World History 2 182 - 11.4.1 Nations Remade for War

The length and all-encompassing nature of the war forced each combatant’s home front to adapt. In the Allied countries of Britain and France, volunteer enthusiasm and conscription meant that many skilled laborers were now serving in the military, leaving manufacturing and production in need of new workers whose training took time. For other countries, such as Germany, the shortage of raw materials due to the Allied blockade forced a search for new sources.

Issues of production now also became political issues. In 1915, British commanders alleged that part of the reason they had been turned back during an attack was that they did not have enough artillery shells. This “shell crisis” raised the question of who was at fault in an industrialized government-directed economy. Was the government to be blamed for not making sure enough shells were produced? Were the workers not working hard enough at producing shells? The British government ended up blaming the army, claiming the military had not ordered enough shells. As a result, shell output from British munitions factories (and, in fact, from all combatants’ munitions factories) increased throughout that year.

The British government found itself under immense pressure during the war. The Liberal Party was in control, but historically it had been anti-war, so the coming of World War I threw the party into disarray. The shell crisis and the failures at Gallipoli made the government appear weak. Continued maneuvering against the prime minister by David Lloyd George, minister of munitions and a fellow Liberal, solidified divisions within the party that came to a head by the end of the war.

Once the United States entered the war, its government moved to control industrial output in a way it had never done before, with the creation of the War Industries Board (WIB). Run by financier Barnard Baruch, the WIB was charged with controlling prices and organizing production to support the war. However, because it had never embraced central planning or centralized economic control, the U.S. government did not have the command of war production that a country like Great Britain did. In the end, the WIB made some progress, but it never was in a position to dictate to industry and was immediately shut down at the end of the war. Its creation did foreshadow some of the examples of government control that became necessary in World War II, however.

Many national governments coped unsuccessfully with financing the war. Generally, less than a third of the cost was paid through taxation. Instead, borrowing by selling war bonds to the public, printing more money, and taking on more debt became the main method of paying for the war. Price inflation hit new highs as the combination of debt, the printing of money, and product shortages squeezed civilian budgets.

As the British army found itself in need of more troops, it began active recruitment campaigns. One popular tactic tried in the first half of the war was the development of “pals” units. Young men would sign up together and be guaranteed assignment to the same unit, a unit of their pals. While certainly an enticement to serve, this method of organizing units also meant that neighborhoods and villages might see nearly all their young men wounded or killed in the same engagement. The practice was discontinued after the high-casualty Somme campaign in 1916.

For Russia, the war highlighted how far the country still needed to go in industrializing its economy. Railroads were not sufficient to move troops to the locations needed while also getting foodstuffs to the cities to feed factory workers. Arms manufacturers could not keep up with the numbers of guns and bullets necessary to supply the soldiers. The lack of equipment had serious consequences for the morale of the troops, who did not feel supported by their government and began to question its decision-making.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 2: from 1400 textbook by Openstax