Germany remains in the grip of a food crisis. The British blockade has closed off international sources of food and the diversion of resources to the war effort has led to a decline in Germany’s own agricultural production. Some three million agricultural workers have been drafted into the army, as have large numbers of horses, with the loss of the latter depriving farmland of their fertilising manure. Since 1913 the area of cultivated land has fallen by some 15% while grain yields have collapsed, falling at least 30%.
The result of this fall in food production has been spiralling prices and shortages. The authorities have responded by introducing price controls and rationing, but these have not been entirely effective and have fuelled a burgeoning black market. Those who have the money to do so are able to source what they need on the black market or by under the counter sales from food suppliers. Everyone else is going hungry, fuelling the country’s internal divisions.
For all that many Germans are not getting as much food as they would like, the authorities’ counter-measures are at least keeping actual starvation at bay. However the shortages of food are weakening the German population, which is seeing a considerable increase in mortality over the normal peacetime rate. This affects particularly the old, the infirm and those who are not receiving extra rations thanks to their involvement in war work.
Germany’s leaders fear that the food situation will eventually cause a social explosion. The peace treaty with Russia should mean that more food will be accessible from Ukraine, which should improve things, but the war cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely. Last year the Germans gambled on the U-boats as a means of bringing the war to a swift end. That failed and, worse, brought the USA into the Allied camp. Now Ludendorff is hoping that his imminent spring offensive will win the war for Germany before American troops arrive in strength and the food situation at home leads to revolution.
French postcard showing hungry Germans turning on the Kaiser (Metropostcard – Themes of World War One: Food and the Great War pt4)