An inside look into how World War II affected civilian populations and how governments mobilized their people to win the war.
Towards the mid-1940s, total war mobilization became evident in many countries as governments enacted drastic changes to try to turn the tide. World War II was even more of a total war than World War I and put immense strains on civilians living in countries involved in the war. The toll of the war on civilians far exceeded the deaths of soldiers - 20 million people killed as a result of attacks of invading armies, mass extermination policies, and bombings by new weapons.
In the Soviet Union, Stalin's country was already centralized so he pushed it towards "super-centralization." The attacks of the unstoppable Wehrmacht, Germany's new ruthless armed force, cost the country 47 percent of its food production. Even though Stalin opened up new land in Western Siberia, the Volga, and the Ural Mountains, the strain was unmistakenly evident. Since farm tractors and trucks wre used to carry weapons for the army, women and children were literally harnessed to the plow. Sixty percent of the peasantry was drafted into the army. Two out of every five citizens killed during "The Great Patriotic War", or World War II, were Russian citizens. Stalin's emphasis on military production cut civilian goods production by 40 percent. Because Hitler had taken the western fringes of Russia, available factories were literally taken apart and shipped to the Ural Mountains. The Kharkov Tank Factory, for example, built its first 25 T-34 tanks ten weeks after it had been re-built. In addition, the Soviet Union was the only country to use women in combat positions; the female pilots who helped defeat the Nazis at Stalingrad, for example, were called the "Night Witches." Women at home were expected to dig anti-tank ditches and work as anti-raid wardens.
In the United States, total war mobilization was never fully completed because Americans feared that total war mobilization might cause another depression. However, the help provided by the United States proved invaluable. America became the military arsenal for the Allies, rivaling the new Russian industrial revolution in which the Russians produced 78,000 tanks and 98,000 artillery pieces in a period of four years. In America, 6 ships were built a day and 6 billion worth of military equipment was produced a month.
An American woman working in a military productions factory - (Image Source)
In Germany, Hitler ignored the requests of Albert Speer to centralize Germany to a full total war system, believing that such a mobilization had been the cause of Germany's defeat in the first World War. Even though Hitler finally allowed Speer to centralize in 1944, it was already too late to save the Third Reich. Allied bombing raids reduced Germany to rubble, but this did not much impede German war efforts. Interestingly, German war production was cut by only 7 percent, but the bombings did, however, lower civilian morale. In response to the bombings, Germany began firing special V-1 and V-2 unmanned aircraft-like missiles, each packed with 5 tons of explosives, that flew on pre-determined paths and wreaked havoc in southern England, northern France and Belgium.
In England, by late 1944, 55 percent of the British people were involved in war work or were in the armed forces. Fifty percent of women were mobilized to take part in munitions production, bolstering the war effort. Activities were spent by "grow your own food" campaigns, the Home Guard, and the Civil Defense.
Members of the British Women's Land Army harvesting Beet - (Image Source)
After 1943, German pressure on the British Empire was largely relieved by victories in the northern Africa and because of the turn of the Battle of the Atlantic. Germany had begun losing more merchant-sinking submarines than they could replace, while British ships sailed confidently and in ever-increasing numbers on the seas.
The final offensive began in the beginning of 1945, after a German counter-offensive had been crushed, and the relentless onslaught of the Soviet war machine, British Imperial armies, and American miracle aid brought their power to bear in a last push to Berlin.
© 2010 Gregory Markov