I have mentioned several times that the books that I have been reading about WW2 are no longer ones that, as Lex Green so aptly put it, have the usual arrows pointing toward the Volga, Normandy and Berlin. Most books that I have been reading are very narrowly focused and are about a single phase of the war, such as a person, place, weapon, or similar items. Reading books that specialize in certain aspects on a very minute level is helping me put together the larger events in a much more interesting way. Reading about Barbarossa is one thing, but reading about the partisan resistance, or the role of animals in that operation is quite another.
Along these lines, I have just finished up a book by Adam Tooze called The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. This book is about WW2 from an economic point of view. The book doesn’t really talk about generalship, tank tactics, or anything else military except in economic terms.
This book is simply outstanding. The beginning portions in particular are very dense and will require a basic understanding of economics to comprehend. I had to re-read several portions, especially in the first two hundred pages. Carl, who recommended the book to me, is an expert in economics and admitted to me that he even had to re-read portions. That aside, after you immerse yourself in this book you are in for a real treat and will learn a lot.
Too many times students of WW2 like myself tend to think of things happening in a vacuum. As an example, I knew that the Germans stormed across Europe in 1939 and 1940, but gave very little thought that this massive army didn’t just “appear”. The German economy had to be managed very effectively for them to be competitive on the world stage.
It was fascinating how the German economic minds managed their production in the thirties, all the while trying to escape from under their war reparations. In detail it is discussed how these minds bashed each other on how to manage their currency, trade, and raw materials.
Also interesting are many predictions by those close in Hitler’s circle of people that once the US got into the war on the side of the Allies all was lost. Germany simply could not produce enough of everything for long enough. After reading this book I can say with relative certainty that even if D-Day had failed, eventually the Allies would have prevailed, simply from the numbers involved. Not to mention Berlin would have been nuked, but that is certainly grist for another post.
Tooze also makes the point that the Allied bombing effort did in fact have serious consequences on the German war effort. This has been a point of debate lately in certain military historian circles. Tooze asserts that if the Allies would have kept on bombing the coal rich Ruhr and targets on the already crippled Reichsbahn that the German coal (and corresponding, steel) industries would have been crippled to the breaking point. It was very interesting to read about how closely related the coal and steel industries were. Again, I had no idea of this relationship these two industries had, and Tooze does a very good job explaining how the steel industry and coal industries were intertwined. To summarize a fairly complex topic in a few words: no coal = no steel (at least in this time period).
Also detailed are the exchanges between industry and the SS. The SS was very proficient at providing labor, but the industries and the agriculture ministries were not efficient at all providing food for the labor that was given. Sadly, people are simply treated as numbers and work units – there are harrowing stories about the low caloric intake that workers, especially POWs and other less desirables received. These discussions about the labor are not pleasant to read. Converting humans to work units is a messy business. But the real sad story is that these conquered peoples were treated as products, not humans.
It is fascinating to read how Germany was constantly struggling to provide certain items from the early thirties all the way through the end of the war. Things on this list include fuel products, steel, copper, food in all forms, and other metals.
I really don’t want to give away too much of the book, but I will say in summary that this book is outstanding. Even though the subject matter is dense, the book is easy to read and keeps you interested all the way through.
If you are like me and are interested in aspects of WW2 that don’t have anything to do with the same old subjects like Barbarossa, Market Garden or Anzio, get this book. You will be glad you did.
Cross posted at LITGM.