9th January – 30th May 1944 – Germany – The War Machine Breaks Down

Garrison

Donor
9th January – 30th May 1944 – Germany – The War Machine Breaks Down

Since its beginning the Nazi economy had been kept going by a series of temporary fixes and expedient actions designed to maintain the ruinously high proportion of the country’s GDP poured into the military, which ran at 20% before the war even began. Even spending such a large part of Germany’s limited wealth on the Wehrmacht wasn’t enough to stay ahead as British and French rearmament threatened to overtake them and do so while spending barely 5% of their own GDP on the military, reflecting the serious disparity in economic power between Germany and its enemies even before it found itself fight the USA and USSR. These economic manoeuvres had been supplemented by looting the nations they took control of, before and after 1939, drafting vast amounts of slave labour and constantly squeezing Germany’s civilian production, usually coupled with promises to increasingly impoverished population about the wonderful future awaiting the Reich once the war was won. By 1944 few believed those promises anymore, there was nothing left to loot and the Finance Ministry and Reichsbank the had run out of tricks to maintain the pretence that Germany still had something resembling a functional economic system. All of these sat alongside the physical issues affecting the Reich’s industrial output as it came under increasingly heavy attacks [1].

After several months engaged in the ultimately futile Battle of Berlin RAF Bomber Command finally switched their attention back to the Ruhr, not coincidentally this came in the aftermath of the departure of Arthur Harris and the anxiety provoked by Operation Winter Watch. The bombing of the Ruhr resumed on the 9th of January, and it swiftly provoked the cascading collapse of the entirety of the German war economy. After the RAF and USAAF switched their attention away from the Ruhr in the Autumn of 1943 the men in charge of the German economy worked desperately to try and restore some semblance of order and repair the damage done by Allied bombs. These efforts had been hampered by the fighting in the west, which sucked in huge amounts of resources that were desperately needed to rebuild factories or move them to more secure locations beyond the reach of Allied bombers. The preferred option was moving production underground, into vast factories complexes built into cave systems that had been excavated and extended to accommodate machine tools and the workers needed to run. These ambitious programs had not been entirely successful, and consumed vast quantities of labour and materials themselves, but they did offer considerable protection for what were now the highest priority projects, jet fighters and rockets [2].

Much of the gains in output made during these months had been squandered in the futile fighting of Winter Watch, with the equivalent of nearly five months of tanks production lost in the Ardennes in a matter of weeks. With the Allies preparing to assault the Rhine every effort had to be made to replace these weapons, which had the ironic consequence of ensuring the bulk of Germany’s war production was still being sent east even as the Western Allies were massing along the Rhine. There were vital resources in those parts of the USSR and Eastern Europe that the Reich was holding onto, raw materials, oil, and foodstuffs without which German production would have entered a terminal decline regardless of the whether Allied bombers targeted them or not. The other resource that the east still offered was labour, with the Reich using up its slave labourers almost as fast as it could obtain them, treating them as nothing more than a commodity to be consumed. Regardless of this economic reality Hitler was adamant that the forces in the West must be rebuilt, and even the suggestion that this might be impossible was enough to attract accusations of sabotage, with almost inevitably fatal consequences. Rather than any surge in production this led to an increasing disparity between actual production and the figures that Hitler saw as Speer’s ministry used every accounting trick they could think of to inflate the figures, including taking planned increases for future production and rolling them into existing production, or singling out a few peak days in output from various factories and treating them as the average production figures for whole industries [3].

These efforts to rebuild had barely gotten started when the RAF and the USAAF returned their attention to destroying Germany industry. Ironically Arthur Harris would use the collapse of German production to argue after the war that his beliefs in the power of strategic bombing had been vindicated and the same arguments were made by Curtis LeMay in the USA, who unlike Harris retained his position of influence. This interpretation overstates the impact of the bomber offensive, which was more the straw that broke the camel’s back rather than a shattering knockout blow. For one thing an important part of the renewed bombing offensive was a shift in target priorities. With Harris removed there was a greater willingness to think in terms of precision bombing and shifting away from simply dehousing the industrial labour force. Photo reconnaissance and intelligence gathered by other means suggested that a great deal of effort had been spent reducing rubble to ever smaller pieces in many of the target cities. One tactic the Germans adopted was to restore machine tools, which proved fairly resistant to bombing, while leaving the shell of the building in which they were located in ruins. This created a highly effective form of camouflage, though in the depths of the German winter it served to make the working conditions of the unfortunates operating the machinery even more miserable. Only those forced to work in the damp and dingy underground factories fared worse and both increased the death toll among the slave workers that Germany was now completely dependent on as its own pool of manpower ran dry [4].

The new targets for bombing included the German transport infrastructure and perhaps most importantly the synthetic oil plants on which the Wehrmacht was increasingly dependent. In combination with renewed attacks on the Ploesti oilfields the mobility of the Heer was drastically reduced, and the Luftwaffe found much of its strength grounded, even as factories worked desperately to turn out more airframes and engines. That the synthetic fuel plants had not been earlier was a serious tactical error on the Allies part and correcting it hardly supported Harris’ arguments on the decisive use of airpower. The synthetic oil plants offered a singular chokepoint that was highly vulnerable to bombing, it hardly supported the notion that the war could be won from the air [5].

One group that benefitted from the attacks on the German railway system were the surviving Jews of Europe. The demise of Himmler had seen some reduction in the priority of shipping Jews to the death camps as the Wehrmacht was able to reassert the importance of allocating the available rolling stock to the movement of military supplies and with so much more being lost in the renewed bombing campaign the flow of people to the death camps slowed considerably, though it did not stop entirely. None of this reflected any covert effort to undermine the Holocaust, whatever some officers claimed at their war crimes trials, the harsh reality was that Hitler was still convinced the war could be won and so he was willing to accept the idea that the final annihilation of the Jews was simply being delayed temporarily [6].

The loss of mobility crippled the ability of the Wehrmacht to respond to fresh attacks in the east and west and the advances of the Western Allies and the USSR cut into the resources desperately needed to sustain war production. It was a down spiral that the Reich could not escape from and as the spring of 1944 arrived and the Allies began to push into Germany proper they were faced by an army that was rapidly being driven back to an almost 19th century level, with the modern spearheads on which the Wehrmacht had depended for its fearsome reputation in the beginning of the war breaking down and disintegrating in the face of shortages of men and materiel that no amount of Goebbels’ propaganda could make up for. The remaining factories of Germany were falling idle by April of 1944 and this collapse could leave no one in any doubt that the end was rapidly approaching for the Reich [7].

[1] Again if anyone is interested in the workings of Nazi Germany ‘Wages of Destruction’ is an excellent book.

[2] The wonder weapons are getting the star treatment while such mundanities as tanks and guns have to make do.

[3] OTL 1944 was when Speer moved from simply offering up optimistic estimates to outright cooking the books.

[4] This was a real tactic and highly effective if you didn’t care if your workers froze or died of pneumonia.

[5] It was a huge blunder to ignore them OTL.

[6] And what of the Warsaw Ghetto? It’s still there ITTL.

[7] The question is what date will the war end now?
 
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Imagine the Germans been so desperate that they began to send Beutepanzers previously captured in the East to the Western Front (including Lend-Lease ones!)
 

Garrison

Donor
Imagine the Germans been so desperate that they began to send Beutepanzers previously captured in the East to the Western Front (including Lend-Lease ones!)
Hitler, and the Generals are still more worried about the east than the west. Hitler thinks they can still inflict some sort of crippling blow, the Generals just don't want the Red Army in Berlin.
 
Really curious to see where the post-war dividing lines will be drawn given that the Allies are within the striking distance of the Rhine while the Soviets have only just crossed the Dnieper, if not worse.
 

Garrison

Donor
Really curious to see where the post-war dividing lines will be drawn given that the Allies are within the striking distance of the Rhine while the Soviets have only just crossed the Dnieper, if not worse.
There's no question of excluding the Soviets from a role in Germany, but how much of a role is matter that will be settled on the battlefield.
 
There's no question of excluding the Soviets from a role in Germany, but how much of a role is matter that will be settled on the battlefield.
Of course the Soviet will get their occupation zone. But if that zone is separated from the rest of the USSR by an independent Polish state, their position isn't particularly good.
 
I get the feeling that despite what is signed by the Germans, they will keep fighting as long as they can in the east almost until they are taken by the Allies driving East into Poland.

I can also see Stalin getting more desperate to take the OTL Warsaw Pact countries before the Allies get there too. Its far harder to have "free" elections for the Communists to win if there are actual impartial observers on the ground.
 
Imagine the Germans been so desperate that they began to send Beutepanzers previously captured in the East to the Western Front (including Lend-Lease ones!)
OTL they tried to defend the western coast with captured 1940s vintage French and British tanks and equipment[1] - that went well. While it shows a willingness to use what ypu have, it also shows they were struggling with resources.

[1] not exclusively I know. Also bear in mind they used the best gear themselves in Barbarossa and sold the better Hotchkiss and Renaults to allies. So what was used after DDay was not only outdated but viewed as second rate in 1940 and 1941.


Edit. And yes, the allies facing captured lend lease Lees, Stuarts, Vals and Matildas would be rather amusing.
 
...It just occured to me (or maybe it occured to me previously and I forgot about it) that Anne Frank and her family probably survive the war. They were only discovered and deported disgustingly close to the end of the Nazi occupation IRL.
 
A consideration that may lead to them weighting their drive in a different direction.
"Different direction" you say...
Slightly unnerving from Finnish perspective, but miracles can always happen and the Finnish situation significantly improved with the single difference of the Finnish high command accepting that the Soviets are going to attack.
One of the reasons why the initial stages of the OTL Vyborg-Petrozavodsk offensive were going so bad for the Finnish, was that the Finnish leadership seemed to have naively believed they could ride out the war on the side lines and then get "a fair peace" at the end. One of the worst ways this thinking manifested was in the orders issued to the Finnish military intelligence which resulted in them passing on information about how there was no immediate threat to Finland when that was simply not true. Many people did see the upcoming Soviet offensive and its preparations, but were powerless to make a difference.
 

Garrison

Donor
...It just occured to me (or maybe it occured to me previously and I forgot about it) that Anne Frank and her family probably survive the war. They were only discovered and deported disgustingly close to the end of the Nazi occupation IRL.
I had not thought of that, but yes I think it can be safely assumed that she survived.
"Different direction" you say...
Slightly unnerving from Finnish perspective, but miracles can always happen and the Finnish situation significantly improved with the single difference of the Finnish high command accepting that the Soviets are going to attack.
One of the reasons why the initial stages of the OTL Vyborg-Petrozavodsk offensive were going so bad for the Finnish, was that the Finnish leadership seemed to have naively believed they could ride out the war on the side lines and then get "a fair peace" at the end. One of the worst ways this thinking manifested was in the orders issued to the Finnish military intelligence which resulted in them passing on information about how there was no immediate threat to Finland when that was simply not true. Many people did see the upcoming Soviet offensive and its preparations, but were powerless to make a difference.
The Finns will be no worse off than OTL and possibly slightly better off as they will have plenty of incentive to get off the fence earlier.
 
I had not thought of that, but yes I think it can be safely assumed that she survived.

The Finns will be no worse off than OTL and possibly slightly better off as they will have plenty of incentive to get off the fence earlier.
Is there any chance of the Finns keeping Vyborg/Viipuri? It was the second largest city in Finland prior to the winter war and its loss was a big blow.
 

Garrison

Donor
Is there any chance of the Finns keeping Vyborg/Viipuri? It was the second largest city in Finland prior to the winter war and its loss was a big blow.
Given the timeframes I certainly think its possible, especially if the Finns have managed to ingratiate themselves with the Western Allies.
 
Given the timeframes I certainly think its possible, especially if the Finns have managed to ingratiate themselves with the Western Allies.
A note handed to the American and British Ambassadors by the Finnish Ambassador, Geneva.

"Sorry! We're kind of locked in here with a pair of madmen. Help?"
 

Garrison

Donor
The next update will cover the shifting political situation in the UK and the USA, which is going to impact relations with the Soviets and those who would really, really prefer not to have to deal with Stalin.
 
I wonder how an earlier Western Front plus fewer countries falling behind the Iron Curtain might affect post-war domestic politics in the USSR? At the very least I’d imagine Stalin has less of a boost to his popularity.
 
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