Germany in 1939: Ready For War-or Not?

In my readings of WWII history, I get the impression that the war was not well planned out (by the Nazi leadership). In 1933 (which is when Hitler decided to lauch a european war), Germany had a curiously backward economy-something like 15% of the population still lived on farms.
Germany had a very advanced technology sector-they led the world in certain industries (chemicals, steelmaking and metal fabrication), but they still had large numbers of people employed in a backward agricultural system, and small businesses.
Which is why I believe that despite great efforts, Germany was not ready for a general war in 1939. The army was still too small, and depended upon horses for transport (Germany invaded Russia with 750,000 horses-half of them died in the firts 6 months).
The surface navy was a joke-too small to challenge the Royal Navy, yet consumed a lot of resources that should have gone to the army. The U-Boats were OK, but limited in range and endurance.
The really big failing was the Luftwaffe-headed by the incompetent (Goering), they started the war with planes that were good, but by 1943, were mostly obsolete. Goering allowed his personal prejudices to dictate aircraft contracts-which meant that most went to his friend (Willi Messerschmidt)-to the detriment of the Luftwaffe.
Germany was also short on key resources-not enough iron ore, copper, rubber, or petroleum-all of this dictated a short war.
I think Germany would have been better off to delay launching a war, until they were better prepared-would this have helped them?

I doubt it because everybody else (Soviet Union, UK, France) felt unprepared and wanted to delay the start of the war. I think that the more Hitler would have waited the more difficult the task would have been on both the eastern and western front.

And anyway, it wouldn’t have mattered much because IMO, regardless of the preparation, Germany was doomed to be completely outproduced by the USA and the Soviet Union once they would join the war.

Basically, I think that Germany never stood a chance, and starting the war in, say, 1941 wouldn’t have made a great difference. Except perhaps in a completely alternate reality where Hitler waited so long that the Soviet Union would have attacked first, Japan had declared war on the USSR as a result, and the USA had stayed out of the war (or something similarly widely different from real history).

How is that “curiously backward”? In the US in 1930, farmers made up 21% of the labor force, and in 1940, they made up 18%. In France, in 1938, farmers made up about 31% of the active population. I don’t know what percentage of the British population was in the agricultural sector, but I’d be surprised if it were much below 15%.

I think that is the crux of the issue. It’s not only whether or not they are ready for war. But where they ready for war vis-à-vis the other powers. And after Czechoslovakia in 1938, the other world powers started re-arming at an accelerated rate.

Having said this, Nazi Germany was much less efficient than they are given credit for. While they had been in a war mentality for quite some time, their economy wasn’t prepared for it in the long run.

I think you have the facts of the matter more or less correct. But I think a delay probably would not have helped, for the simple reason that while Germany was ill prepared, everyone else was in even worse shape. By 1938 everyone was rearming as fast as they could.

In my opinion Hitler more or less hit the optimal window. If we has going to attack the west, the summer of 1940 was the time to do it. And if he was going to hit the Soviets, the spring/summer of 1941 was the time to do that. A year earlier and his armies would be significantly weaker. A year later and his opponents would have been comparatively stronger vs his forces. One can question the wisdom of going to war with just about everyone in the world. But if Hitler was going to, he picked about the right time to do so.

Or on edit what everyone else said.

At least in terms of the shipbuilding program, Hitler had originally envisioned the war starting in 1944. So I think that in some sense they were caught by surprise by the war’s start.

But, on the other hand, the Germans did not mobilize the economy for total war, and in fact partly redirected the economy toward consumer goods after the fall of France – while planning to attack the Soviets. No amount of time will prepare you to fight a world war if your idea of preparing to face the Soviet Union is to reduce weapons production.

It’s worth noting that both sides can feel they need more time to prepare even though one of them might factually be better off starting the war early.

You mean Star Trek lied to us?

The war against the Soviets was predicated on the expectation that the Soviet system, particularly its military, was rotten with corruption and would quickly fall.

The Germans had very good reasons for believing this to be true, and many neutral foreign observers thought they were correct.

What they overlooked was the hatred and resistence that their own policies made inevitable would multiply Russian military effectiveness, and that Stalin would (eventually) sensibly take a back seat in military mattters to competent generals, unlike Hitler (a great “what if” of history is what if the Nazis had seriously attempted in deed to pursue their war as a battle on behalf of stalinism’s victims? Of course, that was sorta incompatible with them being Nazis, so the point is futile … :wink: )

Germany’s real problem was that in 1939, they weren’t ready for peace. Yeah, they were in big trouble going to war when they did, but they’d be in even bigger trouble if they hadn’t.

I don’t think Germany was ready for the diplomatic successes they have throughout the 1930’s. Who could have guessed so many nations would just roll over? When war came nobody was ready and, once again, Germany met with far greater success that anyone could have predicted. If they had paused at any point everybody else would have had a chance to catch their breath.

Gearing up a whole nation for war making was a new idea of the 20th century. I doubt Hitler could have sold that idea to Germany and, at the same time, convince the rest of the world not to do the same. As it is he walked a fine line and got very lucky for a while.

“You take a guy like Hitler…if someone had just sat him down by a river when he was seven, eight years old and said, look, Adolf, you don’t get off your butt until you’ve learned to truly love the way the current greases around that rock. And then we’re gonna do a hawk circling a rabbit, and then the Alps…”

-Charles Gaines (Stay Hungry)

The thing to remember was that Hitler wasn’t actually planning to start the war in 1939. He thought he could snap up Poland and threaten an cajole and hector the West into swallowing it. Just like he had done with Austria, Czechoslovakia etc etc.

On a couple of your more detailed points.

Plan Z. The massive surface fleet that was supposed to be completed was a total fantasy. It would have taken the virtually all of the heavy industrial capacity of Germany of build, with nothing left for any of the other armed services never mind civilian requirements. The Germans had not the experience, men and money to build and man such a fleet.
Just to pick one example, the plan called for 4 large fleet carriers to be ready for war. Built by a country with no history and knowledge of how to build a carrier and with zero hard won experience of carrier operations. Couldn’t be done.

On the issue of planes.

   That doesn't seem accurate to me. Germany certainly never found itself with planes as outclassed as the Zero would become. The Me 109 was a perfectly adequate plane that was upgraded over the course of the war much like the Spitfire. I've also never heard much bad said about the FW-190, to the contrary i belive it was a favourite of many of the German aces. 
   Plus of course they had the first effective jet fighter. I should probaly pre-emptively shoot down the myth that is often mentioned at this point in a WW2 thread that the Me262 was crippled by the fact that Hitler wanted it to be a bomber initially and if only it had been built as a fighter they could have swept the allies from skies etc, etc. 
    In fact the Germans had terrible trouble getting the jet engines to work reliably,  it wasn't until after they switched it back to being a fighter that they got *fairly* reliable engines and it became a viable design. By which time of course they couldn't possibly build enough of them to make a difference to the air war.

That percentage was hardly unusual in 1933. There’s nothing backwards about it.

With due respect, the results suggest you are incorrect.

They were certainly not ready for the war they escalated it into in 1942.

We’ve gone over this, but to keep it short:

  1. You seem to be under the impression Goering headed up the Luftwaffe for the entire war. This is flatly wrong.

  2. The idea that choosing betwee, say, more Me-109s and more FW-190s would have made any different is just not in the realm of reality. The Luftwaffe was annihilated when and because it was outnumbered by an undefeatable margin.


Germany would never have been in any BETTER a position after 1939. Oil wells weren’t going to magically spring up in downtown Berlin.

But the U.S. was gonna get the A-bomb first.

Do you know who ELSE ruinously redirected national economic priorities during wartime?

Goering did head up the Luftwaffe for the entire war (well, entire war minus 2 weeks. When Hitler dismissed him on April 26, 1945, he put von Greim in his place, but von Greim spent most of his time trying to run away from Allied and Soviet troops and didn’t really do much commanding of the now nonexistent Luftwaffe). Goering came in at 1933 and stayed until the end.

That being said, I don’t think Goering was incompetent, and while he made some mistakes, it’s unlikely anything he did cost Germany the war.

Aye, had the Nazis not considered Slavic peoples to be subhuman then they wouldn’t have been Nazis and invaded the USSR in the first place. What is probably underappreciated however is the massive extent to which the Germans utilized Eastern manpower nonetheless. Upwards of 800,000 hiwis served with the German Army. Hiwi coming from hilfswillige or “voluntary assistant,” although most ‘volunteered’ in order to stay alive; millions of Russian POWS died from starvation and neglect while in German captivity. At the time of the invasion at Normandy, most German infantry divisions in the West had one or two battalions of Osttruppen attached to them. Then there was the Vlasov Army formed under the captured Soviet general Andrei Andreevich Vlasov, the Cossack cavalry divisions and others. The portrayal of the war as a crusade against bolshevism managed to gain a good deal of traction for SS recruiting among occupied countries resulting in units such as the 5th SS Wallonien and 6th SS Flemish brigades and the 23rd SS Division Nederland among many others. ~45,000 Spanish volunteers served in the Blue Division with the proviso insisted upon by Franco that they were only to serve against the communists and not against the Western allies. When the division was called home in late '43, 3,000 refused to return to Spain and stayed on the Eastern Front.

Dissonance makes a good point-because of the huge losses suffered by the German Army, the Germans resorted to drafting men from industrial jobs. To do this, they replaced these men with slave labor- Russian POWs, French POWs, italians, and even (in rare instances, Jews).
Which brings up an interesting point-the Germans spent all kinds of precious resources on murdering and cremating the Jews-when they could have used them as slave labor! I have even heard that trains carrying desperately needed supplies to the Eastern Front, were held up to allow trains carrying Jews (to the death camps)! Talk about stupid!
According to Tooze (2006), by 1942 the German Army was losing 60,000 men (killed) a month in Russia!
Which leads to another question: throught the 1920’s and early 1930’s German and Russian militaries cooperated-German glider pilots trained from Russian airfields. How did the Germans not notice the tremedous power of the Red Army? The Russian T-34 tank was better than any German tank-and it must have been quite a shock to encounter them.

Uh…okay, I’ll bite.

Bush! Hahahaha, I r so funny!

Keep in mind that the Germans had beaten another army with a better reputation than the Soviets, the French.

Also, the Soviets had destroyed most of their officer corps with the Stalinist purges of the 30s, dismantled most of their large mechanized units (in 1941 they were in the process of reforming them) and just had a shameful performance against the Finns during the Winter war. And the T-34 and KV-1 were still unknown to the Germans (although the KV-1 participated in the Winter war and the T-34 had teething problems [drivers were issued with a sledgehammer to shift gears and the tranny was prone to breakdowns, in fact there are pictures of T-34 going into combat with a spare transmission on their rear deck]).