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During the first nearly two years of WW2 (from September 1939 to June 1941), the Soviet Union was among the largest suppliers of raw materials (oil, rubber, grain, iron ore, etc.) for Nazi Germany.

Soviet supplies were important not only because Germany didn't produce enough on its own, but also because the UK was trying to impose a naval blockade on Germany which made overseas shipments difficult. The first two years of the war were a period when Nazi Germany conquered most of Europe and built up its war industry (Germany produced ~10 times more tanks and ~5 times more airplanes in 1941 than in 1939).

How important were Soviet supplies? Would the Nazis have been able to build up their army and conquer Europe without them?

PS If I find the time to tackle these questions myself, I would probably try and break them down into smaller bits:

  • what were other major suppliers of raw materials in that period? (e.g. Romania was an oil drilling & refining pioneer and an important source of oil & fuel for the Reich)
  • what was Germany's domestic production?
  • what were Germany's pre-war stocks?
  • how much resources did Germany gain access to in conquered territories?
  • how much iron/rubber/other materials are needed to produce a tank/bomber/fighter?

2 Answers 2

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The answer to the global question is:

The Soviet raw material export until the very end, which means the last train convoy passed the frontier on the night of June 21st, were important enough for Germany to maintain civil and war economies between 1939 and 1941

But this answer hides some counterpoints.

Soviet aid to Nazi Germany's army

Soviet aid to Nazi Germany, for various reasons, ranged wide. It came as a consequence of the aid to the Weimar Republic, and was maintained because on one hand, Stalin wanted to avoid provocations to Hitler, and on the other hand several events (notably Allied political support to Poland prior 1939 and the Winter War) put the Western Allies as adversaries to USSR.

It ranged wide with multiple forms as Soviet Union was:

  • Offering hidden training grounds for the German army, especially illegal (regarding Versailles Treaty) armored units
  • Offering energy resources, especially crude oil
  • Offering many raw materials. This was not anormal since USSR's economy was largely based on raw material exports (wood, iron, coal...) and since Germany was highly industrialized

Now, what did this bring to Germany?

This help was very important but it was quite "normal" that the USSR was the seller and Germany the buyer, given the resources of both countries. But had the USSR blocked its own exports and blockade Germany (which means forbidding transports to Germany through its territory) then Germany would have been, between 1939 and 1941, totally blockaded from the rest of the world. This would have forced her to pass in the war economy she had lately adopted.

Still, during the early war period, the success of Germany were based on a continuum of tactical victories and an army maintained with a certain level of hardware replacement. USSR help had fed prior, to 1939, the German army that attacked France, UK, Scandinavia or Greece. But between 1939 and 1941, the most important consequence of this help was that it allowed the Germans to re-built and reinforce their Wehrmacht, up to the point of attacking Soviet Union.

Some uchrony

The above directly means that, had the USSR blockaded Germany in 1939, operation Barbarossa might not have happened because the Wehrmacht would have had to have kept a defensive stance because of the lack of oil and materials to built vehicles, and even a lack of agricultural products to feed horses.

Of course WW2 would have been changed: maybe more focus on the UK, on the Mediterranean area. Maybe a Soviet attack would have come in 1943 or 1944, because of rising tensions between the two powers. Also, Germany should have adopted a war economy earlier.

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    Sources and numbers would improve this answer.
    – SPavel
    May 10 at 0:41
  • Numbers are always great but the point of this answer is more about defining the different levels of "capability" that Germany had faced and sometimes reached, e.g: strong enough for 1940 campaign, strong enough for Barbarossa, etc... May 10 at 13:44
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France? That was the biggest continental European economic power and Germany took most of their peace-time fuel stores.

Not raw-material per see, but there was a cooperation between Germany before 1933 and until 1941 with Soviet Russia with regards to tracked vehicles i.e. tanks.

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  • Would be interesting to know what quantities were captured. May 15 at 4:47
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    Germany took a lot more than that. Also the Belgian, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch (Shell's main refineries) reserves, plus the national gold reserves of several of those countries. Apart from that, the set the currencies to favor Germany massively, which was effectively white collar looting.
    – Jos
    May 15 at 6:29
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    The new government in France while negotiating the armistice got a big surprise - btw you will devaluate the franc against reichsmark with 75 %. May 15 at 10:36
  • So buying wine in France for a soldier suddenly became much, much cheaper. And the price payed by german manufacturers for french made aircraft engines fell 75 %. I don't believe neither Denmark or Norway was subjected to THAT. May 15 at 10:38
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    Not nearly as applicable as one might expect. Wages of Destruction, which is all about economic challenges to Nazi Germany, and would be a good basis as any for answering this Q, goes into some details about the impact of taking over the countries in 1940. IIRC it said the gains were negligible, due to various factors: reduced productivity, absence of particular resources like oil and rubber, need to feed (somewhat) workers, etc... May 16 at 19:42

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