Der deutsche Heimatfront - 1939-1945 - The German Home Front - 1939-1945

The German Home Front - 1939-45

The home front in Germany during the Second World War was characterized by both its wartime economy; an economy led by the government driven industrial production of war materiel, and that of an existence under the continued uncertainty and terror imposed by the Allied bombing campaign.
Nearly all other attendant attributes of the German home front can be traced back to these two characteristics.

Wartime Economy

Economics was central to the government's goals but not a means to an end.
Hitler regarded a healthy economy as the indispensable foundation for the achievement of other priorities: the construction of the Nordic, Aryan 'social utopia', the military defence of the Volksstat, the achievement of social peace and a distant future age of perpetual prosperity.
Germany was the second largest industrial power and trader in the world prior to the First World War, but had suffered a precipitous drop between 1919 and the Second World War.
The continued build-up of war-related industry continued in Germany throughout the 1930s and an excess of 70 per cent of all industrial investment in Germany by 1938-9 anticipated the possibility armed conflict.
The National Socialist government aimed for a state of autarky.

Autarky is the quality of being self-sufficient Usually the term is applied to political states or their economic systems. The latter are called closed economies. Autarky exists whenever an entity can survive or continue its activities without external assistance or international trade.

Controls were put on imports, scientists tried to develop techniques to obtain oil from coal and to find substitutes for rubber, petrol, cotton and coffee, and farmers were subsidised to produce more food, and food imports were reduced.
It is in this war-dominated economy that the German citizens sacrificed and ultimately suffered the most.
Although Germany had about double the population of Britain (80 million versus 40 million), it had to use far more labour to provide food and energy.
Britain imported food, and employed only a million people (5% of the labour force) on farms, while Germany used 11 million (27%).
For Germany to build its twelve synthetic oil plants with a capacity of 3.3 million tons a year required 2.4 million tons of structural steel and 7.5 million man-days of labor. (Britain imported all its oil from Iraq, Persia and North America).
To overcome this problem, Germany employed millions of forced labourers and POWs; by 1944, they had brought in more than five million civilian workers and nearly two million prisoners of war - a total of 7.13 million foreign workers.

Albert Speer
Dr Fritz Todt
The German war economy was a mixed economy that combined a free market with central planning.
In 1942, after the death of Armaments Minister Dr Fritz Todt, Hitler appointed the architect Albert Speer as his replacement.
Albert Speer improved production via streamlined organisation, the use of single-purpose machines operated by unskilled workers, rationalisation of production methods, and better coordination between the many different firms that made tens of thousands of components.
Factories were relocated away from rail yards, which were bombing targets.
By 1944, the war was consuming 75 per cent of Germany's gross domestic product, compared to 60 per cent in the Soviet Union and 55 per cent in Britain.

Bund Deutscher Mädel
Bund Deutscher Mädel - Poster
As the war progressed, women played an increasingly large role in the German economy.
By 1944 over a half million served as auxiliaries in the German armed forces, especially in anti-aircraft units of the Luftwaffe; a half million worked in civil aerial defence; and 400,000 were volunteer nurses.

Older members of the BdM (Bund Deutscher Mädel) volunteered as nurses' aides at hospitals, or to help at train stations where wounded soldiers or refugees needed a hand. After 1943, as Allied air attacks on German cities increased, many BdM girls went into paramilitary and military services ("Wehrmachtshelferin"), where they served as Flak Helpers, signals auxiliaries, searchlight operators, and office staff.

BdM Wehrmachtshelferin
Unlike male HJs, BDM girls took little part in the actual fighting or operation of weaponry, although some Flak Helferinnen operated anti-aircraft guns.

They also replaced men in the wartime economy, especially on farms and in small family-owned shops.
Very heavy strategic bombing by the Allies (see below) targeted refineries producing synthetic oil and gasoline as well as the German transportation system, especially rail yards and canals.
The armaments industry began to break down by September 1944.
By November 1944 fuel coal was no longer reaching its destinations, and the production of new armaments was no longer possible.
Allied bombing strained the German war economy, and forced it to divert up to one-fourth of its manpower and industry into anti-aircraft resources, which to some extent shortened the war.


For the first half of the war, there were surprisingly few restrictions on civilian activities.
Most goods were freely available in the early years of the war.
Rationing in Germany was introduced in 1939, slightly later than it was in Britain, because Hitler was at first convinced that it would affect public support for the war if a strict rationing program was introduced.
The popularity of the National Socialist government was in fact partially due to the fact that Germany under the NSDAP was relatively prosperous, and Hitler did not want to lose popularity or faith.
Hitler rightly felt that food and other shortages had been a major factor in destroying civilian morale during World War I, which led to defeatism and surrender.
Despite the rationing, civilians had sufficient amounts of food and clothing; and for a people engaged in a life-and-death war the German people, for two years of war, ate amazingly well.
The meat ration, for example, was 500g per week per person.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, however, this changed to 400g per week, then fell further.
The meat ration had dropped by up to 80% in five months of fighting in Russia, and many other changes in living conditions suddenly occurred around the same time, and by late 1941, for the first time the German people were undernourished.
The system gave extra rations for men involved in heavy industry, and extremely low rations for Jews and Poles in the areas occupied by Germany.

Ration Card
For every person there were rationing cards for general foodstuffs, meats, fats (such as butter, margarine and oil) and tobacco products distributed every other month. The cards were printed on strong paper, containing numerous small "Marken" subdivisions printed with their value – for example, from "5g Butter" to "100g Butter".
Every acquisition of rationed goods required an appropriate "Marken", and if a person wished to eat a certain soup at a restaurant, the waiter would take out a pair of scissors and cut off the required items to make the soup and amounts listed on the menu.
In the evenings, restaurant-owners would spend an hour at least gluing the collected "Marken" onto large sheets of paper which they then had to hand in to the appropriate authorities.
The amounts available under rationing were sufficient to live on, but clearly did not permit luxuries.
Whipped cream became unknown from 1939 until 1948, as well as chocolates, cakes with rich crèmes etc. 
Meat could not be eaten every day.
Other items were not rationed, but simply became unavailable as they had to be imported from overseas: coffee in particular, which throughout was replaced by substitutes made from roasted grains.
Vegetables and local fruit were not rationed; imported citrus fruits and bananas were unavailable.
In more rural areas, farmers continued to bring their products to the markets, as large cities depended on long distance delivery.
Many people kept rabbits for their meat when it became scarce in shops, and it was often a child's job to care for them each day.
The German citizens were willing to sacrifice, before the war started, for a better life.
This was what most Germans wanted, and they were willing to make sacrifices to get it, and these sacrifices included the loss of a degree of personal freedom, a somewhat Spartan diet (‘Guns before Butter’) and the necessity for hard work.
Inevitably, as the war progressed, the focus on the German home front was one of survival – a survival of diet and rationing.
The continued hardships endured by the citizens were certainly gruelling.
The minimalist diet imposed was only surpassed by the uncertainties brought on from air raid sirens and the impending bombardments.

The Bombing Campaign and the German Home Front

The home front became a changing landscape as the war progressed.

The impact of the destruction was felt by both German soldiers and civilians alike.
Of course, the impact of bombing was not confined to the home front, but began to affect military morale, foor if troops on leave from the Eastern Front sowed despondency about the fighting qualities of the Red Army, so they themselves wondered what they were fighting for when they found their homes in ruins.
As early as March of 1942, the bombing of Germany was taking a disastrous toll on the homeland.
Raids on Lubeck, Augsburg, Munich and Nuremberg resulted in the deaths of 305,000, with close to 800,000 injured.
1.8 million homes were destroyed, 20 million deprived of basic utilities, and 5 million evacuated to inadequate emergency shelters.

Münster after Allied Bombing
Life in the countryside was generally preferable to life in the city because of the Allied targeting of industrial areas which were close to densely populated areas.
The Allied bombing of Germany had an initial effect on morale, but ultimately an attitude of apathy and concern for survival developed among the general population.
Quite interestingly, the effects of bombing on popular morale are harder to determine.
The British Bombing Survey Unit concluded that ‘there is no indication that his morale reached breaking-point as a result of air attacks…. Even the mounting toll of casualties failed to break the hold which the National Socialist Party has over the German population.”

Hermann Wilhelm Göring
The initial bombing of Germany was a supposedly retaliatory attack in response to errant Luftwaffe bombing over London which killed civilians.
The Berliners were stunned.
They did not think it could ever happen.
When the war began, Goering assured them that it couldn't happen - and they believed him.
Their disillusionment, therefore, was all the greater.

Defence of the Reich

The Defence of the Reich is the name given to the strategic defensive aerial campaign fought by the Luftwaffe over German-occupied Europe and Germany itself during World War II.
Its aim was to prevent the destruction of German military and civil industries by the Western Allies.
The day and night air battles over Germany during war involved thousands of aircraft, units and aerial engagements to counter the Allied strategic bombing campaign.
The campaign was one of the longest sustained in the history of aerial warfare.
Along with the Battle of the Atlantic and the Allied blockade of Germany, it was the longest campaign during 1939–1945.
The Luftwaffe's fighter force (Jagdwaffe), defended the airspace of German-occupied territory against attack, first by RAF Bomber Command, and then Bomber Command and the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).
In the early years, the Luftwaffe was able to inflict a string of defeats on Allied strategic air forces.
In 1939, RAF Bomber Command was forced to operate at night as casualties to unescorted heavy bombers became too heavy.
In 1943, the USAAF suffered several reverses in daylight and called off the offensive over Germany in October that year.
The British built up their bomber force and introduced navigational aids and tactics such as the bomber stream that enabled them to mount larger and larger attacks with an acceptable loss rate.
In February 1944, the USAAF introduced the P-51 Mustang, a fighter capable of escorting the USAAF bombers to and from their targets.
By the spring of 1944, the aerial defenders of the Third Reich, the Reichsluftverteidigung (RLV), were stretched to the limit, and the Luftwaffe lost air superiority.
By the summer 1944, the Luftwaffe was suffering from chronic fuel shortages and a lack of trained pilots.
It ceased to be an effective fighting force by 1945.

Anti-aircraft Defence of the Reich

Since 1935, the anti-aircraft defence of the Third Reich was controlled by the Luftwaffe (German Air-force).
By the beginning of World War II (which is usually regarded as 1 September 1939), the Luftwaffe's anti-aircraft artillery employed 6,700 light (2 cm and 3,7 cm) and 2,628 heavy flak guns.
Of the latter, a small number were 10.5 cm Flak 38s or 39s, the majority were 8.8 cm Flak 18s, 36s or 37s.
This was twice as many heavy AA guns as the Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) had at the time, with France and the United States having even less.
Throughout the entire war, the majority of 88 mm guns were used in their original anti-aircraft role.
The pecuniary costs associated with anti-aircraft cannon were substantial, especially when compared to fighter aircraft - for example, in January 1943 – at a time Germany was desperately fighting to regain the strategic initiative in the East and was also facing a heavy bombing campaign in the West – expenditures on anti-aircraft defenses were 39 million Reichsmarks, whereas all the remaining weapons and munitions production amounted to 93 million (including 20 million of the navy budget and only nine million of the aircraft-related budget).
By August 1944, there were 10,704 Flak 18, 36 and 37 guns in service, now complemented also by the formidable 12.8 cm Flak 40, owing to the increase in US and British bombing raids during 1943 and 1944.
There were complaints that, due to the apparent ineffectiveness of anti-aircraft defences as a whole, the guns should be transferred from air defense units to anti-tank duties, but this politically unpopular move was never made.

Effects of Bombing on the German Economy

The intensification of night bombing by the RAF and daylight attacks by the USAAF added to the destruction of German industries and cities which caused the economy to collapse in the winter of 1944.
By this time, the Allied armies had reached the German border and the strategic campaign became fused with the tactical battles over the front.
The air campaign continued until April 1945 when the last strategic bombing missions were flown.
It ended upon the capitulation of Germany in May 1945
The Allied bombing campaign had an impact on Germany’s war-time production, and a resulting effect on both fronts. 
German industry continued to produce equipment of very high technical quality throughout the war.
By comparison with the Soviet Union, Germany was rich in resources, and free to exploit them fully before the onset of large-scale allied bombing in 1944.
It is generally agreed that 1944 was a pivotal year for the war in Europe.
The Allied invasion in France, the heightened bombing of Germany, and the Soviet push westward all contributed to an accelerated defeat of Germany.
Germany in 1944 was virtually defenceless in the air for the rest of the war.

The Results of Allied Bombing
The consequences for the civilian population were terrible.
People’s lives in Germany’s towns and cities during the second half of the war were increasingly lived for much, even most, of the time in air-raid shelters, bunkers and cellars.
The disruption to people’s daily lives, to their sleep, to the economy, was enormous, and in the final months of the war in many places it became almost unbearable.
The bombing campaign had a devastating effect on the industry, infrastructure, and economy in Germany, chiefly in the latter half of the war.
What is still debated, however, is the nature of bombing’s effect on civilian morale.
However, asked after the war what the hardest thing had been for civilians in Germany to put up with, 91 per cent said the bombing; and more than a third said it had lowered people’s morale, including their own.

The Bombing of Dresden
Victims of the Dresden Bombing

This was an attack on the city of Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, that took place in the final months of the Second World War. In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city. The resulting 'fire-storm' destroyed 40 square kilometres (15 square miles) of the city centre. Between 22,700 and 25,000 people were killed.
Post-war discussion of whether or not the attacks were justified has led to the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war.
Critics of the bombing argue that Dresden - sometimes referred to as "Florence on the Elbe" (Elbflorenz) -was a cultural landmark of little or no military significance, and that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing, and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains.
The city authorities at the time estimated  there were 25,000 victims, a figure which subsequent investigations, including one commissioned by the city council in 2010, support.

The Battle of Berlin

This was a bombing campeign launched by Arthur Travers Harris, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command, in November 1943. Harris believed this could be the blow that would break German resistance. "It will cost us between 400 and 500 aircraft," he said. "It will cost Germany the war." By this time he could deploy over 800 long-range bombers on any given night, equipped with new and more sophisticated navigational devices such as H2S radar. Between November 1943 and March 1944, Bomber Command made 16 massed attacks on Berlin.

Bomb Damage in Berlin
The Government of the Third Reich was acutely aware of the political necessity of protecting the Reich capital against devastation from the air. Even before the war, work had begun on an extensive system of public air-raid shelters, but by 1939 only 15% of the planned 2,000 shelters had been built. By 1941, however, the five huge public shelters (Zoo, Anhalt Station, Humboldthain, Friedrichshain and Kleistpark) were complete, offering shelter to 65,000 people. Other shelters were built under government buildings, the best-known being the so-called Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery building. In addition, many U-Bahn stations were converted into shelters. The rest of the population had to make do with their own cellars.

Dr Joseph Goebbles with Hitlerjungen
The key to the German defences was the 'Flak Bereich'  which consisted of  huge Flak towers (Flakturm), - massive reinforced concrete blockhouses, some more than six stories high, - which provided enormously tough platforms for both searchlights and 128 mm anti-aircraft guns as well as shelters (Hochbunker) for civilians.

HJ -  FLAK Boy - Berlin - 1945
'FLAK' comes from the German ('Flugzeugabwehrkanone', aircraft defence cannon; also cited as 'Flugzeugabwehrkanone' or 'Flugabwehrkanone'.)
These towers were at the Berlin Zoo in the Tiergarten, Humboldthain and Friedrichshain. The Flak guns were increasingly manned by the teenagers of the Hitler Youth as older men were drafted to the front. By 1945 the girls of the League of German Girls (BDM) were also operating Flak guns. After 1944 there was little fighter protection from the Luftwaffe, and the Flak defences were increasingly overwhelmed by the scale of the attacks.

Flakturm Tiergarten
Flakturm Tiergarten
Flakturm Tiergarten (Zoo flak tower), was a fortified flak tower that built in Berlin in 1941. It was one of several flak towers that protected Berlin from Allied bomber raids. Its primary role was to protect the government building district of Berlin, as well as provide bunker space for civilians during attack. The Zoo tower also had a hospital facility. Apart from its primary designated role, the Zoo tower also provided storage facilities for art treasures to safeguard them from damage, and broadcast radio transmissions from the German leaders.

FLAK Gun - Berlin - 1945
During the Battle of Berlin, it acted as a citadel and provided support for ground operations by German troops in combat with Soviet ground forces. The tower resisted all attempts to destroy it by air attack and ground forces. The Soviets used their largest artillery pieces, their 203 mm howitzer, which it withstood.

Up to the end of March 1945 there had been a total of 314 air raids on Berlin, with 85 of those coming in the last twelve months. Half of all houses were damaged and around a third uninhabitable, as much as 16 km² of the city was simply rubble. Estimates of the total number of dead in Berlin from air raids range from 20,000 to 50,000.

Total War

Sportpalastrede - Berlin - 18 February 1943
It was not until 1943 that the German government realised the necessity of putting the Reich on a 'total war' footing.
The  Sportpalastrede (Sports-Palace speech) or total war speech was a speech delivered by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at the Berlin Sportpalast to a large audience on 18 February 1943 calling for a 'total war', as the tide of World War II had turned against the Third Reich and its Axis allies.
It is considered the most famous of Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels's speeches.
The speech was the first public admission by the National Socialist leadership that Germany faced serious dangers.
Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels exhorted the German people to continue the war even though it would be long and difficult because, as he asserted, both Germany's survival and the survival of a non-Bolshevist Europe were at stake.

Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels - Sportpalastrede
Compared to the previous year, 1943 started inauspiciously, with Germany suffering major military problems on all fronts.
On 2 February the Battle of Stalingrad ended with the surrender of Field Marshal Paulus and the German 6th Army to the Soviets.
At the Casablanca Conference, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill demanded Germany's unconditional surrender, and the Soviets, spurred by their victory, were beginning to retake territory, including Kursk (8 February), Rostov (14 February), and Kharkiv (16 February).
In North Africa, the Afrika Korps under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was beginning to encounter setbacks, when German supply ships sailing to Tripoli were sunk by the Allies during January.
The Western Desert Campaign had ended with British victory and the Axis were in Tunisia between two Allied forces - one advancing from Algeria and one from Libya.

Sportpalastrede - Berlin - 18 February 1943
Adolf Hitler responded with the first measures that would lead to the all-out mobilization of Germany.
Millions of Germans listened to Dr Goebbels on the radio as he delivered this speech about the "misfortune of the past weeks" and an "unvarnished picture of the situation."
The speech concluded:

'Ich frage euch: Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg? Wollt ihr ihn, wenn nötig, totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können ? - 'Nun, Volk, steh auf und Sturm brich los !'

'I ask you: Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even yet imagine ?'
The audience reacted fanatically, causing an even bigger impact.
Dr Goebbels also wanted, by amassing such popular enthusiasm, to convince Hitler to give him greater powers in running the war economy.
This speech formed a watershed in the management of the German Home Front in the Second World War.


In 1944-45, over 2.5 million ethnic Germans fled from Eastern Europe in family groups, desperately hoping to reach Germany before being overtaken by the Russians.
Half a million died in the process, the survivors were herded into refugee camps in East and West Germany for years.
Meanwhile Moscow encouraged its troops to regard German women as targets for revenge.
Russian Marshal Georgi Zhukov called on his troops to, "Remember our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our wives and children tortured to death by Germans....We shall exact a brutal revenge for everything."
Well over of two million women inside Germany were raped in 1945 in a tidal wave of looting, burning and vengeance.


What is remarkable about the German Second World War home Front was that, unlike the home front during the First World War, the morale of the German people, overall, held, and the Volk continued to support the NSDAP until the very end.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

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