Did Raw Material Shortages Decide World War Two? New Data for the Example of Nazi Rubber Supplies


  • Paul Ferdinand Schmelzing Harvard University


Despite a well-established literature on the economics of World War Two, to this day reliable statistics on overall raw material supplies for Nazi Germany are lacking. The operations of shell companies, the special de jure status of occupied areas, and the Wehrmacht practice to “live off the land” have led to a significant underestimation of de facto resource endowments of the Third Reich. For the example of rubber—one of the prime “scarce war commodities”—this article demonstrates the extent and sources of deficiencies, and offers new data. On this basis, and in contrast to recent arguments that view raw materials as a “basic constraint” of the German economy, it is shown that surprisingly comfortable supplies existed between December 1941 and May 1944, during which Nazi-controlled Europe seemed ready to allow a realization of Hitler’s ‘Lebensraum’ designs. The failure to realize those designs originated in military setbacks—which subsequently impacted economic performance as a secondary effect.