National Air and Space Museum

It should be noted that the low figure for 1938 is misleading. Series production of several aircraft of the “second generation” started in 1938, and while their production was still being geared up, production of older types was terminated. As a result production figures dropped. This drop was therefore a sign of modernization and not of regression. The high figure of 1939 signifies the full production run of the “second generation” aircraft as well as the fruition of the huge investments in this industry since 1933. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Udet sought to streamline aircraft production in order to expand production. Among others, aircraft firms were licensed to produce aircraft developed by other firms. It was done in order to make use of available idle production capacity of firms whose designs were not purchased in large numbers. Arado, for example, was licensed in 1938 to produce the He 111 bomber, the Me 109 fighter and the He 59 seaplane, producing a total of 346 planes designed by other firms.13 Fieseler was also a rather minor manufacturer that produced mostly aircraft developed by other firms. Out of the total of 768 aircraft it produced in 1939 only 225 were of its own Fi 156 liaison plane; the rest were FW 58 and Kl 35 utility planes, and Me 109 fighters.14 The licensing scheme proved crucial during the war, as the number of types was steadily reduced while production rates gradually increased. An ever-increasing number of firms, including some general engineering firms, produced almost solely aircraft designed by others. During the early years of World War II the basic economic and manpower limitations affecting Germany’s aviation industry were aggravated by Udet’s mismanagement. Germany entered World War II with a surprisingly low production rate. Throughout the first 12 months of the war, average monthly output of the aviation industry was around 800 aircraft.15 At the same time England—then Germany’s main enemy—fully geared up its aircraft production. While in 1939 Great Britain produced 7,940 aircraft compared to Germany’s 8,295, in 1940 Great Britain produced 15,049 aircraft while Germany produced only 10,826.16 These figures are quite surprising taking into account Great Britain’s size, limited supply of raw materials and obstructive trade unions and bureaucracy. Germany’s low rates reflected on one hand the limitations imposed by the economic reality of that time. On the other hand, although the military prepared itself for a long war, the extra production capacity of the aviation industry remained largely unused because of the blitzkrieg mentality prevailing in the Reich’s leadership. Another important and less-known factor was the general manpower shortage affecting Germany’s wartime economy. Unlike the Allies, Germany’s unemployment problem was practically solved by 1939, so no meaningful manpower reserves existed. The expanded draft aggravated this shortage. While in Great Britain the same problem was solved through massive employment of women and heavy cuts in the commodities industry, Germany failed to take similar measures. As suggested by Richard Overy, contrary to some basic assumptions, women employment in the German economy was much higher than thought, especially in the immediate prewar years. However, their redistribution at the beginning of the war favored other sectors than the armaments industry, like agriculture, although armament firms repeatedly requested more female workers.17 Therefore, largely due to manpower shortage, even after the outbreak of World War II, German aviation factories kept working on a one-shift-a-day basis, forty work hours a week.18 The manpower shortage proved to be a crucial restrictive element in the entire German war effort. Ever-expanding army and industry, alongside inadequate allocation and redistribution policies, overstretched Germany’s manpower reserves almost to the breaking point shortly after the beginning of the war. As wartime losses mounted and higher output was demanded, some unorthodox solutions were sought and found in order to solve this problem. The general optimism of the German leadership concerning the outcome of the war (the blitzkrieg mentality) began to change only after the Battle of Britain and following the first months of the war with the Soviet Union. By that time the Luftwaffe’s commitments had meaningfully expanded while production rates stayed painfully low, as the following figures show.

The marginal difference between the figures for 1940 and 1941 clearly indicates the extent of the problem the Germans began to face. Considering the fact that by the end of 1941 the Luftwaffe was committed to operations over Great Britain, over the Atlantic Ocean, in the Soviet Union, over the Mediterranean and in North Africa, Germany failed to produce enough aircraft to support these commitments. Furthermore, production failed to keep up with attrition rates and almost all flying units operated in 1941far below authorized strength. Projected production plans created by Udet’s office remained unfulfilled and in official reports to the RLM they were corrected downward in order to hide the failure of production. The extent of the looming crisis is exemplified by the degraded status of the Luftwaffe’s bomber force by the end of 1941. In December 1941 the Luftwaffe possessed only 47 percent of its authorized bomber strength, and of these only 51 percent were in commission. This statistic means that on 6 December 1941, on the eve of the United States’ entering the war, the Luftwaffe had only 468 serviceable operational bombers, or only 24 percent of the authorized strength of this type of aircraft. Beside the failure to produce enough aircraft to support the expanding commitments of the Luftwaffe, the development and procurement of several new aircraft types went badly wrong. As part of the early streamlining drive, Udet and his staff strove to focus most of the production capacity in the production of four main types: the Me 109 as single-engine fighter; the Ju 88 as medium bomber; the He 177 as heavy bomber; and the Me 210 as twinengine multi-role fighter. The plan was largely shattered as the last two aircraft proved to be costly failures.