Bringing the past to present times

Britains Economy during War

Britains Economy during the war relied on the British Empire and Commonwealth, then financial and other aid from the United States in 1940-41

Despite being able to draw upon the resources of the British Empire and the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom reached the limit of its potential relatively early on in the war. Survival of Britains economy increasingly relied on financial and other aid from the United States in 1940-41.

Britains economy depended to a great extent on external support. Though supplemented by the efforts of the Dominions, the relatively small size of the British population (47 million), exposed limits to the size of both the war economy and the armed forces by 1943-44.

spitfires being produced in a factory during early 1940s.
Spitfires being produced in a factory during early 1940s.

Civilian consumption was regulated through rationing, and virtually all labour progressively mobilised, women included. Traditional assumptions concerning gender roles set limits to participation.

In 1944, with the British army at its maximum strength of over 2,700,000, British industry produced only 5,000 tanks. Through much concentration of effort slightly increased aircraft production to reach the maximum annual figure of 26,461.

Wartime Aircraft Production Figures
Tank Production Figures

The figures for the UK includes the Commonwealth.

The structural wellness in British industry led to poor design. Certain essential war items had become more costly to produce, and less combat worthy than their German equivalents. The British combat aircraft by the late stages of the war were second to none yet relatively costly to produce. Trucks and tanks were inferior in almost every respect.

The British effort in many respects was impressive, especially for a cash-strapped democracy fighting a war. Rationing and the allocation of labour was handled with fairness and skill, and blatant propaganda usually eschewed in favour of (selectively) telling the truth.

Legal sanction existed and were sometimes used, the success of the British war effort ultimately depended on the willingness of the British people to make voluntary sacrifices. Despite strikes and lack of commitment in sections of the population, the war effort from 1940 onwards generated a very real sense of unity throughout Britain.

Efforts to strengthen morale in the armed forces and civilian sectors, produced little response. It is worth remembering that the authorities never thought the British conscripts and volunteers need the kind of draconian coercive measures. They were common within the German and Soviet armies to prevent collapse.

All wartime myths aside, there really did exist a consensus that Hitler should be defeated and that sacrifices would have to be made.

By , last updated: 19th November 2020