During the war, civilian consumption of oil dropped to minuscule levels, but military consumption increased. How much oil Germany really needed depends on point of view, but they were getting around 36 million barrels of synthetic oil, 13 million barrels from Romania, up to 12 million barrels of domestic crude and several more million barrels from Hungary and other sources on yearly level.

    Despite Allied Oil campaign there were no significant fuel shortages until Soviet capture of Romania in August of 1944. Number of Luftwaffe sorties actually slowly increased towards end of the year, as is the number of available planes. German ground forces, both Wehrmacht and Waffen SS, didn't have to postpone operations or abandon vehicles because of lack of fuel. Only after the loss of Romanian oil fields fuel crisis begun to grip in earnest. That doesn't mean that Oil campaign was ineffective, only that effects were not so pronounced until synthetic oil became practically only source of fuel.

    Considering all of this, and the fact that German industry mostly used coal, there were no reason to limit arms production. In fact, despite increased arms production, Germans were increasingly outgunned because Allies (including USSR) were producing even more weapons. Theoretically, if Germans were able to somehow increase their output levels, they would have enough strength in the field (and in the sky) to stop losses of both oil fields and synthetic oil plants. Since historically they were unable to do so, they lost fuel sources and whole war .



German industry was almost completely fuelled by coal, and its transport was mainly coal-fired steam railways, with some steam-powered inland waterways and electrified rail service. Most of the trucks in Germany had been taken by the armed forces at the start of the war, and they got almost all of the oil production (some of which was made from coal). The lack of road vehicles in Germany during the war would be astounding to modern eyes; those that did keep on operating were usually powered by wood gas generators.

German industry was able to keep working until the fall of 1944, when the Allied bomber fleets began to attack railway marshalling yards and synthetic oil plants systematically. Within a few months, the railway systems collapsed, and industry mostly stopped for lack of fuel and materials, or the inability to ship products. The army and air force also had no fuel, and could not use most of their vehicles.

Source: The Collapse of the German War Economy, 1944-1945: Allied Air Power and the German National Railway, Alfred C. Mierzejewski, 2007.

  • Even in the US, there was rationing of gasoline, and other things like tires.
    – jamesqf
    May 8 '17 at 18:16
  • 2
    Actually, the US had sufficient gasoline that rationing wasn't necessary. But there was a real shortage of rubber, because most of it had come from areas that had been conquered by the Japanese. Rationing gasoline was an easy way to control the wear on tires. May 8 '17 at 22:10
  • Another reason for rationing was to make the general population more involved in the war effort, combined with propaganda campaigns it gives those staying at home a feeling that "your effort is helping us achieve victory". This went as far as stores collecting used cooking oil and grease that house wives scraped out of frying pans for processing into industrial greases.
    – jwenting
    May 15 '17 at 6:06
  • Given that the east coast never even went to blackout during the battle of the Atlantic, the idea of the population being "more involved in the war effort" is dubious. FDR even told Congress (and by extension the American people) that aid to Great Britain was done to minimize US involvement in the war.
    – Eric Urban
    Jun 12 '17 at 12:58

In addition to the other answers, the Nazis made great progress with the production of synthetic oil.


Indirect coal conversion (where coal is gasified and then converted to synthetic fuels) was also developed in Germany by Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch in 1923.[14] During World War II, Germany used synthetic oil manufacturing (German: Kohleverflüssigung) to produce substitute (Ersatz) oil products by using the Bergius process (from coal), the Fischer–Tropsch process (water gas), and other methods (Zeitz used the TTH and MTH processes).[17][18]

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