Not a single book on the history of Nazi Germany is complete without mentioning the four-year plan. This is also because Hermann Goering was appointed commissioner for the four-year plan on October 18, 1936. And also due to the fact that the measures of the plan itself were very important for the preparation for war.
No matter how much I read the literature in which this very four-year plan was touched upon, I was unhappy. This is a very general characteristic that says practically nothing. At the truism level in style:
“Germany was preparing for war, it was a plan of economic preparation for war.”
But how this preparation was carried out, by what means and what result was achieved – all this remained without attention.
Hermann Goering – Commissioner for the four-year plan. He had the broadest powers in resolving economic issues.
In the Russian State Military Archives (RGVA) in the fund of the Reichsministry of Economics (German: Reichswirtschaftsministerium, RWM) there are documents dedicated to the results of the four-year plan, which allow us to consider it in somewhat more detail.
Plan against the blockade
About goals. The four-year plan had clear and concrete goals.
In an abstract on a four-year plan, drawn up and published in 1942, these goals are stated as follows (RGVA, f. 1458k, op. 3, d. 189, l. 4):
Or: “The four-year plan, that is, the expansion of the German economy, lays the foundation for the fundamental transformation of German economy and economic thought, namely, the foundation and growth of German production on the basis of German raw materials and materials.”
Thus, the focus of the four-year plan was the use in industrial production of the raw materials that were available in Germany.
To a certain extent, this can be called import substitution. However, you need to understand that technologies, the structure of production and consumption of various semi-finished products and products changed at the same time.
This plan led to a rather serious restructuring of the industrial structure. Since the production of products from German raw materials was very energy intensive.
For example, the production of synthetic rubber boon required a consumption of 40 thousand kWh per ton of product, which exceeded the electricity consumption for the production of aluminum (20 thousand kWh per ton) or electrolytic copper (30 kWh per ton). (RGVA, f. 1458k, op. 3, d. 189, l. 6).
It is well known that Germany before the war was very dependent on the import of imported raw materials. Only with coal, mineral salts and nitrogen, Germany fully supported itself from its production. All other types of raw materials for industrial needs had a greater or lesser share of imports.
When Hitler came to power and the issues of the coming war were on the agenda, it quickly became clear that a significant share of raw materials imports were controlled by countries that were likely adversaries.
Thus, the share of Great Britain, France and the United States in Germany’s imports for various types of raw materials in 1938 was:
Oil products – 30.4%
Iron ore – 34%
Manganese ore – 67.7%
Copper ore – 54%
Nickel ore – 50.9%
Copper – 61.7%
Cotton – 35.5%
Wool – 50%
Rubber – 56.4%.
From this it followed that in the event of a war with France and Great Britain, Germany would immediately lose about half of its raw material imports simply by stopping supplies. But that was only half the question.
The other half of the problem was that France and Great Britain, which had large navies, controlled the North Sea, where the shipping lanes to Germany were going, through which all this flow of raw materials was delivered to German ports. The Anglo-French fleet could establish an effective naval blockade.
And then Germany would be left only with what could be imported by the Baltic Sea (Sweden, Finland, the Baltic States and the USSR) and by rail.
The latter, however, fell away.
At the beginning of the implementation of the four-year plan, Czechoslovakia and Poland were hostile countries to Germany. And therefore, it was also impossible to count on the import of imports in transit by rail, say, from the countries of southeastern Europe.
Therefore, behind the colorful wording there was a goal, you can’t imagine more concretely: to develop ways of economic opposition to a very likely blockade in the event of a war.
This task went far beyond purely economic measures.
Many political measures undertaken by Germany before the war were devoted to the fight against the economic blockade. Also, the military strategy was largely aimed precisely at breaking out of the blockade.
But economics mattered. She had to give resources, at least at a minimum, to live those few months while the Wehrmacht is engaged in resolving the issue by force.
This is the contribution that the four-year plan was supposed to make in the preparation of the war.
The results of the plan before the start of the war
In June 1939, in view of the imminent start of the war with Poland, the Reich Ministry of Economics made an assessment of the pace of implementation of the four-year plan, by comparing the achieved level of production of the most important types of products from German raw materials and the total volume of their consumption.
These data can be presented in the following table (based on materials: RGVA, f. 1458k, op. 3, d. 55, pp. 12-13):
As you can see, the results of the four-year plan for June 1939 were very impressive.
For the main types of military-significant raw materials and products, a position was reached in which domestic production covered a significant part of the needs.
In particular, a significant shift was achieved in the field of petroleum products, where it was possible to achieve an unimaginably high level of coverage of consumption with its own synthetic fuel.
The situation has ceased to look like Germany will be defeated in the war simply because she will no longer be supplied with the necessary raw materials.
In addition, stocks were created before the war: aviation gasoline for 16.5 months, gasoline and diesel fuel – 1 month, rubber – 2 months, iron ore – 9 months, aluminum – 19 months, copper – 7.2 months, lead – 10 months , tin – 14 months, for alloying metals – from 13.2 to 18.2 months.
Taking into account the reserves, Germany could hold out in a regime of strict economy and rational consumption of vital resources for a year, almost without importing them. This created the very opportunity for Germany to enter the war. And on its terms. And with some chance of success.
In addition, Germany has saved significant amounts that were previously spent on the purchase of raw materials abroad.
According to the calculations of the Reich Ministry of Economics, in 1937 the amount of savings amounted to 362.9 million Reichsmarks, in 1938 – 993.7 million, in 1939 it should have been – 1,686.7 million, and in 1940 the amount of savings reached 2312.3 million Reichsmarks (RGVA, f. 1458k, op. 3, d. 55, l. 30).
In fact, Germany bought raw materials for engineering products, since the country had practically no foreign exchange reserves on the eve of the war.
So, saving costs for the purchase of raw materials abroad meant the release of industrial and, first of all, engineering products, which, most likely, were directed to military needs.
The Germans, of course, spent their money on the four-year plan. In 1936-1939, 9.5 billion Reichsmarks were invested in the four-year plan.
However, during the same time, the Germans received an exemption from the export of industrial products for 3,043 billion Reichsmarks.
Even on the scale of all Germany’s military spending, this was tangible. In 1937-1938, military expenditures amounted to 21.1 billion Reichsmarks, and the amount of saved products – 1.35 billion Reichsmarks, or 6.3% of total costs.
The four-year plan, carried out quickly and secretly, dramatically changed the situation in Germany, opening up a real opportunity to enter the war.
Germany’s opponents either did not notice this, or did not attach much importance.
For which they paid with defeat in 1939-1940.