It’s 70 years to the day since the Brits handed back Volkswagen to the Germans.
It was on October 8, 1949, that the British Military Government handed over trusteeship of Volkswagenwerk GmbH to the newly established Federal Republic of Germany.
During the second world war the factory, located in Stadt des KdF-Wagens, a town purpose-built for the factory workers and later renamed Wolfsburg, was turned over to production of military vehicles, reportedly using slave labour from the Arbeitsdorf concentration camp.
But in April, 1945 it was captured by the American advancing forces.
After they war Volkswagen was offered to the British Rootes Group as well as to Ford, but was roundly rejected by both.
Henry Ford II, the son of Edsel Ford, travelled to West Germany for a look. He turned to his Chairman of the Board, Ernest Breech, for advice.
“Mr. Ford, I don’t think what we’re being offered here is worth a dime!,” Breech said.
Under the stewardship of Major Ivan Hirst and a German engineer named Heinrich Nordhoff, the British had laid the essential foundations for the later global success of the Beetle and of Volkswagen itself.
By 1946, the factory was producing 1000 cars a month which was quite remarkable as the factory was still in need of repairs.
Because of roof and window damage, production had to actually stop when it rained and the company was forced to barter new vehicles for steel which was in short supply.
Read our full story of the two men who saved VW.
Returned to German control: On October 8, 1949 trusteeship over Volkswagenwerk GmbH was handed over to the Federal Republic of Germany. The State of Lower Saxony was charged with administration. Colonel Charles Radclyffe (center) signed the protocol transferring Volkswagenwerk to the trusteeship of the Federal German government. The picture shows on the right the Federal Minister of Economics and the later Federal Chancellor Dr. Ludwig Erhard.
The first order – The order of August 22, 1945 to produce 20,000 sedans was a very important milestone and ensured the survival of the factory. It would not be demolished as it was working for the British.
The British in Wolfsburg – In June 1945 the British Military Government took over the city of Wolfsburg and the Volkswagen factory from the American troops which had liberated both in April 1945.
Start of production – Civilian series production of the Volkswagen type 1 “Beetle” started on December 27, 1945. By the end of the year, a total of 55 vehicles had been built.
First production jubilee – Due to the shortage of raw materials and the severe winter conditions, it took nearly three months before the 1,000th car was produced. From March 1946 on, working conditions improved and car production figures rose steadily.
An officer and a gentleman – Major Ivan Hirst, of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), took over responsibility as Senior Resident Officer at the factory at the beginning of August 1945.
Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.