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Debunking Conspiracy: Ford-Werke and the Allied bombing Campaign of Cologne

May 9, 2012

The contentious issue of corporate collaboration between Nazi Germany and businesses in the United States has been fermenting ever since the end of World War II. Although historical analysis of this phenomenon has continued ever since, in recent years there has been significant growth of scholarship that deals with this subject. This has been due in part to revelations that have emerged in lawsuits from the former victims of the Nazi regime against American corporations, which has also produced correspondent histories from the perspective of the corporations involved.1 Additionally, particularly since the end of the Cold War, there has been a steady declassification of documentation that exposes this activity both in the U.S. and elsewhere, which has provided fresh source material for new historical investigations.

The study of this subject matter is challenging for several reasons. First, the field itself is quite diverse. Historical investigations have involved a multitude of different types of organizations, from automotive firms to financial institutions. Second, primary source materials often reside behind the closed doors of large corporations and law firms. Privileged access to this documentation and corporate funding of historical studies further complicates this already controversial issue. Third, national narratives from the World War II period tend to obscure, rather than illuminate the highly complex transnational phenomena of cross-border corporate activity, capital flows, and wartime industrial development.

It is not surprising then, given these complicating factors, that there continues to be rampant speculation about various facets of this topic. This particularly true of Ford Motor Corporation’s German subsidiary, Ford-Werke. In the case of this company, some writers have come to the conclusion that their factory in Cologne was purposefully not attacked by the Allies in the bombing campaigns of Germany during World War II. Like much published conspiracy-themed literature, both in print and on the web, stories about Ford-Werke mingle a few facts with conjecture and distorted interpretations. Various theories have ranged from the benign to the outrageous. The facts are innocuous enough to the casual observer: Cologne was heavily bombed by Allied air forces, destroying a majority of the city’s buildings. Meanwhile, the Ford-Werke factory, which had been building military trucks for the Nazis throughout the war, located just a few miles north of the city center, remained almost completely undamaged. How could this be? This paper will demonstrate that, rather than some nefarious plan to protect the Ford-Werke factory by the planners of Allied bombing campaigns, there were concrete and demonstrable reasons why the plant was mostly unscathed at the end of World War II.

Before we look at this data, however, it is worth identifying a few texts that deal with this issue directly, or provide historical context, in order to situate this study in the relevant historiography. Before much of this literature was produced, there was already high-profile attention brought to Ford’s involvement in Nazi Germany. In 1974, the Congressional Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly presented to the Committee on the Judiciary in the U.S. Senate a report entitled, American Ground Transport.2 Written and presented by staff attorney Bradford Snell, the report’s main focus was on anti-competitive practices by auto companies Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. They were accused of buying up mass transit systems in American cities so they could be dismantled to boost the sales of buses, which they themselves manufactured. Controversially, Snell highlighted the amorality of Ford and General Motors by discussing the role of these corporations in Nazi Germany. He demonstrated that the companies had manufactured military trucks, warplanes, and tanks for Germany before and during World War II. Among other things, Snell consulted the Allied Bombing Survey for intelligence reports on Ford-Werke and gave detailed figures on investment and production of military equipment. Snell’s report concluded:

“Due to their multinational dominance of motor vehicle production, GM and Ford became principal suppliers for the forces of fascism as well as for the forces of democracy. It may, of course, be argued that participating in both sides of an international conflict, like the common corporate practice of investing in both political parties before an election, is an appropriate corporate activity. Had the Nazis won, General Motors and Ford would have appeared impeccably Nazi; as Hitler lost, these companies were able to reemerge impeccably American. In either case, the viability of these corporations and the interests of their respective stockholders would have been preserved. On the other hand, the inevitable conflict of loyalties and potential for abuse inherent in such a corporation posture would seem to suggest convertible production multinational expansion may adversely affect America’s legitimate interest in national security.”3

This harsh appraisal, backed up by significant documentation created the backdrop for a flurry of studies on Ford-Werke some thirty years later.

Because of the polarizing nature of these accusations, as well as itinerant speculation about reasons why the Ford-Werke plant remained unscathed, studies of the subject tend to be divided sharply. This is reflects a more general trend involving the history of U.S. corporate activity in Nazi Germany, which include, but are not limited to two prominent bodies of work: conspiracy-themed books and histories commissioned by the corporations in question. Both have some explanatory value, but are also deeply problematic for various reasons. Generally, scholars from both of these groups have engaged in a “dialogue of the deaf,” writing past or ignoring each other’s work altogether. This has created a challenge for scholars attempting to understand the facts of the era, which has helped fuel conjectures – both true and false.

For their part, historians who were commissioned by the corporations in question argue that business relationships between American corporations and the Hitler regime were sparse, small scale, and uncoordinated. Furthermore, this group typically contends that U.S. parent companies lost or relinquished control of their European subsidiaries once the U.S. and Germany were officially at war.4 This body of sources is difficult to assess for a couple of reasons: First, privileged access to sources leaves one to wonder if the businesses held anything back, or even destroyed documentary evidence that might lead to a portrayal of their companies in an unfavorable light. Second, the process in which corporations hired and paid the individual authors is almost completely opaque. Even more disconcerting, most of these histories were produced during a period when many of the same corporations were being sued in Holocaust restitution suits, providing further incentive for the businesses to emphasize their historical innocence. Fortunately, one of the most forthcoming and comprehensive accounts in this body of scholarship comes from the Ford Motor Company itself. The company employed a team of historians and archivists, led by political scientist Simon Reich, to scour the corporation’s records. What was ultimately produced was Findings About Ford-Werke Under the Nazi Regime, published by the corporation in 2001.5 This study details the Nazi economic policies and controls over the auto industry, German industrial mobilization and preparation for war, Ford-Werke’s role in the wartime economy, military production, the use of foreign and forced labor, Ford-Werke’s relationship with other Ford facilities in occupied Europe, the impact of the war on communications between Ford and Ford-Werke, and the postwar military government supervision of the plant. As with other bodies of scholarship in this category, historians commissioned by Ford released their report during a period when Ford was sued for its relationship to Nazi Germany and its use of forced labor at Ford-Werke.6 Likewise, this report represented an effort to demonstrate openness even if other scholarship supported by the corporation argued against such the idea of restitution litigation.7

Because the goal of this study is to move beyond the realm of conspiracy theory, some engagement with this body of literature here is important. This is not a monolithic group; depending on the source, there are varying degrees of veracity and speculation, as well as documentation of sources. Sensationalism tends to be a common theme that undermines their empirical value. With titles like America’s Nazi Secret by John Loftus and Trading with the Enemy by Charles Higham, these books are specifically marketed to audiences interested in dramatic narratives involving large-scale conspiracies.8 There are a few books that deal directly with the subject of the bombing of Ford-Werke worth mentioning. The first is The Nazi Hydra in America by Glen Yeadon & John Hawkins.9 Yeadon and Hawkins discuss many business interactions between the U.S. and Germany in a somewhat haphazard fashion. The text is filled with factual errors, exaggerations, and quotes taken out of context, although some bare facts about the bombing campaign against Ford-Werke are accurate. Essentially, Yeadon and Hawkins argue that collaboration between U.S. businessmen and officials with Nazis set a precedent for the present “fascist” state of the U.S. Obviously, this assertion is politically charged in the extreme, and all but completely undermines any shred of objective scholarship. On a somewhat opposite end of the spectrum, Jacques Pauwels’ The Myth of the Good War is a more neutral-toned synthetic work that brings much of the literature on the topic of U.S. business and the Nazis into conversation with each other.10 Pauwels also has a brief section on Ford-Werke and the bombing of Cologne as well and attempts to interpolate other texts that have dealt with the conspiracy that it was not bombed on purpose. Using business with the Nazis as a case study, Pauwels argues that the U.S. promotion of armaments industries worldwide are an essential part of the American economy and diplomacy into the present. Another book in this group is The American Axis by Max Wallace.11 His overall aim is to tie the prominent American personalities, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh to the Nazis, but extrapolates this argument far into the realm of culpability to Nazi crimes of war and genocide, which are unfounded. Wallace also discusses the bombing of the Ford-Werke plant and provides his own critique of the Research Findings at Ford-Werke report released by the company.

One final book worth mention that does not belong in either category is Working for the Enemy.12 In a collection of essays by Reinhold Billstein, Karola Fings, and Anita Kugler, the authors detail the conditions and experiences of forced labor in both Ford and General Motors factories within Nazi Germany. Released in tandem with the Iwanowa v. Ford Motor Company lawsuit, the second half of the book contains numerous interviews with former forced laborers, including Elsa Iwanowa. Reinhold Billstein, who has written elsewhere on Cologne during World War II, speculates about why the Ford-Werke plant was not bombed more vigorously, but not does insinuate the existence of a conspiracy. In any case, first hand accounts of the final days of the war help round out the historical context of what life was like at Ford-Werke during this period.

Interrogating the Basic Facts

So what actually did happen? Was Ford-Werke not bombed on purpose? Was the company protected due to its American origins? Fortunately, Record Group 243 at the National Archives, which contains the collected records from the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, is helpful in answering these questions. At least three boxes of files specifically include data on the bombing of various targets in Cologne during the later half of World War II. In this part of the collection, one box contains an extensive file on the targeting of Ford-Werke specifically. A multitude of reports are contained within this file, including schematics of the plant, data on bombing sorties, and intelligence reports. These can help shed light on what actually occurred.

Although the file is not arranged chronologically, the first document that should be considered is a 1942 report from the British Ministry of Home Security, Research and Experiments Department.13 This makes sense that it was included in the file, as the British were involved in bombing raids on Germany long before the U.S. got involved in 1943. In any case, the report includes a table that prioritizes all the factories within the administrative area of Cologne that were considered for attack based on their value to the Germany military. In the “General Engineering & Armaments” Section, the Ford-Werke factory, located in the northern Cologne suburb of Niehl, is listed as “Priority I” for the production of “Military transport, chiefly lorries.”14 Thus, we can tell two things from this report: First, the plant was a top priority for attack. Second, British authorities knew that military trucks for the Wehrmacht were being produced at Ford-Werke.

There is a significant problem with the Ford-Werke file, however. It does not contain a list of the dates the factory was actually attacked. Fortunately, the another file in the same “Cologne” collection contains a comprehensive list of precision bombing attacks the U.S. Air Force engaged in throughout 1944. These list the date of attack, whether the forces were British or American, the type of aircraft, the tonnages of high explosive and incendiary bombs dropped, and, most importantly, specific targets.15

Before reviewing this data, let us revisit probably the most detailed explanation of the conspiracy theory on the topic. In The Myth of the Good War, Jacques Pauwels references the work of Hans Helms to make his claims. Unfortunately, the collection of essays Pauwels calls attention to, Zwangsarbeit bei Ford: Eine Dokumentation, is out of print and was unable to be located for this study; however, a portion of it has been published online.16 That said, here is what Pauwels has to say about the bombing of Ford-Werke:

“According to German expert Has G. Helms, Bernard Baruch, a high-level advisor to President Roosevelt, had given the order not to bomb certain factories in Germany, or to bomb them only lightly. It is hardly surprising that the branch plants of American corporations fell into this category. About the Fordwerke, Helms writes categorically that ‘they could not be bombed, and consequently were not bombed,’ except in ‘simulated attacks.’”17

Helms accusation was not verified in any other text at the time of the writing of this article. Hawkins and Yeadon in Nazi Hydra in America also insinuate a conspiracy, stating Ford-Werke “remained untouched” by U.S. bombs.18 Nevertheless, the Ford-Werke plant was attacked on at least two different dates by the U.S. Air Force during the fall of 1944.

According to the Cologne Bombing Report found in the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey files, the first attempt by the U.S. Air Force to bomb Ford-Werke was on October 2, 1944. It was attacked by a B-17 bomber wing, No.111, part of the 8th Air Force. The bomb tonnage listed for this attack were 60.0 tons of incendiary bombs, and 215.0 tons of high explosives.19 The report notes that on October 18th, 1944, the plant was attacked again by two B-17 bomber wings, No. 68 and 70, also from the 8th Air Force. The first bomber carried 100.0 tons of incendiary bombs and 99.5 tons of high explosives, the second carried 101.5 and 100.25, respectively.20 The target listed for attack in all three of these bombing runs listed specifically, “Ford Motors.”

For context, the report also notes that prior to this date, all the attacks were done by the British Royal Air Force, with a target area labeled “town.” This is most likely a reference to the area bombing British forces had been engaged in for quite some time. After September 15th, the report shows only U.S. Air Force attacks on the city of Cologne and lists several targets besides Ford-Werke. They include in chronological order, the Gereon Marshalling Yards, Imbert Co. Gas Producer, unspecified oil refineries, and the Nippes and Kalk Marshalling Yards.21

Although the earlier British targeting report described above is fairly vague, other documents in the file indicate British and American military authorities had detailed information about what was produced at the Ford-Werke factory and its relationship to German military efforts. In another report, labeled “E.O.U. Aiming Report” (EOU stands for Enemy Objectives Unit) dated May 29, 1943, gives precise details. A section marked “Economic Importance” states the following: “This works, built in 1931 and since enlarged, was designed to manufacture Ford cars and trucks. In 1938 Ford ranked fourth among the German producers of passenger cars, accounting for 8 per cent of domestic sales, and second in commercial vehicle output with 20 per cent of the total. The commercial vehicle production consisted entirely of light (1.5 ton) trucks. Employment was 8,000.”22 Evidence that Allied authorities were aware of the plant’s productive capacities tell us that any claims of the factory not being targeted because of ignorance about its role in building German military vehicles are unfounded.

While this information on a target’s significance is typical, and even predictable, considering information was probably gathered from the parent company in the U.S., other information suggests that Ford plants were not singled out by the Allies when it came to selecting targets for attack. The “Economic Importance” section goes on to state:

“Principal wartime activities are probably manufacture of light trucks and of spare parts for all the Ford trucks and cars in service in Axis Europe (including captured Russian Molotovs). Since the 1942 raid on the Matford works at Poissy, Cologne may supply engines to the Ford assembly plants at Antwerp (bombed by U.S.A.A.F May 4 and 14) and Amsterdam. There may also be some production of light Army vehicles and especially of engines for them.”23

This is an important piece of the puzzle in the “conspiracy” to spare the Ford-Werke plant. If there were unofficial plans to avoid bombing facilities because they were owned by a major company on the Allied side, why would factories owned by the same company in other locations in Axis Europe, specifically in France and the Belgium, not be spared as well? This information begins to unravel some of these more conspiratorial assertions.

As far as the claim that attacks were “simulated,” there are also detailed descriptions for how an attack could halt production at Ford-Werke. Again, if there were a conspiracy, would this information, which was labeled by American authorities as “secret” and British authorities as “most secret” need to be necessary if the intention was to spare the plant? According to the same report, under the heading, “Primary Objective,” states the following:

“If this shop were put out of action, production of new vehicles and spare engine parts world be stopped almost immediately. The most effective way to inflict large-scale damage on a machine shop is by fire; because of the nature of the structure and contents, fire vulnerability is low to moderate. Scattered hits by high explosives would have serious consequences if specialized tools which are difficult to replace were damaged.”24

As noted above in the Cologne Bombing Report, the B-17 bombers were equipped with incendiary bombs and high explosives, although this was not out of the ordinary. Regardless, the claim that the Ford-Werke plant was purposefully not targeted is undermined based on the information above.

Before we examine the most critical portion of the reports in the Ford-Werke file of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, it is worth backtracking and revisiting the core components of “conspiracy” claims made by writers noted at the beginning of this paper. It is important to note that these individuals either looked at some of the material in this file, or references to it elsewhere; however, it is likely that they either selectively viewed it, or only utilized bits examined selectively by others. A central document referenced, either first or second-hand is the report made in the aftermath of the attack, once U.S. forces occupied Ford-Werke plant. The report in question is the “Preliminary Plant Report on Ford Motor Co. A.G., Cologne-Niehl.”25 A likely reason this document was utilized is because of the observations of Major F.N. Arnoldy who filed the report. This is what he had to say:

“Upon arriving in Cologne I contacted Mr. Robert Schmidt, Director of Ford Cologne plant, who was living in Junkersdorf. He stated that the Ford plant was not damaged at all by the air bombing, with the exception of the wing of the main office which was destroyed during the recent area attack on Cologne. He gave me a guide to take me over the plant on the Rhine…I made a thorough investigation of every building of the plant and found no trace whatsoever of the air-bombing with the exception of the wing of the main office which was completely destroyed.”26

Those that want to propagate the conspiracy myth like this quote because it demonstrates that the plant was unscathed by the bombing. For instance, even though this meeting between Mr. Schmidt and Arnoldy are referenced in fairly matter-of-fact, neutral format in Working for the Enemy, writers Yeadon and Hawkins sensationalize this lack of damage to Ford-Werke.27 For dramatic flair, Yeadon and Hawkins label the section containing these references, “GIs Died as Corporate Traitors Were Protected.”28 The authors go on to claim erroneously, “Throughout Europe, and in Germany in particular, the scene was much the same. Large industrial plants stood unscathed amid a field of rubble, especially those plants with connections to American firms, like Ford…”29 Herein lies the danger of taking evidence out of context. Yeadon and Hawkins are not only making sweeping judgments about these documents second-hand, but are also ignoring the fact that the plant was attacked. They also omit the important fact that Ford factories in other European countries also had been bombed.

Problems with the “Conspiracy” Approach to the Bombing of Ford-Werke

As it has been established above, attempts at bombing the Ford-Werke plant did, in fact, occur. Was this a subterfuge or “simulated” attack, as Helms claims? Fortunately, other documents in the Ford-Werke file of the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey help clear up the mystery. Considering the focus on the reports of meetings between Arnoldy and Schmidt in the aftermath of war, writers emphasizing conspiracy have completely missed detailed reports filled out by bomber crews directly after each attack on Ford-Werke. For instance, there are a few documents regarding the first bombing run on October 2nd, 1944. In a report entitled “Interpretation Report S.A. 2776, Attack on Cologne,” referencing the attack on Ford-Werke, military personnel noted that “Bombs away are seen over the target area but hazy cloud obscured photographs prevent accurate plotting of all bursts.”30 In another report for the following day, “Interpretation Report S.A. 2787, Attack on targets in Germany on 3 Oct 1944” also describes poor weather and cloud cover, making attacking targets difficult. The report states, “Cologne: Bombs away are seen but no bursts are visible on completely obscured photographs.”31 Another report dated October 5th, “Interpretation Report S.A 2795” also mentions poor visibility and cloud cover: “No bursts are visible on 10/10 cloud obscured photographs.”32 All of these reports indicate poor weather, limited to no visibility, and heavy cloud cover in the days surrounding the attack.

Finally, on the 7th of October, reconnaissance missions revealed what the bomber crews likely already knew about their attack on Ford-Werke five days earlier. In another report in the file labeled, “Immediate Interpretation Report No. K. 3248, Locality: Cologne (Niehl) Ford Motor Company,” the report states, “Provisional Statement on Damage: No damage or craters are visible in the target area. A large number of craters are seen North and West of the target area.”33 It is likely from this and the above reports that, due to bad weather, bomber crews attempted to hit Ford-Werke and missed the plant on October 2nd, 1944.

Unfortunately for the bomber crews, they ran into the same problem the following week when they again tried to target Ford-Werke. In examining the data in reports on the attacks on other targets immediately prior to the attack on the Ford plant, we find more evidence of heavy cloud cover, making efforts at hitting targets difficult. In a report entitled, “Interpretation Report S.A. 2841, Attack on Cologne on 15, October 1944,” the report states, “Details of Attack: Cloud cover of 3/10 to 10/10 on all photographs plus smoke from innumerable fires started in industrial and business/residential areas of the city make it impossible to plot many concentrations of both H.E. [high explosives] and incendiary bursts.”34 Not only were bomber crews contending with poor weather, but also, it appears, with the smoke billowing up from the fires set by earlier attacks.

Thus, on October 18th, bomber crews filed a report in the aftermath on the attack on Cologne with similar results. In a document entitled, “Interpretation Report S.A. 2847, Attack on Cologne on 18 Oct 1944,” recorded this statement, “Details of attack: Photographs taken during the mission are for the most part 6/10 to 10/10 cloud obscured. One group of approximately 20 bursts is seen in open areas 2500 yards Northwest of the Ford Motor Company which is located in the Northern part of the city.”35

Again, it appears the B-17s sent to attack Ford-Werke attempted to hit the plant, but cloud cover from poor weather and smoke from the heavily bombed city itself prevented the attack from having any semblance of accuracy.

In case cloud cover and smoke did not make targeting difficult enough for bomber crews, they also had to contend with other challenges. Highlighting the importance of the Ford-Werke plant to the Nazis, they also made efforts to protect it from attack. In another report from the Ford-Werke file in the U.S. Strategic Bombing survey collection at the National Archives, a report entitled, “Target Information Sheet” dated May 7, 1944 had this to say: “There is a smoke screen around the target.”36 The report advises bombing crews to take this into account when targeting Ford-Werke.

Probably the most disturbing part of this episode is not that there was some conspiracy to avoid bombing Ford-Werke, but rather, that B-17 bombs did manage to hit part of it. The problem was that they hit the barracks of the forced laborers, and not the plant itself. In yet another “Interpretation Report,” numbered K. 3362, the document presents a fairly detailed picture of the damage to varied targets in Cologne during October of 1944. In a section labeled “Barracks at Niehl,” the report says this: “Barracks at Niehl and at Ossendorf have sustained minor damage, and of a total of 53 hits seen in three hutted camps, 32 have been destroyed.”37

From the ground, these attacks were terrifying to the forced laborers who occupied those barracks. There were air raid shelters, as there were at many large industrial plants in Germany, but not everyone was spared. Here is an account from one such laborer, Mareno Mannucci:

“On 14 October, a Saturday, around midday, a flying fortress dropped several hundred bombs on the zone, but nearly all missed their target. They were perhaps meant for the Bayer plant, on the other side of the Rhine. Four of them fell outside our camp. We were already in the shelter, and everyone was okay. But the barracks were damaged by the shockwave. There were no more windows and everywhere the wind came through, and everywhere the rain leaked in. There were dead among the French and two barracks were in flames. There was chaos for a few days. No power, no water, nothing to eat.”38

As this testimony demonstrates, bombs were dropped near Ford-Werke, but narrowly missed, hitting the worker barracks. Eyewitnesses, reports from bomber crews, and intelligence reports confirm that rather than conspiracy, or fabricated attacks, such attempts to bomb Ford-Werke were quite real and deadly.

Further Questions and Likely Answers

This paper has presented evidence that the Ford-Werke plant was, indeed, attacked; however, two texts used to exemplify both the scholarly and sensationalistic approaches to these topics, The Nazi Hydra and Working for the Enemy, respectively, have both asked similar questions: First, why was Ford-Werke de-prioritized by U.S. military authorities after it was considered top priority by the British? And second, why was Ford-Werke not targeted again after October 1944? There is factual basis for the first question: According to “ Interpretation Report No. K. 3362” in the first file of the Cologne section of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey files, Ford-Werke is only alluded to as a “subsidiary factory” below the three priority designations.39 Other targets, such as the Klockner-Humboldt-Deutz submarine engine manufacturer, the Felten & Guilleaume Carlswerke copper refinery and the J. Pholig A.G. steel plant took higher priority.40 Although we can only speculate on this shift in focus, other evidence in the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey files may shed some light on possible answers.

First of all, U.S. authorities at that the Strategic Bombing Survey were aware that the production at Ford-Werke had already slowed down or stopped by September, 1944. For instance, a summary “Factory Brief” document in the Ford-Werke file of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey states, “The following rumor was picked up by intelligence sources, namely a workman returning from Cologne in Sept 1944 passed on the rumor that the Ford, Cologne, plant was being evacuated and/or dispersed to a new location some 50 miles to the east.”41 These suspicions can now be confirmed by the numerous testimonies of former forced laborers.42 Former forced laborer Mario Mannucci provides specific details from this period after the U.S. bombing raids in October of 1944:

“Many vehicles were immediately taken out of the factory. It was said they were brought to a tunnel and that production was continued there. The assembly line had not been damaged. After a few days production was continued with replacement parts from the various warehouses. But production was only possible for a few days a week. The ovens were turned off, and I was sent to do work like unloading coal in the Glanzstoff textile factory nearby.”43

Rather than a conspiracy, why would military authorities target a factory that already had a diminished capacity for production? These missions were not idle calculations. Those ordering attacks were well aware that they were risking lives, planes, and munitions.

Although it is outside the scope of this limited study, if other Cologne factories were operating at higher productive capacities than Ford-Werke, why would they not have a higher priority? It is fair to ask why the British did not act on attacking Ford-Werke when it was a top priority target, as demonstrated earlier in this paper; however, the British were not involved in precision bombing to any great degree. This difference in strategies has been explored by numerous historians, many of which conclude that the British philosophy had little to do with bombing individual targets. For example, in Michael S. Sherry’s oft-cited The Rise of American Air Power, he describes debates between U.S. and British military authorities which:

“…involved the relative merits of British night area and American daylight precision bombing. In dramatic, one-thousand-bomber raids, the RAF Bomber Command turned against German cities in the spring of 1942. Its head, Arthur Harris, sought to destroy German industrial and urban life as well as to silence critics at home. American airmen suspected the British approach as wasteful and ineffective, but they were not inclined to press criticism of men with far more experience.”44

Another comparison of U.S. and British bombing techniques in the well-known text by Ronald Schaffer, Wings of Judgment, not only underlines contrasting priorities, but also emphasizes the problems of bad weather that likely spared the Ford-Werke plant in the first place:

“From the first flight of American B-17s over the Nazi homeland in January 1943 until the following autumn, the AAF [American Air Force] pursued a precision bombing strategy. While the RAF continued night area attacks, the Americans hit small but significant military and industrial targets…In the daytime between RAF raids, the Americans struck at shipyards and factories, but found their targets so obscured by smoke that they were able to do only modest damage…Poor weather kept B-17s grounded day after day, undermining morale…Commanders of American forces in other theaters, desperately short of airpower, noted that B-17s were sitting on the ground in England and pressed AAF headquarters to send them the heavy bombers for their own campaigns.”45

As noted above, the smoke from British bombing, bad weather, and limited resources all provide compelling reasons why Ford-Werke was not destroyed. The two studies demonstrate that the British were involved in massive nighttime area bombing campaigns that made precision attacks on factories like Ford-Werke highly unlikely. Critics of U.S. military efforts to attack Ford-Werke such as Yeadon and Hawkins, miss the historical context of these attacks. To underline problems of resources in these endeavors, here are the postwar recollections of Major General Haywood Hansell, Jr. on the effectiveness of the Combined Bomber Offensive attacks against German industry: “The melancholy fact remains, however, that the delay and constant diversion of the strategic air forces to the support of the ground offensive hindered the Combined Bomber Offensive and dissipated striking advantages that would have greatly benefited all concerned.”46 Not only that, Hansell concludes that, “it is easy to be mislead into underestimating the most implacable of all our enemies, the ever present bad weather. Many tons of bombs which were dumped on ‘other’ targets may represent the bombing of secondary targets when the cloud cover was heavier than predicted at the primary ones.”47 Hansell’s observation highlights the fact that attacks on various German factories should not be taken out of their historical context. U.S. forces had already landed in Normandy earlier in the summer in 1944, and war planes were needed to protect ground forces. Meanwhile, poor weather, cloud cover, and smoke made precision targeting very challenging, at best. Rather than conspiracy, all of these factors appear to be the more likely grounds for answering the question of why Ford-Werke was spared.


There is little doubt that Ford Motor Company’s subsidiary in Cologne assisted the war aims of the Nazis. As argued by Snell, Billstein, Wallace, and Yeadon & Hawkins, the factory built thousands of trucks that were used to maintain supply lines wherever Hitler’s blitzkrieg was utilized; however, this should not be extrapolated as a conspiracy that kept the Ford-Werke plant from being destroyed during the final phase of World War II. Instead, it should be acknowledged that the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey was well aware of what Ford-Werke was producing and its significance to the German military. It should also be acknowledged that U.S. military authorities did try to destroy it, but were unsuccessful. When individuals who want to find fault or nefarious conspiracy in the actions of U.S. authorities, they only need look at the two pictures below:

Here is a photo of the city of Cologne in April, 1945, after repeated bombardments by Allied Air Forces.48

Here is an aerial photograph from the same time period of the intact Ford-Werke factory.49 Note the destroyed barracks in the foreground.

To the conspiracy crowd, “seeing is believing.” Nevertheless, this face-value interpretation has been stripped of its historical context and relevant documentary evidence. There are grave instances of U.S. corporations’ involvement with Nazi Germany that should not be overlooked, but poorly-conceived attempts to locate conspiracy where it does not exist undermines serious efforts to examine the relationship between transnational corporations and one of the most reviled regimes of the twentieth century.50 Without rigorous interrogation of all available sources, the tension between conspiracy theory and transparent, intellectually honest scholarship is likely to cast its own cloud cover into the foreseeable future.


Primary Sources

Research Findings About Ford-Werke Under the Nazi Regime. Dearborn, MI: Ford Motor  Company, 2001.

U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Bradford Snell. American Ground Transport. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1974.

U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.  Record Group 243. Entry 27, IIIA (600), Boxes 34-36. National Archives, College Park, MD.

Secondary Sources

Alford, Roger P. and Michael Bazyler, Holocaust Restitution: Perspectives on the Litigation and Its Legacy. New York: New York University Press, 2007.

Billstein, Reinhold et al., Working for the Enemy: Ford, General Motors and Forced Labor in Germany During the Second World War. New York: Berghahn, 2000.

Black, Edwin. Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connection to Hitler’s Holocaust. NewYork: Dialog Press, 2009.

Hayes, Peter. Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Higham, Charles. Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi American Money Plot. New York: Delacorte Press, 1983, 2007.

Marrus, Michael R. and William A. Schabas, Some Measure of Justice: The Holocaust Era Restitution Campaign of the 1990s. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.

Pauwels, Jacques. The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War. London: Merlin Press, 2003.

Schaffer, Ronald. Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Sherry, Michael S. The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Sutton, Anthony. Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler. California: ’76 Press, 1976.

Tooze, Adam. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Turner, Henry A., Jr. German big business and the rise of Hitler. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Turner, Henry A., Jr. General Motors and the Nazis: The Struggle for Control of Opel, Europe’s Biggest Carmaker. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.

Wallace, Max. The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third  Reich.  New York: St. Martin’s, 2003.

Yeadon, Glen and John Hawkins, The Nazi Hydra in America: Suppressed History of a Century. Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive Press, 2008.

1 Barry Meier, “Chroniclers of Collaboration; Historians Are in Demand to Study Corporate Ties to Nazis,” The New York Times, Feb 18, 1999, C1. In the late 1990s many corporations ramped up their legal and historical defenses against accusations, creating a market for researchers willing to work with these institutions.

2Bradford Snell, U.S. Congress Senate Committee on the Judiciary, American Ground Transport (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1974).

3Ibid., 22-23.

4Some examples are Henry A. Turner, Jr., General Motors and the Nazis: The Struggle for Control of Opel, Europe’s Biggest Carmaker (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005) and Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

5Research Findings About Ford-Werke Under the Nazi Regime (Dearborn, MI: Ford Motor Company, 2001). It is also available online here: .

6See Iwanowa et al. v. Ford Motor Company and Ford-Werke AG, Civil Case No. 98-959.

7See Michael R. Marrus and William A. Schabas, Some Measure of Justice: The Holocaust Era Restitution Campaign of the 1990s (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009). Marrus argues that “monetizing justice” as a form of Holocaust restitution, such as the lawsuits against IBM and Ford, had more negative than positive outcomes; however, this contention must be taken in context with the grant Marrus received from the Ford Foundation to produce this book.

8John Loftus, America’s Nazi Secret: An Insider’s History (Chicago: Trine Day Publishing, 1982, 2010), Charles Higham, Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi American Money Plot (New York: Delacorte Press, 1983, 2007). Other “conspiracy” style texts that deal with Ford’s business activities in Nazi Germany are Anthony Sutton, Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler (California: ’76 Press/Clairview, 1976, 2011) and Edwin Black, Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connection to Hitler’s Holocaust (New York: Dialog Press, 2009).

York: Dialog Press, 2009.

9Glen Yeadon and John Hawkins, The Nazi Hydra in America: Suppressed History of a Century (Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive Press, 2008).

10Jacques Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War (London: Merlin Press, 2003).

11Max Wallace, The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich (New York: St. Martin’s, 2003).

12Reinhold Billstein, et al., Working for the Enemy: Ford, General Motors and Forced Labor in Germany During the Second World War (New York: Berghahn, 2000).

13Ministry of Home Security, Research and Experiments Department, “Raid Assessment Report, Cologne, Raid of 30th/31st May 1942.” Record Group 243, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, European War, G-2 Target Damage File, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD. Note: Archivist Amy Schmidt noted that the RG243 collection is not organized in the way several other military files at the National Archives are organized. Therefore, in order to locate the box containing the data presented in this paper, one must specify the stack area (190), the row (63), the compartment (4), and the shelf (4).

14Ibid., 11.

15Cologne Bombing Report, Record Group 243, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, European War, G-2 Target Damage File, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 7. National Archives, College Park, MD.

16Hans G. Helms, Zwangsarbeit bei Ford: Eine Dokumentation (Cologne: Betrieb Rode-Stankowski, 1996). See also

17Pauwels, 213.

18Yeadon and Hawkins, 296.

19Cologne Bombing Report, 9.

20Ibid., 10.

21Ibid., 9-10.

22E.O.U. Aiming Point Report, No. I.E.2, Record Group 243, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, European War, G-2 Target Damage File, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8, 1. National Archives, College Park, MD.

23Ibid., 1.

24Ibid., 2.

25U.S. Strategic bombing Survey Headquarters, G-2 Branch, Preliminary Plant Report on Ford Motor Co. A.G., Cologne Niehl, March 15, 1945, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8, 1. National Archives, College Park, MD.


27See Billstein, et al., 118. See also Yeadon and Hawkins, 296.

28Yeadon and Hawkins, 295.

29Ibid., 296.

30U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report S.A. 2776, Attack on Cologne Marshalling Yard on 2 October 1944, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

31U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report S.A. 2787, Attacks on Targets in Germany on 3 Oct 1944, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

32U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report S.A. 2795, Attack on Cologne on 5 Oct 1944, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

33U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report No. K. 3248, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

34U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report S.A. 2841, Attack on Cologne on 15 Oct 1944, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

35U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report S.A. 2847, Attack on Cologne on 18 Oct 1944, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

36U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Target Information Sheet, Cologne (Niehl), Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 7. National Archives, College Park, MD.

37U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report No. K. 3362, Locality: Cologne, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8, 1-2. National Archives, College Park, MD.

38Billstein, et al., 207-8.

39U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Interpretation Report No. K. 3362, Nov. 14 1944, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 7. National Archives, College Park, MD.


41U.S. Strategic bombing Survey, Factory Brief – Area Level, Ford-Werke AG, Record Group 243, Entry 27, IIIA (600), box 36, file III6 (600) 8. National Archives, College Park, MD.

42Billstein et al., 163-228, passim.

43Ibid., 208.

44Michael S. Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 120-121.

45Ronald Schaffer, Wings of Judgment: American Bombing in World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 64.

46Major General Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., excerpt of The Air Plan that Defeated Hitler in Air War College Nonresident Studies, Volume I, Strategy, Doctrine, and Airpower, Book 2, Lessons 9-12, 7th ed. (Alabama: Maxwell Airforce Base, U.S. Air University, 1996), 66.

47Ibid., 69.

48Photo from Billstein, et al., 123-125.


50See Jason Weixelbaum, “Following the Money: And Exploration of the relationship between American finance and Nazi Germany,” “The Contradiction of Neutrality and International Finance: The Presidency of Thomas H. McKittrick at the Bank for International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland 1940-46,” “Harnessing the Growth of Corporate Capitalism: Sullivan & Cromwell and its influence on late Nineteenth-century American business,” and “Collaboration in Context: New Historiographical Approaches to Alleged American/Nazi Business Ties.”

  1. GFW permalink

    Hi Jay,
    One of your sources, or your interpretation thereof must be off.

    “It was attacked by a B-17 bomber, No.111, part of the 8th Air Force. The bomb tonnage listed for this attack were 60.0 tons of incendiary bombs, and 215.0 tons of high explosives. The report notes that on October 18th, 1944, the plant was attacked again by two B-17 bombers, No. 68 and 70, also from the 8th Air Force. The first bomber carried 100.0 tons of incendiary bombs and 99.5 tons of high explosives, the second carried 101.5 and 100.25, respectively.”

    The max payload of a B-17 was less than 9 tons and typical loads were only 3-4 tons. Maybe those “bombers” are actually squadrons or larger groupings?

    • jasonweixelbaum permalink

      GFW, it is quite possible that these are bomber groupings rather than single aircraft. The source you are referring to has been displayed verbatim by me out of the Strategic Bombing Survey files (dealing specifically with Cologne targets) from Record Group 243 in the National Archives in College Park, MD.

  2. wmbjornson permalink

    The picture is interesting, It shows an untouched factory or factories, if the background is considered, with apparently the only damage limited to the barracks of the slave laborers which have been hit with fire. The end walls of all of the destroyed barracks are still standing so it was probably not HE that hit them.
    This looks more like ass-covering than a determined effort to take out a significant war plant. Toward the end of WWI, a major effort of the people who actually started the war, Britain, France, and Russia, was to take the superior German factories intact and strip them completely to be moved back to whatever homeland. The same psychopathy of the Allies is quite evident in the contrast between the complete lack of cratering anywhere around the factory and the devastation these monsters rained down on the innocent civilians of Köln.
    Admittedly, I have not read this whole piece but my experience is that anyone trying to obscure or mitigate the monstrousness of the ‘Allies’ in WWII is either terminally delusional or is being paid to lie. Just Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki would qualify all of those people for Hell and the justifications for those atrocities were shown to be lies long ago. The “Bloody’ British, the genocidal Americans, the Russian gulags, et al are way heavier on one side of the scale than anything the Krauts managed to do in WWII on the other side, but WE wrote the popular history that this guy believes. I’ve also heard, but can’t just now confirm, that one of Ford’s plants in Germany was bombed by the Americans and, after the war, Ford sued the United States for damages and won (?). Somehow, it sounds right and is consistent with much of what I have read regarding the period 1930 to 1950.

    • Jay Weixelbaum permalink

      Thanks for your comment.

      There’s a few things you need to do:

      1) Read the rest of the piece.

      2) Be aware that the evidence I have demonstrated – which I hope has been presented clearly enough both in the text and footnotes that you can look at it yourself – that the Allies tried to hit the Fordwerke plant in Cologne and missed.

      3) In barbaric total war, I’m hesitant to use the word “innocent” for anyone – except the forced laborers.

      4) If you read the rest of my piece, you’ll see that the Ford plant in question was the Ford plant you are referencing at the end of your comment.

    • I think that civil litigation you refer to – where Ford allegedly won compensation for his Nazi vehicle-producing infrastructure being bombed – was from the Oliver Stone documentary series, The Untold Story of the United States.

      I have no other source for this claim either, but it is indeed in-keeping with the cash-concupiscent capitalist mantra that underpins the U.S. and what looks to be leading to the dismantling of its ad hoc empire.

      • Jay Weixelbaum permalink

        Yes–I worked on that documentary with Oliver Stone specifically as a consultant on this topic & others related to US business in Nazi Germany.

  3. Hello, coming at this (very) late but I want to commend you on this excellent analysis. I will share it with my students. I would add only what commenter above did, that the B-17s in question (you call them No. 68 and No. 70) will almost certainly be bombardment squadrons (although there were none of that number) rather than individual machines, as the tonnage in question vastly exceeds the B-17s load.

  4. Dear Mr. Weixelbaum,

    I was born in Merkenich in 1946, a village of Cologne close to the Ford-Werke factory. I lived there for the next 27 years. The factory is located between Niehl mentioned and Merkenich. Today, the factory’s development center (John Andrews Entwicklungszentrum) is located in Merkenich.

    I know that the factory was not notably damaged by air raids even though Cologne became the target of notable air raids since January 1941. Cologne was bombed by more than 260 separate air raids. The culmination was the Operation Millennium, the nearly 1000 Bomber air raid carried out by the British Royal Air Force on May 30/31, 1942.

    Homes in both Niehl and Merkenich were damaged by bombs and incendiaries during WW II. The home were my parents and my older siblings lived was damaged by an incendiary. During my childhood we found many of unexploded incendiaries in the agricultural area around Merkenich. Numerous duds were found even in the 1950’s when new homes were build.

    From this point of view, it is surprising that the Ford-Werke factory was not hit by huge bomb loads. However, one has to taken into any assessment that the Ford-Werke factory was only separated from that of the I.G. Farbenindustrie (today Bayer) at Leverkusen by the Rhine River. Both factories were considered as “vital to the war”. Leverkusen was also bombed by air raids, but the production of I.G. Farbenindustrie factory was not interrupted for long-lasting periods. Since the ship traffic on the Rhine River was more and more strafed by fighter planes, one may conclude that the two factories vital to the war were not the main target of British and eventually allied air raids.

    Sincerely yours

    Gerhard Kramm

    • Jay Weixelbaum permalink

      Mr. Kramm,
      Thank you gratefully for that bit of first-hand knowledge. I believe the answer to why it is unsurprising the Ford-Werke factory did not get bombed is in my piece above: The weather was bad on the days the US tried to hit it and it seems like it was de-prioritized as a target before targeted attacks were attempted.

      I very much appreciate your interest in this bit of research. Cheers, Jay

  5. Hugh Jones permalink

    I recall a story about a raid being redirected from a factory with some American ownership to a nearby estate owned by a wealthy Jewish family. I haven’t read much ‘The Rise and Fall…?
    ITT must have had physical assets in Germany. Could you describe the voices that had a say in what was bombed? Was there a political rep?

    • Jay Weixelbaum permalink

      Hugh, please supply a source if you have one for any particular story. Rumors are not helpful because they can easily be mistaken for facts if spread around. The Strategic Bombing Survey under Curtis LeMay is the political representative you are looking for. On the British side it was Arthur Harris. ITT did have physical assets in Germany and I write about them in other articles on this blog. Thanks for reading

  6. Robert Conklin permalink

    A nicely laid out explanation. Congratulations.

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