World War II, Homefront

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The home front is the name given to the non-military activities of a nation during wartime, including politics, society, culture and the economy. Life on the home front during World War II was a significant part of the war effort for all participants, and had major impact on the outcome of the war.


The major powers devoted 50–60% of their total GDP to war production at the peak in 1943. The Allies produced about three times as much in munitions as the Axis powers. The U.S. sent about $50 billion in military aid to the Allies through Lend Lease.

Munitions Production in World War II
Country/Alliance Year
1935-9 ave 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 Total 1939–44
U.S.A. 0.3 1.5 4.5 20.0 38.0 42.0 106.3
Britain 0.5 3.5 6.5 9.0 11.0 11.0 41.5
U.S.S.R 1.6 5.0 8.5 11.5 14.0 16.0 56.6
Allies Total 2.4 10.0 20.0 41.5 64.5 70.5 204.4
Germany 2.4 6.0 6.0 8.5 13.5 17.0 53.4
Japan 0.4 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.5 6.0 16.9
Axis Total 2.8 7.0 8.0 11.5 18.0 23.0 70.3

Source: Goldsmith data in Harrison (1988) p. 172

Real Value Consumer Spending
Country Year
1937 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Japan 100 107 109 111 108 99 93 78
Germany 100 108 117 108 105 95 94 85
USA 100 96 103 108 116 115 118 122

Source: Jerome B Cohen, Japan's Economy in War and Reconstruction (1949) p 354



see also World War II, Holocaust

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, conquering it in six weeks, as the Soviets invaded the eastern areas. During the German occupation there were two distinct uprisings in Warsaw, one by Jews in 1943, the other by Poles in 1944. Rutherford (2007) looks at the Wartheland region in a study of efforts to "Germanize" areas of western Poland. There were four major deportation operations between December 1939 and March 1941. Action taken against non-Jewish Poles was linked to the Nazis' later policy of Jewish annihilation.

Jews in Warsaw Ghetto: 1943

The first took place in an entity, less than two square miles in area, which the Germans carved out of the city and called "Ghetto Warschau." Into the thus created Ghetto, around which they built high walls, the Germans crowded 550,000 Polish Jews, many from the Polish provinces. At first, people were able to go in and out of the Ghetto, but soon the Ghetto's border became an "iron curtain." Unless on official business, Jews could not leave it, and non-Jews, including Germans, could not enter. Entry points were guarded by German soldiers. Because of extreme conditions and hunger, mortality in the Ghetto was high. Additionally, in 1942 the Germans moved 400,000 to Treblinka where they were gassed on arrival. When, on April 19, 1943, the Ghetto Uprising commenced, the population of the Ghetto had dwindled to 60,000 individuals. In the following three weeks virtually all died as the Germans fought to put down the uprising and systematically destroyed the buildings in the Ghetto. [1]

Warsaw Uprising of 1944

The uprising by Poles, ordered by the government in exile in London, began on August 1, 1944. The Polish underground "Home Army," seeing that the Soviets had reached the eastern bank of the Vistula, sought to liberate Warsaw. However, Stalin had his own group of Communist leaders for the new Poland and did not want the Home Army or its leaders (based in London) to control Warsaw. So he halted the Soviet offensive. The Germans suppressed the rebellion ruthlessly. During the ensuing 63 days, 250,000 Poles in the Home Army surrendered to the Germans. After the Germans forced all the surviving population to leave the city, Hitler ordered that any buildings left standing be dynamited and 98% of buildings in Warsaw were destroyed.[2]


Public opinion strongly supported the war, and the level of sacrifice was high. The war was a "people's war" that enlarged democratic aspirations and produced promises of a postwar welfare state.


In mid-1940 the R.A.F. was called on to fight the Battle of Britain but it had suffered serious losses. It lost 458 aircraft—more than current production—in France and was hard pressed. In order to speed output the government decided to concentrate on only five models in order to optimize output. They were Wellingtons, Whitley Vs, Blenheims, Hurricanes and Spitfires. They received extraordinary priority. Covering the supply of materials and equipment and even made it possible to divert from other types the necessary parts, equipments, materials and manufacturing resources. Labour was moved from other aircraft work to factories engaged on the specified types. Cost was not an object. The delivery of new fighters rose from 256 in April to 467 in September — more than enough to cover the losses — and Fighter Command emerged triumphantly from the Battle of Britain in October with more aircraft than it had possessed at the beginning. [3]


Most women who volunteered before the war went into civil defense or the Women's Land Army. The main civil defence services were Air Raid Precautions (ARP), the fire service and Women's Voluntary Services (WVS). Initially, the women mainly carried out clerical work, but their roles expanded to meet demand, and female pump crews became commonplace. Women joined branches of the forces, which were revived in 1938-39: the Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service , the Women's Royal Naval Service (Wrens), and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (Waafs).

Conscription for all women was introduced in 1941 for women of 21 in that year. They had to join the armed forces or the land army or be assigned other war work.[4]

The WVS was the largest single women's organisation at this time. It was formed to support civil defence and to provide services not provided locally by other organizations, and had over one million members. "Typical WVS contributions included organising evacuations, shelters, clothing exchanges and mobile canteens" [5]. The Women's Land Army/Scottish Land Army was reformed in 1938 so that women could be trained in agricultural work, leaving male workers free to go to war. Most WLA members were young women from the towns and cities. Annice Gibbs, who worked for the WLA Timber Corps, remembers an encounter with Italian prisoners of war (POWs). "After our training, we soon got used to heavy work, such as lifting pit-props and cutting them into various lengths for the coal mines" [5]. There were no mechanical devices used then and every pit-prop was cut by hand. "...the Italian POWs worked to measure the trees. They were very well looked after and we were amazed to see them erecting field ovens. They cooked bacon and cabbage for their lunch and brewed delicious hot coffee ... and we sat under a tree eating beetroot sandwiches ... We were fortunate - they gave us some of their coffee and food" [5].

With the onset of war, everything changed. If fathers joined the armed forces, or were sent away to do vital civilian work, mothers often ran the home alone - and had to get used to going out to work, as well. Young single women, often away from home for the first time, might be billeted miles from their families.

Flexible working hours, nurseries and other arrangements soon became commonplace to accommodate the needs of working women with children. Before long, women made up one third of the total workforce in the metal and chemical industries, as well as in ship-building and vehicle manufacture.

They worked on the railways, canals and on buses. Women built Waterloo Bridge in London. Nellie Brook left the munitions factory where she worked due to poor health, and was assigned to aircraft manufacture. "I was told my services were needed at A V Roe at Yeardon, where they made Lancaster bombers. That was like something out of science fiction. To get there, we were taken out into the country. When you arrived you would never have thought there was a factory there, it was so well camouflaged; great big grass hillocks and once you went inside it was amazing. No windows, all these hundreds of people of both sexes all working away like ants. All doing different jobs that finished up producing one of Britain's finest planes" [6].


Food, clothing, petrol, leather and other such items were rationed. Access to luxuries was severely restricted, though there was also a small black market trading illegally in controlled items. Families with a bit of land grew victory gardens (small home vegetable gardens), to supply themselves with food. Farmers converted to high value food products, especially grains, and reduced the output of meat.


From very early in the war it was thought that the major cities of Britain, especially London, would come under air attack, which did happen. Evacuation plans had been in preparation well before the outbreak of war. The first evacuation of women and children was carried out in September 1938 but the real evacuation began in July 1939. Some children were sent to Canada. The Government had planned to evacuate about 3½ million people but in the end only around 827,000 school children (and 103,00 teachers) were evacuated, along with 12,000 expectant mothers (also some 524,000 children under school age who were accompanied by their mothers), but they often filtered back. In the summer of 1940 another evacuation was carried out, this time not only from the big cities, but the invasion area itself, the south and east coast. When the bombing began in September 1940 they evacuated again. The discovery of the poor health and hygiene of evacuees was a shock to Britons, and helped prepare the way for the Beveridge Plan. [7] Children were only evacuated if their parents agreed but in some cases they didn't have a choice. The children were only allowed to take a few things with them including a gas mask, books, money, clothes, ration book and some small toys.

Belfast during the war

Belfast was a key industrial city during World War Two. Britain relied on her to produce ships, tanks, shorts, aircraft, engineering works, arms, uniforms, parachutes and a host of other industrial goods to help the war effort. As a result of this unemployment was dramatically reduced in Belfast, as there was more demand for industrial goods. However, being a key industrial city during World War Two also made Belfast a target for German bombing missions. Belfast was poorly defended during World War Two. There were only 24 anti aircraft guns in the city for example. The Northern Ireland government under Richard Dawson Bates (Minister for Home Affairs) had prepared poorly. They believed that Germany would not attack Belfast as it was too far away and they would have to fly over Britain in the process. When Germany invaded France on 10 May 1940 this changed dramatically as German bombers no longer had to fly over British soil to access Belfast. The fire brigade was inadequate, there were no public air raid shelters as the Northern Ireland government was reluctant to spend money on them and there were no searchlights in the city, which made shooting down enemy bombers all the more difficult. After seeing the Blitz in Britain the Northern Ireland government started building some air raid shelters. The Luftwaffe in early 1941 carried out some reconnaissance missions and photographed the city. During April 1941 Belfast was attacked. The docks and industrial areas were targeted and many bombs were dropped on the working class areas of East Belfast where over a thousand were killed and hundreds were seriously injured. The Northern Ireland government requested help from the south, which dispatched several fire brigades. Many Belfast people left the city afraid of future attacks. The bombings revealed the terrible slum conditions to the middle class people who entered the working class areas to help the injured. As such, these people were from middle and upper class backgrounds and would never have usually frequented working class areas of Belfast. Middle class people having seen the conditions the poor lived in Belfast helped hasten the advent of the [Welfare State]] following the war. In May 1941, Germans dropped bombs and incendiary devices on the docks and Harland and Wolff shipyards and as a result Harland and Wolff closed for six months. Those not involved in the rebuilding of the docks were put out of work during this time and that increased the troubles of the poor people of Belfast even further. Apart from the numbers dead, the Belfast blitz seen half of Belfast houses destroyed. Approximately twenty millions pounds worth of damage was caused. The Northern Ireland government was criticized heavily for its lack of preparation. The criticism forced the resignation of Prime Minister J.M. Andrews. The bombing raids continued until the invasion of Russia. The American army also came during the war and set up bases around Northern Ireland, which led to a boost to local economies and excitement to those at home. While the war brought great employment and economic prosperity to Belfast, it also brought great human suffering, destruction and death to Belfast too.

Soviet Union

see also World War II, Holocaust

After rapid German advances in the early months of the war reaching the city of Moscow, the bulk of Soviet industry and agriculture was either destroyed or in German hands. But in one of the greatest logistics feats of the war, thousands of factories were moved beyond the Ural Mountains along with well over a million workers. In general the tools, dies and machines were moved, along with the blueprints and skilled engineers.

The whole of the Soviet Union become dedicated to the war effort. Conditions were severe. In Leningrad, under German siege, over a million died of starvation and disease. Many factory workers were teenagers, women and old people.

Despite harsh conditions, the war led to a spike in Soviet nationalism and unity. Soviet propaganda toned down socialist and anti-religious rhetoric of the past as the people now rallied by a belief of protecting their motherland against hated German invaders. Ethnic minorities thought to be collaborators were moved into exile.

Religion, which was previously shunned, became an acceptable part of society.


see also World War II, Holocaust

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 was welcomed by many Ukrainians at first; the OUN even attempted to establish a government under German auspices. Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946) considered Ukraine a strategically important region that should be occupied through capturing the hearts and minds of the Ukrainians. According to Rosenberg, everything should have been done to make the Ukrainians view the Germans as liberators. Though he presented his views on different occasions, Adolf Hitler's anti-Slavic racial views prevailed and overrode strategic considerations, leading to a harsh occupation. Very soon the realization that Nazi policies were brutal toward all the Ukrainians, and not only the Jews and Communists, drove most Ukrainians into opposition to the Nazis. Germany forced many Ukrainians to work within the so-called Reichskommissariat Ukraine (RKU) on tasks such as agriculture, road and railway building, and the construction of fortifications. The German authorities soon faced a serious local labor shortage, especially among skilled workers, as a result of Soviet evacuations before the invasion, the ongoing murder of the Jewish population, and the brutal recruitment, arrest, and deportation of other groups, usually with the cooperation of the local civilian, military, and police authorities. The pool of labor was further reduced as the Germans lost territory in the later stages of the conflict. Nazi administrator Fritz Sauckel's labor recruitment measures strained relations with local officials responsible for selecting the deportees, leading to bribery and corruption. The Kiev area was the main focus for recruitment and deportation, while conditions in the Vinnitsa region of central Ukraine typified the interaction of the various factors.

In Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia the first stage of partisan development, from 1941 to the fall of 1942, was uncoordinated and resulted in a great many losses. The second stage, late 1942 to 1944, was better coordinated; partisan groups were better defined, and relatively large-scale operations were carried out, often in cooperation with the Red Army. Organized leadership and cadres were created, various forms of actions (diversions, sabotage, direct attacks, and so on) were developed, and the Germans carried out punitive activities against the partisans. In all, more than 1.3 million partisans took part in actions in the enemy's rear in 6,200 units, and more than 300,000 received decorations for their actions. The OUN created a nationalist partisan fighting force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA); many Ukrainians also joined the Soviet partisans and fought in the Soviet Army against the Germans. After World War II, the OUN and the UPA continued a hopeless guerrilla struggle against Soviet rule until 1953. The devastation caused by the war included major destruction in over 700 cities and towns and 28,000 villages.

United States

See World War II, Homefront, U.S.



China suffered the second highest amount of casualties of the entire war. Civilians in the occupied territories had to endure many large-scale slaughters. Tens of thousands died when Nationalist troops broke the levees of the Yangtze to stop the Japanese advance after the loss of the capital, Nanking. Millions more Chinese died because of famine during the war.

Millions of Chinese moved to the Western regions of China to avoid Japanese invasion. Cities like Kunming ballooned with new arrivals. Entire factories and universities were often taken along for the journey. Japan captured major coastal cities like Shanghai early in the war; cutting the rest of China off from its chief source of finance and industry.

The city of Chongqing became the most frequently bombed city in history. [8]

Though China received massive military and economic aid from the United States, much of it flown "over the Hump" (over the Himalayan mountains from India) China did not have sufficient infrastructure to use the aid to properly arm or even feed its military forces. Much of the aid was also lost to corruption and extreme inefficiency.

Communist forces led by Mao were generally more successful at getting support or killing opponents than Nationalists. They were based mainly in Northern China, and built up their strength to battle with the Nationalists as soon as the Japanese were gone.

In occupied territories under Japanese control, civilians were treated harshly.



see also World War II, Holocaust

Germany had not fully mobilized in 1939, nor even in 1941. Not until 1943 under Albert Speer did Germany finally redirect its entire economy and manpower to war production.


Although Germany had about twice the population of Britain (80 million versus 40 million), it had to use far more labour to provide food and energy. Britain imported food and employed only a million people (5% of labour force) on farms, while Germany used 11 million (27%). For Germany to build its twelve synthetic oil plants with a capacity of 3.3 million tons a year required 2.4 million tons of structural steel and 7.5 million man-days of labour; Britain brought in all its oil from Iraq, Persia and North America. To overcome this problem Germany employed millions of forced laborers and POWs; by 1944 they had brought in more than five million civilian workers and nearly two million prisoners of war—a total of 7.13 million foreign workers. The workers were unwilling and inefficient, and many died in air raids. [9]


For the first part of the war, there were surprisingly few restrictions on civilian activities. Most goods were freely available in the early years of the war. Rationing in Germany was introduced in 1939, slightly later than it was in Britain, because Hitler was at first convinced that it would affect public support of the war if a strict rationing program was introduced. The Nazi popularity was in fact partially due to the fact that Germany under the Nazis was relatively prosperous, and Hitler did not want to lose popularity or faith. Hitler felt that food and other shortages had been a major factor in destroying civilian morale during World War I which led to the overthrow of the Kaiser in 1918. However, when the war began to go against the Germans in Russia and the Allied bombing effort began to affect domestic production, this changed and a very severe rationing program had to be introduced. The system gave extra rations for men involved in heavy industry, and lower rations for Jews and Poles in the areas occupied by Germany, but not to the Rhineland Poles.

The points system

Walter Felscher recalls: For every person, there were rationing cards for general foodstuffs, meats, fats (such as butter, margarine and oil) and tobacco products distributed every other month. The cards were printed on strong paper, containing numerous small "Marken" subdivisions printed with their value – for example, from "5 g Butter" to "100 g Butter". Every acquisition of rationed goods required an appropriate "Marken", and if a person wished to eat a certain soup at a restaurant, the waiter would take out a pair of scissors and cut off the required items to make the soup and amounts listed on the menu. In the evenings, shop-owners would spend an hour at least gluing the collected "Marken" onto large sheets of paper which they then had to hand in to the appropriate authorities. also created a cut in the amount of rationed bread, meat and fat.[10]


Women were idealized by Nazi ideology and work was not felt to be appropriate for them. Children were expected to go to houses collecting materials for the production of war equipment. The Germans brought in millions of coerced workers , called Arbeitseinsatz from the countries they occupied, along with prisoners of war.



Japanese Rice Supply
Year 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Domestic production 9,928 9,862 10,324 9,107 8,245 9,999 9,422 8,784 6,445
Imports 2,173 2,546 1,634 1,860 2,517 2,581 1,183 874 268
All rice 12,101 12,408 11,958 10,967 10,762 12,580 10,605 9,658 6,713



The American aerial bombing of a total of 65 Japanese cities too from 400,000 to 600,000 civilian lives. That comprises over 100,000 in Tokyo alone, over 200,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, and 80,000-150,000 civilian deaths in the battle of Okina­wa. In addition civilian death among settlers who died attempting to re­turn to Japan from Manchuria in the winter of 1945 were probably around 100,000. Total Japanese military fatalities between 1937 and 1945 were 2.1 million; most came in the last year of the war and were caused by starvation or severe malnutrition in garrisons cut off from supplies. [12]


  1. Gutman (1998)
  2. Davies (2004)
  3. Postan ch 4
  4. Postan, 148
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Harris, Carol. Women Under Fire in World War Two: Changing roles BBC
  6. Women Under Fire in World War Two: A woman's place BBC
  7. Titmuss (1950)
  8. Chóngqìng.
  9. Hancock and Gowing p. 102
  10. Walter Felscher (1997-01-27). Recycling and rationing in wartime Germany.. Memories of the 1940's mailing list archive. Retrieved on 2006-09-28.
  11. Cohen, Japan's Economy in War and Reconstruction (1949) p 368-9
  12. John Dower, "Lessons from Iwo Jima," Perspectives (Sept 2007) 45#6 pp 54-56 at [1]