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Old 20th October 2013, 04:19
Richard T. Eger Richard T. Eger is offline
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"The Collapse of the German War Economy, 1944-1945: Allied Air Power and the German National Railway", by Alfred C. Mierzejewski

Dear All,

This book has been sitting on my nightstand since early 2007, teasing me to open it up and read it. Well, I finally gave in and it turns out to be quite a book. It was published by The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, and London, copyright 1988.

The author focuses on the Reichsbahn as a lynchpin of the German wartime economy. In my studies regarding the Me 262, I have been of a mind that the bombing campaign against oil and its affect on the military, especially the Luftwaffe, was the key to the Luftwaffe's loss of operational ability in the last year of the war. However, the author has made a strong case that bombing attacks against the Reichsbahn were of even greater import against the ability of the German economy and war effort to succeed.

In its purest terms, it doesn't matter if war materiel could still be fabricated, if you simply couldn't get it from point A to point B it was useless. Coal was the most important commodity carried, as the Reichsbahn, industry, and home heating required it to be available.

Contention in Allied aerial command leadership and the various intelligence agencies resulted in target selection by consensus, some of it not the best in choices. There were those that favored attacking the oil industry. Sir Arthur Tedder, SHAEF Deputy Chief Commander, assisted by Solly Zuckerman, championed a 2-pronged strategy of tactical bombing of Reichsbahn targets immediately behind enemy lines and strategic bombing of Reichsbahn targets within the Reich, focusing both efforts on the marshalling yards.

Tedder and Zuckerman were opposed in this strategy by other Allied commanders and intelligence agencies, but, due to close friendships he maintained with key decision makers such as Eisenhower, Portal, Spaatz, and Harris, as well as his very persuasive personality, he was able to overcome much resistance. For instance, in the Sept.-Oct. 1944 time frame, while marshalling yards took second priority to oil targets, the lousy weather during this period made hitting the oil targets nigh on impossible, so the marshalling yards got the nod, as these could be attacked utilizing radar targeting.

Further, Allied intelligence in some cases was so biased that intel that would support the rail bombing activity was left unreported to higher ups. And, the intel, itself, was hindered, as, for instance, photo reconnaissance could not be conducted with cloud cover obscuring the bombing results. What was happening was that the high success of the bombing campaign against the Reichsbahn was not actually acknowledged until early 1945, at which point a second campaign was laid on to finish the job, which the bombers did so quite effectively.

By the time the Allies rolled into Germany, the economy had completely collapsed and the invading forces were met with an essentially empty shell, as Mierzejewski describes it.

The author is a master of innumerable statistics, yet still presents them in a very readable manner. You learn of the personalities and their interactions, both Allied and German. Albert Speer is given much attention as he attempted to hold things together as the Reichsbahn was being ground to a halt. It was an impossible situation. The Reichsbahn and its leadership are given their due, as they tried as best as possible to fulfill the needs of the nation. Key amongst these was the delivery of coal, the life blood of the economy. The author carefully describes the 2 major hard coal regions in the Ruhr and Upper Silesia, with a lesser focus on brown coal coming from the central region near Magdeburg and Leipzig.

So, how did the Reichsbahn grind to a halt? Lack of coal. It wasn't that the Ruhr and Upper Silesian mines couldn't produce it, but rather that the rail distribution system was slowly and methodically destroyed. Actually, the mines had huge stocks of coal - it just couldn't be shipped out. Nor did the Reichsbahn grind to a halt due to a lack of locomotives or cars. It had plenty of both. As a matter of fact, there were so many cars clogging up the system that orders were let to derail many of them to make track space available.

While coal was of the highest priority, for a few weeks in the fall, one other traffic load took the highest priority: bringing in the harvest.

The campaign against oil was certainly effective, but the Reichsbahn's trains ran on coal, not oil, and the lack of coal disrupted the entire economy.

So, what about the Luftwaffe and, especially, any efforts to attack Me 262 production? In the entire book, the author only acknowledges Me 262 production reaching number 1 bombing priority and that was in Jan. 1945. And, even then, that priority was shared with oil production, with transportation taking second priority. Other than this, Me 262 and aircraft production is barely mentioned. As for the Luftwaffe, its absence from the pages of the book is rather glaring and, when mentioned, only in regards to its ineffectivemess in halting the bomber streams.

I do suspect a bit of bias, the author clearly championing the idea that bombing the marshalling yards of the Reichsbahn was the most effective and important of all Allied bombing targets.

I do highly recommend this book. It's about time I got around to reading it, myself.

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