British arms production

british-flagBritish and Commonwealth arms production in WW2 from 1939-1945.

Following are tables of the British and Commonwealth armaments and military equipment production (excluding ammunition) and a comparison of the necessary strategic raw materials.

assembly line at Avro's Woodford plant

The final assembly line at Avro’s Woodford plant in 1943 with Lancaster Mk Is.

British arms production by weapon types

The British annual production figures of the main arms and military equipment (without ammunition) during WW2 from 1939-1945:

Arms Production
Type of Weapon 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 OVERALL
Tanks and Self-propelled guns 969 1,399 4,841 8,611 7,476 4,600 ? 27,896
Artillery (including anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns) 538 4,700 16,700 43,000 38,000 16,000 5,939 124,877
Mortars 102,950 (1939-45) ? ? ? ? ? ? 102,950
Machine-guns (without sub-machine guns) 297,336 (1939-45) ? ? ? ? ? ? 297,336
Rifles 1,000,000+ (incl. Canada and US; 1939-45) ? ? ? ? ? ? 1,000,000+
Sub-machine guns (Sten) - 2,000,000 + (incl. Canada c.40%; 1941-45) ? ? ? ? 2,000,000+
Military trucks and lorries ? 89,582 88,161 87,499 113,912 54,615 47,174 480,943
Fighter planes 1,324 4,283 7,064 9,849 10,727 10,730 5,445 49,422
Bomber planes 1,837 3,488 4,668 6,253 7,728 7,903 2,812 34,689
Reconnaissance planes 61 387 196 546 1,054 1,123 600 3,967
Transport planes - - - - 209 889 686 1,784
Trainers and miscellaneous military types 4,209 6,415 6,934 5,942 4,825 2,877 692 31,894
Aircraft carriers (all types) - 2 2 - 2 4 4 14
Battleships - 1 2 2 - - - 5
Cruisers 3 7 6 6 7 2 1 32
Destroyers 22 27 39 73 37 31 13 240
Escorts (Corvettes, Frigates) 5 109 87 71 79 55 7 413
Submarines 7 15 20 33 39 39 14 167
Merchant shipping tonnage 629,705 842,910 1,185,894 1,270,714 1,136,804 919,357 393,515 6,378,899

Raw material production for the military weapon production above:

Annual strategic raw material production (m. metric tons)
Year: 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Coal 231.3 224.3 206.3 204.9 198.9 192.7 182.8
Ore 14.5 17.7 19.0 19.9 18.5 15.5 14.2
Steel 13.2 13.0 12.3 12.8 13.3 12.1 11.8
Aluminium (in 1,000 metric tons – especially important for aircraft production) 25.0 18.9 22.7 46.8 55.7 35.5 31.9

Arms production in Commonwealth

Total numbers only for the arms production of the Commonwealth. There are no details about the annual production figures available except the merchant shipping tonnage.

Arms production in Commonwealth
Type of weapon Canada Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa Overall
Tanks and Self-propelled guns 5,678 1,399 7,077
Artillery (including Anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns) 10,552 4,700 15,252
Mortars 20,619 25,395 46,014
Machine-guns (without sub-machine guns) 251,925 37,983 289,908
Sub-machine guns c.800,000 after June 1941 ? c.800,000
Trainers and Military planes of all sorts 16,431 3,081 19,512
Escorts (Corvettes, Frigates) 191 12 203
Merchant shipping tonnage
1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 OVERALL
36,142 18,886 90,595 720,172 1,002,850 692,405 141,893 2,702,943

Production of strategic materials in Canada:

Annual strategic raw material production (m. metric tons)
Year: 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Coal 13.3 14.9 15.3 15.9 14.7 14.2 13.6
Ore 0.1 0.4 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.5 1.0
Steel 1.4 1.7 2.5 2.8 2.7 2.7 2.6

Important influences on Britain’s military production

convoy approaches the British coast

Driving a zigzag course, a convoy approaches the British coast.

Compared to the industrial potential and access to global resources of the UK, the military production of Britain failed surprisingly low in comparison to the other participating nations.

Some of the likely causes of the failures in its military production was the Battle of Atlantic with its sea blockade, and the loss of a view key areas of strategic raw materials (Malaya, Burma, South Pacific) to the Japanese in 1942.

Obviously, however the US have taken-over the burnt of the Anglo-American arms production – and probably so far as this can taken from the imports of strategic raw materials to the UK, also to some part to the detriment of Britain. For example, the availability of important iron ore in the UK decreases from 1941 on by about 30% and is not increasing anymore after the Battle of the Atlantic was won by the Allies from mid-1943.


Battle of the Atlantic

The war against the sea supply lines of Britain and the sea blockade:

Battle of the Atlantic
Year: 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
German U-boats losses - 9 22 35 85 287 241 70 (3 months)
German U-boats construction ? 58 50 219 222 292 283 98
Average operational German U-boats per month - 29 28 50 316 423 457 470
Merchant ships sunk (in tons) - 810,000 4,407,000 4,398,000 8,245,000 3,611,000 1,422,000 458,000
therof by U-boats - 452,000 2,415,000 2,203,000 6,629,000 2,900,000 1,052,000 294,000
Construction of merchant ships in UK incl Commonwealth (in tons) ? 231,000 780,000 815,000 1,843,000 2,201,000 1,170,000 283,000
Construction of merchant ships in US (in tons) ? 101,000 439,000 1,169,000 5,339,000 12,384,000 11,639,000 3,551,000
Total construction of Allied merchant ships (in tons) ? 332,000 1,219,000 1,984,000 7,182,000 14,585,000 13,349,000 3,834,000
Estimated total number of Allied merchant ships (in tons) 34,500,000 34,123,000 30,935,000 28,521,000 27,458,000 38,432,000 48,359,000 51,735,000

British imports

British weekly war ration for one person

Shown here, the British weekly war ration for one person appear thin – but so, too, men and ships had to be sacrifice in the Battle of the Atlantic to supply the UK with it. The dangerous passage of the convoys to Great Britain often took two weeks.

Annual UK imports of key strategic raw materials and foodstuffs (in 1,000 metric tons):

British imports
1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Oil 11,628 11,270 13,130 16,280 14,790 20,340 15,620
Iron ore (total 5,200 (=c.54% import) 4,500 (=c.51% import) 2,300 (=c.51% import) 1,900 (=c.30% import) 1,900 (=c.30% import) 2,200 (=c.33% import) 4,100 (=c.48% import)
Iron and steel 1,820 3,690 4,080 2,210 2,810 1,760 314
Scrap iron 605 937 549 - - - 200
Bauxite 302 112 87 48 242 172 163
Lead (total) 334 (=c.93% import) 336 (=c.93% import) 139 (=c.84% import) 235 (=c.90% import) 226 (=c.89% import) 225 (=c.89% import) 165 (=c.86% import)
Tin (total) 54 (=c.95% import) 84 (=c.97% import) 65 (=c.96% import) 44 (=c.94% import) 52 (=c.95% import) 33 (=c.69% import) 45 (=c. 94% import)
Zinc (total) 167 (=c.95% import) 204 (=c.96% import) 210 (=c.96% import) 212 (=c.96% import) 188 (=c.96% import) 119 (=c.94% import) 97 (=c.92% import)
Raw rubber 69 200 168 66 69 34 36
OVERALL strategic raw materials (excluding oil) 3,351 5,563 5,298 2,815 3,587 2,343 1,020
Rice (food) 143 191 179 53 131 72 25
Peas and beans (food) 135 147 158 48 69 71 66
Wheat 5,300 5,800 5,400 3,500 3,300 2,800 3,600
Overall 25,757 27,471 26,465 24,596 23,777 27,826 24,431

Extent of the strategic bombing war 1940-1945

in tons of bombs dropped
Year: 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 (4 months) TOTAL
on cities in UK 38,844 21,858 3,260 2,298 9,151 761 76,172
on cities in Germany (for comparison) 10,000 30,000 40,000 120,000 (from Oct-Dec about 15% of failure in arms production) 650,000 500,000 1,350,000
Call of War
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