Democracy at a disadvantage? British rearmament, the shadow factory scheme and the coming of war, 1936-40

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This essay focuses on a problem confronting most advanced, industrial states as they prepared for and then engaged in fighting a material-intensive, modern war: how to produce armaments and synthetic products in peacetime but also establish capacity to satisfy a future and uncertain level of demand during wartime. In establishing "shadow factories" which were state-owned but built and operated by risk-averse, private-sector firms, Britain and Germany appeared to produce very similar national solu-tions for internationally-shared, economic problems. Rearmament policies were driven much less by ideological objectives and far more by economic exigencies. However, this essay examines how a combination of economic, political and strategic factors structured the operation of the shadow factory scheme in Britain. In contrast to interpretations that emphasise Britain's readiness for conflict, the evidence offered here suggests that the constraints imposed by democracy on the mobilisation of re-sources placed Britain at a disadvantage at the outset of the Second World War.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEconomic History Yearbook/ Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte
Volume55 issue 2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Britain
  • Germany
  • Second World War
  • democracy
  • rearmament
  • shadow factories


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