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ECONOMIC GROWTH CENTER
P.O. Box 208629
New Haven, CT 06520-8269
CENTER DISCUSSION PAPER NO. 905
DEMYSTIFYING THE GERMAN “ARMAMENT MIRACLE” DURING
WORLD WAR II. NEW INSIGHTS FROM THE ANNUAL AUDITS OF
GERMAN AIRCRAFT PRODUCERS
University of Bochum
University of Mannheim
University of Hohenheim
Notes: Center Discussion Papers are preliminary materials circulated to stimulate discussions
and critical comments.
The first version of this paper was written while Streb was visiting the Economic Growth
Center at Yale University in fall 2004. We are grateful to the Economic Growth Center
for financial support. We thank Christoph Buchheim, Mark Spoerer, Timothy Guinnane,
and the participants of the Yale economic history workshop for many helpful comments.
Corresponding author: Prof. Dr. Jochen Streb, University of Hohenheim (570a), D70593 Stuttgart, Germany, E-Mail: email@example.com.
This paper can be downloaded without charge from the Social Science Research Network electronic
library at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=661102
An index to papers in the Economic Growth Center Discussion Paper Series is located at:
Demystifying the German “armament miracle” during World War II.
New insights from the annual audits of German aircraft producers
Lutz Budraß, Jonas Scherner, and Jochen Streb
Armament minister Albert Speer is usually credited with causing the boom in German
armament production after 1941. This paper uses the annual audit reports of the Deutsche
Revisions- und Treuhand AG for seven firms which together represented about 50 % of
the German aircraft producers. We question the received view by showing that in the
German aircraft industry the crucial changes that triggered the upswing in aircraft
production already occurred before World War II. The government decided in 1938 that
aircraft producers had to concentrate on a few different types, and in 1937 that cost-plus
contracts were replaced with fixed price contracts. What followed was not a sudden
production miracle but a continuous development which was fuelled first by learning-bydoing and then by the ongoing growth of the capital and labor endowment.
German armament miracle, World War II, Albert Speer, Aircraft industry,
Learning-by-doing, Fixed-price contract, Labor productivity
JEL Codes: H57, L64, N44
The German armament miracle
In December 1941 the Russian army stopped the German Wehrmacht near Moscow. That
along with the United States’ entry into World War II brought the National Socialists’
strategy to fight so-called Blitzkriege, which could be waged with a comparatively low
number of soldiers and arms, to a sudden end.1 Now confronted with the prospect of a
long-lasting war against the United States and Soviet Russia, the German military
planners acknowledged that they had to increase their armament production considerably.
This insight was, for example, frankly made public by the economic journal Deutscher
Volkswirt (1942, p. 579): “The winter campaign makes everybody aware of the fact that
the German people are required to make an extreme military and economic effort. […]
Using raw materials more economically, fewer workers will have to produce the same or
an even larger amount of armament goods than are fabricated until now” [translated by
[Insert figure 1 here]
Apparently, the German war economy was able to meet this demand. Figure 1 shows that
the index of German armament production3 originally prepared on behalf of Albert
Speer’s armament department more than tripled between early 1942 and July 1944. It
might not be surprising that this considerable growth, realized in a period of increasing
Allied air-raids on German firms and transportation networks, led many observers to
christen this development a miracle.4 The index of German armament production,
however, has its shortcomings. First of all, the Speer administration intentionally chose
the first two months of 1942, in which armament production was comparatively low, as
See Kröner (1988). One might argue, however, that the heavy investment in armament production during
1940 and 1941 indicates that the National Socialists already decided to prepare for a long-lasting war at the
beginning of World War II. For investment figures see, for example, Hopmann, 1996, p. 120.
“Der Winterfeldzug hat die Augen dafür geöffnet, dass vom deutschen Volk die äußersten militärischen
und wirtschaftlichen Anstrengungen verlangt werden. […] gleichzeitig werden weniger Menschen unter
sparsamerem Güterverbrauch der Wirtschaft dieselbe oder eine größere kriegswichtige Produktion
aufzubringen haben als vorher.”
To construct this index the different armament goods like warships, tanks, artillery or ammunition were
generally weighted by their prices of 1943. The development of aircraft production, however, was
measured by the weight of the bombers and fighters. See Wagenführ, 1954, pp. 208-211.
Overy (1994, p. 344), for example, speaks of the “so-called production miracle”.
the base of the index to exaggerate its own achievements in the following years
(Wagenführ, 1954, p. 211). The decision to calculate the index only for the period when
Albert Speer was armament minister also hid the important detail that German armament
production had already grown significantly between 1938 and 1940 (Wagenführ, 1954, p.
[Insert figure 2 here]
Another deficiency arises from the fact that the index also included armament goods that
were produced in occupied countries.6 Figure 2, for example, shows that in occupied
Poland (Generalgouvernement) armament production for the German armed forces
nearly quadrupled between February 1942 and May 1944.7 It would therefore be
misleading to interpret the armament index as a consistent measure for the growth of
German weapons production within the borders of 1937. An additional shortcoming
resulted from the fact that the index also counted the increasing number of older military
equipment like aircraft that were just repaired after minor damage, which could be done
with much less effort than producing new ones.8 As a result, the index of armament
production depicted in figure 1 might considerably over-state the volume of new weapons
produced within the traditional borders of Germany after 1941.
[Insert table 1 here]
For more details about the role of statistics in German armament planning under Speer’s reign see Tooze,
2001, pp. 253 f.
This fact is explicitly stated in Anmerkungen zum Text des Lageberichts 1943/44, BArch R 3/1965, Blatt
67. See also Lagebericht 1943/44, R 3/1965, Bl. 82.
Poland was of course not the only and not the most important location of armament production for the
German armed forces. The aircraft producer Arado, for example, obtained during the year 1942 several
components and even completed aircraft from firms located in Denmark, France and the Sudetenland. See
audit report 1942, BArch R 8135/7085, p. 4. ATG received wings and steering from aircraft producers sited
in Prague and Amsterdam. See audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/2168, p. 3. French firms produced the
aircraft Ju 52 on behalf of Junkers. See audit report 1943, BArch R 8135/7560, p. 26. Our main data source
is the firm-specific annual audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG shelved in the
Federal archives in Berlin. We will discuss this source at length below.
During the accounting year 1942/43, for example, the repair department of Junkers was booming. See
audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7560, p. 10.
There is still no doubt, however, that German firms were able to increase their armament
production between 1942 and 1944. At least implicitly assuming that the firms’
individual endowments with capital goods and blue-collar workers were rather constant
in this period,9 historians generally explain the increase in armament production by a
corresponding increase in labor productivity (Overy, 1994, pp. 344-345). This
explanation is often justified by table 1, originally published by Wagenführ after World
War II. Based on rather rough estimates table 1 shows that German armament production
tripled between January 1942 and July 1944 while the employees producing armament
goods within the German borders grew by only 30 percent in the same period. One might
conclude from these data that the productivity of this work force more than doubled in
two and a half years. However, Wagenführ himself (1954, p. 125) acknowledges that this
growth rate of labor productivity might be too high because of the increasing armament
production in occupied countries. Yet, the results of table 1 are generally accepted and
explained by rationalization measures enforced or even initiated by armament minister
Albert Speer, who assumed office in February 1942 after his predecessor Fritz Todt was
killed in an accident.
Speer is especially credited with making the following political decisions (Abelshauser,
1998, p. 156 f.; Overy, 1994, pp. 356-363; Weyres, 1975, pp. 47-49). First, the number of
weapon types was reduced which might have allowed many firms to move to mass
production and exploit economies of scale. Second, the frequency of minor design
changes of a special type was decreased, so firms could save at least some of the costs
arising from adapting their production equipment. Third, against the declared desire of
the armed forces, finishing procedures like polishing or lacquering that add nothing to the
destructive power of a weapon were abolished, which reduced the working hours needed
to produce one piece of an armament good. Fourth, firms were forced to share
technological know-how in newly established inter-firm committees in order to give less
efficient firms the information considered necessary for imitating the technology of the
Precise estimates of both the total amount of investment and the number of blue-collar workers in the
German armament industry before and during World War II do not exist.
superior firms. This might have especially accelerated the diffusion of flow production
techniques in German industry.
All these rationalization measures had in common that they enabled firms to decrease
their production costs. Overy (1994, p. 357), however, raises serious doubts about
whether the firms would have realized these efficiency gains under the traditional regime
of cost-plus contracts that seemed to dominate German procurement business until 1942.
Firms that delivered weapons on the basis of a cost-plus contract generally got a payment
that not only covered all their actual costs observed after the end of production, but also
included a premium that was calculated as a given percentage of these costs.10 That is
why, under a cost-plus contract, an armament producer had no incentives to reduce costs;
quite the reverse, he was motivated to increase them to get a higher premium. To make
the rationalization measures listed above work it was therefore necessary to change to
another type of procurement contract. In May 1942, the government ordered that costplus contracts in general had to be replaced with fixed-price contracts.11 Under this new
procurement regime the procurement agency and the armament producer ex ante agreed
on a fixed price of a weapon on the basis of their expectations about the future production
cost. If the armament producer was able to fabricate the good at lower production costs
than estimated, he was entitled to keep at least a part of this difference as an additional
profit. As a result, firms now had the incentive to take the opportunities offered by
Speer’s rationalization program to decrease their costs.
The fact that it was apparently under Speer’s reign, when all these reforms were enforced
and the armament production boomed, led many observers to the view that armament
minister Albert Speer might have been one of the few competent political managers in the
National Socialists’ ruling classes. Kaldor (1946, p. 48) stated immediately after the war:
“Speer’s administration in the course of the following two-and-a-half years was the
single great success which the German war economy can record, and the only that will
retain a more than historical interest.” Until today the rather positive evaluation of
For more details see Streb/Streb (1998).
See Anordnung über Einheits- und Gruppenpreise vom 19. Mai 1942, Reichsanzeiger vol. 117.
Speer’s capability is mainly based on the analysis of documents of the different state
authorities, on macroeconomic data, and, last but not least, on Speer’s autobiography in
which he successfully built up his own myth.12 However, not much is known about the
economic activities inside the individual firms. So crucial empirical questions are still
unanswered: Were the reforms of the Speer administration more than ineffective
announcements? Did they really cause a considerable increase in the armament
producers’ productivity after a surprisingly short period of time? Could they therefore be
interpreted as the main reason for the so-called armament miracle?
To answer these questions we are exploring annual audits of German armament
producers that are shelved in the Federal Archives in Berlin but have been widely ignored
until now. We started our research project with a closer look at the aircraft industry
whose development, we first thought, might be quite representative for what was going in
other German war industries. This prior belief was supported by the facts. First, the
aircraft industry’s average share in the armament production came to about 40 percent
(Wagenführ, 1954, pp. 30, 69). Second, the index of aircraft production represented by
the broken line in figure 1 behaved very similarly to the index of total armament
production. It turned out, however, that the development in the aircraft industry might not
be that typical since it contradicts most of the well-known conjectures about the nature of
the German armament miracle stated above.
We want to stress two results which will be discussed in detail in the following sections.
First, the factor endowments of most of the aircraft producers were not constant, but
considerably expanded during the war. This holds for both capital and labor. Second,
increases in labor productivity especially occurred before 1942 and were more likely
caused by learning-by doing effects than by rationalization measures. In particular, there
was no structural break with respect to the procurement regime during the war because in
the aircraft industry fixed-price contracts were already used since 1937. These
observations lead us to the conclusion that the reforms of the Speer administration had at
best a minor influence on the armament miracle in the German aircraft industry. We will
See, especially, Speer, 1969, pp. 219-228.
have to analyze other war industries in greater detail before we can answer the question
whether this result is an industry-specific exception or true for most of the German
From an organizational point of view the governmental administrators of the German
aircraft industry were able to keep a comparatively high degree of independence of Speer
up to the year 1944. The aviation department (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) under
Hermann Göring had planned and executed air armament since 1933. Competing with
army and navy ordnance offices for raw materials and workers thereafter, the autonomy
of the aviation department was confirmed when Speer took over the armament
department in February 1942. Especially Field Marshal Erhard Milch, who led the
ordnance office of the aviation department after November 1941 and had also been a
promising candidate for the position of the armament minister, successfully repelled any
attempts to reduce his responsibility for air armament (Eichholtz, 1985, p.60). The wider
framework of Milch’s armament strategies, however, was set by Speer. Moreover, in
March 1944, aircraft production finally also came under the direct control of Speer’s
Our main data source is the firm-specific annual audit reports of the Deutsche Revisionsund Treuhand AG. Founded in 1922 as a state-owned limited company, the Deutsche
Revisions- und Treuhand was instructed to audit all firms in which the German Reich had
shares in or for which the state stood surety.13 In 1924 this auditing company was
transformed into a joint-stock company and became a subsidiary of the large state
holding company Vereinigte Industrieunternehmungen AG (VIAG). After the Second
World War the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG remained the preferred auditing
company of the West German state. It was privatized step by step and finally merged
with Price Waterhouse Germany in 1998.
See Reichshaushaltsordnung vom 31. Dezember 1922, § 48, §§ 110-117. The audit of the annual
accounts of private-owned joint-stock companies by state-appointed auditors was not made compulsory
until 1931. See Guinnane, 2003, p. 248.
The Federal Archives in Berlin Lichterfelde possess a collection14 of the audit reports of
the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG for firms that were engaged in the German
armament production during World War II. The typical audit report contains not only a
comprehensive analysis of the balance sheet and the profit-and-loss-account but also
detailed information about sales, prices, costs and the structure of the work force.
Sometimes the reports even included a list of every single machine bought during the
accounting year. In general, both the quantity and the quality of the information delivered
increased between 1939 and 1942, which might reflect the National Socialists’ desire to
overcome the principal-agent problems of armament production by improving their
knowledge about the production technology and the actual costs of the private firms.15
[Insert table 2 here]
In this paper, we mainly concentrate on the seven German aircraft producers listed in
table 2. For six of these firms audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG
were available and covered most of the war time.16 For the Henschel Flugzeug-Werke AG
we added data from company files which partly survived in the archives of
Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen (ZF) at Calden near Kassel. Most of these firms produced
the double-engine Ju 88 bomber, originally designed by the company Junkers Flugzeugund Motorenwerke AG.
[Insert figure 3 here]
The so-called Ju 88-program, which was established by Göring in mid-1938 and was
aimed at exploiting economies of scale and raising the technological standards of aircraft
production, presented a major innovation in German procurement organization. The
largest firm, Junkers, produced in its various plants all components of the aircraft Ju 88
The shelf mark of this collection is BArch R 8135.
The National Socialists were well aware of the fact that the private firms tried to use asymmetric
information to increase their profits at the expense of the state. See Scherner (2004) and Streb (2003).
See Audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG in the appendix.
including the engines,17 while ATG, Arado, Heinkel-Oranienburg, Henschel and Siebel,
among others,18 concentrated on some components and tasks like wings, fuselages,
engine suspension, tail units, and final assembly.19 In order to give Junkers the
opportunity to boost its output of Ju 88, Weser took over the production of the singleengine Ju 87 bomber which had been Junkers’ main product until then. Junkers was
vested with the right to act as a state agency. It organized the flow of raw materials and
labor to the firms of the different divisions and also had the right to direct their specific
production decisions. To enable the other firms to imitate its design and production
methods, Junkers shared information and also gave them technological support when
needed.20 Interestingly enough, the firms in our sample had already exchanged
technological knowledge21 before Albert Speer ordered the newly founded inter-firms
committees to do exactly this. There is some evidence, indeed, that Speer’s reform based
on positive experiences with the Ju 88-program.22
The Ju 88-program constituted one of the largest German armament projects. The firms
which took part in the original plan of 1938 employed more than half of the workforce
engaged in German airframe production. Even in 1943, when the focal point of air
armament began to shift to fighters, the participants in the Ju 88-program still employed a
third of it (Budraß, 1998, p. 834). Between September 1938, when series production
started at Junkers, and September 1944, when it was cancelled, some 14,000 Ju 88
bombers were built.
Junkers also produced the aircraft type Ju 52. See audit report 1939/40, BArch R 8135/2548, p. 57.
Both the Dornierwerke in Friedrichshafen and the Norddeutsche Dornierwerke in Wismar were also
shortly engaged in the production of Ju 88 bombers building 219 units (March 1940-Dezember 1940) and
467 units (January 1940-September 1941), respectively. See BA-MA RL 3/976, p. 48.
The German state owned Arado, Heinkel, Junkers, and Weser at least partly. See Beteiligungsfirmen der
Luftfahrtkontor GmbH, BArch R 2/5550, p. 44 f.
See audit report 1941/42, BArch R 8135-7559, p. 61.
Due to the ambiguous role of Junkers, however, the Ju-88 program initially caused sharp resistance from
the companies concerned. See Budraß, 1998, p. 552.
See Aus der geheimen Aktennotiz von Karl Albrecht, Geschäftsführer der Wirtschaftsgruppe
Feinmechanik und Optik, über die Sitzung der Reichsgruppe Industrie am 27. März 1940 zum Verhältnis
zwischen der Reichsgruppe Industrie und dem Reichsminister für Bewaffnung und Munition, in
Eichholtz/Schumann, 1969, pp. 245 f.
In this section we analyze the development of both the work force and the fixed assets of
our firm sample during war time. With respect to the latter the figures officially revealed
in the audit reports might considerably underestimate the actual development of firms’
capital stock for two reasons. On the one hand, the state granted generous special
depreciation allowances that were by no means justified by wear and tear but were
intended to enable firms to transform profits into hidden reserves.23 On the other hand,
firms often increased their production capacities not by investment in new plants but by
leasing already existing plants from other firms or the state,24 whose value then did not
show up in their balance sheets. To estimate the amount of the capital stock that was
actually employed by the German aircraft producers we therefore adjusted the officially
published figures by the following procedure. We added back all special depreciation
allowances (SDt) of a particular accounting year (t) to the officially published fixed assets
(FAt) and then used the “regular” depreciation rates ri, i=t,..., t+n, (regular depreciations
in year i/officially published fixed assets in year i) to depreciate them step by step in the
actual and following years.25 When data were available we also included the value of the
leased plants (Pt) in our estimation of the capital stock in year t. In the following year the
value of the leased plants was either depreciated at the same rate like the rest of the
production capacity or, when the audit reports contain this information, replaced by its
up-dated value (Pt+1). As a result, the adjusted fixed assets (AFA) for the years t and t+1,
for example, are defined as:
AFAt = FAt + (1 − rt ) SDt + Pt
AFAt +1 = FAt +1 + (1 − rt +1 )(1 − rt ) SDt + (1 − rt +1 ) SDt +1 + (1 − rt +1 ) Pt
AFAt +1 = FAt +1 + (1 − rt +1 )(1 − rt ) SDt + (1 − rt +1 ) SDt +1 + Pt +1
See Endgültige Fassung der Richtlinie über Preisbildung und Finanzierung vom 12. Juni 1937, BArch
R 2/5475, p. 31. For the particular write down of capital in 1938 see BArch R 2 Anh./37, pp. 31 f. See also
Budraß, 1998, pp. 492 f.
See audit report 1940 of Weser, BArch R 8135/5272, p. 2. See also Hopmann, 1996, pp. 123, 195 f.
In its book-keeping Henschel explicitly distinguished between “real” fixed assets actually employed and
“official” fixed assets decreased by special depreciation allowances.
Table 3 shows that in the period covered by the available audit reports both the adjusted
fixed assets and the work force of most firms in our sample increased with astonishing
annual growth rates. The highest growth rates were realized in the pre-1941 period when
on average adjusted fixed assets increased by 18.3 % and blue-collar workers by 24.5 %
per year. However, even in the post-1941 period, extensive growth of the aircraft
producers was remarkably large.
[Insert table 3 here]
Two firms deviated from the general trend. ATG was for some reason not able to use the
favorable conditions of the German war economy to augment its own factor endowment
to the same extent as the other firms of the Ju 88-program. Heinkel, which had the highest
capital-labor-ratio in 1939, increased in the following years only its work force. In
contrast to Heinkel, the capital-labor ratio of the other firms was either growing (Arado,
ATG, Henschel, Junkers), or only slightly falling (Siebel, Weser) during war time.26
[Insert figure 4 here]
How can the development of the aircraft producers’ capital-labor ratio depicted in figure
4 be explained? In the late 1930s, German aircraft producers had built up excess
capacities with respect to plants and machinery. After World War II had started, the
capital-labor-ratio shortly decreased since firms recruited many blue-collar workers in
order to staff their newly built plants.27 However, as the upward trend of the capital-labor
ratio of most of the firms in our sample after 1940 indicates, the growth of their adjusted
fixed assets soon exceeded the growth of their work force again. This unbalanced
development seems to be caused by the shortage of labor that resulted from the increasing
number of German male workers that were recruited by the army.28 The fact that labor
The average annual growth rate of the capital-labor-ratio, calculated by weighting the seven firms’
individual capital-labor-ratio by their share in the total adjusted capital stock of our sample, was 1.1 % in
1940, 7.9 % in 1941, 4.0 % in 1942 and -4.0 % in 1943.
See Budraß, 1998, p. 674.
The sum total of Germans drafted grew from 5.6 millions in 1940 via 7.4 millions in 1941, 9.4 millions
in 1942 and 11.2 millions in 1943 to 12.4 millions in 1944 (Wagenführ, 1954, pp. 35, 45).
was probably the most important bottleneck of the German war industry explains why the
armament producers were often not able to utilize their production capacity fully by
running two or three shifts.29 In the short run, firms instead increased the number of
working hours per worker. At Junkers, for example, the workers’ effective weekly
working time grew from 53 hours in 1938/39, to 56 hours in 1939/40 and 58 hours in
1940/41.30 It is well-known that the National Socialists tried to overcome the labor
shortage in the German war industry, first, by fostering women’s employment and reallocating the German work force, and, then, by forcing foreign civilians, prisoners of
war and concentration camp prisoners to work.31
The audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG also shed light on whether
these measures worked out at the firm level. The example of Arado demonstrates that at
least some of the aircraft producers were not able to use German women to replace their
male workers lost to the army.32 In 1940, for example, 74 percent of all female bluecollar workers employed in Arado’s plant in Brandenburg-Neuendorf quit their job.33 The
audit report unfortunately mentioned no reason for this dramatic drop. We have to
speculate whether the women were motivated to leave by bad working conditions or by
the financial support given to soldiers’ spouses by the government.34 On the whole, the
share of female blue-collar workers in the total work force of Arado decreased from 19.9
percent in 1939 via 15.6 percent in 1940 to 15.1 percent in 1941.35
The audit reports also contain some remarks that imply that the aircraft producers were
not very satisfied with the performance of those German workers who were forced by the
state to leave their traditional occupation and hometown in order to work in armament
This observation was stressed by Kaldor, 1946, p. 35.
See audit report 1939/40, BArch R 8135/2548, p. 15; audit report 1940/41, BArch R 8135/7558, p. 11.
See also Budraß, 1998, p. 675.
See Overy, 1994, pp. 291-303
At ATG, the share of female workers in the total work force dropped from 13.2 percent in June 1940 to
12.1 percent in June 1941. See audit reports 1940 and 1941, BArch R 8135/2167, R 8135/7100.
See audit report 1940, BArch R 8135/7084, p. 9.
Married women received up to 85 percent of the former wages of their recruited husbands. See Winkler,
1977, p. 92.
See audit report 1940, BArch R 8135/7084, p. 17; audit report 1941, BArch R 8135/7085, p. 7.
production.36 ATG, for example, told the auditor that this type of worker needed extensive
training before he could be deployed fruitfully.37 The fact that, for example, Arado
declared that in 1942 1,100 workers had to be fired for lack of aptitude,38 leads us to the
conjecture that the “forced” German workers tried hard to prove their incompetence to be
released.39 As a result, the aircraft producers more and more relied on foreign workers
whose productivity was in despite of their poor living conditions apparently much higher
than the propaganda made the German people believe. Even a document of the Reich’s
aviation department found in the Military archives in Freiburg stated that the productivity
of female Russians and Czech skilled worker came up to 90 to 100 percent of the
productivity of their German counterparts.40
[Insert table 4 here]
Table 4 shows the development of the work force of Heinkel in Oranienburg which is
best documented by the audit reports we reviewed. Between January 1940 and March
1941 Heinkel could still increase its work force by about 30 percent by hiring mainly
male German workers. After this period, however, the number of both male and female
German workers was steadily decreasing. Between summer 1941 and summer 1942 it
was the employment of foreign civilian workers in which female Russians played a
prominent role which enabled Heinkel not only to replace its lost German workers but
also to expand its work force again by 40 percent. In summer 1942 the firm decided to
improve its capacity utilization by running more than one shift. The additional workers
needed for this plan were taken from the nearby concentration camp.41 In the following
months Heinkel more and more depended on the labor of concentration camp prisoners
See Verordnung zur Sicherstellung des Kräftebedarfs für Aufgaben von besonderer staatspolitischer
Bedeutung, Reichsgesetzblatt I, 1939, pp. 206 f.
See audit report 1939/40, BArch R 8135/2167, p. 25.
See audit report 1942, BArch R 8135/7085, p. 6.
This conjecture is, for example, also confirmed by various complaints of the managers of the synthetic
rubber plant in Hüls who criticized both the incompetence and the lack of discipline of the “forced”
German workers. See Lorentz/Erker, 2003, pp. 307 f.
See BArch MA RL 3/976, p. 24. This document also claims that French and Belgians reached 80 to 95
percent, Russians 60 to 80 percent, Italians 70 percent, and Dutch, Danes and workers from the Balkans 50
to 70 percent of the productivity of a German worker. See also Spoerer, 2001, p. 186.
See Budraß, 1998, p. 778 f.
whose share in the sum total of all blue-collar workers grew fast from 11 percent in
September 1942 via 35 percent in March 1943 to 53 percent in March 1944. The
development of Heinkel’s work force until summer 1942 might be representative of the
situation in the German aircraft industry as a whole. Heinkel’s transformation into a firm
that mainly exploited concentration camp prisoners was rather exceptional. The other
aircraft producers relied more on foreign civilian workers. At Junkers, for example, the
share of concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war in the sum total of all
employees was only about 2 percent in September 1943 whereas foreign civilian workers
came to more than a third of all employees.42
The data presented in this section reveal that the boom in German aircraft production
during World War II has not to be explained by increases in productivity alone but was
obviously also caused by the growth of firms’ factor endowment.
Figure 5 shows that the aircraft producers’ labor productivity calculated as value added
per blue-collar worker generally rose during the period under consideration.43 In 1940,
Heinkel was the firm with the highest labor productivity followed by Henschel, Junkers,
Arado, Siebel, Weser and finally ATG. This hierarchy changed in the following two
years. In 1942, Junkers had taken over the lead while Heinkel had even fallen behind
Henschel, Arado, Weser and Siebel.
[Insert figure 5 here]
At first glance, the fact that Heinkel was the only firm in our sample that had both a
falling capital-labor-ratio and decreasing labor productivity might suggest that the latter
was caused by the former. A detailed comparison of figure 4 and 5 makes clear that the
firms’ changes in labor productivity cannot be satisfactorily explained by the changes in
their capital-labor ratios. ATG, for example, who had the lowest and only slightly
See audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7560, p. 17; Budrass, 1998, p. 799.
Since value added was measured by actual prices which rather decreased over time the real efficiency
gains might be even underestimated.
growing capital-labor ratio, was able to improve its labor productivity steadily and to
overtake Heinkel and Siebel in 1943,44 while Arado, on the other hand, failed to increase
efficiency despite a fast growing capital-labor-ratio. We will see in the next sub sections
that, especially in the period between 1937 and 1941, the firms’ growing labor
productivity was most likely caused by learning-by-doing.
The question remains why Heinkel was continuously losing efficiency. In our opinion, it
was the comparatively discontinuous development of its production program which
prevented Heinkel from keeping its high productivity level reached in 1940. Originally,
Heinkel had produced the bomber He 111 in Oranienburg. In 1940 the firm was
instructed to concentrate on the production of wings for the Ju 88 instead.45 This change
in the production program involved a substantial re-organization of the production
process. Workers who were used to assemble a whole airplane had now to learn how to
fabricate a special component of another design. Old machines became useless and had to
be replaced with new ones the workers were unfamiliar with. Figure 5 suggests that
Heinkel was not able to adapt to these changes without a decrease in labor productivity.
The next sudden about-turn of its production program again coincided with a
considerable loss of efficiency. In 1942, Heinkel had to give up its production of Ju 88
wings and started to fabricate the new bomber type He 177.46 As a result of this change
the “regular” depreciation rate of Heinkel’s capital stock soared to 28 % in 1942/43. This
time the necessary adaptation process was made even more difficult by the fact that
simultaneously a large number of concentration camp prisoners newly arrived at the firm
who had to be trained and made further adjustments of the firm’s organization of
production necessary. It took another two years until Heinkel was suddenly ordered to
stop the production of the bomber He 177 and to concentrate instead on the final
assembly of the fighter Fw 190 which was needed to repel the Allied bombers.47
The comparatively strong rise of ATG’s labor productivity in 1943 was probably caused by a restriction
of the own production program that resulted from the decision to move the production of engine suspension
to Opel in Rüsselsheim and of tail units to Würtembergische Metallwarenfabrik in Geisslingen. See audit
report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/2168, p. 3.
See audit report 1940, BArch R 8135/7498, p. 5.
See audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7500, p. 15.
See audit report 1943/44, BArch R 8135/1916, p. 5.
The other aircraft producers of our sample were given much more time to learn how to
produce a special component or aircraft efficiently. From the audit reports we know that
they were engaged in the production of the Ju 88 bomber for at least the following time
spans: Arado from October 1939 until the second half of 1942, ATG from January 1940
until June 1943, Henschel from September 1939 to September 1944, Junkers from
February 1939 until September 1943, and Siebel from January 1940 until December
1943. Weser produced the Ju 87 bomber from 1938 to at least December 1942.48
Weighting the seven firms’ individual labor productivity by their share in the total work
force of our sample we also calculated the average annual growth rate of value added per
blue-collar worker. It turned out that this growth rate was especially high in the early
years of the Ju 88 and Ju 87 production. It came to 17.3 % both in 1938 and in 1939, to
9.2 % in 1940, to 6 % in 1941, and to only 3.5 % and 3.7 % in 1942 and 1943
respectively.49 Surprisingly enough, labor productivity grew much faster in the period
between 1937 and 1941 than under Speer’s reign. We will explain this finding in the next
section by learning effects.
The idea of learning curves was introduced into economics by Alchian in 1963.
Analyzing the data of 22 different aircraft types produced by the American industry
during World War II, Alchian (1963) found that the direct amount of labor required to
produce a unit of a special aircraft type regularly declines when the total output of this
type is expanded. This relationship can be graphically expressed by the so-called learning
curve.50 The basic explanation for the negative slope of this function is that workers learn
as they work. In this respect, learning-by-doing means that the more often a worker
See BArch MA RL 3/976, p. 48; Arado’s audit report 1942, BArch R 8135/7085, p. 5; ATG’s audit
report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/2168, p. 3; Junkers’ audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7650, p. 10;
Siebel’s audit report 1943, BArch R 8135/7938, p. 6; Weser’s audit reports 1938 and 1942, BArch R
8125/5271, p. 2, and BArch R 8135/8133, p.4.
Since prices for aircraft were falling during war time we under-rate the growth rate of labor productivity
by using nominal value added to measure output. However, this measurement error is at least partly offset
by the fact that the individual work load of the blue-collar workers increased in the period under
See Hartley, 1965, p. 123.
repeats a special task the more efficient he or she will become. This effect might arise in
all kinds of industries, but the expected increase in labor productivity is especially high
when workers are given rather complex tasks, such as case in the World War II aircraft
industry. Another general characteristic of the learning curve is that the decrease in
working time required to produce a special good will be less with each successive unit of
output. This implies that aircraft producers realize substantial efficiency gains in the early
stage of a production run whereas the learning effects might totally cease when the
number of accumulated units reaches a certain threshold.
Given non-increasing wages the learning curve obviously translates via falling labor costs
into decreasing production costs per unit. This is not the only way, however, in which
learning-by-doing can reduce the overall costs of an aircraft producer (Sturmey, 1964, pp.
961-963). When workers get used to a special production process they also learn to avoid
wrongly cutting or shaping which saves material. The prices of components bought from
others firms decrease because these suppliers realize learning effects too. Since
experienced workers are able to produce a higher number of units in a certain period of
time than green hands, learning-by-doing also cuts overhead costs per unit whenever
those overhead costs were fixed in the respective time span.
Before World War II, the German aviation department was already well aware of the
existence of learning curves in the aircraft industry. In 1929, Wolfram von Richthofen,
who later became the head of the department of aircraft development in the technical
office of the aviation department, submitted his doctoral thesis to the Technical
University of Berlin.51 In this thesis Richthofen summed up his experiences in aircraft
production which he had acquired as an expert of the ordnance office of the Reichswehr
since 1925. Analyzing the production systems of the leading German aircraft producers
he found in each case a negative correlation between working hours per ton of aircraft
and accumulated output. Even though Richthofen could only observe very small
Richthofen, W. v., 1929. Der Einfluß der Flugzeugbauarten auf die Beschaffung unter besonderer
Berücksichtigung militärischer Gesichtspunkte. Doctoral thesis, Technical University of Berlin. Wolfram
von Richthofen was a cousin of the famous First World War fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen.
production series presented in table 5, his findings on the learning curve became the basis
for German armament planning since 1933.
[Insert table 5 here]
The aviation department carefully kept track of the decreasing direct labor input, actually
drew its own learning curves for both different aircraft types and different aircraft
producers, and finally used the information delivered by these charts to predict the future
development of the labor productivity in the aircraft industry.52 Moreover, the Ju 88program itself was explicitly designed to exploit “economies of learning”. Junkers had
needed at the minimum 30,000 working hours to produce the bomber which preceded the
Ju 88. Yet it was predicted that because of the learning effects occurring during a large
production run Junkers would need only 25,000 working hours to complete the 1000th Ju
88. It was further assumed that learning effects could also be evoked in the smaller firms
like Siebel and ATG which were therefore instructed to specialize in the production of
certain parts of the Ju 88.53
[Insert figure 6 here]
The available data allow us to construct a curve depicted in figure 6 that shows the
development of working hours the three firms ATG, Junkers and Siebel needed on
average to produce one unit of the Ju 88 bomber in the period from August 1939 to
August 1941. Notice that the vertical axis presents the logarithm of working hours.
Overall, average working hours dropped spectacularly from 100,000 in October 1939 to
15,317 in August 1941. This finding supports the observation stated above that learning
effects are especially high in the early stage of a production run. Two details of figure 6
are especially noteworthy. The decrease in labor productivity in spring 1940 was caused
by the appearance of the two new producers ATG and Siebel which started their Ju 88
production later and were therefore less efficient than Junkers at this time. The decrease
See, for example, BArch MA RL 3/931, pp. 13, 34-36.
See Ju 88 Zentralsteuerung. Ein Schritt zur Rationalisierung der Fertigung in der Luftfahrtindustrie,
Archives of the German Museum in Munich (DMM/ASD) LRD LR 02621, p. 2.
in labor productivity in spring 1941 resulted from the adaptation costs that occurred
because of the change to the new design Ju 88 A 4. This design modification, however,
interrupted the learning process only for a few months, as the firms returned to their longterm learning curve in June 1941.
[Insert figure 7 here]
The same learning effects are observable at Henschel, whose performance in the Ju 88program can be studied over the whole span of production. Preparations for production
started in January 1938, and final assembly began in November 1938. While Henschel
needed more than 700 working hours to produce 1000 RM of production value (final
assembly, fuselages, engine suspensions) in November 1938, this rate finally dropped to
a minimum rate of 29 working hours in December 1943. As in the case of the other
participants of the Ju 88-program, the largest increase in labor productivity occurred in
the first year of the production run.
Learning at Henschel was interrupted by a governmental planning disaster. In mid 1943,
the aviation department instructed Henschel to prepare for the production of a heavy
fighter of the aircraft producer Messerschmitt (Me 410) which was supposed to replace
the Ju 88. When the adaptation process was almost completed, this governmental order
was withdrawn, and Henschel had to return to the production of Ju 88. As a result, in a
period when Germany desperately needed new aircraft to fight the Allies, one of the most
successful German aircraft producers wasted time with re-establishing the Ju 88
production that was nevertheless cancelled later in 1944.54 As in the case of Heinkel
Oranienburg, the drop in labor productivity at Henschel in 1944 was primarily caused by
sudden changes in the production program.
[Insert table 6 here]
See Zusammenstellung der Vorschläge zur Mobilisierung von Leistungsreserven (Mai 1944), BArch R
3/1813, p. 6.
Table 6 demonstrates for the example of Junkers that learning effects translated into
falling production costs. In the two-year period between 1940/41 and 1942/43 the total
costs to produce one unit of the Ju 88 bomber fell by 33 percent, the direct material costs
by 29 percent and the labor costs by 60 percent. This decrease in labor costs might have
been larger than the decrease in working hours since wages were also decreasing during
World War II because of the growing share of foreign civilian workers, prisoners of war
and concentration camp prisoners who were paid lower wages than the German
workers.55 Table 6 also shows that the increase in labor productivity depicted in figure 6
did not stop after 1941. At the end of the accounting year 1942/43 Junkers only needed
about 7,000 working hours to build an aircraft the production of which had required
100,000 working hours four years ago.56
The precise timing of the Ju 88-program gives us some idea, why the concurrence of the
German armament miracle and Albert Speer’s reign might just have been coincidental. It
was in May 1938 when the aviation department finally decided that the Ju 88 bomber
would become one of the major weapons of the German air force.57 The firms which
were chosen to participate in this program were instructed to end their established
production and adapt their plants to the new design instead. Production of the Ju 88
bombers started in 1939. The firms used the following two years to move down their
learning curves and to realize the substantial increases in labor productivity that occurred
in the early stage of a production run. Around the end of 1941 the production processes
were finally broken in, and the Ju 88 producers were ready to take off. In February 1942
Albert Speer became armament minister, in the middle of a seasonal downturn. This was
exactly the right time to be credited with the considerable increase in the Ju 88
production in the following two and a half years. This growth was not a sudden miracle
made possible by Speer but the continuation of a development that started in 1938 and
See, for example, Heinkel’s audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7500, p. 49.
See audit report 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7560, p. 76.
See Budraß, 1998, p. 548 f.
was fuelled by the ongoing learning effects shown by table 6 and the growth of the firms’
capital and labor endowment discussed in section 2.58
We assumed above that the increase in labor productivity portrayed by the learning curve
generally results from the blue-workers’ capability to improve their efficiency when
regularly repeating a given task. An implicit precondition of the assumption that it is the
individual worker, who learns, is that he or she stays long enough in the firm to do so.
The available data imply that this precondition was not realized in the German aircraft
industry. Table 7 shows for Junkers and Arado that during World War II the fluctuation
of the work force was extremely high. Junkers, for example, lost every accounting year
between a fifth and a third of the employees recruited before. Since this firm nevertheless
tried to increase its work force, the number of newly recruited and mostly very
inexperienced employees came to about 40 percent in every accounting year for which
we have data. This observation suggests that many employees only worked a few months
in German aircraft plants,59 and did not have, as a consequence, the time to learn enough
to increase their productivity. This raises an important question: if individual worker
turnover was so high that we cannot ascribe the learning-by-doing to worker learning, as
the literature usually asserts, then who was responsible for the learning curves in the
German aircraft industry documented above?
[Insert table 7 here]
Reviewing the B-17 production in Boeing’s Plant No. 2 in Seattle, Washington, during
World War II, Mishina (1999, p. 163) also observed that this plant “attained its peak
production as well as peak efficiency predominantly with green hands and not with the
men who were brought into the plant by the massive hiring program of 1941. The heroic
female workers – known generally as Rosie the Riveter – had had a factory job only for a
year or two when Plant No. 2 recorded its best performance. Unless labor skill is easily
Milward (1965) already pointed out that the German armament miracle was not only caused by
rationalization but also by a considerable growth of the firms’ factor endowments.
See also Budraß, 1998, p. 461.
transferable, these facts undermine the learning-by-doing hypothesis that regards direct
workers as the principal embodiment of experiential learning.” Mishina (1999, p. 164)
states that it was first and foremost the management of the firm who learned during the
production run how to improve the workers’ productivity by improving the production
system. These improvements included the implementation of just-in-time production to
clear the shop-floor of stocks that were not necessary for the current production, the
breakdown of the assembly process into finer subassemblies which increased the division
of labor, and the reduction of rework thanks to greater interchangeability of components.
We found some evidence in the audit reports that in the German aircraft industry it was
also primarily the production system that embodied the learning effects and not the
individual workers themselves. The auditor of Junkers, for example, pointed out that in
the accounting year 1941/42 the firm’s savings in labor costs were above all caused by
technical rationalization measures, by the refining of the production methods and the
introduction of assembly lines.60 In Siebel’s plants the average number of workers needed
to do final assembly of one unit of the Ju 88 bomber dropped from 9 to 2.2 between 1941
and 1943. This increase in labor productivity was again explained by the introduction of
assembly lines. The audit report also mentioned, however, that the more frequent use of
interchangeable components might have improved efficiency too.61
These examples support our conjecture that in the German aircraft industry it was the
manager and not the worker who learned. In the last sub section we will discuss how the
managers were actually motivated to use their experience to improve the production
The managers’ goal to transfer learned knowledge among a fluctuating workforce might
also help to explain why firm-specific employee suggestion systems ranging from the
simple suggestion box to elaborated systems overseen by administrators and evaluators
expanded in the aircraft industry and the German armament industry as a whole. In 1940,
See audit report 1941/42, BArch R 8135/7559, p. 95.
See audit report 1943, BArch R 8135/7938, p. 10.
about 1,000 German companies possessed suggestion systems with which managers
intended to motivate workers to reveal special skills, know-how, and innovative ideas
acquired in the course of their employment. The number of suggestion systems rose from
3,000 in 1941 to 10,000 in 1942. By the end of 1943, some 35,000 companies had
established workers’ suggestion systems (Steinwarz, 1943). The aircraft producers were
particularly eager to get a hold on the knowledge of their workers. Ernst Heinkel strongly
encouraged the introduction of suggestion systems,62 while a manager at Junkers led an
inter-firm committee which had been specially founded to exchange workers’ suggestions
(Budraß, 1998, p. 817). In 1943, Arado and Heinkel organized large exhibitions of their
workers’ suggestions, not least to prove their ambitions in rationalizing production.
Noteworthy, the suggestion systems were not restricted to German workers. The
Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF) developed forms for workers’ suggestions in a dozen
languages. Even the concentration camp prisoners who worked at Heinkel Oranienburg
were successfully asked to submit suggestions for technical improvements in
production.63 Though it is difficult to quantify the different effects of these suggestion
systems on productivity, one important intention of the management was clearly to get
the information which was necessary to accelerate the learning of green hands. When the
former head of the committee for aircraft production under Speer, Karl Frydag, was
asked in August 1945 to give his personal view on the reasons for the production miracle,
he named for: rationalization, standardization of components, longer working hours and,
last but not least, workers’ suggestion systems.64
Incentives to learn
Under a regime of cost-plus contracts the managers of the German aircraft producers
would not have been especially eager to realize cost reductions by improving the
production system since lower production costs would have inevitably translated into
lower profits. This problem was explicitly addressed by the German procurement
agencies in late 1936. They complained that aircraft producers which were given a cost62
See Heinkel, 1943.
See Himmler an Göring, 9.3.44, International Military Tribunal Vol. XXVII, Doc. 1584-PS, p. 357.
See Interrogation of Gen. Dir. K. Frydag and Prof. E, Heinkel. Some aspects of German aircraft
production during the war, 14/8/45, Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee Evaluation Report
#323, Imperial War Museum.
plus contract did nothing to increase labor productivity, but rather tried to increase their
labor costs in order to raise their profits, which were until then calculated on the basis of
the actual production costs. Since it seemed to be impossible for an outside observer to
tell the necessary costs from the superfluous ones the only way to use the profitmaximizing behavior of the aircraft producers for the purpose of the state was to pay
them prices which were independent from the actual costs.65 These considerations led the
German aviation department to the decision to change to fixed-price contracts in spring
From this date on, the unit price of the bombers or fighters of a certain batch was fixed
the moment the procurement agency ordered a firm to produce them. The calculation of
the size of this price was based primarily on the actual costs of earlier production runs,
but also took into account expectations about the future development of the firm’s
learning curve. When the aircraft producer was able to fabricate the aircraft at lower
production costs than estimated in the ex ante price agreement, he was entitled to keep
this difference as an additional premium, so long as his profit per sales did not exceed a
certain rate that was originally laid down at 10 percent.67 The procurement agency, on the
other hand, was allowed to check the firm’s book-keeping in order to calculate the price
of a future batch on the basis of up-dated information about the firm’s productivity.
[Insert figure 8 here]
See LC an den Chef des Verwaltungsamtes Herrn Generalmajor Volkmann, Berlin, den 12. Dezember
1936, and especially Anlage 1: Gebrüder Behner Maschinenfabrik, Leipzig-Plagwitz, den 20. Juli 1936 an
Herrn Oberst Mooyer, Bevollmächtigter des Reichsluftfahrtministeriums für das
Luftfahrtindustriepersonal, BArch MA RL 3/169.
See LD 1 an LC II, Berlin, den 10. März 1937, BArch MA RL 3/169.
The managers had incentives to raise profits even when the firm was state-owned since the size of their
salaries depended on the size of profits. See Bezugsprüfung von Heinkel/Oranienburg 1942/43, BArch R
8135/7500, p. 1. At Junkers, the profit-sharing bonus accounted for 20 to 50 percent of the payment of a
member of the managing board. See Sonderprüfung Junkers, Dessau betr. Aufteilung der vertraulichen
Bezüge der leitenden Angestellten 1940/41, BArch R 8135/7558, Anlage I; Sonderprüfung Junkers, Dessau
betr. Aufteilung der vertraulichen Bezüge der leitenden Angestellten 1941/42, BArch R 8135/7559, Anlage
p. 159; Sonderprüfung Junkers, Dessau betr. Aufteilung der vertraulichen Bezüge der leitenden
Angestellten 1942/43, BArch R 8135/7560, p. 101.
Figure 8 demonstrates by the example of Siebel’s wing set production in 1942 that the
procurement agency was usually not able to update its estimates of a firm’s labor costs as
fast as the firm moved down its learning curve. This is especially true for the batches 23
to 26 of the wing set production. While the procurement agency apparently believed that
the learning effects of this production process were already fully exploited, Siebel was
still able to decrease its labor costs by about 25 percent.68
[Insert figure 9 here]
The fact that the prices set by the procurement agency responded to the firms’ cost
reductions only after a time lag typically created a wave-like development of the aircraft
producers’ profits. Figure 9 illustrates the phenomenon with the profits per unit of
Junker’s Ju 88 A-4 production during the two accounting years 1940/41 and 1941/42.
During this two-year period Junkers had to face only three price cuts which occurred at
the beginning of the batches 42, 48 and 54 respectively. Each of these price adjustments
that were calculated on the basis of the latest available production costs decreased
Junkers’ profits considerably. Since each of the new prices was fixed for six batches
Junkers was then given both the time and the incentives to decrease its costs by
exploiting the learning effects arising during the production run. As a result, Junkers’
profits were generally the higher the longer a certain price was kept constant. It is
conceivable, however, that on the eve of a new price adjustment Junkers consciously held
back some improvements to shift already possible efficiency gains into the period which
followed the anticipated price reduction. Such a behavior would explain why Junkers was
able to match the sharp price cut of batch 54 with an appropriate cost reduction.
[Insert table 8 here]
A similar misjudgment of the aviation department can be, for example, observed in the case of Henschel.
Although the aviation department anticipated a sharp drop in production costs and reduced prices for
fuselages accordingly both from 1940 to 1941 and from 1941 to 1942, it still considerably underestimated
the achievements of Henschel in decreasing both labor and material costs. See Report to the board of
directors on the financial year of 1942, 13/10/43, Henschel files, ZF, Calden.
Table 8 reveals that, while operating profits were generally increasing during the whole
period covered by our data, aircraft producers realized their highest operating profits per
sales volume in the year 1939. The rather downwards trend of the profit rates during
World War II can be explained in two ways. First, as we have already seen in figures 6 or
7, the learning effects of the Ju 88 production were especially high in the years 1939 and
1940. Second, after 1939, the state was not longer willing to tolerate excessive profits of
the aircraft producers and therefore often reduced the fixed prices after checking the
book-keeping results. In 1940, for example, Arado’s operating profits per sales volume
were decreased from 13.5 percent to 9 percent by later price adjustments.69 The
expectation that the state was going to cut profits ex post certainly lowered the firms’
willingness to reduce costs. Since they were still allowed to keep a part of the additional
profits that resulted from learning-by-doing it seems reasonable to assume that the
incentives implemented by the fixed-price contracts did not totally cease.
It is noteworthy that in the German aircraft industry fixed-price contracts were only used
for aircraft producers’ series production. The development of prototypes or repair work
were still paid on the basis of cost-plus contracts. This duality of the procurement regime
gave the aircraft producers the possibility to increase their profits by cheating. The trick
was to assign overhead costs which actually occurred during series production to, for
example, the development of a new prototype, where the payment not only covered all
costs but also included a premium calculated as a given percentage of these costs.
Unfortunately, the audit reports did not reveal such an obvious mischief of the firms. In
April 1943, Erhard Milch invited aircraft producers to repay excessive profits
voluntarily.70 This might indicate that the aviation department saw only a slight chance to
reveal cheating by checking the firms’ book-keeping.
In this section, we have shown that in the German aircraft industry the most substantial
increases in labor productivity were already realized when Albert Speer became
armament minister in 1942. Productivity growth resulted from learning-by-doing that was
See audit report 1940, BArch R 8135/7084, p. 15.
See Milch to Henschel-Flugzeug-Werke, 30/4/43, Appendix to daily reports to the Board, #548,
Henschel files, ZF, Calden.
made possible by the long production runs of the Ju 88 program established in 1938, and
encouraged by the introduction of fixed-price contracts in 1937.
It is widely believed that it was the Speer administration which caused the sudden
upswing of the German armament production after 1941 by introducing several
rationalization measures and, probably most important, by replacing cost-plus contracts
with fixed-price contracts. The example of seven firms, which were engaged in the
production of the Ju 88 and Ju 87 bombers, and which represented about the half of the
German aircraft producers, suggests instead, that in the aircraft industry, which accounts
for about 40 percent of German armament production, the crucial political changes
occurred not in 1942 but already before World War II started. In spring 1937, the aviation
department chose to rely on fixed-priced contracts in order to give the aircraft producers
the incentive to reduce costs. In summer 1938, it decided that the aircraft producers had
to concentrate on a few different types or components so they could run larger production
series. What followed was not a sudden production miracle but a rather continuous
development. Moving down the learning curve the managers of the aircraft producers
learned how to deploy the workers more efficiently. As a result, in the period before 1942
the growth rate of labor productivity was considerably higher than under Speer’s reign. It
came to17.3 % both in 1938 and in 1939, to 9.2 % in 1940, to 6 % in 1941, and only to
3.5 % and 3.7 % in 1942 and 1943 respectively. After 1941, it was primarily the ongoing
growth of the capital and labor endowment combined with a higher capacity utilization
that enabled aircraft producers to raise their monthly production continually until summer
1944. We will have to analyze other war industries in greater detail before we can prove
our hypothesis that this result is not an industry-specific exception but rather true for
most of the German armament producers during World War II.71
Studies by Hirsch (1952) and Rapping (1965) reveal that both the American ship building and machine
building industry realized substantial learning effects during and after World War II.
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AUDIT REPORTS OF THE DEUTSCHE REVISIONS- UND TREUHAND AG
Arado, Flugzeugwerke Potsdam
Jan 1939-Dec 1939 BArch R 8135/7084
Jan 1940-Dec 1940 BArch R 8135/7084
Jan 1941-Dec 1941 BArch R 8135/7085
Jan 1942-Dec 1942 BArch R 8135/7085
ATG Allgemeine Transportanlagen-Gesellschaft Leipzig
Jul 1937-Jun 1938
BArch R 8135/2167
Jul 1938-Jun 1939
BArch R 8135/2167
Jul 1939-Jun 1940
BArch R 8135/2167
Jul 1940-Jun 1941
BArch R 8135/7100
Jul 1941-Jun 1942
BArch R 8135/2166
Jul 1942-Jun 1943
BArch R 8135/2168
Jan 1940-Dec 1940 BArch R 8135/7498
Jan 1941-Dec 1941 BArch R 8135/7499
Jan 1942-Mar 1942 BArch R 8135/7499
Apr 1942-Mar 1943 BArch R 8135/7500
Apr 1943-Mar 1944 BArch R 8135/1916
Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke Dessau
Oct 1939-Sep 1940 BArch R 8135/2548
Oct 1940-Sep 1941 BArch R 8135/7588
Oct 1941-Sep 1942 BArch R 8135/7559
Oct 1942-Sep 1943 BArch R 8135/7560
Siebel Flugzeugwerke Halle
Jan 1937-Dec 1937 BArch R 8135/454
Jan 1938-Dec 1938 BArch R 8135/454
Jan 1939-Dec 1939 BArch R 8135/2518, 2172
Jan 1940-Dec 1940 BArch R 8135/2172, 7938a
Jan 1941-Dec 1941 BArch R 8135/7938
Jan 1942-Dec 1942 BArch R 8135/2518, 7938
Jan 1943-Dec 1943 BArch R 8135/7938
Weser Flugzeugbau Bremen
Jan 1938-Dec 1938 BArch R 8135/5271
Jan 1939-Dec 1939 BArch R 8135/5271
Jan 1940-Dec 1940 BArch R 8135/5272
Jan 1941-Dec 1941 BArch R 8135/8132
Jan 1942-Dec 1942 BArch R 8135/8133
German armament production 1941-1945a
Index Jan/Feb 1942=100
Wagenführ, R., 1954. Die deutsche Industrie im Kriege 1939-1945. Berlin: pp. 178, 180.
Armament production in occupied Poland (Generalgouvernement)
Index Feb 1942=100
See BArch R 3/506.
The organization of the Junkers 88-program (1939)a
peak of monthly
planned in 1939)
65 Ju 88
80 Ju 88
Division III (dissolved 1940)
peak of monthly
planned in 1939)
35 Ju 88
70 Ju 88
50 Ju 88
300 Ju 88
See Plan der Großserienfertigung Ju 88 mit Jumo 211B (1939), Archives of the German Museum
Munich, Sondersammlungen, Dokumentation, (DMM/ASD) LR 02642.
Reichsmark per blue-collar worker
For data see Audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG in the appendix. For
Henschel see charts Gefolgschaftsstatistik in Statistische Übersichten betr. Kosten; appendix to the 1938
volume of the monthly reports to the board; report to the board of directors on the financial year of 1943;
monthly report to the board of November 1944, Henschel files, ZF Calden.
Value added per blue-collar worker per calendar yeara
Value added is defined as production output (Fabrikationsleistung) minus intermediate inputs. For
the firms ATG, Heinkel and Junkers we interpolated value added per blue-collar per calendar year on basis
of the respective figures per accounting year. For data see Audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und
Treuhand AG in the appendix. For Henschel see charts Gemeinkostenzuschläge, Fertigungsaufwand,
Lagerbewegung in Statistische Übersichten betr. Kosten; appendix to the 1938 volume of the monthly
reports to the board; report to the board of directors on the financial year of 1943, Henschel files, ZF
Direct working hours per 1000 RM production value at Henschel, logFigure 7
See Henschel Flugzeug-Werke, monthly reports to the board, Henschel files at ZF, Calden.
Barch MA RL 3/976, p. 48, BArch MA RL 3/931, pp. 34-36.
Average working hours per unit Ju 88 (ATG, Junkers, Siebel), logFigure 6
Labor costs per Ju 88 wing set, planned in advance and actually
needed, Siebel 1942a
L a b o r C o s ts p la n n e d
L a b o r C o s ts n ee d e d
Reichsmark per wing set
B a tc h
See audit report 1942, BArch R 8135/2518, p. 18.
Profit per unit of Junker’s Ju 88 A-4 production, 1940/41 to 1941/42a
See audit report 1940/41, BArch R 8135/7558, p. 56; audit report 1941/42, BArch R 8135/7559, p.
Labor productivity in the German armament Production 1941-1944
(New Year 1941/42 = 100)a
New Year 41/42
New Year 42/43
New Year 43/44
Wagenführ, R, 1954. Die deutsche Industrie im Kriege 1939-1945. Berlin: 125.
Selected German Aircraft Producersa
Junkers Flugzeugund Motorenwerke,
Main business in 1939
Production of Ju 88 (wings,
fuselages, engine suspension, tail
units and final assembly)
Production of Ju 88 (wings and
Production of Ju 88 (fuselages,
engine suspension and final
Production of Ju 88 (wings and
Production of Ju 87
Production of Ju 88 (fuselages,
tail units, engine suspension and
Production of Ju 88 (wings and
For data see Audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand AG in the appendix. For
Henschel see charts Gefolgschaftsstatistik in Statistische Übersichten betr. Kosten; appendix to the 1938
volume of the monthly reports to the board; report to the board of directors on the financial year of 1943;
monthly report to the board of November 1944, Henschel files, ZF Calden.
Extensive growth of the selected German aircraft producersa
Annual growth rate
Adjusted fixed assets
18.3 % 16.3 % 8.3 %
24.5 % 12.9 %
Data refer to the balance sheet date. See Audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions- und Treuhand
AG in the appendix. For Henschel see charts Gefolgschaftsstatistik in Statistische Übersichten betr. Kosten;
appendix to the 1938 volume of the monthly reports to the board; report to the board of directors on the
financial year of 1943; monthly report to the board of November 1944, Henschel files, ZF Calden.
Covered accounting years in parentheses.
Productive working hours per ton of aircraft (1929)a
Richthofen, W. v., 1929. Der Einfluß der Flugzeugbauarten auf die Beschaffung unter besonderer
Berücksichtigung militärischer Gesichtspunkte. Dissertation at Technical University of BerlinCharlottenburg, table 19.
Development of the work force of Heinkel-Oranienburga
March March 1942
1940 1940 1941
Sum total ♂
4868 5734 6265
Sum total ♀
5719 6777 7401
Audit report 1940, BArch R 8135/7498, appendix p.62; audit report 1941, BArch R 8135/7499, appendix p. 37; audit report 1942, BArch R 8135/7499,
appendix p. 71; audit report 1943, BArch R 8135/7500, p. 50; audit report 1944, BArch 8135/1916, p. 6.
Decreasing production costs at Junkersa
Accounting year: Type
1939/40: Ju 88
1940/41: Ju 88 A 5
1940/41: Ju 88 A 4
1941/42: Ju 88 A 4
1941/42: Ju 88 A 4 trop.
1941/42: Ju 88 D 1 trop.
1942/43: Ju 88 A-4 trop.
1942/43: Ju 88 D-1 trop.
For each accounting year both the highest and the lowest production costs of a special design are
reported. For more details see audit report 1939/40, BArch R 8135/2548 , p. 70; audit report 1940/41,
BArch R 8135/7558, p. 56; audit report 1941/42, BArch R 8135/7559, p. 94; audit report 1942/43, BArch R
8135/7560, p. 76.
Employees recruited and dismissed, in percent of all employees at the
end of the accounting yeara
For Arado see audit report 1940, BArch R 8135/7084, p. 8; audit report 1941, BArch R
8135/7085, p. 7 f.; audit report 1942, BArch R 8135/7085, p. 6. For Junkers see audit report 1940/41,
BArch R 8135/75558, p. 22; audit report 1941/42, BArch R 8135/7559, p. 141.
Operating profits of the aircraft producers ATG, HeinkelOranienburg, Junkers, Siebel and Weser per calendar year,
Average monthly operating profits
per sales volume
und Treuhand AG in the appendix.
For data see Audit reports of the Deutsche Revisions-