Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Discussions on the economic history of the nations taking part in WW2, from the recovery after the depression until the economy at war.
historygeek2021
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Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by historygeek2021 » 05 Jul 2021 19:08

Consider the peak number of workers employed in industrial occupations during WW2:

United States: 19 million
Germany: 11 million

Germany had 57% of the industrial workers of the United States, but its industrial output did not come close to matching 57% of the industrial output of the United States.

Using John Ellis' WW2 databook, I've put together a chart showing peak annual output of key industrial items during the war and how Germany and the USA compare:
WW2 Labor productivity 1.png
Naval figures are for cumulative rather than annual output.

I've marked in green those items for which Germany produced more than 57% of the US output, which are:

Fighters
Tanks
Artillery
Mortars
Submarines

This chart doesn't take into account workers by industry, and I don't have that information, so if anyone does, that would be helpful to better understand relative labor productivity in the United States and Germany.

Other factors to consider are that U.S. bombers and fighters were heavier and more expensive to produce than German fighters and bombers. In addition, the German tank production figure takes into account turretless assault guns, which were far cheaper to produce than turreted tanks. For a more apples to apples comparison, Germany produced 8,569 Panzer IVs during the war, while the United States produced 49,239 Shermans. Consider also that the standard German submarine, the Type VII, displaced only half as much weight as the standard U.S. Gato and Balao class submarines, and even the longer range Type IX displaced only two-thirds as much weight as its U.S. counterparts.

The United States was also alone among major belligerents in increasing rather than decreasing consumer output during the war. In terms of calories, the American people were generally fed better than they had been before the war, and they consumed more meat, shoes, clothing, and energy.

Altogether, it should be clear that German industrial labor was far less productive than American industrial labor during WW2. This was due to a number of factors:
  • German reliance on slave labor
  • American plants and equipment designed for mass production vs German craft system of manufacturing
  • Vastly superior American access to raw materials, both domestically and from Latin America and the British Empire
Ellis Raw Materials.png
Sources:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id= ... up&seq=218
https://www.nber.org/system/files/chapt ... /c3132.pdf
https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/BigL/BigL-1.html

Previously discussed here: viewtopic.php?p=2352011#p2352011
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TheMarcksPlan
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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 06 Jul 2021 01:13

historygeek2021 wrote:peak annual output
Peak monthly output is a better measure for pure economic analysis. Using 1944 as the comparison skews the analysis because German production was still growing in the first half and declined drastically in the second (bombing, territorial losses, further manpower drafts).

Germany's peak monthly fighter output was 3,375 (USSBS Germany report, table 102); US's was 3,648 (AAF Statistical Digest p.131).

German peak monthly fighter production was 93% of US.

That peak occurred in September '44, amidst heavy bombing.
historygeek2021 wrote:key industrial items
Huge piece of the story missing: ammunition.

The Russian military historian Alexei Isayev posted a google document tallying ammunition expenditure in the last 12 months of the European war. It shows the Germans expending 2.5x as much ammo as the U.S.

I don't have US ammo production figures at hand (anybody have them) but note that the US Army faced a shell crisis in Europe after the Normandy breakout. The Army was sending troops to dig unexploded shells from French beaches for use at the front. A crash shell production program was initiated, using resources freed by the winding down of other programs. https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/US ... cs2-9.html

Because a shell crisis resulted from US firing 40% of Germany's ammo expenditure, I'm fairly confident that German ammo production in '44 exceeded American. US peak ammo output in early '45 - after the shell crisis - might have exceeded Germany's but I doubt it.

-------------------------
historygeek2021 wrote:American plants and equipment designed for mass production vs German craft system of manufacturing
As discussed elsewhere, this is an overrated and sometimes false narrative.

Britain's craft shipbuilding techniques were significantly more efficient (i.e. higher labor productivity) than America's assembly-line shipbuilding, the supposed apotheosis of American efficiency. Source: I looked around to relocate where I read this recently re WW2, couldn't find it. For now, here's a table from an article but covering 1900:

Image

hold the thought for now but consider the possibility that sweeping narratives about American mass production efficiency are false (as my cites in the other thread re aircraft production show).

--------------------------

I don't disagree with overall US industrial productivity being higher; we just need to get the picture as accurate as possible.

American productivity advantages were more in basic materials and transport, as I hope to show in further discussion as time permits.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 06 Jul 2021 01:47

historygeek2021 wrote:American plants and equipment designed for mass production vs German craft system of manufacturing
TheMarcksPlan wrote:As discussed elsewhere, this is an overrated and sometimes false narrative.
Because I peaked back at Daniel Uziel's Arming the Luftwaffe for the other thread discussion, here's Uziel on this very topic:
Manufacturing a World War II aircraft was complicated. As renewed and expe rienced
industrialists, like Henry Ford, failed to grasp, it was more complicated than car pro duc tion
and much different.71
...
On the other side of the Atlantic, application of automotive methods to aircraft manufacture
was carried even further, but less successfully. Car producer and mass-production
pioneer Henry Ford offered the U.S. government in May 1940 the production of one thousand
aircraft of standard design a day.76 Both the American and British governments, shocked
by the quick fall of France, soon started to consult him. Ford enjoyed enormous prestige
as a car manufacturer and he also possessed some experience in aircraft production. His
greatest rival, General Motors, also offered to produce aircraft before the United States
entered World War II. Both firms soon led a comprehensive conversion of the American
aviation industry while converting some of their own plants to aviation production. The
conversion of the car industry into aviation production was far from smooth. Aircraft and
aero-engines were much more complicated machines than cars and automakers encountered
numerous problems when they started to mass-produce aircraft with their existing machinery
and production lines. Furthermore, by definition the car industry was less flexible, since it
was geared to manufacture standard civilian articles and was unable to incorporate the frequent changes of design that typify military production.77
p.30
Uziel also discusses, btw, a gradual German switch to more conveyor belt production from earlier bench work. The suggestion is there's a sweet spot between Fordism and bench work, with early-war German and American practices being at either extreme and both converging on semi-line production later.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

KDF33
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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by KDF33 » 06 Jul 2021 04:13

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
06 Jul 2021 01:13
Huge piece of the story missing: ammunition.
Indeed. A colossal missing piece.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
06 Jul 2021 01:13
I don't have US ammo production figures at hand (anybody have them)
I do. In metric tons, Germany / U.S. (with naval):

1941: 540,000 / 58,434 (no data) = 9.2-to-1
1942: 1,270,000 / 707,511 (798,763) = 1.8-to-1 (1.6-to-1)
1943: 2,558,000 / 879,362 (1,130,557) = 2.9-to-1 (2.3-to-1)
1944: 3,350,000 / 1,543,401 (2,013,237) = 2.2-to-1 (1.7-to-1)

Note that German data doesn't include naval ammunition.

Source for Germany: Armaments report, BA-MA R 3/1729
Source for the U.S.: Official Munitions Production of the United States (1947)

As shown here, in the third quarter of 1943, Germany employed in ammunition production 638,000 workers, 708,000 if we include the related powder and explosives industry. It also consumed a yearly allotment of 2,100,000 tons of steel. For comparison's sake, here is similar data for the other armaments industries:

1. Airframes, Aircraft engines, Aircraft equipment: 935,000 workers (200,000 tons of steel)
2. Weapons: 241,000 (900,000 tons of steel)
3. Ships and Submarine weapons: 200,000 (1,000,000 tons of steel)
4. Tanks: 179,000 (500,000 tons of steel)
5. Motor vehicles: 87,000 (200,000 tons of steel)

Had the Germans shrunk the ammunition, powder and explosives industries by 56% (to reflect the ratio between their production and that of the U.S. in 1943), they could have reallocated 395,000 workers and 1,200,000 tons of steel to other sectors. If we take ships, tanks and motor vehicles, which HG has cited as showing a particularly large gap, we would get this:

Three sectors, historical: 466,000 workers and 1,700,000 tons of steel
Three sectors, with reallocation: 861,000 workers and 2,900,000 tons of steel

Those are gains of respectively 85% (workforce) and 71% (steel). What, then, would the U.S./German differential in those classes of armaments be?
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
06 Jul 2021 01:13
I don't disagree with overall US industrial productivity being higher; we just need to get the picture as accurate as possible.
Agreed. The myth of the U.S. 'arsenal of democracy' needs the same kind of treatment Tooze gave Speer's 'armaments miracle'.

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 06 Jul 2021 05:09

KDF33 wrote:I do. In metric tons, Germany / U.S. (with naval):
Excellent, thanks.
KDF33 wrote:Official Munitions Production of the United States
For others: https://www.alternatewars.com/BBOW/Stat ... 940-45.pdf
KDF33 wrote:A colossal missing piece.
I suspect the biggest missing piece is non-armaments military production. Per Global Logistics and Strategy, only 49% of US Army (non-AAF) spending was on ordnance. The rest was on quartermaster, engineers, medical, etc.

My hypothesis is that the ordnance/non-ordnance ratio for Germany was significantly lower; that armaments production was for Germany a significantly lower portion of military production than for US (and, especially in early war years, for any other great power). Schindler started off producing field cookware, for example. There's an immense literature on arming the Wehrmacht but hardly any on, e.g., shoeing it. (or is there? please tell me I'm just ignorant)

A sub-hypothesis is that the per-soldier US/Germany ratio for non-armaments production was lower than for per-soldier armaments production. I.e. while the US soldier was more lavishly supplied with non-armaments stuff, there's a substantial minimum kit (shoes, uniforms, field cookware, entrenching equipment, etc.) that Germany supplied for a far greater portion of its populace than did US. Given German procurement practices, that kit was likely of exceptional quality. Combat soldiers need more of this kit than rear-area soldiers; Germany's proportion of populace in combat units exceeded US by multiples (~4x the divisions, ~60% of the population).
KDF33 wrote:The myth of the U.S. 'arsenal of democracy' needs the same kind of treatment Tooze gave Speer's 'armaments miracle'.
Letting my imagination run wild, I could see the myth being that the US won the war by emphasizing mass, labor-commoditizing means of production under the management of mega corporations led by Great Captains of Industry. The myth was propounded, despite clear evidence that its impact was marginal at best, to acclimatize Americans to those labor conditions and power relations.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by historygeek2021 » 06 Jul 2021 06:14

KDF33 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 04:13

1. Airframes, Aircraft engines, Aircraft equipment: 935,000 workers (200,000 tons of steel)
The USSBS report you cited in the other thread counts only 373,000 German aircraft workers in 1943, rising to 460,000 in 1944. How do you reconcile these figures?

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id= ... up&seq=253

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by KDF33 » 06 Jul 2021 06:19

historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 06:14
The USSBS report you cited in the other thread counts only 373,000 German aircraft workers in 1943, rising to 460,000 in 1944. How do you reconcile these figures?
Those figures are only for airframes. The figure of 935,000 workers includes those building engines and assorted aircraft equipment.

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 06 Jul 2021 06:56

TheMarcksPlan wrote:hold the thought for now
Not the exact cite I recalled but another showing higher British shipyard productivity than at the biggest American mass-producer:
Comparing Richmond and Thompson's, Ayre* claimed that output per person in the US was
28 tons per man per annum, whilst on the Wear [i.e. at Thompson's] it was 57 tons per man per annum "showing
that we are not down in this old country yet."
*Chairman of the Shipbuilding Conference, Sir Amos Ayre
Source

Richmond was the biggest US builder of Liberty Ships, centerpiece of the US cult of mass production. Yet labor at Thompson's (the designer of the Liberty Ship, an old-line craft/skilled worksite) was TWICE as productive.
Last edited by TheMarcksPlan on 06 Jul 2021 07:07, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 06 Jul 2021 07:05

KDF33 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 06:19
historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 06:14
The USSBS report you cited in the other thread counts only 373,000 German aircraft workers in 1943, rising to 460,000 in 1944. How do you reconcile these figures?
Those figures are only for airframes. The figure of 935,000 workers includes those building engines and assorted aircraft equipment.
As Tooze describes in Statistics and the German State, the table was Wagenfuhr's attempt to tally completely the inputs into weapons production. Listed labor force includes tied contractors (but not subcontractors); thus a bigger pool than the USSBS report's metric (primary aviation firms IIRC).

Wagenfuhr's standard would expand US aviation workforce over USSBS standards as well. To know whether it expands German workforce more than US (or vice versa) we'd have to know the relative predominance of contracting-out in German vs. US aviation industries.

But the issue isn't relevant to KDF's point in that post, as he was making an intra-German comparison rather than US-Germany comparison.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by historygeek2021 » 06 Jul 2021 15:17

KDF33 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 06:19
historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 06:14
The USSBS report you cited in the other thread counts only 373,000 German aircraft workers in 1943, rising to 460,000 in 1944. How do you reconcile these figures?
Those figures are only for airframes. The figure of 935,000 workers includes those building engines and assorted aircraft equipment.
Why would you only take into account employees in airframe assembly and not all employees involved in all aircraft components?

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 06 Jul 2021 22:39

historygeek2021 wrote:Using John Ellis' WW2 databook
The Germans built only 24 GRT of shipping? Could be a typo?

Two building programs alone built several thousand GRT: Kriegstransporter and Hansabau.

Image

Still a pittance compared to Allies but I've seen Ellis cites with mistakes before...
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by historygeek2021 » 06 Jul 2021 23:19

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
06 Jul 2021 22:39
historygeek2021 wrote:Using John Ellis' WW2 databook
The Germans built only 24 GRT of shipping? Could be a typo?

Two building programs alone built several thousand GRT: Kriegstransporter and Hansabau.

Image

Still a pittance compared to Allies but I've seen Ellis cites with mistakes before...
No, that was my interpolation. I should have clarified. I pulled it out of ... thin air.

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by Richard Anderson » 07 Jul 2021 00:35

historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 23:19
No, that was my interpolation. I should have clarified. I pulled it out of ... thin air.
For the Hansa-Bauprogram Typ A (3,000 ton), 9 were completed in 1943, 35 in 1944, and 1 in 1945. For the Typ B (5,000 ton) it was 2 in 1944 and 1 in 1945. For the Typ C (9,000 ton) it was 10 in 1944. Construction of nonstandard Hansa designs was 8 in 1944. Thus 58 of the 65 laid down. No Hansa were completed in 1941 or 1942.
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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by KDF33 » 07 Jul 2021 00:35

historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 15:17
Why would you only take into account employees in airframe assembly and not all employees involved in all aircraft components?
Because that's the benchmark available from the source material.
historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 23:19
No, that was my interpolation. I should have clarified. I pulled it out of ... thin air.
Why?

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Re: Superior productivity of American industrial workers

Post by Richard Anderson » 07 Jul 2021 01:34

KDF33 wrote:
07 Jul 2021 00:35
historygeek2021 wrote:
06 Jul 2021 23:19
No, that was my interpolation. I should have clarified. I pulled it out of ... thin air.
Why?
Probably because of a general lack of data. Overall, 1941-1945 the "Germans" (quite a bit of it was in non-German yards) produced about 288,000 tons of Hansa and KT, so 0.847% of American production rather than the OP's WAG of "0". Huge difference. Tremendous. :D
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