On the Production Lines-Daily Life in the Factories

So far we have dealt with various technical, organizational and political aspects of the German aviation industry and the “Production Miracle.” At the same time millions experienced the war from below while working in this prosperous industry. Whereas decisionmaking and production data are quite well documented and readily available to the researcher, it is not as easy to find details about daily life in the factories of the aviation industry in the official files. Nevertheless, through the use of factory documents, brochures, newspapers and oral testimonies, it is possible to sketch a general picture of daily life in the German aviation industry during the late phases of World War II. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey teams made a clear division in their postwar reports about the aviation industry between German workers and foreign workers. It was clear to them that these were completely different workforce categories, which worked under completely different terms and conditions. This division was based on a distinction made in captured reports and by former German managers during their postwar interrogation. This division was important, however, not only on the level of statistics, work allocation and management; these two groups also experienced the war and daily work routine in a different way. Writing a history of the German aviation industry without looking at the daily experiences of the millions who worked in its factories would be therefore incomplete. Furthermore, by looking at daily life we can learn more about the social environment in wartime Germany, about work routines, about economic aspects and about the treatment of foreigners and inmates in individual locations and in general.

General Working Conditions

General conditions in and around the factories of the aviation industry crucially influenced their daily routines and the wartime daily life of their workers. Some of them influenced Germany nationwide and therefore also had an impact on the aviation industry. For instance, night bombing of cities by the RAF, food rationing and chaotic wartime transportation, especially after September 1944, were general conditions that also influenced the aviation industry. Other conditions, like U.S. strategic attacks on aircraft factories, on Luftwaffe installations, and on underground relocation sites, affected the aviation industry in a more direct way.

Allied strategic bombing was one of the main factors influencing the German aviation industry from 1942. The Allies never repeated the concentrated effort of “Big Week,” but statistics reveal that in its aftermath the total number of bombs dropped on aviation plants actually increased. A record number of 5,155 tons of bombs was dropped on aviation-related factories in April 1944, surpassing the 4,732 tons dropped in February. In May a new record was set with 5,642 tons. This increase reflected the fear of the Allies that German jet fighters were expected to enter widespread service soon. In response they attacked plants thought to be involved in the production of jet planes. In June and July the numbers dropped significantly as Allied airpower was busy supporting the Normandy invasion. Late in the summer the focal point shifted again to the aviation industry, alongside increased attacks on the oil industry. In August an all-time record number of bombs was dropped on the aviation industry: a total of 6,573 tons of explosives. Afterwards the numbers decreased considerably as the fighting power of the Luftwaffe dropped dramatically and as the focal point of Allied strategic bombing shifted increasingly to attacks on oil and transportation targets.1 The American Eighth Air Force alone dropped during World War II a total of 132,805 tons of bombs on the aviation industry and on other aviation-related installations. This total formed 19.3 percent of the total tonnage it dropped during the war. Only transportation targets surpassed this tonnage of explosives with 235,312.5 tons (34.1percent of the total tonnage).2 These statistics clearly reflect the importance the Allies assigned to the destruction of the Luftwaffe and its supporting industry. The Germans closely monitored the development of the bombing campaign and its changing trends by recording the number of sorties flown against each target category and against each part of the Reich and occupied Europe. Monthly reports by the Intelligence Division of the Luftwaffe’s high-command (Ic Abteilung) regularly produced tables that graphically illustrated the ever-growing crisis of strategic bombing. It must have been a demoralizing experience to compose and read these reports—especially as the number of recorded sorties against targets in Germany increased dramatically after the Normandy invasion. Although since mid–May 1944 the focal point of attacks shifted to the petrochemical industry, according to the Luftwaffe’s intelligence reports the number of sorties against the aviation industry formed 35 percent of the total number of sorties in mid–July and 41 percent in mid–August.3 The slackening onslaught after the August climax is also reflected in these reports. Only 15 percent of the sorties recorded in September were against the aviation industry, and in October only 6 percent.4 Therefore, the Germans were aware of the priorities set for the Allies’ strategic bombing campaign and of the dire air-war situation. This detailed knowledge was restricted to the higher level of the military and political leadership. The men and women on the factory floors, however, received similar impressions by experiencing daytime strategic bombing firsthand and by hearing or reading about air raids all over the Reich. The population of big cities also experienced firsthand British night bombing aimed at “de-housing” German civilians and undermining their morale. This type of bombing sometimes heavily interrupted aviation-related production by either accidentally hitting a factory, or more likely, by affecting workers and causing massive short-term absenteeism. Direct attacks on factories affected people and equipment in several ways. The foremost effect of such attacks was the destruction of production facilities and machinery. In some cases specific attacks caused more damage than others. On 29 May 1944, for instance, the USAAF attacked three of Focke-Wulf’s old dispersed factories in the Eastern part of the Reich. The attack heavily damaged the Sorau, Posen and Cottbus factories, which produced fuselages for the FW 190 fighter. Besides the damage caused to the factories, a large number of jigs and rigs were destroyed. The loss of this valuable tooling caused a sudden and severe bottleneck in the production of fuselages for the FW 190. Production was resumed later in the bombed factories, and in the meantime the production rate of other firms licensed to produce the plane was increased in order to compensate for the loss, but output was affected for a relatively long period.