German Submarine Blockade, Overseas Imports, and British Military Production in World War II

Erin Weir


In World War II, German submarines sought to undermine the Allied war effort by curtailing the seaborne flow of supplies to Britain. This paper partially evaluates the economic effectiveness of Germany’s submarine blockade by assessing the extent to which wartime reductions in imports constrained British military output. Frequently cited figures on Britain’s total imports show a substantial overall decline during the war, but obscure equally significant variations between imports of different goods. An examination of the economic consequences of these variations and of the means by which Britain adjusted for lost imports shows that reduced imports had only a small impact on war production. However, several other factors would have to be addressed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of Germany’s submarine blockade.

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