Albert Speer’s contribution to the Nazi war effort started well before the declaration of war. His work for the Nazi regime aided Adolf Hitler in lifting the morale of the German people and consolidating Nazi power which was determined to engage in armed conflict.
Speer was an accomplished architect and a highly efficient organiser. Hitler addressed Berlin’s university students at a Berlin rally in 1931, and Speer who was in the audience was so overwhelmed by what he heard that he joined the Nazi party and committed himself to his work. By 1932 he was working independently as an architect and used his party contacts to gain him more work. In 1933, Goebbels asked Speer to renovate the Propaganda Ministry.
His next project proved to be even more successful planning and organising massive banners, swastikas and searchlights for the celebration of the Day of National Labour on the Tempelhof Field in Berlin on May 1st 1933. Goebbels was so impressed that he commissioned Speer to design the surround of the Nuremberg Rally later that year. Soon he was renovating Nazi Party offices and through his hard work and enthusiasm he mad a name for himself amongst the Nazi leadership.
With the death of Hitler’s architect Troost, Hitler co-opted Speer as his personal architectural advisor. They became personal friends and Speer moved his family to be near Hitler’s mountain lodge. Speer was commissioned to rebuild the Nuremberg Party Rally grounds and due to his success in propaganda architecture Hitler appointed him in 1938 as General Building Inspector for the National Capital.
Speer placed his department at the disposal of the Wehrmacht. Among his innovations were quick-reaction squads who construct roads and cleared away debris. Before long, these units would be used to clear bomb sites. As the war progressed, he failed to convince Hitler of the need to suspend peacetime construction projects, so he continued to work on the Berlin and Nuremburg plans. Speer also oversaw the construction of buildings for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, and developed a considerable organization to deal with this work.
Speer continued with his duties designing and constructing for the Reich up until 1942. In this period, his ideas and plans were used by Hitler to show the German population how great the nation could be. That year he was appointed Reich Minister for Armaments & Munitions as a reward for his faithful and unswerving loyalty to Nazi Party and Hitler. Hitler also believed that due to his close relationship to Speer and Speer’s loyalty, he could control arm’s production.
Speer’s effect was immediate. In the first six months, he increased production of guns by 27%, tanks by 25% and ammunition by 97%. By the end of 1944, production had increased by 300%. This included a rise in the construction of aircraft from 9500 in 1941, to 34300 by 1944. All this was done with only a 30% increase in the workforce.
Speer convinced Hitler that many workers should be diverted from producing consumer items for armaments production. He also used foreign workers and prisoners to work as forced labour. When German war production was at its peak in late September 1944, there were over seven million foreign labourers and 400,000 prisoners of war working as slave labourers. This was approximately 20% of the total workforce. Speer was so efficient with his duties, that many historians credit him with prolonging the war for a further twelve months.
Speer was a great believer in the V1 & V2 Rocket programs to swing the tide of the war in Germany’s favour. He claimed that the inability of senior Nazi figures to fully comprehend rocket technology led to a delay in overcoming initial problems with the V2. He believed that the V2 would have been operational far sooner if the project had received greater backing. General Eisenhower claimed after the war that if the V Weapon program had been in place in earl 1944, the D-Day landing may have been impossible.
In early 1944, Speer was admitted to a clinic as a result of health problems. During the period of his recovery, he had time to reflect and in doing so, realised his growing disenchantment with Hitler and the Nazi regime. In November 1944 in a private conversation with Joseph Goebbels he indicated his belief that a German victory was not possible. The war was going so poorly for Germany that even Speer’s talent and efficiency drives were unable to reverse the oncoming defeat. By the middle of the year, he had disobeyed Hitler’s orders to put a halt of producing aircraft and boost anti-aircraft production. He also refused to engage in Hitler’s ‘Scorched Earth’ policy which meant that all infrastructure, power supplies, records & documents and food be destroyed before it could fall into the hands of the advancing Allied forces. He did this because he had realised that such an action would devastate any possible chance of recovery for the German people after the war had been lost.
It is evident that Albert Speer had an overwhelming effect on the Nazi war effort. His ability to organise and plan projects from architecture, which would lift the peoples morale, to the production of arms which enabled the German armed forces to continue the fight against the allies for so long. Without a person of his ability, the German war machine and the Nazi government would have fallen far earlier.