Germany’s Manpower Crisis

Although in 1939 the German aviation industry possessed large unused production capacity in terms of production machinery and floor space, it suffered from an acute manpower shortage. By definition, the highly modern aviation industry relied on quite narrow and professional manpower reservoirs, which were already stretched to the limits by the rapid prewar expansion. Skilled technicians were available in limited numbers, mainly because the German apprentice system required four years of professional training, supplemented afterwards by frequent qualifying tests. With the outbreak of the war the training period was cut to 3 years, but it was still relatively long and therefore failed to solve the shortage of skilled workers. Basically, the RLM planned an immediate expansion of the aviation industry in case of war on the erroneous premise that an increased single shift would suffice to provide the required output, and that in an emergency it would be no problem to add a second shift, using partly trained workers from other, less important branches of industry on modern production lines. However, even before the outbreak of World War II it became clear that it would be difficult to recruit this extra manpower in case of a war. Contingency plans for war foresaw a significant increase in the workforce of each factory and firm. The Focke-Wulf firm reported in April 1938 that in case of war it would need to increase its workforce from 7,547 men and women to a total of 11,436. The comprehensive prewar expansion of the military-industrial complex, as well as the massive reduction of unemployment in Germany, starkly reduced the available manpower required for the implementation of such ambitious mobilization plans. It was difficult enough to find skilled workers for the new prewar factories. The difficulties were particularly acute in areas where several aviation factories were clustered, like greater Berlin. According to Heinkel’s mobilization plans, 10,500 workers were supposed to work in Heinkel’s Oranienburg factory in case of war. In April 1940—more then seven months after the outbreak of World War II—only 7,585 men and women worked in this important factory. At that time the aviation industry was already in possession of potential overcapacity, created mainly through massive prewar expansion of fixed assets and by capital increase in most firms. This increase could not be matched by a similar rate of manpower increase, and as a result the extra capacity stayed largely unused. This discrepancy resulted in empty structures within the compound of various factories and in idle production machines, put mostly in long-term storage. Although immediately after the outbreak of the war extra manpower was recruited, increased military conscription soon reduced the available manpower. One of the results of this manpower shortage was the industry’s inability to run more than one daily shift or to increase it meaningfully. In order to somewhat compensate for the lack of manpower and yet increase production, most firms increased the workers’ weekly working hours from the prewar standard of 53 hours to 56 hours in 1939–40, and then to 58 hours in 1940–41.11 This increase brought a limited improvement in productivity, but conscription continued to dry up the manpower reservoir. Generally, at that time the Reich’s economy started to gradually convert parts of the consumer goods industry into armaments production. By late 1940 most of the consumer branches already devoted 40–50 percent of their output to the military. In the following years the consumer goods industry was further reduced, freeing more capacity and manpower to the war industry.Yet, aviation manufacturers continued to suffer from acute manpower shortage. In June 1942 Focke-Wulf’s general director Kurt Tank complained bitterly in a letter to the Industrial Committee for Production of Luftwaffe Equipment (Industrierat des Reichsmarschalls für die Fertigung Luftwaffengerät) about the manpower crisis created by increased call-up of mostly skilled workers. While his firm demanded 4,250 additional workers for its expanded production, only 320 new workers were allocated, and at the same time the firm lost 1,434 men to the Wehrmacht. Plainly said, firms were unable to increase their manpower in order to fulfill their expanded production plans. When in 1942 the aviation industry finally geared up for total war production, the lack of essential manpower was the main obstacle to the industry-wide introduction of a badly needed second daily shift. Especially missing were foremen and engineers to supervise a multi-shift work schedule. Taking this limitation into account, it is still amazing that in June 1942, when the Reich’s leadership realized Germany’s worsening strategic situation, most factories still operated on a one-shift basis. Within Focke-Wulf, for instance, only the main Bremen factory operated an emergency second shift, which was manned by only 70 workers (7,447 workers manned the first shift). Heinkel also initiated a firm-wide second full shift only in summer 1942, and only because of the need to complete urgent tasks associated with the He 219 night-fighter project.