LONG before this war began, military and economic strategists were trying to calculate just where, when it did begin, the pressure of blockade and counter-blockade would first precipitate a crisis. Today, in the fourth winter of the conflict, it has become apparent that transportation is one of the critically weak spots in the modern industrialized economy.

There is no secret about the fact that all the belligerents are in the midst of a transportation crisis. Roosevelt and Churchill have dealt repeatedly with the dangerous shipping situation; on November 6, 1942, Stalin spoke of Russia's serious transportation problems; and for two years Hitler has been emphasizing his achievements in staving off a transportation tie-up. Which of the belligerents will find its military position affected most seriously by this bottleneck? The war economy of which will deteriorate first? The answers depend, first, upon the reserve capacities available to each, and, second, upon the ability of its opponents to interfere with or to paralyze the flow of its traffic.

None of the belligerents could have had more foreknowledge of the crucial importance of transportation in modern warfare than Germany. In the First World War she staked her hope of victory largely on her plans to cripple the seaborne transportation of the Allies, while keeping her own continental rail and waterway system in good order. On May 4, 1917, Count Bernstorff warned General Ludendorff of the import of America's entry into the war with "resources of a really serious nature within a year's time." Ludendorff answered: "We do not need a year; we shall have finished, by means of the U-boat war, before that time."[i] But by the fall of 1918, Germany had not only lost the submarine war; her own transportation system was in a pitiful condition, despite most impressive performances by engineering troops and the state railroads. The exhaustion of the means of transport contributed both to the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and then to the defeat of Germany herself.[ii]

Entering a Second World War, the German General Staff was certain to have all the transportation aces up its sleeve. Indeed, the new strategy of a lightning war of motion was built around transportation. The German staff felt that if it was mobile on, above, and around the entire continent, and if it were equipped to attack the enemy's railroads, bridges, highways, docks and shipping from the air and from under the sea, the possibility that the 1914-18 experience could be repeated was excluded.

Evidence is accumulating, however, that the pattern of the First World War is being followed in the Second. By the spring of 1917 the German submarine warfare had created a real transportation crisis for England. But by the winter of 1917-18, the crisis had plainly shifted to the traffic system in Germany. In this war, the submarine warfare has created a most serious crisis in ocean shipping for the United Nations, but it is far from disrupting their communications. For several months past, American and British shipbuilding has been gaining in tonnage over sinkings, and the shipping situation can be said to be gradually improving, although it will probably continue to be tense as long as the war lasts. Of the greatest significance is the fact that the United Nations have not yet called fully into play their great dormant reserve capacity to produce ships.

In the same period the German transportation system has begun to show more and more symptoms of gradual but steadily increasing strain, which in turn taxes the country's industrial capacity and its management and manpower resources. As in 1914-18, the Germans have miscalculated the length of the war. In the course of three years the colossus of the mechanized Blitzkrieg has consumed so much territory that its momentum is now confined to limited segments on the outer rim of the continent. Three days before he struck against Poland, Hitler reminded his officers that the aim was not to conquer territory but "to destroy the enemy physically." The achievement so far has been, in general, the opposite: the Nazi armies have absorbed a stupendous expanse of territory, but they have not destroyed the enemy. As a result, transportation is the sector of the Nazi economic and military realm which suffers the greatest wear and tear and which generates the most exasperating friction. It follows that transportation is the sector which offers the Allies the greatest opportunities for softening and finally cracking Germany's economic and military resistance.


One of the outstanding characteristics of modern industrialized economy is the high velocity and volume of its traffic. This is a result of the concentration of heavy industries, the decentralization of forest and agricultural resources, the division of labor between heavy and manufacturing industries, and specialization. The circulatory system, which moves goods as well as people, is composed of sea routes, coastal and inland waterways, railroads, highways, subways, tramways and pipelines. It represents the greatest accumulated investment of the industrial age and it does not lend itself to quick expansion. In the totalitarian economy of Nazi Europe, this whole arterial system is centrally controlled from Berlin. The subordination of economic considerations to strategic necessities puts a premium on the capacity of the system to shift the volume of traffic to alternative branches during emergencies and to stretch its service far beyond normal limits. Difficulties developed in the German transportation system in the final period while war was being prepared, and others have appeared since the conflict began; but the German General Staff, assisted by resourceful technical staffs, is constantly on the alert to stave off any real crisis in any branch.

One of the important branches is seaborne traffic. Before the war, the ports of Europe received annually between 350 and 400 million tons of goods, 45 to 48 percent of it coming from other continents. The British-American blockade has cut off Europe from all overseas imports, with the exception of very restricted navicert shipments to Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain. In this way, from 130 to 180 million tons of goods per annum formerly imported from overseas are blocked. Some of them, such as foreign oilseeds, fats and oils and feed grains, can be spared. Most of them, however, are still needed and must be obtained from continental sources. This throws the burden on European coastal and inland shipping, on the railroads and on trucking.

Despite Nazi Europe's loss of ocean traffic with the other continents, it still does a sizeable maritime shipping business. The Baltic, the eastern and southern parts of the North Sea, the Channel and French Atlantic coasts, parts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea lie within the orbit of the German Navy and the German merchant marine. Ores, timber and wood pulp from Finland, Sweden, Russia, the Baltic states and Poland, and some Polish potatoes and grain, move to German ports in the Baltic and to some extent into the North Sea ports of Hamburg, Bremen and Emden, through the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, which in recent years has surpassed the Panama Canal in volume of traffic. The Baltic is a German lake, subject to only occasional hazards from mines and Russian submarines. The North Sea, however, is a fiercely contested area; here German traffic requires strong naval and air protection. Up to July 15, 1942, the British sank 223 merchant vessels and damaged many more in the English Channel, the North Sea and the entrance to the Baltic. Shipping along the Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, Belgian and French coasts is a vital link in the German transportation system, and it is open to attack, especially by submarine and daylight bombing raids. The loss of every single ship is serious, since a full cargo vessel of 6,000 tons carries the load of ten long freight trains and since in any case a great deal of the North Sea traffic simply cannot be transferred to railroads.

The following table indicates the size of the merchant marine which Germany might have hoped to get under her control at the beginning of the present war.


(in thousands of gross tons)
      Available to   Available to
[$CC[$Country   United Nations Unaccounted Germany
[$CC[$1939   19412 for 1941
Germany   4,483 }9603 . . . 7,908
Italy   3,425
Denmark   1,175 311 94 770
Norway   4,834 3,800 34 1,000
Holland   2,969 2,250 359 360
Belgium   408 200 178 305
France   2,934 400 34 2,0005
Finland   590 30 60 5005
Sweden   1,577 8004 377 4005
Latvia } 505 100 405 . . .
Poland } 522 180 342 . . .
Greece   1,780 1,000 780 . . .
Others   98 . . . 98 . . .
    ------ ------ ------ ------
  Total   25,300 10,031 2,761 12,508
1 Column one, Lloyd's data for 1939; column two, "Available to United Nations," based on fragments of information from Fairplay, The Economist, and Foreign Commerce Weekly; column four, "Available to Germany" mainly as estimated by The Economist, December 13, 1941, p. 716-17.
2 Up to June 30, 1941, these fleets suffered a loss of 1,500,000 gross tons.
3 Continental shipping tied up in ports of North and South America.
4Foreign Commerce Weekly, March 21, 1942, p. 17, reports about one-half of Sweden's prewar tonnage outside blockade (not free to supply Sweden, however, with the exception of five ships per month).
5 Germany probably using for its own ends a large part of tonnage indicated.
6 Captured.

To the above total of 25.3 million tons of shipping which Germany might have hoped to control at the end of 1939 should be added about 3 million tons more of ships built since that time, making a total of 28.3 million tons. In actual fact, however, it seems that some 19.3 million tons should be deducted from this sum. According to the British Admiralty, about 6 million tons of German shipping had been sunk by August 1942. About 2.8 million tons, listed in column three of the table as "unaccounted for," probably did not fall into German hands.[iii] Another 10 million tons, as shown in the fourth column of the table, became available to the United Nations, including 960,000 tons, chiefly German and Italian ships, tied up in North and South America. The occupation of Morocco and Algeria by the United Nations has made perhaps 500,000 tons (possibly much more) of the French merchant marine inaccessible to the Axis. All these losses combined amount to 19.3 million tons. If we deduct this figure from the potential total of 28.3 million tons we find that at the end of 1942 about 9 million tons of shipping may be estimated to be under Axis control.

In the Mediterranean, Germany depends on the Italian merchant marine, plus some French vessels and a few surviving Greek ones. If she had succeeded in acquiring the entire Italian and Greek merchant marines intact, she would have gained more than 5 million tons. There may be between 2 and 3 million tons at Germany's disposal today in the entire Mediterranean. So long as the Luftwaffe was entrenched in Tripoli, as well as in Sardinia, Sicily, Greece, Crete and the Dodecanese Islands, Germany controlled the main shipping lanes. The establishment of United Nations air forces in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya will change this picture. The most crippling blow that can be struck against the entire transportation system of Nazi Europe is to batter down the Luftwaffe over the Mediterranean and sink Nazi merchant ships. Destruction of the main part of the Axis merchant fleet in the Mediterranean would lead to a collapse of industrial production in Italy and would expose the flank of the Nazi land transportation system to direct attack. At the same time it would improve communications for the United Nations.


While seaborne traffic and coastal shipping are of vital importance to Europe, a much greater volume of goods, armaments, munitions and men moves within the continent, chiefly by inland waterways and railroads.

Germany's rivers and canals are better developed for navigation than those of any other country, with the exception of the Lowlands. In many ways they provide the supplement to sea and rail transport which in the United States is represented by trucking. Canals connect the heart of the German heavy-industry region in the lower Rhineland and Westphalia with the North Sea, the Channel, the Baltic, and all the major rivers; also with central Germany, Czechoslovakia, Silesia and Poland; and via the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal with the Black Sea. In 1938 the last link of the west-east Mittelland-Kanal, which cost 1.4 billion marks, was opened, and since then another canal has connected it with the Hermann Göring Works at Salzgitter. Some 14 million tons of freight were transported from this plant alone in 1941. Also located on the Mittelland-Kanal is the big automotive factory at Fallersleben, which was supposed to produce the "people's car" but now turns out "jeeps" for the army.

In normal times traffic on the inland waterways of Germany represents a quarter of the aggregate ton mileage moved on rails, rivers and canals. The inland port of Duisburg-Ruhrort has a greater volume of traffic than the ports of New York, Liverpool or Buenos Aires.

Traffic by inland waterways, of course, is slow at any season, and in winter canals as well as some rivers are frozen for several months (though this is less true in the Rhineland). Nevertheless, inland waterways are particularly valuable in wartime because they relieve the railroads and are suited to moving bulk goods, which often can be transferred directly to barges from seagoing vessels. In peacetime about 35 to 37 percent of the total traffic by inland waterways consisted of coal, 15 to 17 percent of ores, 20 percent of building materials, 4 to 5 percent of metals and 2 to 3 of fertilizer. The rest was composed of miscellaneous agricultural products. In 1939 Germany owned nearly 6,000 inland vessels, one million tons of which were steam or Diesel powered, also 13,000 unpowered barges with 6 million tons capacity. These vessels moved 26 billion ton kilometers compared to about 80 for the railroads. Several thousand more barges were seized by Germany in the Lowlands, Belgium and France. In September 1940, when Hitler was preparing to cross the Channel, he assembled 3,000 self-propelled barges with a capacity of a million tons in ports from Amsterdam to Cherbourg. A great many of these were lost to the vigilant R.A.F., but on the whole the German inland marine suffered only slightly.

During the war, the Germans have made strenuous efforts to shift a greater burden to the waterways, especially as the railroads began to feel the wartime strain and as trucking came under handicaps of tire, fuel and vehicle shortages. The ice-bound period has been reduced by the use of icebreakers, and the greatest possible economy of time is enforced in loading and unloading. In 1941, as a result, the canal and river traffic increased by one-fifth over the 1940 volume. Fully 60 percent of the tonnage that moves by Germany's inland waterway transportation system is handled in the Rhineland, with the heaviest traffic flowing from Belgium and Holland to Hanover and Berlin. Acquisition of control over the Danube has also opened up important new possibilities for traffic in Rumanian oil, Russian manganese and Turkish chrome ores, as well as in grain from the Ukraine and Rumania, all, of course, up-river, and in coal and munitions down-river.

The most vital part of Germany's inland waterways system lies within a 450-mile radius of the English coast, within easy range, as the accompanying map shows, of British and American air attack. The R.A.F. bombed the port of Duisburg-Ruhrort 22 times in four months in 1940 alone. It also succeeded in bombing the aqueduct of the Dortmund-Ems Canal north of Münster so severely that traffic was interrupted for weeks. Traffic on this canal, the only water link between the Ruhr Valley and northern, western and central Germany, is the equivalent of several hundred trainloads a day. But on the whole, Germany's inland waterways have suffered less from bombing than have the German railroads.


But in spite of the importance of seaborne traffic and inland waterways, railroads are the core of Nazi Europe's transportation system. In prewar years, the railroads of Europe (excluding Russia) moved about a billion metric tons of cargo annually, compared with from 350 to 400 million tons of seaborne traffic. Of that railroad traffic, Germany's railroads carried about 45 percent. It is in railroad transportation that the bottleneck is most serious.

The German railroads reached the limits of their capacity in 1937 and by fall were short 100,000 box cars.[iv] The deficit is estimated to be 15 to 20 percent of the existing loading capacity.[v]

In 1938 the steep rise in industrial production, topped by the hasty construction of the Westwall and the express automobile roads, and by traffic reorganization projects in the larger cities, began to overtax the capacity of the national railroads. In that year the Reichsbahn moved almost 80 billion ton kilometers with only 593,000 freight cars, compared with 69 billion in the previous peak year (1929) when 660,000 cars were used. By October and November, a shortage of cars for the coal mines of the Ruhr led to the piling up of stocks. Unloading on Sundays was introduced as a remedy. Financially, the Reichsbahn was handicapped with heavy taxes and reduced rates for members of the Nazi Party and the Army, and thus was unable to finance from its own proceeds the large-scale investment needed. Indeed, the critical condition of the German railroads, and the loud complaints which Germans made about it and a multitude of other economic difficulties, led many foreign observers to the erroneous conclusion that the Nazis would be unable to fight a war.

However, the necessary work of adjustment was undertaken without delay. In 1939 the Reichsbahn made three times as great an investment in rolling stock as it had the year previous, placing large orders in German, Austrian and Czech railroad shops. Only a part of the order was received, however, probably because of inadequate priorities on steel.

Since the war began, Germany has added to the transport services at her disposal the railroads of most of continental Europe, with the exception of those in Switzerland, the Iberian Peninsula and Sweden. Their trackage and capacity (as of 1937) are shown in the following table:


      Passenger Freight Freight traffic
  Trackage Locomotives cars cars (in billion ton
Areas (kilometers) (number) (number) (number) kilometers)
Germany 68,000 21,600 67,000 575,000 80.5  
Western Europe1 51,000 23,600 40,500 627,000 41.7    
Northern Europe2 12,000 1,900 6,000 48,000 3.6
Eastern Europe3 24,000 6,000 14,000 75,000 18.9
Italy 17,000 5,800 7,000 127,000 11.2  
Southeastern Europe4 53,000 14,900 29,000 295,000 25.1  
Occupied Russia (1942) 34,000 ? ? ? ?
  ------- ------- ------- -------  
  Total 259,000 73,800 163,500 1,747,000          
1 Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France. 2 Denmark, Norway, Finland. 3 Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland. 4 Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, Jugoslavia, Greece.

As the table shows, the mileage of railroads under German control has expanded almost four times. The new figure is 63 percent of the mileage in the United States, while probably 50 to 60 percent of the United States tonnage is shipped. It would appear that the figures of nearly 75,000 locomotives and more than 1.7 million freight cars are ample compared with 44,000 engines and 1.7 million freight cars in the United States. However, a comparison of the ton kilometers moved per engine in different countries shows how much more limited is the use of engines in those which are mountainous.[vi] For example, the average million ton kilometers of freight per year per locomotive is only 3.8 in Germany and 11.8 in the United States. Furthermore, some five or six thousand German locomotives are useful only as switch engines or for local passenger traffic. A considerable number of the heavier engines are always under repair. Also, some four or five thousand heavy engines had to be sent into Poland and Russia where many of them were damaged by frost and by war action.

The Germans have also faced many problems in connection with the railroads coming under their control outside the borders of the Reich. One rail on the roadbeds in conquered Russia had to be moved to conform with the western European gauge, which is 3½ inches narrower. In Poland, the Baltic states and Russia, literally hundreds of bridges and thousands of switches had to be rebuilt. The Russians probably succeeded in withdrawing or destroying the major part of their rolling stock, except perhaps in the Donetz Basin and the northern Caucasus. During the earlier part of the war, however, the Germans proved very efficient in railroad reconstruction. In his address of October 3, 1941, Hitler stated that of 25,000 kilometers seized, 15,000 had already been changed over to German gauge. And on September 30, 1942, he declared that "in a few more weeks" all the bridges and tracks would be finished. As of November 1942, Germany operates about 34,000 kilometers of the Russian railroad system.

For many years the French railroads have been in notoriously bad shape. Today their condition is paralyzing to the French economy. Only 7,000 locomotives out of 18,900 are reported to have been in running condition on the eve of the war. About half of that number are said to be left in use, due to German requisitions, scarcity of lubricants and wear on matériel.[vii] In Jugoslavia and Greece most of the bridges and viaducts were blasted during the fighting. The heavy traffic in the Reich, and in Holland, Belgium, northern France, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and the long-distance shipping to the Russian front, have combined to create serious shortages of rolling stock, the results of which have been felt throughout Nazi Europe.

Italy is another serious liability so far as railroad transport goes. She must get all her coal from Germany, and today it must be shipped by rail instead of by sea. Some 27,000 cars and 700 heavy locomotives are assigned to the constant task of hauling coal to Italy. Because of congestion in the Ruhr and on the Brenner Pass, shipments frequently have been from the Silesian mines via Vienna and Klagenfurt instead of from the Ruhr. Time and again Germany has defaulted on her coal commitments to Italy, as well as on those to her small customer, Denmark.

The rolling stock of Nazi-controlled Europe is so overtaxed that many expedients have to be adopted. Since June 30, 1942, German freight cars with a normal capacity of 10 to 15 tons may be loaded two tons above that limit. Belgian and French cars may be loaded one ton above the normal limit. A "coke boundary" prohibits cross-hauling of Ruhr and Silesian coal. Moreover, Germany has been drawing more and more rolling stock out of France. Originally about 60,000 cars and an unknown number of locomotives were transferred from the occupied territory. Recent reports indicate a deal whereby Vichy would deliver 1,000 locomotives, 40,000 box cars and 35,000 trucks, plus several thousand miles of rail ripped up in France.[viii] But perhaps the occupation of southern France will now compel Germany to bring back some rolling stock and reorganize the whole dilapidated French system.

In Germany itself, transport offices were instituted for the building trades and in 1941 began to draw up biweekly plans for shipping building materials to all essential construction projects. Builders were forced to depend more heavily on local sources and to divert freight from the railroads to the waterways. As a result, the mileage used for building materials was said to have been reduced by one-half.

Other expedients had to be resorted to in order to cope with the increase in potato consumption from 13 to 23 million tons. This called for the shipment by rail of an additional 4 or 5 million tons from the eastern surplus areas to the western consumption centers in a very short period in September and October 1941. This is precisely the peak load season in any case. Coal for households, sugar beets, grain and fertilizer must all be moved then, as well as winter supplies for the front. The late frost last spring, when seed potatoes had to be shipped westward and fertilizer and seed grain had to be distributed, also caused most serious congestion. The result was serious discussion in Germany of a plan to shift a large part of the potato acreage to the west, which would be contrary to all sound farming principles. In any event, shipments of potatoes were assigned to waterways and put under the direction of special transport offices under regional peasant leaders.[ix] Some potatoes were shipped by truck. In 1941 over one million truckloads were moved, using 18 percent more trucks than in preceding years.

Many other steps have been taken to avert the threat of a partial collapse of the German transportation services. Shifts of officials are constantly being made, with more and more powers being conferred on the Inspector General of Transportation, Jakob Werlin. Passenger traffic is cut to the bone. Very strict priority schemes are enforced. New construction of buildings is being even more sharply curtailed. Greater efficiency is demanded in the utilization of freight cars. Yet in 1941, with the output of coal and steel at a high rate and all industrial production being speeded up to the limit, the ton mileage covered on rails increased by 32 percent over the 1940 level.

As another partial remedy for this precarious situation, Germany has launched a program for the construction of new rolling stock which if carried through will constitute a record. The railroad shops and locomotive factories throughout Europe have received huge orders. The limitation of engines to a few standardized models will reduce the time and materials needed. In 1941 the output of freight cars in the Greater Reich is said to have been double that of the preceding year, and engine output 65 percent higher. Since wood is available in Poland and northwestern Russia, the construction of box cars is probably being shifted largely to railroad shops in those regions. Whether steel will be available will depend on military requirements. The real bottleneck in rolling stock, however, is skilled labor rather than materials. In locomotive plants, boilermakers are the key mechanics. Moreover, engine building competes with shipbuilding (fireboxes and boilers), with heavy ordnance and airplane and tank engines (forgings), and with general steel construction and mechanical engineering. If engine construction is greatly accelerated, the labor and material requirements will create new bottlenecks in other heavy industries.

The present critical strain to which German transportation is being subjected is explicable mainly in terms of the vast expansion of German industrial activity, Germany's territorial expansion, and enormous exertions put forth by Germany in the Russian campaign. This strain the Royal Air Force has been trying to accentuate wherever possible. Fully one-third of its night bombing attacks have been directed against railroad installations, for the most part in the vital Rhineland-Westphalian region. In addition to the material damage inflicted on tracks, switches, bridges and cars, it has caused endless delays, interruptions and dislocations which in turn have been felt through the whole system.

In 1942 the R.A.F. developed a new, very effective form of attack when it began sending fast, light planes to make low-level daylight attacks on individual railroad engines. By exploding the boilers with shells many train wrecks have been caused in France, Belgium and Holland. In Germany, a new heavy railroad engine represents the equivalent of from 8,000 to 12,000 workdays.[x] Thus its value is much higher than that of a light bomber. While it does not pay to risk airplanes or to spend bombs on freight cars, engines are as worthy prey as ships at sea. Since the boiler is under 200 to 300 pounds pressure per square inch, it carries its own explosive charge of steam with it. A single small shell which bursts anywhere near the boiler or firebox will wreck an engine. Even a partial wreck is worthwhile, for the repair of it costs half the labor and materials of a new one. If the engine is derailed in addition, it will come close to being a total loss, and in addition damage will be done to freight cars, tracks and traffic in general. It is reported that in 1942 the R.A.F. shot to pieces more locomotives than the German and French locomotive shops had built in two years. The Germans may try to armor plate their engines for defense and to put anti-aircraft cannon on a tender. Armor uses much steel, however, while anti-aircraft protection uses up material and man power; an anti-aircraft gun is, in any case, no match for a plane travelling 300 miles per hour at a low level.

The most vital part of the European railroad system lies within a radius of 450 miles from the British Isles, that is to say, within easy reach of the American and British air forces based there. The Rhineland-Westphalian district, for example, shipped no less than 45 percent of Germany's total railroad freight in 1937. Geographically, this district is the same as the most vital part of the inland waterway system.[xi]


Contrary to most expectations, the worst friction in the German transport system has developed in the old-time part of it which is coal-fed and steam-driven. Until recently, British and American analysts have held stubbornly (with a few notable exceptions) to the view that automotive and air transport and mechanical farm traction power were the parts of the circulatory system which were most prone to break down. They forgot that Hitler devoted just as much attention to this kind of transportation as did they, but much earlier; and the precautionary measures which he ordered prevented the otherwise inevitable collapse.

While the experts were calculating the day when Germany's air force and tank fleet would be stalled by lack of motor fuel and high-grade lubricants, Germany was solving her oil problem. She all but eliminated civilian automobile traffic, utilized the Polish and Rumanian oil wells,[xii] greatly expanded her production of synthetic high-octane fuel from coal, and equipped more and more tractor and truck engines to consume solid fuels (anthracite and bituminous coal, peat, wood and charcoal). The Minister of Armaments and Munitions, Herr Speer, has set up a department for the purpose of adapting motor cars to gas generators.[xiii] It obviously escaped the attention of most foreign observers that by the time Germany launched her aggression, she already had succeeded in making all of her existing central nitrogen plants, as well as all the new ones, adaptable to the production from coal of either high-octane fuel or lubricants, only two weeks being required for the shift from either product to the other. At the same time a bold stockpiling policy was adopted. In combination, these remarkable technological achievements probably have staved off any serious shortage of liquid fuel. In addition, the Maikop oilfield is now in German hands, one newly-assembled Belgian refinery is in operation, and others which had been dismantled in France are being reconstructed.[xiv] The Germans have also learned to build pipelines. They operate pipes from Ploesti to Port Giurgu, from Constanza to Bucharest, and from Constanza to Cernavoda on the Danube. It seems, then, that the German supply of motor fuels and lubricants is secure, whether the Grozny and Baku fields are in Russian hands or not, so long as Hitler can hold on to what he has.

Germany has solved the rubber problem in the same way that the United States has at last chosen to solve its similar problem, in accordance with a plan which worked in Russia before the present war began. Methanol, an intermediate product, is produced synthetically in close connection with the nitrogen and coal cracking plants. Moreover, draft power on farms all over Europe except in Russia is still supplied, by and large, by horses, oxen, mules and even cows. Hence the gasoline shortage never did seriously affect European agriculture. Germany today probably has more than 500,000 motor trucks of her own on hand, plus what she confiscated in France, Belgium and Holland. As early as 1938, annual production of trucks had already passed the 65,000 mark. French, Austrian, Czechoslovak and Italian truck factories, as well as the big German auto trust, produce military, mail and commercial trucks of high quality (some steampowered) probably at the peak prewar rate. Since, with few exceptions, civilians are deprived of the use of automobiles, they walk, ride on bicycles or commute by streetcar, suburban railroad, subway or elevated train. In 1941 the train services accommodated 35 percent more passengers than they did in 1939.


Taking all the available evidence together, we are able to arrive at certain conclusions. Unquestionably the German railroad transport system is suffering a most serious strain on its rolling stock, in the Reich proper as well as in the conquered territories. Inland waterways and coastal shipping also gradually disclose a shortage of capacity. Every effort is being made to relieve the situation, partly by rationalization and thrift in transportation, partly through shifting traffic from rail to rivers, canals and highways, partly by an energetic building program. The writer feels that in the field of transport, as in her food economy, Germany is beginning to move in circles. Every bottleneck she breaks creates several others. In no single branch of the German economy -- in raw material supplies, in food or in man power -- is collapse imminent or inevitable. But in every sector the reserves are becoming smaller, inaccessible or difficult to mobilize. While nothing could be more disastrous to the cause of the United Nations than for them to exaggerate the economic difficulties of their highly resourceful enemy, it seems justifiable to state that the German transport system not only is laboring hard, but that it is putting additional burdens on the already overstrained German industrial system. Whether this will lead to a more serious crisis, or whether as in the past the Nazis will pull through by concentrating their efforts on vital points regardless of cost, will depend in the last analysis on the action taken by the United Nations. The question boils down to a consideration of what they can do to exploit the German weakness in transportation, while at the same time protecting their own transportation.

Before discussing specific lines of attack, one should stress that of course the surest way to weaken the German transport system is to engage Germany's military might in battle at the seven corners of the Continent. So far, notwithstanding the incessant bombing of the R.A.F., the chief credit for the damage done to the German means of communication goes to the Russians, who have fed more and more space to the Nazi juggernaut, forcing the German industrial system to extend itself by tremendous shipments of men and freight, and leaving behind for its use little but the rails and, for eight months of the year, an expanse of snow and mire. However, the keeping alive of the Russian front will not, by itself, cause the German transport system to break down. Much more is required.

The growth of American and British naval and air strength offers an opportunity of intensifying the war on German coastal shipping in the North Sea. Every supply ship sunk is a clear gain. Submarines and bombers seem the most effective weapons for reducing the still considerable tonnage in German hands. In this field, the construction of more submarines would seem one of the best investments the United Nations could make.

Secondly, there can be an intensification of air attacks from England against barges, docks and railroads in the vital industrial Rhineland-Westphalian region, in Belgium and in the Longwy-Briey coal basin. It is a common misconception that Germany has shifted the center of her heavy industries to the southeast. New industries such as the Linz branch of the Hermann Göring Works have been located in Austria, and others are now established in central and eastern Germany. Yet the industrial heart of Germany still lies, as before, in the zone of from 250 to 400 miles from London, within easy reach of medium and heavy bombers. The question is how to achieve the maximum effect there with a minimum of cost in men and matériel. So far, bombing attacks have been directed against certain strategic points in the industrial area. But the scarcity of bombers, the strength of the German flak and fighter defense, the weather and the desirability of achieving an element of surprise have given these attacks a sporadic and desultory pattern.

If we view the problem simply from the standpoint of how to do most damage to the German transport system, leaving considerations of military feasibility aside, another procedure seems to promise much greater effect. More of Germany's industrial capacity would be immobilized by strangling the traffic system of her vital industrial area for a considerable length of time, particularly during the peak-load period of September and October, than could be effected by the direct destruction of the industrial plants themselves. In his attempt to vindicate himself and Hindenburg of having lost the last war, Ludendorff stated in his memoirs that the railroads broke down so that powder and explosive factories had to close for days at a time. "Personnel and material were overworked," he wrote, "particularly locomotives." There are fair prospects that by 1943 or 1944 the same situation may occur.

Paralysis of Germany's circulatory system, rather than destruction of her vital organs, should be the aim of the United Nations. They should concentrate on blocking off traffic in a designated area over a period of one or more weeks at a time. In time of peace, the worst hazard facing the German railroads was a heavy blizzard and accompanying severe frost, for this struck all tracks and switches simultaneously. Congestion in one area caused congestion throughout the entire system. The effect of a blizzard should be imitated. This calls for low-level daylight bombing over long stretches of tracks and highways leading to the chosen industrial zone. There would have to be a special pattern of attack, planned and executed by air force experts. We know that the destruction of communications during the heavy German assaults on Plymouth, London and other cities reached a point at which, in most cases, further bombing might have precipitated a collapse. Similarly, systematic and continued bombing beyond that point would strangle the life lines in the vital industrial area of western Germany.

As already suggested, the shelling of industrial engines by single planes is probably the most effective way of depleting Germany's precious fleet of locomotives. This new technique, already used most successfully in northern France and the Low Countries, should be extended to the Rhineland-Westphalia area. Moreover, it would seem adaptable to conditions behind the Russian front, where its effects would be even more crippling.

The industrial area of the Reich offers an open flank for an attack upon her transportation, but it is only a secondary one. It is on the Mediterranean coast that the Nazi-controlled transport system is most vulnerable to air and seaborne assault, as well as to invasion. Moreover, this coast is without fortifications such as the Germans have put up along the Channel.

The occupation of French Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and the elimination of the last Axis forces in Libya, will give the United Nations command of invaluable sea and air bases from Gibraltar all the way to Port Saïd and Haifa. They will be in a position then to reopen the southern part of the Mediterranean to Allied shipping, gradually to dispose of the Italian Navy, to occupy Sardinia and thereafter to invade the continent. In meeting this attack Hitler will be forced to rely on most inadequate railroad communications, which in the mountain terrain especially are open to bombing attack and demolition by parachute troops. If, on the other hand, he should decide to lop off Italy like a dead limb and defend the Alpine passes, the whole Adriatic coast and the other coasts of the Balkan Peninsula would lend themselves ideally to invasion.

If the United Nations can really make their blockade airtight, they may even succeed in breaking the European end of the Axis economically without having to storm the central fortress. At the least, they may hope -- and should try -- to disorganize the economic life behind the fighting ring of the blockade to such an extent that the remaining military resistance can be overcome at a cost figured largely in machines rather than in millions of lives.

[i] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Division of International Law, "Official German Documents Relating to the World War." 1923, v. 1, p. 312.

[ii]Cf. A. Sarter, "Die deutschen Eisenbahnen im Kriege." Stuttgart and New Haven, 1930.

[iii] Out of the 2.8 million tons "unaccounted for," the Germans may have gained control of over a million tons, while probably more than a million tons of Greek, Jugoslav, Polish and Latvian vessels included in that figure were sunk. However, other losses not considered here probably counterbalance that possible gain. Some German ships fled to Japan, others were lost by accidents.

[iv]Cf. Reichs-Kredit Gesellschaft AG, "Deutschlands Wirtschafts Entwickelung Im Ersten Halbjahr 1938."

[v]Wochenbericht, February 15, 1939, p. 36.

[vi] Many other factors than topography affect the ton mileage per engine, among them the size and power of the engines, the type of cargo, the length of average haul, the interference of passenger traffic with freight schedules and the general capacity of the trackage. It is not easy to increase the efficiency with which engines are utilized.

[vii]Cf. New York Times, August 5, 1942, p. 4.

[viii]Foreign Commerce Weekly, October 10, 1942, p. 17.

[ix] H. W. Singer, "The German War Economy," Part VI, The Economic Journal, June-September 1942, p. 186-205.

[x] The much heavier American freight engines cost $240,000 each and it takes from seven to eight months to build one. German engines represent probably the equivalent of half an American heavy engine.

[xi] The railroads of Italy and the Danubian basin are also of crucial importance. Functionally speaking, they are the weakest part of the whole continental system and have the least recuperative power.

[xii] The British failed to seal their Rumanian oil wells with concrete before it was too late, and so far the United Nations air forces have not destroyed a single one of the 11 refineries there.

[xiii]The Economist, August 22, 1942, p. 241.

[xiv]Cf. cable report by Ray Brock from Istanbul, New York Times, October 24, 1942, p. 5.

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  • KARL BRANDT, Economist and Professor of Agricultural Economics at the Food Research Institute, Stanford University, California; formerly Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Berlin
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