Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Discussions on the economic history of the nations taking part in WW2, from the recovery after the depression until the economy at war.
tahlaskerssen
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Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by tahlaskerssen » 30 Aug 2023 15:24

Greetings

I've read and heard this argument a lot. Overy, Tooze, Müller, Scherner. You name it. Everyone universally agrees on this apparently.
Unfortunately everytime I read this statement and claim, there are no sources. I am very curious as how is it that this knowledge came to be. Is it just one of this things that was just known at the time, an axiomatic truth that was just carried over with the years?.

Quoting "Why the Allies Won" in the Chapter "Economies at War" by Overy
The German military preferred to establish close links with smaller firms with traditions of skilled craftsmanship, which would be sensitive to frequent design changes and produce a sophisticated custom-built weapon. The great strengths of the German industrial economy had always been high quality, skilled workmanship, the conquest of technical complexity. German weapons were very good, but very expensive - in skilled manpower, time and materials.
No sources, no footnotes, for this. I'm very intrigued how they came to these conclusions. The most I've seen was a Jonathan Parshall 20 min lecture. I was able to find this comment on reddit from him regarding his lecture. (Link to the lecture: https://youtu.be/N6xLMUifbxQ?t=1627)
or the Germans, I was very intrigued by the set of images and production descriptions for the Tiger found at www.alanhamby.com (but his site seems to be offline at the moment.) There was also production and cost data in the official Tiger Bible "Tigerfibel" which was on Alanhamby, but can be found elsewhere as well. There were comments on German production methods in Leland Ness, "Jane’s World War II Tanks and Fighting Vehicles: The Complete Guide." And of course there's a very lengthy report on the German tank industry to be found in the US Strategic Bombing Survey. I also learned things by watching some of their propaganda films that can be found on YouTube. This one, for instance (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO1rrRiDaEU) is basically 7 minutes of hardcore machine-tool fetish porn. Note that when they finally get around to taking shots of the factory floor (around 4:30), that the Germans are using stand-based manufacturing methods, rather than continuous-flow automotive methods a-la Detroit. There was also production data in Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle's, "Germany’s Tiger Tanks, D.W. to Tiger I: Design, Production & Modifications." Folks on this thread have mentioned Tooze's "The Wages of Destruction." I have it on my shelf, but haven't read it yet. I hear it's fabulous.
(1) For Overy, well I've been there and he doesn't have evidence to back it up.
(2) Regarding the youtube video Jonathan points at: This is actually good academic work, but it's just one factory, I don't know if from that one could empirically say the entire German industry was the same.
(3) Regarding Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle's, I didn't find anything regarding production methods.
(4) He mentions Tooze. Tooze does say same stuff, but like the rest, the evidence is not shown.

I am not saying they are all wrong. I mean, if everyone is saying there must be a reason. I just want to trace the roots and origins of this knowledge.

KDF33
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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by KDF33 » 03 Sep 2023 23:17

tahlaskerssen wrote:
30 Aug 2023 15:24
(2) Regarding the youtube video Jonathan points at: This is actually good academic work, but it's just one factory, I don't know if from that one could empirically say the entire German industry was the same.
IMO, John Parshall is mistaken: the reason why the USSR produced more tanks was because it converted most of its motor vehicle and rolling stock industries to tank production, whereas Germany didn't. See the following production table:

Image

Had Germany done the same as the Soviets, it would have produced a lot more tanks.

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by T. A. Gardner » 09 Sep 2023 17:44

KDF33 wrote:
03 Sep 2023 23:17
tahlaskerssen wrote:
30 Aug 2023 15:24
(2) Regarding the youtube video Jonathan points at: This is actually good academic work, but it's just one factory, I don't know if from that one could empirically say the entire German industry was the same.
IMO, John Parshall is mistaken: the reason why the USSR produced more tanks was because it converted most of its motor vehicle and rolling stock industries to tank production, whereas Germany didn't. See the following production table:

Image

Had Germany done the same as the Soviets, it would have produced a lot more tanks.
That's not entirely true. The Russians also produced a lot of relatively simple tank designs like the T 60 and 70 light tanks. These shared a drive train that was mostly identical with GAZ trucks and were really very bare bones designs that didn't take a lot of materials compared to their larger tanks.

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by John T » 18 Sep 2023 20:46

By and large over-simplification.
I think you should look for German lessons from WW1.
(that the scientific part)

More on a limb:

The German military had an initial idea that you should mobilize and convert existing civilian industries to produce arms.
While the US built a new factory to optimize production.

In reality, German industries did try to invest in modern (US-inspired) mass production, but the resources were not there to truly change the situation. And the proposition of "instead of producing x tanks this year we build a new plant that eventually will produce more tanks per month at a later day" never gained popularity.

cheers

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by ewest89 » 26 Sep 2023 18:05

In the 1960s, the first edition of this book appeared:

https://www.amazon.com/Arms-Krupp-Indus ... 0316529400

What is reddit or Wikipedia or YouTube to those under 30? Fragments. Half remembered I-heard-it-somewhere stories with little to no background or link to authentic sources which are backed by actual research. Like the History Channel, a lot of images but no in-depth reporting. It's about selling advertising first followed by "some" historical material. The fact is, studying history has not changed. It requires effort. Not - I'll use these new toys to tell me what happened. A sure way to failing a college exam.

The Germans had seen Henry Ford's assembly lines before the war. They understood it. In the U.S. and Germany, available floor space was made available for the assembly of tanks and aircraft. I knew a man who worked in tank production in the U.S. during the war.

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by ewest89 » 26 Sep 2023 18:30

Some aircraft, like gliders, required specialized woodworking knowledge and furniture makers were included as sub-contractors. In the case of a late-war German tank, specialized components were produced and a hidden testing area was found. Some assembly was done in barns or other buildings that resembled civilian or non-industrial structures. Fighter aircraft components were sent to unused railway tunnels for final assembly. Me 262 components were sent to low buildings situated in thick forest to avoid being found by Allied aerial reconnaissance.

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by Richard Anderson » 26 Sep 2023 23:15

It's complicated. Part of the problem I believe was that Germany recovered from the Great Depression quite early, which meant that when war came there was not a significant amount of unused factory space to use and unemployment was low. That limited how Germany could mobilize industry, since people already working were hesitant to move to a new job unless it was at significantly better pay.

There was also problems with how mobilization was planned. Prewar the Nazis had expended a lot of money expanding the German auto and aircraft industry. With wartime mobilization, much of the auto industry was converted to producing components for the aircraft industry instead of expanding the automotive and tank industry.

In terms of "station assembly" versus "mass production assembly" methods it varied by industry. In the tank industry, Krupp and Henschel were both used to station assembly methods as was Wegmann (mostly doing subassemblies for Henschel) and continued to use them for much of the war. MIAG and MAN were closer to mass production factories. Daimler should have been focused on mass production based upon its automotive antecedents but seems to have gotten into the weeds of development and specialty types like command tanks, which limited it output for a while. Alkett seems to have been very well focused early on mass production techniques. Nibelungenwerk also was interesting in that it was designed for mass production, but then became Porsche's playground for a while, and never reached its potential I suspect because of the factory design. It was a single assembly line layout with a reinforced roof to protect against bombing, which limited the ability to expand to multiple lines. Then there was VOMAG, DEMAG, and MNH, all of which were small facilities that limited output - one, I think it was DEMAG, did a modified assembly line/station assembly that featured an odd S-curve in the line to fit the size of the building, but which also limited floor space for machinery. VOMAG's facilities were also limited until its Panzerhalle was completed in 1943.

For all industry too there were various bottlenecks. Engine manufacture was one. There were few plants able to build the sophisticated and powerful engines required for tanks and aircraft. Another was transmissions - Zahnradfabrik at Friedrichshafen dominated the transmission and gear-cutting industry in Germany to such a degree their were few competitors to build up. And they were one of the classic "craft" built manufacturers - each transmission was built by a single master mechanic at an assembly station aided by apprentices.

However, all that being said, every nation had similar problems. Some factories were simply inefficiently designed and some used inefficient manufacturing techniques because that was the way it was done. The U.S. had major issues with engine manufacture and expansion of that industry, while few wartime boondoggles can rival the Quad Cities Tank Arsenal, which never completed a single tank used by the American military.
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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by ewest89 » 27 Sep 2023 00:39

Hitler nationalized production unlike the United States. This included companies owned by Ford and General Motors.

https://www.amazon.com/Working-Enemy-Ge ... 1845450132

https://www.amazon.com/General-Motors-N ... 13d670b6bc

As far as aircraft engines, the companies involved included BMW, Junkers, Argus, Heinkel Hirth and Daimler-Benz.

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by tahlaskerssen » 28 Sep 2023 12:39

Richard Anderson wrote:
26 Sep 2023 23:15
It's complicated. Part of the problem I believe was that Germany recovered from the Great Depression quite early, which meant that when war came there was not a significant amount of unused factory space to use and unemployment was low. That limited how Germany could mobilize industry, since people already working were hesitant to move to a new job unless it was at significantly better pay.

There was also problems with how mobilization was planned. Prewar the Nazis had expended a lot of money expanding the German auto and aircraft industry. With wartime mobilization, much of the auto industry was converted to producing components for the aircraft industry instead of expanding the automotive and tank industry.

In terms of "station assembly" versus "mass production assembly" methods it varied by industry. In the tank industry, Krupp and Henschel were both used to station assembly methods as was Wegmann (mostly doing subassemblies for Henschel) and continued to use them for much of the war. MIAG and MAN were closer to mass production factories. Daimler should have been focused on mass production based upon its automotive antecedents but seems to have gotten into the weeds of development and specialty types like command tanks, which limited it output for a while. Alkett seems to have been very well focused early on mass production techniques. Nibelungenwerk also was interesting in that it was designed for mass production, but then became Porsche's playground for a while, and never reached its potential I suspect because of the factory design. It was a single assembly line layout with a reinforced roof to protect against bombing, which limited the ability to expand to multiple lines. Then there was VOMAG, DEMAG, and MNH, all of which were small facilities that limited output - one, I think it was DEMAG, did a modified assembly line/station assembly that featured an odd S-curve in the line to fit the size of the building, but which also limited floor space for machinery. VOMAG's facilities were also limited until its Panzerhalle was completed in 1943.

For all industry too there were various bottlenecks. Engine manufacture was one. There were few plants able to build the sophisticated and powerful engines required for tanks and aircraft. Another was transmissions - Zahnradfabrik at Friedrichshafen dominated the transmission and gear-cutting industry in Germany to such a degree their were few competitors to build up. And they were one of the classic "craft" built manufacturers - each transmission was built by a single master mechanic at an assembly station aided by apprentices.

However, all that being said, every nation had similar problems. Some factories were simply inefficiently designed and some used inefficient manufacturing techniques because that was the way it was done. The U.S. had major issues with engine manufacture and expansion of that industry, while few wartime boondoggles can rival the Quad Cities Tank Arsenal, which never completed a single tank used by the American military.
Thank you for your response, very interesting!

Could you point me to places or sources where I find more info like these?

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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by Richard Anderson » 28 Sep 2023 15:44

tahlaskerssen wrote:
28 Sep 2023 12:39
Thank you for your response, very interesting!

Could you point me to places or sources where I find more info like these?
The Strategic Bombing Surveys are the best place to start. There are also some company histories but typically in German.
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Re: Regarding Germany's "Craft" "Benchwork" production methods

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 05 Oct 2023 18:08

Richard Anderson wrote:
26 Sep 2023 23:15
It's complicated. Part of the problem I believe was that Germany recovered from the Great Depression quite early, which meant that when war came there was not a significant amount of unused factory space to use and unemployment was low. That limited how Germany could mobilize industry, since people already working were hesitant to move to a new job unless it was at significantly better pay.
Kleins survey or primer on US was production (only 800 pages) 'A Call to Arms' indicates US 1939 industrial plant was operating at or less than 80% of its pre Depression capacity. That varied according to sector. ie: US railroads were at 75% o less than their 1910 peak. Skilled labor was similarly underemployed, allowing a large scale shift of labor from low hour lower skilled work to higher demand/skilled war industry. So, there was a fair amount of slack to take up 1939-1941. This was offset by the deterioration or destruction of unused capacity. ie: The Cord-Auburn automotive factory had been in just five years dismantled and was incapable of restarting vehicle production without a complete rebuild. It was roughly two years in before the large scale construction of new US manufacturing plant took off.

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