Schweinfurt Ball Bearing Factories
|Historical Name of Location||Schweinfurt, Mainfranken, Germany|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseThe city of Schweinfurt, located in central Germany, was the center for the production of ball bearings during WW2, a characteristic that remains true until today. During the war, Schweinfurt was the host to four ball bearing manufacturing complexes which collectively produced about half of the country's total ball bearing output. The four firms were:
- Kugelfischer-Georg-Schäfer, whose industrial complex was the largest among the four. The complex was located north of the city's main rail yard and had thousands of paid employees (11,700 even at the very end of the war in 1945) and slave laborers.
- Fichtel & Sachs, whose factory was located southwest of the main rail yard. This firm was a subsidiary of the Swedish conglomerate Schwedische Kugellagerfabriken.
- Vereinigte Kugellagerfabriken AG, whose VKF-Werk I factory was located in the center of the city, and VKF-Werk II factory was located south of the rail yard. VKF also had working relations with Schwedische Kugellagerfabriken.
- Deutsche Star GmbH, whose factory was located southwest of the rail yard.
ww2dbaseBall bearings had important civilian and military applications, and naturally it was the latter that attracted the attention of Allied leadership, who believed that by disrupting ball bearing production, German ability to produce machines of war would likely be disrupted as well. The first raid on Schweinfurt took place on 17 Aug 1943, during which 184 B-17 bombers attacked the city at a high rate of loss; although the inflicted damage was not as extensive as the US 8th Air Force had wanted, it did temporarily destroy about 34% of the city's production capacity. Another notable raid on Schweinfurt took place two months later on 14 Oct 1943, during which an even higher rate of loss was suffered (60 of the 229 attacking B-17 bombers were lost); "Black Thursday" would temporarily put these attacks on German industrial centers on halt until long range escort fighters were to become available. During the war, Schweinfurt would be attacked for a total of 22 times by both US and British bombers, dropping a total of 7,933 tons of bombs. Air defense for the factories (and the city itself) included the usual anti-aircraft guns located on the ground as well as a large number of fighters. Production of ball bearings slowed as the war's end neared, coming to a complete stop on 11 Apr 1945 when troops of US 42nd Infantry Division captured the city. While Allied bombing technically reduced the output of ball bearings at Schweinfurt, the German decision to relocate and disperse the factories to different sites actually played the main role in the city's production decline. Today all four of the major ball bearings producers remain in business, though with different names due to mergers and acquisitions in the following years.
Third Reich in Ruins
Schweinfurt Ball Bearing Factories Timeline
|17 Aug 1943||The US 8th Army Air Force lost 59 heavy bombers during daylight raids upon Regenburg and Schweinfurt, Germany, which was about 25% of the attacking force.|
|14 Oct 1943||US 8th Air Force launched 291 B-17 bombers and 60 B-24 bombers to attack the Schweinfurt ball bearing plants in Germany; the 60 B-24 bombers were diverted to another target. 77 American bombers and 1 escorting fighter were lost, while 38 Luftwaffe fighters were shot down the defense. 122 American bombers returned to base in bad condition but they were able to be repaired.|
|24 Feb 1944||USAAF (day) and RAF (night) bombings were conducted on the ball bearing plants at Schweinfurt, Germany.|
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|WW2-Era Place Name||Schweinfurt, Mainfranken, Germany|
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Thomas Dodd, late 1945