An often overlooked detail of World War II is how the nations’ economies fared. The chart in the next section shows the percent change in GDP during World War II for the US, UK and Germany as compared to their GDP in 1938.
Percent Change in GDP During World War II
It is well know that World War II helped the United States emerge out of the Great Depression. The US was in prime position to ramp up their economy to aid the allies as a neutral entity at the beginning of the war.
The US had a large population, and the industrial capacity necessary to easily convert to wartime production. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the US fully entered the war, that production was increased to maximum capacity and the economy boomed as a result. Japan is said to have “awoken a sleeping giant” in regards to the US economy.
Virtually untouched throughout the war, the US did not face the challenges and hardships other nations faced.
On the other hand, the United Kingdom and Germany each saw only modest gains in their economies during the war. This is largely a result of the total war their countries faced, and the attacks each homeland had to endure.
The UK and Germany each had vicious aerial bombings campaigns against them. Some of these campaigns targeted civilian centers. Aside from the obvious loss of innocent lives, these bombings also crippled key components of their economies.
By war end, the UK and Germany were largely in ruins. Significant efforts to rebuild post-war would be needed.
It’s interesting to note that all 3 economies declined in 1945. This was largely due to the war ending mid-year, and each nation transitioning out of their wartime economies. In addition, Germany was occupied by the allies at this time, and eventually would be split into West and East Germany.
Source: The Economics of World War II – Mark Harrison