Blitzkrieg

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Blitzkrieg (German for "lightning war") is an anglicised word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken, proceeding without regard to its flank. Through maneuver warfare, the Blitzkrieg attempts to keep its enemy off-balance, making it difficult to respond effectively at any given point before the front has already moved on.

During the interwar period, aircraft and tank technologies matured and were combined with systematic application of the German tactics of infiltration and bypassing of enemy strong points. During the German Poland campaign in 1939, Western journalists adopted the term Blitzkrieg to describe this form of armoured warfare. Blitzkrieg operations were very effective during the World War II campaigns of 1939–1941. These operations were dependent on surprise penetrations (e.g., the penetration of the Ardennes forest region), general enemy unpreparedness, and an inability to react swiftly enough to the attacker's offensive operations. During the Battle of France, the French, who made attempts to re-form defensive lines along rivers, were constantly frustrated when German Wehrmacht forces arrived there first and pressed on.

The coherent military doctrine or strategy of Blitzkrieg was developed by Generalfeldmarschall Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal during the Franco-Prussian War.

Realization and execution

Blitzkrieg means "lightning war". Blitzkrieg was first used by the Germans in World War II and was a tactic based on speed and surprise and needed a military force to be based around light tank units supported by planes and infantry (foot soldiers). The tactic was perfected in Germany by an army officer called Heinz Guderian (Hurricane Heinz). He had written a military pamphlet called "Achtung-Panzer!" (Attention-Panzer!) which got into the hands of Hitler. As a tactic it was used to devastating effect in the first years of World War Two and, after Britain and France both declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, resulted in the British and French armies being pushed back in just a few weeks to the beaches of Dunkirk and the Russian army being devastated in the attack on Russia in June 1941.

Hitler had spent four years in World War I fighting a static war with neither side moving far for months on end. He was enthralled by Guderian’s plan that was based purely on speed and movement. When Guderian told Hitler that he could reach the French coast in weeks if an attack on France was ordered, fellow officers openly laughed at him. The German High Command told Hitler that his "boast" was impossible. General Busch said to Guderian, "Well, I don’t think that you’ll cross the River Meuse in the first place." The River Meuse was considered France’s first major line of defence and it was thought of as being impossible to cross in a battle situation.

Blitzkrieg was based on speed, co-ordination and movement. It was designed to hit hard and move on instantly. Its aim was to create panic amongst the civilian population. A civil population on the move can be absolute havoc for a defending army trying to get its forces to the war front. Doubt, confusion and rumour were sure to paralyse both the government and the defending military--amid the eternal Clausewitzian combat factors of friction and the fog of war

"Speed, and still more speed, and always speed was the secret...and that demanded audacity, more audacity and always audacity." – Major-General John Fuller

Once a strategic target had been selected, Stuka dive bombers were sent in to ‘soften’ up the enemy, destroy all rail lines, communication centres and major rail links. This was done as the German tanks were approaching and the planes withdrew only at the last minute so that the enemy did not have time to recover their senses when the tanks attacked supported by infantry.

Most troops were moved by half-track vehicles so there was no real need for roads though these were repaired so that they could be used by the Germans at a later date. Once a target had been taken, the Germans did not stop to celebrate victory; they moved on to the next target. Retreating civilians hindered any work done by the army being attacked. Those civilians fleeing the fighting were also attacked to create further mayhem.

Hitler had given his full backing to Guderian. Ironically, he had got his idea for Blitzkrieg from two officers - one from France and one from Britain and he had copied and broadened what they had put on paper. In Britain and France, the cavalry regiments ruled supreme and they were adamant that the tanks would not get any influence in their armies. The High Commands of both countries were dominated by the old traditional cavalry regiments and their political pull was great. These were the type of officers despised by Hitler and he took to his Panzer officer, Heinz Guderian, over the old officers that were in the Wehrmacht.

See also

Literature

  • Len Deighton: Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk, 2000, ISBN 978-0785812074
  • Karl-Heinz Frieser: The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West,[1] Naval Institute Press (2013), ISBN 978-1591142959
  • James S. Corum: The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform,[2] 1994, ISBN 978-0700606283
  • Jeffrey Ethell: Blitzkrieg in the West, 1939-42 (Luftwaffe At War),[3] Greenhill Books (1997), ISBN 978-1853672835
  • Robert M. Citino: Blitzkrieg to Desert Storm: The Evolution of Operational Warfare,[4] 2004, ISBN 978-0700613007
  • Heinz Guderian and Alan Bance: Blitzkrieg: In Their Own Words,[5] Amber Books (2005),

References

  1. Here, for the first time in English, is an illuminating German perspective on the decisive blitzkrieg campaign. The account, written by the German historian Karl-Heinz Frieser and edited by American historian John T. Greenwood, provides the definitive explanation for Germany's startling success and the equally surprising military collapse of France and Britain on the European continent in 1940. In a little over a month, Germany defeated the Allies in battle, a task that had not been achieved in four years of brutal fighting during World War I.
  2. Following Germany's defeat in World War I, the Germans signed the Versailles Treaty, superficially agreeing to limit their war powers. The Allies envisioned the future German army as a lightly armed border guard and international security force. The Germans had other plans. As early as 1919, James Corum contends, the tactical foundations were being laid for the Nazi Blitzkrieg. Between 1919 and 1933, German military leaders created and nurtured the Reichswehr, a new military organization built on the wreckage of the old Imperial Army. It was not being groomed for policing purposes. Focusing on Hans von Seeckt, General Staff Chief and Army Commander, Corum traces the crucial transformations in German military tactical doctrine, organization, and training that laid the foundations for fighting Germany's future wars. In doing so, he restores balance to prior assessment of von Seeckt's influence and demonstrates how the general, along with a few other "visionary" officers--including armor tactician Ernst Volckheim and air tactician Helmut Wilberg--collaborated to develop the core doctrine for what became the Blitzkrieg. The concepts of mobile war so essential to Germany's strength in World War II, Corum shows, were in place well before the tools became available. As an unforeseen consequence of the Versailles Treaty, the Germans were not saddled with a stockpile of outdated equipment as the Allies were. This, ironically, resulted in an advantage for the Germans, who were able to create doctrine first and design equipment to match it.
  3. This illustrated series presents every aspect of the Luftwaffe in World War II, on all fronts and in widely varying conditions. Contemporary photographs from archives and private collections, many never before published, show how and where all types of German military aircraft operated, and are accompanied by detailed captions written by experts in aviation history. For the first year of the war the Luftwaffe proved itself a superb and deadly tactical air force, helping the Wehrmacht and its Panzers move from Poland through the Low Countries into France. Its pilots, led by Spanish Civil War veterans who had revolutionized air combat, were far more experienced than the Allies. Rare photos taken by Luftwaffe pilots and crew, as well as by press photographers, show what aircraft were used, what equipment they carried, and who flew and maintained them during this dramatic period of the war.
  4. When Germany launched its blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940, it forever changed the way the world waged war. Although the Wehrmacht ultimately succumbed to superior Allied firepower in a two-front war, its stunning operational achievement left a lasting impression on military commanders throughout the world, even if their own operations were rarely executed as effectively.
  5. The German campaigns in Poland and the West in 1939 and 1940 ushered in a new era in warfare. The theory of the Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) developed by Hitler's forward-thinking generals - including the foreword writer, Heinz Guderian - was put into devastating effect. Based on a German book published during World War II and never before translated, Blitzkrieg in their own Words is a military history of these campaigns written by those taking part.