Aviation Production in Occupied and Axis Countrie during WW2

A unique aspect of the wartime German aviation industry, which has hardly been dealt with by researchers, is aviation production for the Germans in the occupied and Axis countries. Different local firms outside Germany carried out a surprisingly large number of production and development programs for several leading German aviation firms and under the supervision of the RLM. Outsourcing of aviation production reached its peak rather late, even though it started early. Through outsourcing the Germans were not only able to increase total output and save their own capacity for priority projects; they also used outsourcing as an alternative business model in order to solve some of the structural problems of their aviation industry. The quick succession of victories in Western Europe in 1940 improved Germany’s strategic situation among other nations by allowing it access to a larger supply of raw materials (particularly tungsten and iron ores) and by offering additional industrial capacity. New manpower also became available in the form of occupied populations and hundreds of thousands of POWs. Overconfidence in Blitzkrieg strategy, however, influenced large parts of the Reich’s political and military leadership, which generally thought that Germany would shortly win the war with current production rates. The failure to fully exploit the new gains was aggravated by the fact that the Germans generally chose to loot captured armament factories instead of reopening them under their control. This policy initially affected in particular the large and modern French aviation industry. Although a detailed survey of the French aviation industry was conducted as early as late June 1940 by the RLM, the Germans failed to take advantage of this largely intact industry.119 The Germans closed most of the French factories and transferred to Germany a large proportion of their machine tools, where they were mostly stored because the Germans lacked the manpower needed to operate them.120 This inefficient policy changed, however, in late 1940–early 1941 when the RLM recognized the potential offered by the French aviation industry. In January 1941 Milch visited Paris and attended a conference of representatives and executives of the local aviation industry. In his keynote speech he called on them to accept German contracts and to cooperate with the Germans for their own and for their workers’ benefit. He assured them that since the Vichy government approved such cooperation there should be no legal or moral obstacles for such mutually beneficial cooperation. In order to promote and administer cooperation with foreign firms the RLM established liasion offices (Verbindungsstelle) within the GL (Generalluftzeugmeister). Each of them supervised the aviation industry of a single country. An RLM engineer directed each liaison office and was responsible for establishing contact with local producers and connecting them with relevant German firms or with the RLM. Besides dealing with outsourcing, the liaison offices also negotiated the production of German aircraft under license by some Axis countries for their own use. Generally, three models of industrial cooperation developed over the next few years. First and less common was that of German firms opening new branches in the occupied countries using existing factory complexes and local manpower. The second and the most widespread model was to outsource production of items to foreign firms under restrictive contracts. Such items ranged from minor parts to complete aircraft. The third model was outsourcing complete development and production projects to foreign firms. This type of outsourcing was more widespread than can be imagined and French firms were even contracted to develop several large and complicated aircraft. German firms usually refrained from opening new branches in the occupied countries, although a cheap and readily available local workforce made such enterprises a logical option.

Foreseen difficulties in operating branches far from the well-established centers in Germany were probably the main reason for this neglect. However, business opportunities motivated a few aero-engine manufacturers to open factories in the occupied countries. One of them was Jumo—the aero-engine division of Junkers. Only a few months after the conquest of France, Jumo opened an engine factory near Strasbourg in Alsace. Junkers established the plant with its own equipment and machinery in a deserted Matford Ford car factory. The new factory soon reached a monthly output of 500 overhauled engines and 250 newly built engines. This factory relied entirely on local Alsatian manpower, which was regarded as friendly towards the Germans. Later, Soviet POWs were also employed in the factory under German and Alsatian supervision.Jumo and BMW also opened several factories in the Czechoslovak Protectorate, taking advantage of the highly developed industrial infrastructure and skilled workforce in this country.Airframe firms used mostly the second business model in the occupied countries: contracting local businesses and firms to produce specific items. The focal point of aviation production for Germany was France, with its large aviation industry. Milch’s speech in Paris in January 1941 signified a shift in Germany’s policy towards the French aviation industry. From lukewarm interest the Germans now turned to full industrial cooperation—of course under German dominance. In spring 1941 the German and the Vichy government generally agreed to renew aviation production in France. France was allowed to keep one-sixth of the output for its own use, although this portion was composed entirely of French designs. Large parts of the still existing French aviation industry were thus reactivated by the Germans in spring 1941 and orders from the RLM and from German firms started flowing to different French firms. By 30 June 1941, French aviation firms received from the Germans contracts worth 765,000,000 RM. These contracts provided work for some 62,800 Frenchmen. Some factories continued for a while to produce French aircraft and engines, mainly using parts and components manufactured before the German occupation and still available in stores and depots. The Germans took over most of these aircraft and used some of them in second-line duties. They delivered other planes to their Axis allies, especially to Vichy France. French engines, especially the Gnôme et Rhône types, were used in some German designs, like the Me 323 six-engine transporter and the Hs 129 two-engine ground attack aircraft. German firms mostly contracted French firms as parts and component manufacturers. French firms were initially contracted to produce only specific components. The German firms provided them the required blueprints and raw materials. The French were given only the minimum needed for the manufacture of their allocated product, therefore blocking further independent development by the contractor. This type of cooperation was not restricted only to manufacture. Several German firms chose to hire French design offices and their staffs in order to expand their own design capacity. By November 1941 Focke-Wulf, Junkers, Messerschmitt, Fieseler and Heinkel opened design offices in France. Most of the employees working in these offices were French designers and draftsmen. There was more than enough work for them. As Focke-Wulf’s representative in Paris reported at the end of November 1941, “According to our own observations, there are no more unemployed aircraft designers in France.” Soon a competition developed between the German firms, as each sought to attract designers by offering higher wages and better contracts.