What It Costs Hitler





WHAT price European domination? How much has Germany paid to date for her military conquest of fifteen captive nations? An answer to this question can only be guesswork. It is not to be expected that the Nazi Government would allow much information of this kind to trickle out. It is not to be expected that such reports as we do receive concerning recent developments in the Axis countries will enlighten us very far. But the subject is so important that it is worth while to make some deductions that may direct our expectations more accurately toward what is coming next year and after.

There is no use in starting out by mustering such rare bits of Goebbels’s propaganda arithmetic as appear in German newspapers and communiqués. I do not regard Nazis’ statistics about the war as giving any information which we can rely upon. I know from personal experience that the Nazis can and do alter statistical records of every sort. I know that they fake their crop reports, especially in bad years; sometimes they have replaced the padded figures afterward by the real ones in order to get more accurate comparisons with later periods.

They used to fake foreign trade statistics, leaving out important items which they wished to conceal. They have habitually cooked their financial figures, such as the amount of gold reserve, the extent of government indebtedness. Why should we believe for a moment that their figures of losses in men and materials are given out for any other purpose than for propaganda?

We have, then, to assess Germany’s costs up to the present on the basis of reasonable probabilities and to warn the readers against a comfortable reliance upon anybody’s statistics, including our own.

It is abundantly clear that for the first twenty-two months of the war Hitler has achieved his victories at an astonishingly low cost in men and materials. Measuring his booty, his subject populations, and the area he controls, the price per captive or per square mile is astoundingly small. German victories have been so quick and looked so easy that we have been inclined to dwell upon the importance of the fifth column and to pay less attention to the superb discipline, accuracy, and synchronization of the German armed forces. These last twenty-two months have realized the German dream of 1914: they have shown us the short jolly war that pays for itself by loot.

Copyright 1941, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

There seems to be no doubt that people in Germany are eating better at the moment than they were a year ago. This is the result of diversion of supplies from conquered areas to the ‘master race.’ I have no doubt that, as far as stocks of food are concerned, Germany is better supplied at this moment than at the beginning of the war. It is true that certain items from overseas may run short, but these are mostly nonessentials like coffee, chocolate, pepper, tea, palm oil, ginger, and bananas, which are not absolutely vital to the health of the nation. The only vital food deficiency which Germany now feels is a lack of edible fats.

In the past year the Germans have enjoyed an extra supply of fresh meat derived from the killing of livestock in Holland, Denmark, and other countries where animals could no longer be fed because of fodder shortage. This windfall, like the stocks of eggs and bacon seized in Denmark, is of course only temporary; however, the building of additional cold-storage plants in the Reich has gone on. It is my guess that every one of them is filled to capacity. Even before this war, almost every bit of butter and every egg consumed in Germany was run through this cold-storage system, building up an increasing food reserve for the war years ahead. Just so piles of tinned gasoline grew steadily at the depots of the Luftwaffe.

If we read of food rationing in Germany, let us not hastily conclude that no food is available. It is simply being stored up against the more difficult days that are ahead. German crops this year are described as normal. That probably means that the season has not been too good. Last winter the extreme cold spoiled a great many perishable foods, like potatoes, and killed fruit trees and the young grain. But even if harvests are below average that is not serious. Germany has a carry-over of more than six million tons of bread grains, about twice as much as she normally had in pre-war times. Let us not delude ourselves by thinking that the Germans are starving or are likely to starve on the basis of present indications. True, there may be appalling food shortages in certain parts of the conquered countries. This could result from inadequate or congested transportation facilities, or from the ruthlessness of a deliberate policy such as we have seen in the case of the Polish Jews. Continental Europe’s food deficiency is not great. Local shortages which are already observable will tend to cure themselves by a heavy rise in the death rate in countries such as Spain, Belgium, and Greece. This will not affect the food position of Germany. If any nation goes hungry in Europe it will not be the Germans; and if anybody goes hungry in Germany it will not be the Army or the National Socialist Party. When we think of the effects of the British blockade of Europe we must think, not in terms of food, but rather in terms of industrial raw materials.


Here the picture is not so favorable. Germany, of course, controls adequate supplies of many materials. She is now fully independent in iron ore and the manufacture of low-grade steels. She has plenty of zinc and lead, magnesite, potash, mercury, bauxite. Her main deficiencies may be grouped under three categories: textiles, alloys, and petroleum products. In these three categories, as well as certain other items such as tin and copper, the Germans have been able to divert stocks of materials seized in conquered countries. Temporarily Hitler is in the black so far as these stocks are concerned. He can tear down telephone and telegraph lines in France if he needs more copper. He can seize the housewives’ pots and pans all over Europe for aluminum. He can take over merchants’ stocks of clothing and other textile items on a vast scale. But in the long run these shortcomings may be serious. Europe has always been deficient in textile raw material and in leather. Europe’s clothes will inevitably wear out. We may see much of the Continent in rags before long.

Important bulk items like cotton and wool are not available and cannot be made available by any fresh conquests. Even if we suppose that Hitler can secure Egypt’s cotton, this would not mean much in terms of Europe’s textile needs. We can expect continued improvements in the production of rayon and the new synthetic fibres such as wollstra and vistra made from wood pulp. Really these are nothing but special varieties of paper. The German soldiers and civilians are not going to feel very comfortable in cold winter with paper suits and underwear, no matter how the new fabrics are named or how well they take dyes in the finishing processes. Neither can armies march well in boots made of leather substitutes. This matter of clothing is going to prove increasingly acute for Hitler as time goes on.

It is not merely a question of the exhaustion of stocks in government hands or held by private traders, but the exhaustion of the invisible reserves in clothing possessed by most families. The Germans, as well as all the other Continental peoples, are now raiding their attics, making over grandmother’s wedding dress and granduncle’s swallowtail coat. These invisible private reserves are greater in Europe, where no one ever throws anything away, than they would be in the United States. Nevertheless, they will come to an end. Europe’s people will get steadily more ragged and cold. Combine this lack of clothing with a deficiency in body-warming fats, the acute shortages of fuel, and the long, cold European winters, and you get a situation which is dangerous for public morale all over the Continent. This is more serious for Hitler than actual shortage of food as measured in calories.

Domestic life in Germany has been seriously affected by the lack of small articles, none of them very important in themselves. Households are unable to buy boots or shoes except on rare occasions, but they are also unable to get repairs from the shoemaker. Even glue, rubber cement, and solder are almost impossible to obtain. Rubber soles for repair of shoes are scarce. Thread for sewing is a rarity. German school children are each expected to bring to school at least one pound of raw bones per month. These are used in the manufacture of glue and other products. Special food rations are given in cities which have been bombed by the RAF. This proves first of all that additional food is there when needed, and secondly that the Nazis are afraid of a letdown in public morale.

German newspapers these days contain very few advertisements offering goods for sale, but tremendous numbers of help-wanted ads, indicating a shortage of labor, especially skilled labor, throughout the country. Added to the lack of coal for domestic heating is a shortage of gas for cooking in cities. In most places gas is turned on in the mains only for short periods each day. At that time the housewives must be home to prepare meals. This forces them to rush to the shops for new supplies when the gas is turned off and results in increasing the length of the lines in front of the food stores. A large part of the time of the civilians is spent simply standing in line. This was true in the last war and helped at that time to undermine public morale.

Another growing problem for the Nazis lies in a shortage of alloys for steel manufacture. The Germans have done very well in the utilization of beryllium. They have had access, up to recent months, to Russian supplies of manganese, but in general they are operating under difficulties in the field of nonferrous and rare metals. Germany cannot secure adequate supplies of copper, either from her own worn-out mines or from Yugoslavia, where the copper mines have been damaged in the recent fighting, or anywhere else in Europe. Unless she is successful in Russia, Germany can get practically no tin, no nickel, no chrome, no molybdenum, no tungsten, no vanadium.

German metallurgists and engineers have foreseen this problem, and they attempted to get around it by the use of aluminum instead of copper, by the use of glass and cardboard cartons instead of tin cans, by increasing employment of plastics instead of metals. Plastics are used for plumbing, porcelain for automobile radiators, and artificial fibres as substitutes for metal tubing, for example in the fuel lines of airplane engines. But no effective substitutes for some of these steel alloys have yet been found. Mechanized war demands highly specialized steels, some of them extra hard, some of them extra tough or elastic. There is no doubt whatever that the performance of much German war equipment is adversely affected by the lack of proper alloys. For example, German ordnance has been constructed using only 1/35 as much nickel to harden the steel as is used in the best American practice. Some of these skimpings and substitutes may prove adequate, but not all of them. Germany’s war equipment as it now stands cannot be replaced by machines of equal construction and performance. There is a tendency toward the employment of emergency methods and the use of ersatz materials that is bound to impair the efficiency of all these implements of war.


In the field of petroleum products, Germany has perhaps her greatest problem. Before the war she consumed about six million tons a year. Of this amount one half was imported. Estimates of petroleum consumption during wartime range from twelve million to twenty million tons per year for a major belligerent. In spite of the feverish construction of new synthetic gasoline plants, in spite of the increased use of alcohol and benzol, a by-product of the blast-furnace gases, Germany’s fuel production is so inadequate that the civilian use of internal-combustion motors has been prohibited. In the first twenty-two months of the war there was only sporadic military action. During the campaign in Belgium and France there is no doubt that Germany consumed a large part of the existing supply of gasoline, but during other periods, notably the winters of 1939—1940 and 1940—1941, the stocks were certainly built up again. It seems likely on the balance that at the beginning of this summer German gasoline supplies were in excess of those at the outbreak of the war. This takes into account the supplies that have been obtained from Rumania and Russia. As regards the future, let us remember that Rumanian oil fields are declining in production; that Polish fields are pretty well exhausted; that Russian petroleum fields lie far away; and that synthetic gasoline plants in Germany are the special target of RAF bombers.

Can Germany fight a long war on her present gasoline supplies with no new supplies available? The answer is not clear; the balance could easily be tipped either way. Given an increased and sustained bombing attack upon German oil plants and oil depots, it seems most likely that supplies of gasoline in the Reich will become increasingly scarce as the war goes on, and that from now on the situation must turn to Germany’s disadvantage. Germany’s synthetic gasoline lacks the high octane content suitable for the best performance of airplane engines. The seven million tons of petroleum available each year in Rumania may have been partially blocked out by reported Russian destruction of Rumanian oil fields. Even if we assume enough German success in the East so that the Nazis could reach Baku or Iraq, there still seems no answer to the problem of oil transportation from those distant areas to Germany proper. Oil is found in both places in large quantities, but how could it be taken to the Reich in sufficient amounts? There are no pipe lines running in that direction; the rail or water transportation facilities now existing are completely inadequate. Furthermore, the British are now in Iraq and could possibly get to Baku before the Germans. They were there in control of the Russian oil fields in 1918, when the famous ‘Hush-Hush Brigade’ advanced through northern Iran. The British could very possibly destroy the Baku field if they were unable to hold it. They were prepared to do so in the last war if Germany had advanced farther into the Ukraine. The British also might destroy the Iraq oil fields. However, these could quickly be put in production again, because petroleum there lies very close to the surface and new wells would take only a minimum of time to drill.

Much more serious to the Germans than the problem of motor fuel is the shortage of lubricants. Petroleum lubricants are indispensable for the operation of all internal-combustion engines and for lubrication of all machinery where moving metallic surfaces are in contact. It has been comparatively simple to make synthetic gasoline by adding hydrogen to the carbon obtained from coal — the well-known process of hydrogenation. But the heavier and more complex hydro-carbon molecules which comprise petroleum lubricants cannot be synthesized so easily. Lubricating oils are not simple chemical compounds. Even the best German chemists are baffled by the problem of creating them out of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, nor is there any adequate substitute. The Germans have been experimenting in the use of animal and vegetable fats, such as tallow and castor oil. These have only a limited usefulness as lubricants. In all Continental Europe there are very few plants capable of manufacturing lubricants from crude petroleum.

The Russian plants are still outside Hitler’s control and may easily be destroyed before he could possess them. In all Germany, so far as I know, there is only one modern plant for making high-grade lubricants. This is in Bremen and has been a frequent target for British bombs. In the conquered countries, particularly France, there are plants, but most of these are of limited capacity. Furthermore, Germany’s synthetic gasoline is gasoline only and has no lubricating value. Germany is now obtaining most of her lubricants from limited supplies of domestic crude oil and from such Rumanian and Polish sources as can be tapped. A sustained bombing of lubricating-oil plants promises big results in hampering her mechanized columns. A widespread belief persists that unexplained pauses of the German war machine — failure to follow up the bombing of London last autumn, for instance — may be explained by deficiencies in the supply of lubricating oil. Certainly this was a major problem of the German General Staff in the First World War.


The first twenty-two months of the present war, with their alternations of ‘sitz and blitz,’ are now definitely over. For the first time in this contest the German armies are hotly engaged on a 2000-mile front against the Red armies. From June 1941 onward, the consumption of German war materials leaps upward at a rapid rate. The large movements of men involved, the heavy use of mechanized equipment, the long distances, the wretched roads, all combine to place a strain on any war machine — even Hitler’s mechanized battalions. There can be no question that, this summer at least, the Nazis are burning up and wearing out vast amounts of material. The wide plains of western Russia must be strewn with abandoned motorized equipment. Germany can afford to lose the steel involved in this destruction, but can she supply the skilled labor, the engineering capacity, the special alloys to replace these losses? Not quickly or easily; and, as far as some of the alloys are concerned, not at all. German soldiers are wearing out boots on the Russian road that cannot be replaced out of conquered supplies; and uniforms and overcoats were manufactured of imported wool that is far to seek. Never again in this war will the German Army have the same wealth of materials it now commands, to shoot away or consume. If Germany has to face a sustained attack on the west or on the south, she will have to encounter it with inferior equipment and inadequate material resources.

The prohibition of motor vehicles for the civilian population and the drain of war and conquest upon transportation facilities have thrown a terrific strain upon the German Reichsbahn, the official German railroad system. After 1927, when the post-war prosperity began to lag, the Reichsbahn was starved for locomotives, cars, and repairs to right-ofway until 1933 and 1934, when the Nazi reëmployment program was partially directed toward railway improvement. From 1935 on, all German activity was centred on the creation of the Army and its motor vehicles. The Reichsbahn was again neglected. This means that Germany’s railway structure has deteriorated substantially in the past fourteen years. There is a decided lack of every type of equipment, and accidents have mounted steadily. Germans have attempted to augment their railway equipment by the seizure of Dutch, Belgian, French, and Balkan railroad stock and locomotives. But they still face an acute shortage of railway transportation. It is this fact that has almost deprived German civilians of coal for domestic heating. Additional strain placed upon the German railroad system by the Russian war is prodigious; such a war cannot be kept up long without paralyzing passenger and freight transportation in the Reich proper. The Russian railroads were purposely constructed on a wider gauge than the German, so that captured Russian equipment is not useful in Germany. Russia may prove a vast scrap pile for the German railroads, as well as for motorized vehicles.

Of course, Hitler’s legions will be able to seize enormous quantities of Soviet equipment. What the Germans pick up will be chiefly valuable as junk or scrap iron. Furthermore, it will be so scattered that the cost and difficulty of carrying it back for remelting will in many cases be more than the scrap metals are worth. Most of the stuff will probably rust away where it lies. Unless Hitler wishes to pose as the greatest junk dealer of the ages, the chances are that he will not find much in Russia to ship back home. The Russians are always poor at construction, but excellent at smashing things. They have always lacked the intense love of property that distinguishes a German. Then again a totalitarian government such as the Soviet can adopt far more radical measures in demolition and carrying out a ‘scorched earth’ policy than many people with capitalistic instincts would ever employ. The retiring Russians will cheerfully destroy everything in sight, as none of it is their personal property.

It is a mistake to think of Russia as a lootable country. Russian riches are largely buried in the ground for future generations to exploit. In the whole area that the Nazis have conquered to date they will find little that will do them any real good. There has been a great deal of talk about the grain fields of the Ukraine. True enough, there is much good land there, although Hitler has not yet occupied all of it. The Germans, however, were in possession of the Ukraine during the summers of 1917 and 1918 and were unable to secure any substantial amounts of grain for their home population. To organize Russia, to build roads and railways, to bring in farm equipment that will really work, to house and police a farm population that is willing and able to plant and harvest large-scale crops, is a task not of years but of decades. Let us not fall into the error of believing that Hitler can make the invasion of Russia pay for itself in materials during this war. This time he is heavily in the red and must remain so.

In fact, I do not believe that Germany invaded Russia for the purpose of securing materials. The German General Staff knows too much for that. Russia was invaded this year to remove the future menace of a Soviet attack from the rear when Hitler expects to be busy defending his ill-gotten gains in the West. It was reasons of higher, long-term strategy that impelled this adventure and not the belief in speedy economic returns from Russia.


Hitler’s adventure in Russia is merely a prelude to his final world victory. It only makes sense when considered as a part of such a scheme. If Hitler didn’t believe that he will fight America, he would never have needed to invade Russia. Of course, the cost in materials is tremendous. It is a risk the German General Staff felt it must take, the price it must pay for security on the eastern frontier.

Far more important than the balance sheet of material gains and losses is the tally of human lives lost in this adventure. It would seem that up to the present summer Hitler has done well in conserving the lives of his soldiers. Of course we do not need to believe figures of Dr. Goebbels to the effect that only some 60,000 German soldiers were killed in the period before this summer. An estimate of 250,000, made by outside observers, seems more likely. But the Germans do not consider such a blood loss an excessive price to pay for the gains they have made. Many Americans might not share such a feeling; but I am certain that the German people as a whole are reconciled to losses of this size. I heard one German mother say that she would much prefer her boys to go and take their chances on the battlefield than to stay at home under the Republic and live on a dole.

Hitler’s armies are supposed to total some 9,000,000 men. Of this number approximately one half are fighting in Russia. For the first time in the present war, German blood will flow heavily. As these words are written, the two mighty antagonists are locked in a struggle extending over the whole field. The odds are greatly in Germany’s favor. German weapons are superior, German discipline more perfect. No doubt loss of life on the Russian side will exceed anything that the Germans may suffer. But on a comparative basis German losses may be fully as severe, since their home population is smaller and their birth rate no longer rising as in 19331934.

At this distance, and through the veil of censorship, how may we estimate the losses of German lives in the Russian campaign? Only by rough comparisons with the World War. At that time we know that total German losses in killed and missing were 1,800,000 men. In view of the intensity of the present struggle, the number of weeks it has already continued, and the number of men Germany has thrown in, a reasonable estimate of German losses in killed and missing would run into several hundred thousands, probably somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000. Add these figures to those up to this summer, and we arrive at a total somewhat less than Germany’s losses in the first two years of World War I. In other words, the German loss of life is now substantial and even serious, but it is less than during the last war and probably not more than the General Staff calculated upon before the present war began.

How serious will these losses prove to German military efficiency or to national morale? It seems likely that many of the dead men cannot be replaced by other persons of equal training and ability. One of the secrets of Germany’s military efficiency is that she possessed in the old Reichswehr a core of professional soldiers trained for many years, and practically every man was of officer or noncommissioned officer calibre. These men are irreplaceable. The conscripts of later years, beginning with 1936, are youngsters of good physique, with plenty of seasoning in previous campaigns, but most of them are far from having the professional excellence of the older men.

I believe that in the Russian campaign the German High Command will begin to feel the lack of trained personnel. This will be evident in the operation of mechanized units, in the shortage of skilled airplane pilots and ground crews. There will be an increased problem of securing skilled men to operate transportation behind the lines in Russia. Every available railway and transport employee in the Reich is already fully occupied. Here the Germans will have to press into service Czechs, Poles, Rumanians, and other subject peoples. If they use too many of them, there is a constant risk of sabotage and treachery. Remember that German industry and transportation as a whole are operating with equipment that is obsolescent and badly in need of repairs. Increased results can only be obtained by increased demands upon human energy. The eight-hour day has long been only a memory. German labor now is working ten hours, twelve hours, sometimes even fourteen and sixteen hours a day.

The limit of human endurance is still far from being reached. Germans are wonderful workers; they like to work, and they like doing a good job for its own sake. But there is a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that Hitler is wearing his people down. He is making demands upon them that only supermen, and only a fanatical loyalty, could fulfill. Hitler, in his fanatical zeal, will break the hearts and spirits of his German boys. I can well imagine them now trying to repair Russian railways, trying to make captured Russian repair shops function, trying to construct new roads through Russian swamps. These tasks will be accomplished, but the burning memory of the toil and agony will remain to sap German morale for the future. Hitler can never get the same wholehearted response to his appeals in the future as he has been granted in 1941.

The fact that as this is written RAF bombers are sweeping in full light of day, almost unopposed, over industrial cities of western Germany means very definitely that Hitler’s air force is not strong enough to beat the Russians and defend western borders of the Reich at the same time. The British have constantly held to their original objectives in the air — striking at Germany’s industrial organization, her transportation lines, and her areas of military concentration. These tactics are not spectacular, but they are just the way to weaken the Nazi war machine in the long run. Let us not conclude that Hitler’s war machine has been fatally injured. Not at all. But it is seriously affected and cannot now prevent further losses. If American planes reach Britain in increasing numbers, if the British maintain and extend their present bombing raids, that German war machine will never be the same again.

This summer of 1941 quite definitely marks the turning point of the war. From now on Hitler is on the down grade. True, there may be several years of fight still left in the German Army and the German nation, but that fight can be knocked out of them. It is going to be another long pull just as in the First World War. The Germans are naturally extremists. They persevere in their efforts, good or bad, and often carry things to absurd limits. In the last war they fought until Germany was a hollow shell and collapsed like the ‘one-hoss shay.’ Then they carried their inflation to a fantastic figure. They now are embarked on an insane attempt at world domination. This drive will have to run its course; but some day, like all other human endeavors, it will come to an end.

I wonder if the loyal, industrious, painstaking Germans are beginning to realize the crushing weight of hate that they are building up against themselves everywhere in the world. Has ever a single people made so many enemies, and possessed so few friends? Has ever a nation so completely thrown away its assets of character, scientific achievement, advances in the arts? Has ever a nation so completely exiled its best citizens and alienated its best friends? The Germans are so sincere and singleminded, and at the same time so selfish and blind where the rights and interests of other peoples are concerned. They were honestly surprised, at the end of the last war, to find that they were not popular. They have a still more unpleasant surprise in store for them.

How the Germans can passionately affirm their right as a free people to make their own decisions in the world, regardless of all other peoples, and at the same time suppose that fifteen other European nations will peacefully acquiesce in being slaves, passes the imagination. The Nazis’ doctrine that the Germans are by nature a master race and that other races are created to serve them is the kind of logic best calculated to drive a deluded German people to acts of madness. Nothing now can save the Germans from the consequences of their own folly. We may even come to pity them in the future, as they are sure to pity themselves. But the world as a whole will be so busy licking its own wounds after this war that other peoples will have little sympathy left over for Hitler’s followers. One aggression after another, intolerable injustices perpetrated upon peaceful nations large and small, wherever the Germans can get at them — this long list of claims is mounting higher every day.

I know that the more intelligent Germans feel this world resentment and fear it. No victory can warm their hearts or banish their dread of final retribution. The fact that Germany was beaten in 1918 makes it more easy for Germany to be beaten again. The British people, like the American people, do not know what it is to submit. They are unaware of how much in the way of national morale and material reserves they can produce in an emergency. Submission is to them unthinkable. On the other hand, the Germans know exactly what it means to give up. The older people can remember the last defeat. They can and do compare present losses with corresponding losses in the last war. They can and do speculate on national morale, estimating how far it is still removed from the breaking point. They were doing so even before the war started.

Germany can be beaten. It is treason inside the country to say so, but every German thinks about it, worries about it, and is preparing himself psychologically to accept it. Germany will be beaten. The long story of humanity’s rise toward a tolerable and free existence for the average man will not come to an end because of the insane delusions of a single individual or the wounded inferiority complexes of a single people. German military successes in the last two years are based upon a superior mechanized army, organized and equipped while the Democracies slept. This is merely an incident in history. It is not the end of Christian civilization, or of human decency, or of freedom.