1945 to 1949 – The Work of the British

Chronicle 1947: August 8

The occupation of the factory by American troops in April 1945 marked the beginning of the transition from armaments production to a civilian automotive concern, generating hope for a better future. As the largest and most important employer in a region with little industry, Volkswagen guaranteed the survival of the local population. The factory provided work, housing and food. These functions were certainly in the minds of the British Military Government when they took over the administration of the firm in trusteeship in June 1945. Their decision to reinstate peacetime production and the assembly line manufacturing of the Volkswagen saloon was primarily a decision made in their own interest. By assuming the responsibilities of an occupying force, their need for additional means of transport increased, especially since the war diminished the number of available British military vehicles. The production requirement for the occupation forces and British pragmatism saved Volkswagen from threatened dismantling.

Volkswagen’s position as a British-administered manufacturer proved advantageous in many ways. The Military Government provided the credit necessary for the resumption of production and was able to use its power of command to overcome many obstacles. Because the company manufactured goods for the Allies, it had priority in supply of raw materials that were then in short supply. The importance of this privilege during the time of economic control cannot be overestimated. Like most raw materials, the steel that was indispensable for car production was subject to a quota system.

Volkswagen had an advantageous starting position when the peacetime assembly line was restarted. In spite of the damage inflicted on the factory buildings, the machine park, which was moved to dispersal sites, survived the Allied bombings largely untouched. If enough coal was available, the factory’s own power plant made it immune from the frequent power shutdowns of the post-war period. In addition, the company had its own press shop and the facility in Braunschweig compensated at least in part for the shortcomings of suppliers by producing its own parts and components.

Despite British protection, the shortage of material and power seriously impaired production of the Volkswagen saloon after it was started on December 27, 1945. The steel that was allocated was often late and, because of a shortage of raw material, suppliers could not meet all of the company’s needs. The British Military Government had to quickly abandon their earlier plans of producing 4,000 cars a month for the occupation forces starting in January 1946. This initial calculated monthly production rate was finally reduced to 1,000 vehicles a month, a figure that remained stable until the currency reform and the introduction of the Deutschmark. In accordance with British orders, the German works managers tried to gradually increase car output to 2,500 a month, but these attempts were thwarted by the shortage of raw material and difficulties in procuring parts. The malnutrition and general exhaustion of the workforce were further problems. Because workers needed to forage for food and to purchase goods on the black market in order to assure survival, there was also chronic absenteeism. For the first two years after the war ended it was therefore imperative to provide the employees with food and clothing. This responsibility was gradually handed over to the Works Council, and it took up most of their time.

Plans to expand production were also hindered by a shortage of workers. A shortage of housing and high employee fluctuation made it more difficult to recruit a permanent workforce. For many of the refugees and migrants coming to Wolfsburg by the thousands from the former German territories in Eastern Europe in search of food and housing, a job at the Volkswagen plant was only an intermediate stop on their way to West Germany. The chronic housing shortage in Wolfsburg caused many of the workers to simply move on. For most of the plant workers, living conditions were basic at best. Separated from their families, they lived in the sparsely decorated camp barracks where the forced labourers had earlier been housed. Desperately needed skilled workers as well as managerial staff could hardly be enticed to stay or be convinced to come to work for the company under these conditions. Because the construction of new housing was hardly a realistic prospect during these first post-war years, the company was forced to renovate and expand the existing barracks. The housing problem was eased a little in this way, but not solved. Only when the surrounding region was linked to the factory site by bus and train, and with the construction of company-owned apartment buildings beginning after 1950, did it become possible to build up a core workforce.

The British trustees established key conditions for the company’s future success by eliminating disadvantages the firm had compared to its competitors. First of all, at the end of the war Volkswagen had only the beginnings of a service and distribution system. The German Labour Front (DAF) had been intended to set up both, but Hitler’s grandiose plans for mass motorisation were shelved when preparations for war began. In accordance with British initiatives, a service function was set up by the end of 1945. This comprised a parts warehouse, a technical department and a service training school. Starting in February 1946, dealers and mechanics from authorised workshops received training there. Volkswagen assisted the repair workshops by providing service bulletins and repair manuals. In addition, a damage file index was set up which gave the technical department a systematic method of dealing with problems for the first time. The service department acquired an excellent reputation within only a few years and profited greatly from the experience of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who set up their own workshop in the Volkswagen plant. The organisation of a sales network progressed just as swiftly after the prospect of selling Volkswagens to the general public was proposed in the production programme issued in June 1946. Factory management pressed for the establishment of a dealer network, and the British agreed to this proposal for their zone in October 1946. It was to be supported by two field representatives and subjected to strict quality controls. The exchange of experience between dealers and management developed in time into a trusted partnership, which was to become profitable for both sides.

The British introduced a second decisive development in the summer of 1947, with long-term effects. Their decision to export Volkswagens was aimed at replenishing the currency reserves of a British economy still reeling from the financial costs of the war, but it also laid the foundation for the international success of the Volkswagen saloon and the company’s launch onto the global marketplace. The start of exports came at an unfavourable time, however. The supply crisis became so severe that the number of vehicles that the plant was to produce could not be met in August and November 1947. It was only the following year that foreign business gradually took hold.

In the meantime, the factory management had developed a saloon model whose workmanship and features were superior to the standard domestic version, making it suitable for export. Thanks to high-quality paintwork in attractive colours, comfortable upholstery, chrome bumpers and hub caps, Volkswagen was able to gain a competitive edge over foreign manufacturers. In 1948, 4,385 vehicles were exported to European countries: 1,820 to the Netherlands, 1,380 to Switzerland, 1,050 to Belgium, 75 to Luxembourg, 55 to Sweden and 5 to Denmark. Exports the following year climbed to a total of 7,127 vehicles, meaning that Volkswagen sold over 15 percent of its total production to European markets.

The British Senior Resident Officer, Major Ivan Hirst, played a decisive role in the conversion of the armaments factory into a car company. Thanks to his improvisational talents, technical and organisational problems were solved and supply shortages overcome. Hirst steadfastly pressed for improvements in the quality of the saloon, and this was to become an important factor in Volkswagen’s international reputation. When the British Military Government turned over the trusteeship of Volkswagenwerk GmbH to the German Federal Government and its administration to the State of Lower Saxony on October 8, 1949, the company was in good condition. It had approximately 10,000 employees, a monthly production output of 4,000 vehicles and cash reserves of about 30 million Deutschmarks. Production for the occupation forces gave Volkswagen a substantial advantage over the competition. In 1948/49, it built just under half of all the cars produced in West Germany. The firm was well ahead of other car-makers in the export business too. Volkswagen was in a strong position when it joined the international competition for customers and market share.


April 11

American troops occupy the “Stadt des KdF-Wagens” (home town of the KdF-Wagen), liberate the forced labourers and set up a maintenance works for their military vehicles in the Volkswagen factory. Former inspection manager Rudolf Brörmann is designated as works manager.

May 16

The Americans order assembly of the first five Kübelwagen military utility vehicles from material stocks. Over the following months, more VW 82 vehicles are built and supplied to the American and British military.

June 5

Responsibility for Volkswagenwerk GmbH is turned over to the British Military Government, which confiscates the firm in accordance with Control Council Law No. 52 and administers it in trusteeship until its return to German control.

August 22

Chronicle 1945: August 22
The British Military Government instructs Volkswagen to produce 20,000 saloons in order to meet its increased transport needs during the occupation period. Major Ivan Hirst assumes command as Senior Resident Officer of the British Military Government.

November 27

The Works Council elected in a democratic ballot held from November 5 to 7 meets for the first time. It replaces the provisional council set up during the summer of 1945, and elects Willi Hilgers as its first Chairman.

December 27

Mass production of the Volkswagen saloon under British administration begins. By the year-end a total of 55 vehicles have been built.

December 31

Chronicle 1945: December 31
At the year-end, the “Vorwerk” facility in Braunschweig is integrated into the process chain of the Wolfsburg plant. The facility begins producing special welding machines, tools and dies as well as carburettors, clutches, shock absorbers and fuel pumps for the new saloon production. Thanks to British support in gaining access to supplies, the firm’s own production capabilities are able in part to replace a supply industry devastated by the war and restricted by the controlled economy. The workforce in Braunschweig in December 1945 comprises 218 wage-earners and 58 salaried employees.

Statistics of the Year

Chronicle 1945: Statistics of the Year


February 26

Chronicle 1946: February 26
The British appoint the lawyer Dr. Hermann Münch as the chief trustee of Volkswagenwerk GmbH; he also becomes General Director on June 17th.

March 30

Chronicle 1946: March 30
For the first time, production figures reach the level of 1,000 vehicles a month ordered by the British. The milestone is marked by a small ceremony. Apart from slight fluctuations, the monthly production figures remain at this level until the beginning of 1948 because the necessary volumes of raw materials and components cannot be obtained.

Service bulletin

Chronicle 1946: Service bulletin
Initially primarily aimed at meeting the needs of the military government, a customer service network begins to evolve from mid-1946. The service bulletins document technical improvements to the sedan.

July 17

A first saloon car is delivered to dealer Gottfried Schultz in Essen; eight more follow on July 23rd. Hamburg dealership Raffay & Co. receives its first Volkswagen on July 22nd.

Wheat harvest at the Wolfsburg plant

Chronicle 1946: Wheat harvest at the Wolfsburg plant
Given the shortage of food, Senior Resident Officer Ivan Hirst takes the unusual step of authorizing the cultivation of cereal crops on the plant site.

October 25

Chronicle 1946: October 25
The British Military Government approves the establishment of a Volkswagen sales organisation in its zone. In the beginning, this comprised 10 main distributors and 28 dealers. By the time Volkswagenwerk GmbH was turned over to German control, the company had established a more extensive sales and service network with the help of the British.

Axle assembly

Chronicle 1946: Axle assembly
The British Military Government’s directive to dismantle the Volkswagen works is put on hold for the next four years. One month later, the level of industry plan, which limited the number of German automobiles to 40,000 a year, is revised. The survival of the Volkswagen works is guaranteed.

December 6

Overdue sheet metal deliveries, an acute coal shortage and a cold spell during the power crisis of 1946/47 force the British works management to shut down the production of Volkswagens until March 10, 1947.

First production jubilee

Chronicle 1946: First production jubilee
The 10,000th Volkswagen – an encouraging anniversary given the difficult production conditions.

December 16

The newly elected Works Council is constituted, and elects Otto Peter as its Chairman.

Wolfsburg plant

Chronicle 1946: Wolfsburg plant
Overdue sheet metal deliveries, an acute coal shortage and a cold spell during the power crisis of 1946/1947 force the British Works Management to shut down the production of Volkswagens until the begin of March 1947.

Statistics of the Year

Chronicle 1946: Statistics of the Year


May 10

Chronicle 1947: May 10
The agreement concluded by management and the Works Council comes into effect, in accordance with the Allied Works Council Law of 1946, ensuring the workers’ representatives a voice in the decision-making process. The Works Council now has the right to participate in matters concerning hiring and firing, reassignment, wages and salaries, as well as operational changes. In addition, the Council supervises the works canteen and allocates the agricultural produce grown on the land belonging to Volkswagenwerk GmbH. The Works Council can also participate in determining the production programme and examine company books.

August 8

Chronicle 1947: August 8
Pon’s Automobielhandel in Amersfoort becomes an authorised importer for the Netherlands. At the beginning of October 1947, the Pon brothers import five Volkswagen saloons, thus closing Volkswagen’s first export deal. After exporting 56 Volkswagens in 1947, exports surge within a year to 4,500 units. In order to assist the export business, Volkswagen signs contracts in 1948 with Walter Haefner’s Neue Amag AG in Switzerland, with Anciens Etablissements D’Ieteren Frères in Belgium as well as with partners in Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

Press shop

Chronicle 1947: Press shop
4,509 employees out of the entire workforce of 8,382 are directly involved in producing a total of 8,987 sedans in 1947. Weekly working time is 48 hours, the average hourly wage is 1.19 DM.


Chronicle 1947: “Plattenwagen”
The “Plattenwagen” is a stopgap vehicle based on the Type 1 and used as a parts runabout in the factory.

Talks with Ben Pon at the Hanover Export Fair

Chronicle 1947: Talks with Ben Pon at the Hanover Export Fair
The Volkswagen plant presents its products to the international public for the first time at the export fair in Hanover. Negotiations with Ben Pon concerning exports to the Netherlands culminate in the first export order for the Wolfsburg-based company.

Export model

Chronicle 1947: Export model
In order to remain competitive on international markets, British officers order a critical review of the Volkswagen sedan at the end of 1947. The subsequent quality improvements are incorporated in an export model which becomes a winner for Volkswagen.

Delivery to the French Military Administration

Chronicle 1947: Delivery to the French Military Administration
The delivery of 1,000 Volkswagens to the French military government is based on a swap: Volkswagen receives 1,590 metric tons of iron and steel in exchange for the vehicles and accompanying spare parts. An important deal at a time when resources are scarce.

Officers’ mess in Wolfsburg

Chronicle 1947: Officers’ mess in Wolfsburg
The officers’ mess is the meeting point for the British officers stationed in Wolfsburg. This is where they eat and welcome guests.

Statistics of the Year

Chronicle 1947: Statistics of the Year


January 1

Chronicle 1948: January 1
The former Opel manager Heinrich Nordhoff takes up his post as General Director of Volkswagenwerk GmbH.

June 20

Chronicle 1948: June 20
The currency reform and the introduction of the Deutschmark (DM) establishes a functioning market for goods, ending the short-supply economy and paving the way for Volkswagen’s economic growth. Production figures increase from 1,185 vehicles in May to 2,306 vehicles in December 1948.

July 1

The progression to a market economy sees the establishment of an Advertising department. Despite a severe shortage of funding, the staff set about creating a unified “Volkswagen house style”. The department issues a bimonthly news bulletin, the “Volkswagen-Informationsdienst”, and once a month produces a new slide for local cinema advertising. It also commissions the cultural documentary film “Symphony of an Automobile”, which premieres in cinemas in 1949.

Wolfsburg plant

Chronicle 1948: Wolfsburg plant
The decision made by the Volkswagenwerk GmbH on April 26, 1948, to move its business offices from Berlin to Wolfsburg goes into effect. The firm is entered in the Commercial Register at the District Court in Fallersleben.

July 29

The decision made by the Volkswagenwerk GmbH on April 26, 1948 to move its head office from Berlin to Wolfsburg is implemented. The firm is entered in the Register of Companies at the District Court in Fallersleben.

Beetle marriage

Chronicle 1948: Beetle marriage
The “marriage” takes place when the vehicle body and chassis are fitted and bolted together. In 1948 it takes a further 146 hours before a Beetle is fully assembled, painted and ready for delivery.

September 1

The pay rises agreed between the company’s management and the IG Metall and Deutsche Angestelltengewerkschaft trade unions after the relaxing of the pay freeze come into force. Salaried staff receive on average 15 percent more; wage-earners 22 percent. The lower pay scales are increased by more “for social reasons”. Women’s pay even increases by half. The standard pay rate rises from DM 0.88 to DM 1.14.

Beetle cockpit

Chronicle 1948: Beetle cockpit
Clearly arranged and kept to the essentials: the Beetle cockpit, the inside view of a future best-seller. There were already hints of this success in 1948. In August, sales are even halted as the plant can no longer keep pace with high demand.

September 10

The management approves the supply and price of modification of an initial 50 saloons as ambulances for the German Red Cross Lower Saxony region by the contractor Christian Miesen in Bonn. The special vehicle costs the end-user DM 6,863 delivered from Bonn. A total of 75 vehicles are built by the year-end.

Volkswagen trademark

Chronicle 1948: Volkswagen trademark
The Volkswagen trademark is registered with the German Patent Office in Munich in October. A slightly modified form of the same logo still typifies the face of the Volkswagen brand today.

Production of axles

Chronicle 1948: Production of axles
Axles and gearboxes are assembled in 19,244 vehicles at the Volkswagen plant in 1948. While the first months of the year still saw a shortage of supplies, currency reform establishes a functioning market for goods. 1,806 sedans leave the assembly line in July, roughly 700 more than in May of the same year.

Export vehicles for Switzerland

Chronicle 1948: Export vehicles for Switzerland
Volkswagen’s first foreign markets include Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Sweden and Denmark. 1,380 vehicles are exported to these countries in 1948.

Statistics of the Year

Chronicle 1948: Statistics of the Year


January 1

In the three western zones of occupied Germany, 16 main distributors, 31 wholesalers, 103 dealers and 81 contract service centres handle sales and service operations.

April 6

Chronicle 1949: April 6
Volkswagen orders 675 bodies for the elegantly styled Type 14 two-seater convertible from coachbuilder Josef Hebmüller & Sons in Wülfrath. The trials conducted on the test vehicles delivered on March 21 and June 1, 1949 reveal the need to strengthen the bodywork, among other requirements. Deficiencies in manufacturing quality are also highlighted. On July 23, 1949, a flash-fire of paint dust halts production. Hebmüller had supplied 53 convertibles and 236 Volkswagen Type 18 police car bodies up to that point. Hebmüller manages to resume production, but Volkswagen refuses its request to increase delivery volumes. The Hebmüller convertible was to become a much soughtafter collector’s item, primarily because only 680 were built in total.

Export model

Chronicle 1949: Export model
Elegance and comfort: chrome wheel covers and bumpers, a wider choice of colors and better padding distinguish the export model from the standard sedan. The basic price for this superior equipment line is 5,450 DM.

June 30

Chronicle 1949: June 30
Volkswagen-Finanzierungs-Gesellschaft mbH, a finance company, is founded to provide loans to customers in Germany and to dealers. This measure, set up to encourage the sales of Volkswagens, serves as an instrument to compensate for the lack of purchasing power on the domestic market. Between 1949 and 1954, the number of predominately one-year loans rises from 168 to 14,831 and the financing volume from DM 551,000 to DM 48.7 million.

July 22

Chronicle 1949: July 22
Mass production of the Volkswagen Type 15, a four-seater convertible based on the Volkswagen saloon export model, starts at the Wilhelm Karmann factory in Osnabrück. After a demonstration of the vehicle on April 13, 1949, and following a series of trials, on April 18, 1949 Nordhoff states that “this convertible ought to go into production very soon”. The contract signed on August 3/5, 1949 seals the supply of an initial 1,000 units. The vehicle attracts plenty of customers by virtue of its great practicality and thanks to the concealed stiffeners on its side panels which neutralise vibration. Initially on sale for DM 7,500, a total of 440 units are built by the year-end. In 1950 production rises to 2,669 units. By the time production ended on January 10, 1980, a total of 330,281 Beetle convertibles had rolled off the line in Osnabrück.

Hebmüller brochure

Chronicle 1949: Hebmüller brochure
A touch of exclusivity among its contemporaries, and the stuff of legends today: the Volkswagen Convertible. 723 of these automotive gems were built in 1949 by coach makers Hebmüller, Wülfrath and Karmann.

September 6

Chronicle 1949: September 6
In accordance with Ordinance 202, the British Military Government hands over Volkswagenwerk GmbH to the State of Lower Saxony with the provision that it takes control on behalf of, and under the supervision of, the German Federal Government. The question of ownership is left open until the privatisation of the company.

October 1

Chronicle 1949: October 1
Volkswagen increases its range of employee benefits by introducing a voluntary insurance scheme. The company pension scheme, which is available initially to all employees over 25 years of age who have been with the company for at least four years, supplements state social security payments on retirement. The sum is based on duration of service. In case of death, the widow receives half of the monthly pension. A death benefits scheme is also instituted at the same time for married employees and other employees with dependants. This provides a one-off payment of DM 4,000 to surviving dependants. A general accident insurance policy taken out for the entire workforce pays financial benefits in case of accidental death or invalidity.

October 8

Chronicle 1949: October 8
Colonel Charles Radclyffe signs the protocol turning over Volkswagenwerk GmbH to the trusteeship of the German Federal Government. The State of Lower Saxony takes over its administration.

November 18

Ernst Rahm becomes Chairman of the Works Council.

Statistics of the Year

Chronicle 1949: Statistics of the Year
The specified fuel consumption and emission data are determined in accordance with the measurement procedures prescribed by law. 1 January 2022, the WLTP test cycle completely replaced the NEDC test cycle and therefore no NEDC values are available for new type approved vehicles after that date. This information does not refer to a single vehicle and is not part of the offer but is only intended for comparison between different types of vehicles. Additional equipment and accessories (additional components, tyre formats, etc.) can alter relevant vehicle parameters such as weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamics, affecting the vehicle's fuel consumption, power consumption, CO2 emissions and driving performance values in addition to weather and traffic conditions and individual driving behavior. Due to more realistic testing conditions, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions measured according to WLTP will in many cases be higher than the values measured according to NEDC. As a result, the taxation of vehicles may change accordingly as of 1 September 2018. For further information on the differences between WLTP and NEDC, please visit www.volkswagen.de/wltp. Further information on official fuel consumption data and official specific CO2 emissions for new passenger cars can be found in the "Guide to fuel economy, CO2 emissions and power consumption for new passenger car models", which is available free of charge from all sales dealerships and from DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Str. 1, D-73760 Ostfildern, Germany and at www.dat.de/co2.