Blitzkrieg (German, "lightning war" listen (help·info)) is
a method of warfare whereby an attacking force, spearheaded by a dense
concentration of armoured and motorised or mechanised infantry
formations with close air support, breaks through the opponent's line
of defence by short, fast, powerful attacks and then dislocates the
defenders, using speed and surprise to encircle them with the help of
air superiority. Through the employment of combined arms in
manoeuvre warfare, blitzkrieg attempts to unbalance the enemy by
making it difficult for it to respond to the continuously changing
front, then defeat it in a decisive Vernichtungsschlacht (battle of
During the interwar period, aircraft and tank technologies matured and
were combined with systematic application of the traditional German
Bewegungskrieg (maneuver warfare), deep penetrations and the
bypassing of enemy strong points to encircle and destroy enemy forces
in a Kesselschlacht (cauldron battle). During the Invasion of
Poland, Western journalists adopted the term blitzkrieg to describe
this form of armoured warfare. The term had appeared in 1935, in a
German military periodical Deutsche Wehr (German Defense), in
connection to quick or lightning warfare. German manoeuvre
operations were successful in the campaigns of 1939–1941 and by 1940
the term blitzkrieg was extensively used in Western media.
Blitzkrieg operations capitalized on surprise penetrations (e.g., the
penetration of the
Ardennes forest region), general enemy unreadiness
and their inability to match the pace of the German attack. During the
Battle of France, the French made attempts to re-form defensive lines
along rivers but were frustrated when German forces arrived first and
Despite being common in German and English-language journalism during
War II, the word
Blitzkrieg was never used by the
an official military term, except for propaganda. Some senior
officers, including Kurt Student,
Franz Halder and Johann Adolf von
Kielmansegg, even disputed the idea that it was a military concept.
Kielmansegg asserted that what many regarded as blitzkrieg was nothing
more than "ad hoc solutions that simply popped out of the prevailing
situation". Student described it as ideas that "naturally emerged from
the existing circumstances" as a response to operational
Wehrmacht never officially adopted it as a concept
or doctrine.[a] In 2005, the historian
Karl-Heinz Frieser summarized
blitzkrieg as the result of German commanders using the latest
technology in the most beneficial way according to traditional
military principles and employing "the right units in the right place
at the right time". Modern historians now understand blitzkrieg as
the combination of the traditional German military principles, methods
and doctrines of the 19th century with the military technology of the
interwar period. Modern historians use the term casually as a
generic description for the style of manoeuvre warfare practised by
Germany during the early part of World
War II, rather than as an
explanation.[b] According to Frieser, in the context of the thinking
Heinz Guderian on mobile combined arms formations, blitzkrieg can
be used as a synonym for modern manoeuvre warfare on the operational
1.1 Common interpretation
1.2 Origin of the term
2 Military evolution, 1919–1939
2.5 Nazi Germany
3 Methods of operations
3.4 Air power
4 Limitations and countermeasures
4.2 Air superiority
5 Military operations
5.1 Spanish Civil War
5.2 Poland, 1939
5.3 Western Europe, 1940
5.4 Eastern Front, 1941–44
5.5 Western Front, 1944–45
6 Post-war controversy
6.6 Fuller and Liddell Hart
7 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
The traditional meaning of blitzkrieg is that of German tactical and
operational methodology in the first half of the Second World War,
that is often hailed as a new method of warfare. The word, meaning
"lightning war" or "lightning attack" in its strategic sense describes
a series of quick and decisive short battles to deliver a knockout
blow to an enemy state before it could fully mobilize. Tactically,
blitzkrieg is a coordinated military effort by tanks, motorized
infantry, artillery and aircraft, to create an overwhelming local
superiority in combat power, to defeat the opponent and break through
Blitzkrieg as used by Germany had considerable
psychological, or "terror" elements,[c] such as the Jericho Trompete,
a noise-making siren on the
Junkers Ju 87
Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber, to affect the
morale of enemy forces.[d] The devices were largely removed when the
enemy became used to the noise after the
Battle of France in 1940 and
instead bombs sometimes had whistles attached. It is also
common for historians and writers to include psychological warfare by
Fifth columnists to spread rumours and lies among the civilian
population in the theatre of operations.
Origin of the term
The origin of the term blitzkrieg is obscure. It was never used in the
title of a military doctrine or handbook of the German army or air
force, and no "coherent doctrine" or "unifying concept of
blitzkrieg" existed. The term seems rarely to have been used in
the German military press before 1939 and recent research at the
German Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt at
Potsdam found it in
only two military articles from the 1930s. Both used the term to mean
a swift strategic knock-out, rather than a radical new military
doctrine or approach to war. The first article (1935) deals primarily
with supplies of food and materiel in wartime. The term blitzkrieg is
used with reference to German efforts to win a quick victory in the
War but is not associated with the use of armoured,
mechanised or air forces. It argued that Germany must develop
self-sufficiency in food, because it might again prove impossible to
deal a swift knock-out to its enemies, leading to a long war. In
the second article (1938), launching a swift strategic knock-out is
described as an attractive idea for Germany but difficult to achieve
on land under modern conditions (especially against systems of
fortification like the Maginot Line), unless an exceptionally high
degree of surprise could be achieved. The author vaguely suggests that
a massive strategic air attack might hold out better prospects but the
topic is not explored in detail. A third relatively early use of the
term in German occurs in Die Deutsche Kriegsstärke (German War
Strength) by Fritz Sternberg, a Jewish, Marxist, political economist
and refugee from the Third Reich, published in 1938 in Paris and in
London as Germany and a Lightning War. Sternberg wrote that Germany
was not prepared economically for a long war but might win a quick war
("Blitzkrieg") . He did not go into detail about tactics or suggest
that the German armed forces had evolved a radically new operational
method. His book offers scant clues as to how German lightning
victories might be won.
Ju 87 Bs over Poland, September–October 1939
In English and other languages, the term had been used since the
1920s. The British press used it to describe the German successes
in Poland in September 1939, called by Harris "a piece of journalistic
sensationalism – a buzz-word with which to label the spectacular
early successes of the Germans in the Second World War". It was later
applied to the bombing of Britain, particularly London, hence "The
Blitz" . The German popular press followed suit nine months later,
after the fall of France in 1940; hence although the word had been
used in German, it was first popularized by British journalism.
Heinz Guderian referred to it as a word coined by the Allies: "as a
result of the successes of our rapid campaigns our enemies ...
coined the word Blitzkrieg". After the German failure in the
Soviet Union in 1941, use of the term began to be frowned upon in the
Third Reich, and
Hitler then denied ever using the term, saying in a
speech in November 1941, "I have never used the word Blitzkrieg,
because it is a very silly word". In early January 1942, Hitler
dismissed it as "Italian phraseology".
Military evolution, 1919–1939
Main article: Infiltration tactics
In 1914, German strategic thinking derived from the writings of Carl
von Clausewitz (June 1, 1780 – November 16, 1831), Helmuth von
Moltke the Elder
Moltke the Elder (26 October 1800 – 24 April 1891) and Alfred von
Schlieffen (28 February 1833 – 4 January 1913), who advocated
manoeuvre, mass and envelopment to create the conditions for a
decisive battle (Vernichtungsschlacht). During the war, generals such
Oskar von Hutier
Oskar von Hutier developed tactics to restore manoeuvre on the
battlefield. Specialist light infantry (Sturmtruppen storm troops)
were to exploit soft spots, to make gaps for larger infantry units to
advance with heavier weapons and exploit the success, leaving isolated
strong points to troops following up. Hutier tactics were combined
with short hurricane artillery bombardments using massed artillery,
devised by Colonel Georg Bruchmüller. Attacks were to rely on speed
and surprise rather than on weight of numbers. Hutier-Bruchmüller
tactics met with great success in Operation Michael, the spring
offensive of 1918 and restored temporarily the war of movement, once
the Allied trench system had been overrun. The German armies pushed on
towards Amiens and then Paris, coming within 120 kilometres
(75 mi) before supply difficulties and Allied reinforcements
halted the advance.
On the Eastern Front, the war did not bog down into trench warfare;
German and Russian armies fought a war of manoeuvre over thousands of
miles, which gave the German leadership unique experience which the
trench-bound western Allies did not experience. Studies of
operations in the east led to the conclusion that small and
coordinated forces possessed more combat power than large,
uncoordinated forces. After the war, the
Reichswehr modified Hutier
tactics. The commander in chief, Hans von Seeckt, argued that there
had been an excessive focus on encirclement and emphasized speed
instead. Seeckt inspired a revision of
warfare) thinking and its associated Auftragstaktik, in which the
commander gave his intent and subordinates the discretion to achieve
it, within limits determined by the training of an elite
officer-corps, which made their decisions predictable to other
commanders. Delegation increased the tempo of operations, which had
great influence on the success of German armies in the early war
period. Seeckt rejected the idea of numerical superiority and
developed the German army into a small, mobile force and encouraged
technical advances, of which one of the results was enhancing the
radio use, which allowed better coordination between motorized
infantry, tanks and planes and thus provided the necessary conditions
for the subsequent Blitzkrieg. He thus transformed it into an army of
commanders, who could cover at least the next level of command.
German operational theories were revised after the First World War.
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles limited the
Reichswehr to a maximum of
100,000 men, making impossible the deployment of mass armies. The
German General Staff
German General Staff was abolished by the treaty but continued
covertly as the
Truppenamt (Troop Office), disguised as an
administrative body. Committees of veteran staff officers were formed
Truppenamt to evaluate 57 issues of the war. By the
time of the Second World War, their reports had led to doctrinal and
training publications, including H. Dv. 487, Führung und Gefecht der
verbundenen Waffen (Command and
Battle of the Combined Arms), known as
das Fug (1921–23) and
Truppenführung (1933–34), containing
standard procedures for combined-arms warfare. The
influenced by its analysis of pre-war German military thought, in
particular infiltration tactics, which at the end of the war had seen
some breakthroughs on the Western Front and the manoeuvre warfare
which dominated the Eastern Front.
British armoured car and motorcycle at the
Battle of Megiddo (1918).
The British army took lessons from the successful infantry and
artillery offensives on the Western Front in late 1918. To obtain the
best co-operation between all arms, emphasis was placed on detailed
planning, rigid control and adherence to orders. Mechanization of the
army was considered a means to avoid mass casualties and indecisive
nature of offensives, as part of a combined-arms theory of
war. The four editions of Field Service Regulations published
after 1918 held that only combined-arms operations could create enough
fire power to enable mobility on a battlefield. This theory of war
also emphasized consolidation, recommending caution against
overconfidence and ruthless exploitation.
In the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, operations involved some aspects
of what would later be called blitzkrieg. Key elements in the
"blitzkrieg warfare" at the decisive
Battle of Megiddo included
concentration, surprise and speed; success depended on attacking only
in terrain favoring the movement of large formations around the
battlefield and tactical improvements in the British artillery and
Edmund Allenby used infantry to
attack the strong Ottoman front line in co-operation with supporting
artillery, augmented by the guns of two destroyers. Through
constant pressure by infantry and cavalry, two Ottoman armies in the
Judean Hills were kept off-balance and virtually encircled during the
Battles of Sharon and Nablus (
Battle of Megiddo).
The British methods induced "strategic paralysis" among the Ottomans
and led to their rapid and complete collapse. In an advance of 65
miles (105 km), captures were estimated at "at least 25,000
prisoners and 260 guns." Liddell Hart considered that important
aspects of the operation were the extent to which Ottoman commanders
were denied intelligence on the British preparations for the attack
through British air superiority and air attacks on their headquarters
and telephone exchanges, which paralyzed attempts to react to the
rapidly deteriorating situation.
French doctrine in the interwar years was defence-oriented. Colonel
Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle was an advocate of concentration of armour and
aeroplanes. His opinions were expressed in his book Vers l'Armée de
Métier (Towards the Professional Army 1933). Like von Seeckt, he
concluded that France could no longer maintain the huge armies of
conscripts and reservists with which World
War I had been fought, and
he sought to use tanks, mechanised forces and aircraft to allow a
smaller number of highly trained soldiers to have greater impact in
battle. His views little endeared him to the French high command but
are claimed by some to have influenced Heinz Guderian.
Alexei Brusilov had used surprise and infiltration
tactics during the Brusilov Offensive. Later, Marshal Mikhail
Tukhachevsky, Georgii Isserson and other members of the Red Army
developed a concept of deep battle from the experience of the
Polish–Soviet War. These concepts would guide
Red Army doctrine
War II. Realising the limitations of infantry and
cavalry, Tukhachevsky was an advocate of mechanised formations and the
large-scale industrialisation required. Robert Watt (2008) wrote that
blitzkrieg holds little in common with Soviet deep battle. In
2002, H. P. Willmott had noted that deep battle contained two
important differences: it was a doctrine of total war, not limited
operations, and decisive battle was rejected in favour of several
large, simultaneous offensives.
Reichswehr and the
Red Army began a secret collaboration in the
Soviet Union to evade the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles occupational agent, the
Inter-Allied Commission. In 1926,
War games and tests were begun at
Kazan and Lipetsk. The centres were used to field test aircraft and
armoured vehicles up to the battalion level and housed aerial and
armoured warfare schools, through which officers were rotated.
After becoming head of government in 1933,
Adolf Hitler ignored the
Versailles Treaty provisions. A command for armored forces was created
within the German Wehrmacht: the Panzerwaffe, as it came to be known
Luftwaffe (the German air force) was established, and
development began on ground-attack aircraft and doctrines.
a strong supporter of this new strategy. He read Guderian's book
Achtung – Panzer!
Achtung – Panzer! and upon observing armoured field exercises at
Kummersdorf he remarked, "That is what I want – and that is what I
Guderian summarised combined-arms tactics as the way to get the mobile
and motorised armoured divisions to work together and support each
other to achieve decisive success. In his book, Panzer Leader, he
In this year, 1929, I became convinced that tanks working on their own
or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive
importance. My historical studies, the exercises carried out in
England and our own experience with mock-ups had persuaded me that the
tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until the other
weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to
their standard of speed and of cross-country performance. In such
formation of all arms, the tanks must play primary role, the other
weapons beings subordinated to the requirements of the armour. It
would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions; what was needed
were armoured divisions which would include all the supporting arms
needed to allow the tanks to fight with full effect.
Guderian believed that developments in technology were required to
support the theory; especially, equipping armoured divisions—tanks
foremost–with wireless communications. Guderian insisted in 1933 to
the high command that every tank in the German armoured force must be
equipped with a radio. At the start of the war, only the German
army was thus prepared with all tanks "radio equipped". This proved
critical in early tank battles where German tank commanders exploited
the organizational advantage over the Allies that radio communication
gave them. Later all Allied armies would copy this innovation. During
the Polish campaign, the performance of armoured troops, under the
influence of Guderian's ideas, won over a number of skeptics who had
initially expressed doubt about armoured warfare, such as von
Rundstedt and Rommel.
According to David A.Grossman, by the 12th
Battle of Isonzo, while
conducting a light infantry operation, Rommel had perfected his
maneuver warfare principles, which were the very same ones that were
applied during the
Blitzkrieg against France in 1940 (and repeated by
the Allied grounded offensive against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War)
Battle of France,
Hitler caused a confusion when he
suddenly changed his ideas and ordered that everything should be
completed in a few weeks (his original plan would have taken years to
be completed), encouraging Rommel and Guderian to disobey their direct
superiors' orders by forging ahead and, on the way, invented the idea
of Blitzkrieg. It was Rommel who created the first archetype of
Blitzkrieg, leading his division far ahead of flanking
divisions. MacGregor and Williamson remark that Rommel's
Blitzkrieg displayed a significantly better understanding
of combined-arms warfare than that of Guderian.
submitted an official report which declared that Rommel had "explored
new paths in the command of Panzer divisions."
Methods of operations
Schwerpunktprinzip was a heuristic device (conceptual tool or thinking
formula) used in the German army since the nineteenth century, to make
decisions from tactics to strategy about priority. Schwerpunkt has
been translated as centre of gravity, crucial, focal point and point
of main effort. None of these forms is sufficient to describe the
universal importance of the term and the concept of
Schwerpunktprinzip. Every unit in the army, from the company to the
supreme command, decided on a Schwerpunkt through schwerpunktbildung,
as did the support services, which meant that commanders always knew
what was most important and why. The German army was trained to
support the Schwerpunkt, even when risks had to be taken elsewhere to
support the point of main effort. Through Schwerpunktbildung, the
German army could achieve superiority at the Schwerpunkt, whether
attacking or defending, to turn local success at the Schwerpunkt into
the progressive disorganisation of the opposing force, creating more
opportunities to exploit this advantage, even if numerically and
strategically inferior in general. In the 1930s, Guderian summarised
this as "Klotzen, nicht kleckern!" ("Kick, don't spatter
Having achieved a breakthrough of the enemy's line, units comprising
the Schwerpunkt were not supposed to become decisively engaged with
enemy front line units to the right and left of the breakthrough area.
Units pouring through the hole were to drive upon set objectives
behind the enemy front line. In World
War II, German Panzer forces
used motorised mobility, to paralyse the opponent's ability to react.
Fast-moving mobile forces seized the initiative, exploited weaknesses
and acted before opposing forces could respond. Central to this was
the decision cycle (tempo). Decision-making required time to gather
information, make a decision, give orders to subordinates to implement
the decision. Through superior mobility and faster decision-making
cycles, mobile forces could act quicker than the forces opposing them.
Directive control was a fast and flexible method of command. Rather
than receiving an explicit order, a commander would be told of his
superior's intent and the role which his unit was to fill in this
concept. The method of execution was then a matter for the discretion
of the subordinate commander. Staff burden was reduced at the top and
spread among tiers of command with knowledge about their situation.
Delegation and the encouragement of initiative aided implementation,
important decisions could be taken quickly and communicated verbally
or with brief written orders. Germans soldiers also used Pervitin,
a form of Amphetamine, which was given to drivers, to keep them
The last part of an offensive operation was the destruction of
un-subdued pockets of resistance, which had been enveloped earlier and
by-passed by the fast-moving armoured and motorised spearheads. The
Kesselschlacht 'cauldron battle' was a concentric attack on such
pockets. It was here that most losses were inflicted upon the enemy,
primarily through the mass capture of prisoners and weapons. During
Operation Barbarossa, huge encirclements in 1941 produced nearly 3.5
million Soviet prisoners, along with masses of equipment.[e]
Ju 87 "Stuka" dive-bomber was used in blitzkrieg operations
Close air support
Close air support was provided in the form of the dive bomber and
medium bomber. They would support the focal point of attack from the
air. German successes are closely related to the extent to which the
Luftwaffe was able to control the air war in early campaigns in
Western and Central Europe, and the Soviet Union. However, the
Luftwaffe was a broadly based force with no constricting central
doctrine, other than its resources should be used generally to support
national strategy. It was flexible and it was able to carry out both
operational-tactical, and strategic bombing. Flexibility was the
Luftwaffe's strength in 1939–1941. Paradoxically, from that period
onward it became its weakness. While Allied Air Forces were tied to
the support of the Army, the
Luftwaffe deployed its resources in a
more general, operational way. It switched from air superiority
missions, to medium-range interdiction, to strategic strikes, to close
support duties depending on the need of the ground forces. In fact,
far from it being a specialist panzer spearhead arm, fewer than 15
percent of the
Luftwaffe was intended for close support of the army in
Limitations and countermeasures
The concepts associated with the term blitzkrieg—deep penetrations
by armour, large encirclements, and combined arms attacks—were
largely dependent upon terrain and weather conditions. Where the
ability for rapid movement across "tank country" was not possible,
armoured penetrations often were avoided or resulted in failure.
Terrain would ideally be flat, firm, unobstructed by natural barriers
or fortifications, and interspersed with roads and railways. If it
were instead hilly, wooded, marshy, or urban, armour would be
vulnerable to infantry in close-quarters combat and unable to break
out at full speed. Additionally, units could be halted by mud (thawing
along the Eastern Front regularly slowed both sides) or extreme snow.
Armour, motorised and aerial support was also naturally dependent on
weather. It should however be noted that the
disadvantages of such terrain could be nullified if surprise was
achieved over the enemy by an attack through such terrain. During the
Battle of France, the German blitzkrieg-style attack on France went
through the Ardennes. There is little doubt that the hilly, heavily
Ardennes could have been relatively easily defended by the
Allies, even against the bulk of the German armoured units. However,
precisely because the French thought the
Ardennes unsuitable for
massive troop movement, particularly for tanks, they were left with
only light defences which were quickly overrun by the Wehrmacht. The
Germans quickly advanced through the forest, knocking down the trees
the French thought would impede this tactic.
The Hawker Typhoon, especially when armed with eight
posed a threat to German armour and motor vehicles during the Battle
of Normandy in 1944.
The influence of air forces over forces on the ground changed
significantly over the course of the Second World War. Early German
successes were conducted when Allied aircraft could not make a
significant impact on the battlefield. In May 1940, there was near
parity in numbers of aircraft between the
Luftwaffe and the Allies,
Luftwaffe had been developed to support Germany's ground
forces, had liaison officers with the mobile formations, and operated
a higher number of sorties per aircraft. In addition, German air
parity or superiority allowed the unencumbered movement of ground
forces, their unhindered assembly into concentrated attack formations,
aerial reconnaissance, aerial resupply of fast moving formations and
close air support at the point of attack. The Allied
air forces had no close air support aircraft, training or
doctrine. The Allies flew 434 French and 160 British sorties a day
but methods of attacking ground targets had yet to be developed;
therefore Allied aircraft caused negligible damage. Against these 600
Luftwaffe on average flew 1,500 sorties a day. On May
13, Fliegerkorps VIII flew 1,000 sorties in support of the crossing of
the Meuse. The following day the Allies made repeated attempts to
destroy the German pontoon bridges, but German fighter aircraft,
ground fire and
Luftwaffe flak batteries with the panzer forces
destroyed 56 percent of the attacking Allied aircraft while the
bridges remained intact.
Allied air superiority became a significant hindrance to German
operations during the later years of the war. By June 1944 the Western
Allies had complete control of the air over the battlefield and their
fighter-bomber aircraft were very effective at attacking ground
forces. On D-Day the Allies flew 14,500 sorties over the battlefield
area alone, not including sorties flown over north-western Europe.
Against this on 6 June the
Luftwaffe flew some 300 sorties. Though
German fighter presence over Normandy increased over the next days and
weeks, it never approached the numbers the Allies commanded.
Fighter-bomber attacks on German formations made movement during
daylight almost impossible. Subsequently, shortages soon developed in
food, fuel and ammunition, severely hampering the German defenders.
German vehicle crews and even flak units experienced great difficulty
moving during daylight. Indeed, the final German offensive
operation in the west, Operation Wacht am Rhein, was planned to take
place during poor weather to minimize interference by Allied aircraft.
Under these conditions it was difficult for German commanders to
employ the "armoured idea", if at all.
Blitzkrieg is vulnerable to an enemy that is robust enough to weather
the shock of the attack and that does not panic at the idea of enemy
formations in its rear area. This is especially true if the attacking
formation lacks the reserve to keep funnelling forces into the
spearhead, or lacks the mobility to provide infantry, artillery and
supplies into the attack. If the defender can hold the shoulders of
the breach they will have the opportunity to counter-attack into the
flank of the attacker, potentially cutting off the van as happened to
Kampfgruppe Peiper in the Ardennes.
Battle of France in 1940, the 4th Armoured Division
General Charles de Gaulle) and elements of the 1st Army Tank
Brigade (British Expeditionary Force) made probing attacks on the
German flank, pushing into the rear of the advancing armoured columns
at times. This may have been a reason for
Hitler to call a halt to the
German advance. Those attacks combined with Maxime Weygand's Hedgehog
tactic would become the major basis for responding to blitzkrieg
attacks in the future: deployment in depth, permitting enemy or
"shoulders" of a penetration was essential to channelling the enemy
attack, and artillery, properly employed at the shoulders, could take
a heavy toll of attackers. While Allied forces in 1940 lacked the
experience to successfully develop these strategies, resulting in
France's capitulation with heavy losses, they characterised later
Allied operations. At the
Red Army employed a
combination of defence in great depth, extensive minefields, and
tenacious defence of breakthrough shoulders. In this way they depleted
German combat power even as German forces advanced.
The reverse can be seen in the Russian summer offensive of 1944,
Operation Bagration, which resulted in the destruction of Army Group
Center. German attempts to weather the storm and fight out of
encirclements failed due to the Russian ability to continue to feed
armoured units into the attack, maintaining the mobility and strength
of the offensive, arriving in force deep in the rear areas, faster
than the Germans could regroup.
Although effective in quick campaigns against Poland and France,
mobile operations could not be sustained by Germany in later years.
Strategies based on manoeuvre have the inherent danger of the
attacking force overextending its supply lines, and can be defeated by
a determined foe who is willing and able to sacrifice territory for
time in which to regroup and rearm, as the Soviets did on the Eastern
Front (as opposed to, for example, the Dutch who had no territory to
sacrifice). Tank and vehicle production was a constant problem for
Germany; indeed, late in the war many panzer "divisions" had no more
than a few dozen tanks. As the end of the war approached, Germany
also experienced critical shortages in fuel and ammunition stocks as a
result of Anglo-American strategic bombing and blockade. Although
Luftwaffe fighter aircraft continued, they would be
unable to fly for lack of fuel. What fuel there was went to panzer
divisions, and even then they were not able to operate normally. Of
those Tiger tanks lost against the United States Army, nearly half of
them were abandoned for lack of fuel.
Spanish Civil War
German volunteers first used armour in live field conditions during
the Spanish Civil
War of 1936. Armour commitment consisted of Panzer
Battalion 88, a force built around three companies of
Panzer I tanks
that functioned as a training cadre for Nationalists. The Luftwaffe
deployed squadrons of fighters, dive bombers and transport aircraft as
the Condor Legion. Guderian said that the tank deployment was "on
too small a scale to allow accurate assessments to be made." The
true test of his "armoured idea" would have to wait for the Second
World War. However, the
Luftwaffe also provided volunteers to Spain to
test both tactics and aircraft in combat, including the first combat
use of the Stuka.
During the war, the
Condor Legion undertook the bombing of Guernica
which had a tremendous psychological effect on the populations of
Europe. The results were exaggerated, and the Western Allies concluded
that the "city-busting" techniques were now a part of the German way
in war. The targets of the German aircraft were actually the rail
lines and bridges. But lacking the ability to hit them with accuracy
(only three or four Ju 87s saw action in Spain), a method of carpet
bombing was chosen resulting in heavy civilian casualties.
Main article: Invasion of Poland
In Poland, fast moving armies encircled Polish forces (blue circles)
but not by independent armoured operations. Combined tank, artillery,
infantry and air forces were used.
Despite the term blitzkrieg being coined by journalists during the
Invasion of Poland
Invasion of Poland of 1939, historians Matthew Cooper and J. P. Harris
have written that German operations during it were consistent with
traditional methods. The
Wehrmacht strategy was more in line with
Vernichtungsgedanken a focus on envelopment to create pockets in
broad-front annihilation. Panzer forces were dispersed among the three
German concentrations with little emphasis on independent use, being
used to create or destroy close pockets of Polish forces and seize
operational-depth terrain in support of the largely un-motorized
infantry which followed.
While early German tanks, Stuka dive-bombers and concentrated forces
were used in the Polish campaign, the majority of the battle was
conventional infantry and artillery warfare and most
was independent of the ground campaign. Matthew Cooper wrote that
[t]hroughout the Polish Campaign, the employment of the mechanised
units revealed the idea that they were intended solely to ease the
advance and to support the activities of the infantry....Thus, any
strategic exploitation of the armoured idea was still-born. The
paralysis of command and the breakdown of morale were not made the
ultimate aim of the ... German ground and air forces, and were only
incidental by-products of the traditional maneuvers of rapid
encirclement and of the supporting activities of the flying artillery
of the Luftwaffe, both of which had as their purpose the physical
destruction of the enemy troops. Such was the
the Polish campaign.
John Ellis wrote that "...there is considerable justice in Matthew
Cooper's assertion that the panzer divisions were not given the kind
of strategic mission that was to characterize authentic armoured
blitzkrieg, and were almost always closely subordinated to the various
mass infantry armies."
Steven Zaloga wrote, "Whilst Western
accounts of the September campaign have stressed the shock value of
the panzer and Stuka attacks, they have tended to underestimate the
punishing effect of German artillery on Polish units. Mobile and
available in significant quantity, artillery shattered as many units
as any other branch of the Wehrmacht."
Western Europe, 1940
Battle of the Netherlands,
Battle of Belgium, and
Battle of France
German advances during the
Battle of Belgium
The German invasion of France, with subsidiary attacks on Belgium and
the Netherlands, consisted of two phases, Operation Yellow (Fall Gelb)
and Operation Red (Fall Rot). Yellow opened with a feint conducted
against the Netherlands and Belgium by two armoured corps and
paratroopers. Most of the German armoured forces were placed in Panzer
Group von Kleist, which attacked through the Ardennes, a lightly
defended sector that the French planned to reinforce if need be,
before the Germans could bring up heavy and siege artillery.[f]
There was no time for such a reinforcement to be sent, for the Germans
did not wait for siege artillery but reached the Meuse and achieved a
breakthrough at the
Battle of Sedan in three days.
The group raced to the English Channel, reaching the coast at
Abbeville and cut off the BEF, the
Belgian Army and some of the
best-equipped divisions of the
French Army in northern France.
Armoured and motorised units under Guderian, Rommel and others,
advanced far beyond the marching and horse-drawn infantry divisions
and far in excess of that with which
Hitler and the German high
command expected or wished. When the Allies counter-attacked at Arras
using the heavily armoured British Matilda I and
Matilda II tanks, a
brief panic was created in the German High Command. The armoured and
motorised forces were halted by
Hitler outside the port of Dunkirk,
which was being used to evacuate the Allied forces. Hermann Göring
promised that the
Luftwaffe would complete the destruction of the
encircled armies but aerial operations failed to prevent the
evacuation of the majority of the Allied troops. In Operation Dynamo
some 330,000 French and British troops escaped.
Case Yellow surprised everyone, overcoming the Allies' 4,000 armoured
vehicles, many of which were better than German equivalents in armour
and gun-power. The French and British frequently used their tanks
in the dispersed role of infantry support rather than concentrating
force at the point of attack, to create overwhelming firepower.
German advances during the
Battle of France
The French armies were much reduced in strength and the confidence of
their commanders shaken. With much of their own armour and heavy
equipment lost in Northern France, they lacked the means to fight a
mobile war. The Germans followed their initial success with Operation
Red, a triple-pronged offensive. The XV Panzer Corps attacked towards
XIV Panzer Corps attacked east of Paris, towards
Lyon and the
XIX Panzer Corps encircled the Maginot Line. The French were hard
pressed to organise any sort of counter-attack and were continually
ordered to form new defensive lines and found that German forces had
already by-passed them and moved on. An armoured counter-attack
organised by Colonel de Gaulle could not be sustained and he had to
Prior to the German offensive in May, Winston Churchill had said
"Thank God for the French Army". That same French army collapsed
after barely two months of fighting. This was in shocking contrast to
the four years of trench warfare they had engaged in during the First
World War. The French president of the Ministerial Council, Reynaud,
attributed the collapse in a speech on 21 May 1940:
The truth is that our classic conception of the conduct of war has
come up against a new conception. At the basis of this...there is not
only the massive use of heavy armoured divisions or cooperation
between them and airplanes, but the creation of disorder in the
enemy's rear by means of parachute raids.
The Germans had not used paratroop attacks in France and only made one
big drop in the Netherlands, to capture three bridges; some small
glider-landings were conducted in Belgium to tank bottle-necks on
routes of advance before the arrival of the main force (the most
renowned being the landing on
Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium).[citation
Eastern Front, 1941–44
After 1941–42, armoured formations were increasingly used as a
mobile reserve against Allied breakthroughs. The blue arrows depict
Use of armoured forces was crucial for both sides on the Eastern
Front. Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union
in 1941, involved a number of breakthroughs and encirclements by
motorised forces. Its goal according to Führer Directive 21 (18
December 1940) was "to destroy the Russian forces deployed in the West
and to prevent their escape into the wide-open spaces of Russia."
Red Army was to be destroyed west of the Dvina and
which were about 500 kilometres (310 mi) east of the Soviet
border, to be followed by a mopping-up operation. The surprise attack
resulted in the near annihilation of the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS,
Soviet Air Force) by simultaneous attacks on airfields, allowing
Luftwaffe to achieve total air supremacy over all the battlefields
within the first week. On the ground, four German panzer
groups outflanked and encircled disorganised
Red Army units, while the
marching infantry completed the encirclements and defeated the trapped
forces. In late July, after
2nd Panzer Group
2nd Panzer Group (commanded by
Guderian) captured the watersheds of the Dvina and
Dnieper rivers near
Smolensk, the panzers had to defend the encirclement, because the
marching infantry divisions were still hundreds of kilometres to the
The Germans conquered large areas of the Soviet Union but their
failure to destroy the
Red Army before the winter of 1941 was a
strategic failure that made German tactical superiority and
territorial gains irrelevant. The
Red Army had survived enormous
losses and regrouped with new formations far to the rear of the front
line. During the
Battle of Moscow, the
Red Army defeated the German
Army Group Center and for the first time in the war seized the
In the summer of 1942, Germany launched another offensive in the
Stalingrad and the Caucasus, the Soviets again
lost tremendous amounts of territory, only to counter-attack once more
during winter. German gains were ultimately limited by Hitler
diverting forces from the attack on
Stalingrad and driving towards the
Caucasus oilfields simultaneously. The
Wehrmacht became overstretched,
although winning operationally, it could not inflict a decisive defeat
as the durability of the Soviet Union's manpower, resources,
industrial base and aid from the Western Allies began to take
In July 1943 the
Wehrmacht conducted Operation Zitadelle (Citadel)
against a salient at
Kursk that was heavily defended by Soviet
troops. Soviet defensive tactics were by now hugely improved,
particularly in the use of artillery and air support. By April
Stavka had learned of German intentions through intelligence
supplied by front line reconnaissance and
Ultra intercepts. In the
following months, the
Red Army constructed deep defensive belts along
the paths of the planned German attack. The Soviets made a
concerted effort to disguise their knowledge of German plans and the
extent of their own defensive preparations, and the German commanders
still hoped to achieve operational surprise when the attack
The Germans did not achieve surprise and were not able to outflank or
break through into enemy rear areas during the operation. Several
historians assert that Operation Citadel was planned and intended to
be a blitzkrieg operation.[g] Many of the German participants who
wrote about the operation after the war, including Manstein, make no
mention of blitzkrieg in their accounts.[h] In 2000, Niklas Zetterling
and Anders Frankson characterised only the southern pincer of the
German offensive as a "classical blitzkrieg attack". Pier
Battistelli wrote that the operational planning marked a change in
German offensive thinking away from blitzkrieg and that more priority
was given to brute force and fire power than to speed and
David Glantz stated that for the first time, blitzkrieg was
defeated in summer and the opposing Soviet forces were able to mount a
successful counter-offensive. The
Kursk ended with two
Soviet counter-offensives and the revival of deep operations. In
the summer of 1944, the
Red Army destroyed
Army Group Centre in
Operation Bagration, using combined-arms tactics for armour, infantry
and air power in a coordinated strategic assault, known as deep
operations, which led to an advance of 600 kilometres (370 mi) in
Western Front, 1944–45
Allied armies began using combined arms formations and deep
penetration strategies that Germany had used in the opening years of
the war. Many Allied operations in the Western Desert and on the
Eastern Front, relied on firepower to establish breakthroughs by
fast-moving armoured units. These artillery-based tactics were also
decisive in Western Front operations after
Operation Overlord and the
British Commonwealth and American armies developed flexible and
powerful systems for using artillery support. What the Soviets lacked
in flexibility, they made up for in number of rocket launchers, guns
and mortars. The Germans never achieved the kind of fire
concentrations their enemies were capable of by 1944.
After the Allied landings at Normandy, the Germans began a
counter-offensive to overwhelm the landing force with armoured attacks
but these failed for lack of co-ordination and Allied superiority in
anti-tank defence and in the air. The most notable attempt to use deep
penetration operations in Normandy was
Operation Luttich at Mortain,
which only hastened the
Falaise Pocket and the destruction of German
forces in Normandy. The Mortain counter-attack was defeated by the US
12th Army Group with little effect on its own offensive
The last German offensive on the Western front, the
Battle of the
Bulge (Operation Wacht am Rhein), was an offensive launched towards
the port of
Antwerp in December 1944. Launched in poor weather against
a thinly held Allied sector, it achieved surprise and initial success
as Allied air power was grounded by cloud cover. Determined defence by
US troops in places throughout the Ardennes, the lack of good roads
and German supply shortages caused delays. Allied forces deployed to
the flanks of the German penetration and as soon as the skies cleared,
Allied aircraft returned to the battlefield. Allied counter-attacks
soon forced back the Germans, who abandoned much equipment for lack of
The origins of blitzkrieg are in some doubt: if it existed, who
contributed to it, whether it was part of German war strategy from
1933–1939. There has been a great deal of debate about whether it
existed as a coherent military strategy. Many historians[who?] now
think that blitzkrieg was not a military theory and the campaigns
conducted by the Germans from 1939 to circa 1942 (with the exception
of Operation Barbarossa) were improvised, rather than being based on a
particular military strategy.
Blitzkrieg had been called a Revolution
in Military Affairs (RMA) but many writers and historians have
concluded that the Germans did not invent a new form of warfare but
applied new technologies to traditional ideas of Bewegungskrieg
(manoeuvre warfare) to achieve decisive victory.
In 1965, Captain Robert O'Neill, Professor of the History of
Oxford University produced an example of the popular view. In
Doctrine and Training in the German Army 1919–1939, O'Neill wrote
What makes this story worth telling is the development of one idea:
the blitzkrieg. The German Army had a greater grasp of the effects of
technology on the battlefield, and went on to develop a new form of
warfare by which its rivals when it came to the test were hopelessly
Other historians wrote that blitzkrieg was an operational doctrine of
the German armed forces and a strategic concept on which the
leadership of the
Third Reich based its strategic and economic
planning. Military planners and bureaucrats in the war economy appear
rarely, if ever, to have employed the term blitzkrieg in official
documents. That the German army had a "blitzkrieg doctrine" was
rejected in the late 1970s by Matthew Cooper. The concept of a
Luftwaffe was challenged by
Richard Overy in the late 1970s
and by Williamson Murray in the mid-1980s. That the
Third Reich went
to war on the basis of "blitzkrieg economics" was criticised by
Richard Overy in the 1980s and George Raudzens described the
contradictory senses in which historians have used the word. The
notion of a German blitzkrieg concept or doctrine survives in popular
history and many historians still support the thesis.
Frieser wrote that after the failure of the
Schlieffen Plan in 1914,
the German army concluded that decisive battles were no longer
possible in the changed conditions of the twentieth century. Frieser
wrote that the Oberkommando der
Wehrmacht (OKW), which was created in
1938 had intended to avoid the decisive battle concepts of its
predecessors and planned for a long war of exhaustion
(ermattungskrieg). It was only after the improvised plan for the
Battle of France in 1940 was unexpectedly successful, that the German
General Staff came to believe that vernichtungskrieg was still
feasible. German thinking reverted to the possibility of a quick and
decisive war for the Balkan Campaign and Operation Barbarossa.
Most academic historians regard the notion of blitzkrieg as military
doctrine to be a myth. Shimon Naveh wrote "The striking feature of the
blitzkrieg concept is the complete absence of a coherent theory which
should have served as the general cognitive basis for the actual
conduct of operations". Naveh described it as an "ad hoc solution" to
operational dangers, thrown together at the last moment. Overy
disagreed with the idea that
Hitler and the Nazi regime ever intended
a blitzkrieg war, because the once popular belief that the Nazi state
organised their economy to carry out its grand strategy in short
campaigns was false.
Hitler had intended for a rapid unlimited war to
occur much later than 1939, but the Third Reich's aggressive foreign
policy forced the Nazi state into war before it was ready.
the Wehrmacht's planning in the 1930s did not reflect a blitzkrieg
method but the opposite. John Harris wrote that the Wehrmacht
never used the word, and it did not appear in German army or air force
field manuals; the word was coined in September 1939, by a Times
newspaper reporter. Harris also found no evidence that German military
thinking developed a blitzkrieg mentality.
Karl-Heinz Frieser and
Adam Tooze reached similar conclusions to Overy and Naveh, that the
notions of blitzkrieg-economy and strategy were myths.
Frieser wrote that surviving German economists and
officers denied that Germany went to war with a blitzkrieg
Robert M. Citino
Robert M. Citino argues:
Blitzkrieg was not a doctrine, or an operational scheme, or even a
tactical system. In fact, it simply doesn’t exist, at least not in
the way we usually think it does. The Germans never used the term
Blitzkrieg in any precise sense, and almost never used it outside of
quotations. It simply meant a rapid and decisive victory (lightning
war)... The Germans didn’t invent anything new in the interwar
period, but rather used new technologies like tanks and air and
radiocontrolled command to restore an old way of war that they still
found to be valid, Bewegungskrieg.
In the 1960s, Alan Milward developed a theory of blitzkrieg economics,
that Germany could not fight a long war and chose to avoid
comprehensive rearmament and armed in breadth, to win quick victories.
Milward described an economy positioned between a full war economy and
a peacetime economy. The purpose of the blitzkrieg economy
was to allow the German people to enjoy high living standards in the
event of hostilities and avoid the economic hardships of the First
Overy wrote that blitzkrieg as a "coherent military and economic
concept has proven a difficult strategy to defend in light of the
evidence". Milward's theory was contrary to Hitler's and German
planners' intentions. The Germans, aware of the errors of the First
World War, rejected the concept of organising its economy to fight
only a short war. Therefore, focus was given to the development of
armament in depth for a long war, instead of armament in breadth for a
Hitler claimed that relying on surprise alone was
"criminal" and that "we have to prepare for a long war along with
surprise attack". During the winter of 1939–40,
many troops from the army to return as skilled workers to factories
because the war would be decided by production, not a quick "Panzer
In the 1930s,
Hitler had ordered rearmament programs that cannot be
considered limited. In November 1937
Hitler had indicated that most of
the armament projects would be completed by 1943–45. The
rearmament of the
Kriegsmarine was to have been completed in 1949 and
Luftwaffe rearmament program was to have matured in 1942, with a
force capable of strategic bombing with heavy bombers. The
construction and training of motorised forces and a full mobilisation
of the rail networks would not begin until 1943 and 1944
Hitler needed to avoid war until these projects
were complete but his misjudgements in 1939 forced Germany into war
before rearmament was complete.
After the war,
Albert Speer claimed that the German economy achieved
greater armaments output, not because of diversions of capacity from
civilian to military industry but through streamlining of the economy.
Richard Overy pointed out some 23 percent of German output was
military by 1939. Between 1937 and 1939, 70 percent of investment
capital went into the rubber, synthetic fuel, aircraft and
Hermann Göring had consistently stated that
the task of the
Four Year Plan was to rearm Germany for total war.
Hitler's correspondence with his economists also reveals that his
intent was to wage war in 1943–1945, when the resources of central
Europe had been absorbed into the Third Reich.
Living standards were not high in the late 1930s. Consumption of
consumer goods had fallen from 71 percent in 1928 to 59 percent in
1938. The demands of the war economy reduced the amount of spending in
non-military sectors to satisfy the demand for the armed forces. On 9
September, Göring as Head of the Reich Defence Council, called for
complete "employment" of living and fighting power of the national
economy for the duration of the war. Overy presents this as evidence
that a "blitzkrieg economy" did not exist.
Adam Tooze wrote that the German economy was being prepared for a long
war. The expenditure for this war was extensive and put the economy
under severe strain. The German leadership were concerned less with
how to balance the civilian economy and the needs of civilian
consumption but to figure out how to best prepare the economy for
total war. Once war had begun,
Hitler urged his economic experts to
abandon caution and expend all available resources on the war effort
but the expansion plans only gradually gained momentum in 1941. Tooze
wrote that the huge armament plans in the pre-war period did not
indicate any clear-sighted blitzkrieg economy or strategy.
Frieser wrote that the Heer (German pronunciation: [ˈheːɐ̯])[i]
was not ready for blitzkrieg at the start of the war. A blitzkrieg
method called for a young, highly skilled mechanised army. In
1939–40, 45 percent of the army was 40 years old and 50 percent of
the soldiers had only a few weeks' training. The German army, contrary
to the blitzkrieg legend, was not fully motorised and had only 120,000
vehicles, compared to the 300,000 of the French Army. The British also
had an "enviable" contingent of motorised forces. Thus, "the image of
the German 'Blitzkrieg' army is a figment of propaganda imagination".
During the First World
War the German army used 1.4 million horses for
transport and in the Second World
War used 2.7 million horses; only
ten percent of the army was motorised in 1940.
Half of the German divisions available in 1940 were combat ready but
less well-equipped than the British and French or the Imperial German
Army of 1914. In the spring of 1940, the German army was semi-modern,
in which a small number of well-equipped and "elite" divisions were
offset by many second and third rate divisions". In 2003, John
Mosier wrote that while the French soldiers in 1940 were better
trained than German soldiers, as were the Americans later and that the
German army was the least mechanised of the major armies, its
leadership cadres were larger and better and that the high standard of
leadership was the main reason for the successes of the German army in
War II, as it had been in World
James Corum wrote that it was a myth that the
Luftwaffe had a doctrine
of terror bombing, in which civilians were attacked to break the will
or aid the collapse of an enemy, by the
Luftwaffe in Blitzkrieg
operations. After the bombing of Guernica in 1937 and the Rotterdam
Blitz in 1940, it was commonly assumed that terror bombing was a part
Luftwaffe doctrine. During the interwar period the Luftwaffe
leadership rejected the concept of terror bombing in favour of
battlefield support and interdiction operations.
The vital industries and transportation centers that would be targeted
for shutdown were valid military targets. Civilians were not to be
targeted directly, but the breakdown of production would affect their
morale and will to fight. German legal scholars of the 1930s carefully
worked out guidelines for what type of bombing was permissible under
international law. While direct attacks against civilians were ruled
out as "terror bombing", the concept of the attacking the vital war
industries – and probable heavy civilian casualties and breakdown of
civilian morale – was ruled as acceptable.
General Walther Wever compiled a doctrine known as
The Conduct of the Aerial War. This document, which the Luftwaffe
adopted, rejected Giulio Douhet's theory of terror bombing. Terror
bombing was deemed to be "counter-productive", increasing rather than
destroying the enemy's will to resist. Such bombing campaigns were
regarded as diversion from the Luftwaffe's main operations;
destruction of the enemy armed forces. The bombings of Guernica,
Rotterdam and Warsaw were tactical missions in support of military
operations and were not intended as strategic terror attacks.
J. P. Harris wrote that most
Luftwaffe leaders from Goering through
the general staff believed (as did their counterparts in Britain and
the United States) that strategic bombing was the chief mission of the
air force and that given such a role, the
Luftwaffe would win the next
war and that
Nearly all lectures concerned the strategic uses of airpower;
virtually none discussed tactical co-operation with the Army.
Similarly in the military journals, emphasis centred on 'strategic’
bombing. The prestigious Militärwissenschaftliche Rundeschau, the War
Ministry's journal, which was founded in 1936, published a number of
theoretical pieces on future developments in air warfare. Nearly all
discussed the use of strategic airpower, some emphasising that aspect
of air warfare to the exclusion of others. One author commented that
European military powers were increasingly making the bomber force the
heart of their airpower. The manoeuvrability and technical capability
of the next generation of bombers would be ’as unstoppable as the
flight of a shell.
Luftwaffe did end up with an air force consisting mainly of
relatively short-range aircraft, but this does not prove that the
German air force was solely interested in ’tactical’ bombing. It
happened because the German aircraft industry lacked the experience to
build a long-range bomber fleet quickly, and because
insistent on the very rapid creation of a numerically large force. It
is also significant that Germany's position in the centre of Europe to
a large extent obviated the need to make a clear distinction between
bombers suitable only for ’tactical’ and those necessary for
strategic purposes in the early stages of a likely future war.
Fuller and Liddell Hart
John Frederick Charles Fuller and Captain Basil
Henry Liddell Hart have often been associated with the development of
blitzkrieg, though this is a matter of controversy. In recent years
historians have uncovered that Liddell Hart distorted and falsified
facts to make it appear as if his ideas were adopted. After the war
Liddell Hart imposed his own perceptions, after the event, claiming
that the mobile tank warfare practised by the
Wehrmacht was a result
of his influence. By manipulation and contrivance, Liddell Hart
distorted the actual circumstances of the blitzkrieg formation, and he
obscured its origins. Through his indoctrinated idealisation of an
ostentatious concept, he reinforced the myth of blitzkrieg. By
imposing, retrospectively, his own perceptions of mobile warfare upon
the shallow concept of blitzkrieg, he "created a theoretical imbroglio
that has taken 40 years to unravel."
Blitzkrieg was not an
official doctrine and historians in recent times have come to the
conclusion that it did not exist as such.[a]
It was the opposite of a doctrine.
Blitzkrieg consisted of an
avalanche of actions that were sorted out less by design and more by
success. In hindsight—and with some help from Liddell Hart—this
torrent of action was squeezed into something it never was: an
The early 1950s literature transformed blitzkrieg into a historical
military doctrine, which carried the signature of Liddell Hart and
Guderian. The main evidence of Liddell Hart's deceit and "tendentious"
report of history can be found in his letters to Erich von Manstein,
Heinz Guderian and the relatives and associates of Erwin Rommel.
Liddell Hart, in letters to Guderian, "imposed his own fabricated
version of blitzkrieg on the latter and compelled him to proclaim it
as original formula".
Kenneth Macksey found Liddell Hart's
original letters to Guderian in the General's papers, requesting that
Guderian give him credit for "impressing him" with his ideas of
armoured warfare. When Liddell Hart was questioned about this in 1968
and the discrepancy between the English and German editions of
Guderian's memoirs, "he gave a conveniently unhelpful though strictly
truthful reply. ('There is nothing about the matter in my file of
correspondence with Guderian himself except...that I thanked him...for
what he said in that additional paragraph'.)".
War I, Fuller had been a staff officer attached to the
new tank corps. He developed
Plan 1919 for massive, independent tank
operations, which he claimed were subsequently studied by the German
military. It is variously argued that Fuller's wartime plans and
post-war writings were an inspiration or that his readership was low
and German experiences during the war received more attention. The
German view of themselves as the losers of the war, may be linked to
the senior and experienced officers' undertaking a thorough review,
studying and rewriting of all their Army doctrine and training
Fuller and Liddell Hart were "outsiders": Liddell Hart was unable to
serve as a soldier after 1916 after being gassed on the Somme and
Fuller's abrasive personality resulted in his premature retirement in
1933. Their views had limited impact in the British army; the War
Office permitted the formation of an
Experimental Mechanized Force
Experimental Mechanized Force on
1 May 1927, composed of tanks, lorried infantry, self-propelled
artillery and motorised engineers but the force was disbanded in 1928
on the grounds that it had served its purpose. A new experimental
brigade was intended for the next year and became a permanent
formation in 1933, during the cuts of the 1932/33–1934/35 financial
It has been argued that blitzkrieg was not new; the Germans did not
invent something called blitzkrieg in the 1920s and 1930s.
Rather the German concept of wars of movement and concentrated force
were seen in wars of
Prussia and the German wars of unification. The
first European general to introduce rapid movement, concentrated power
and integrated military effort was Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus
during the Thirty Years' War. The appearance of the aircraft and tank
in the First World War, called an RMA, offered the German military a
chance to get back to the traditional war of movement as practised by
Moltke the Elder. The so-called "blitzkrieg campaigns" of 1939 –
circa 1942, were well within that operational context.
At the outbreak of war, the German army had no radically new theory of
war. The operational thinking of the German army had not changed
significantly since the First World
War or since the late 19th
century. J. P. Harris and
Robert M. Citino
Robert M. Citino point out that the Germans
had always had a marked preference for short, decisive campaigns –
but were unable to achieve short-order victories in First World War
conditions. The transformation from the stalemate of the First World
War into tremendous initial operational and strategic success in the
Second, was partly the employment of a relatively small number of
mechanised divisions, most importantly the Panzer divisions, and the
support of an exceptionally powerful air force.
Heinz Guderian is widely regarded as being highly influential in
developing the military methods of warfare used by Germany's tank men
at the start of the Second World War. This style of warfare brought
manoeuvre back to the fore, and placed an emphasis on the offensive.
This style, along with the shockingly rapid collapse in the armies
that opposed it, came to be branded as blitzkrieg warfare.
Following Germany's military reforms of the 1920s, Heinz Guderian
emerged as a strong proponent of mechanised forces. Within the
Inspectorate of Transport Troops, Guderian and colleagues performed
theoretical and field exercise work. Guderian met with opposition from
some in the
General Staff, who were distrustful of the new weapons and
who continued to view the infantry as the primary weapon of the army.
Among them, Guderian claimed, was Chief of the
General Staff Ludwig
Beck (1935–38), whom he alleged was sceptical that armoured forces
could be decisive. This claim has been disputed by later historians.
James Corum wrote:
Guderian expressed a hearty contempt for
General Ludwig Beck, chief of
General Staff from 1935 to 1938, whom he characterized as hostile
to ideas of modern mechanised warfare: [Corum quoting Guderian] "He
[Beck] was a paralysing element wherever he
appeared....[S]ignificantly of his way of thought was his much-boosted
method of fighting which he called delaying defence". This is a crude
caricature of a highly competent general who authored Army Regulation
300 (Troop Leadership) in 1933, the primary tactical manual of the
German Army in World
War II, and under whose direction the first three
panzer divisions were created in 1935, the largest such force in the
world of the time.
By Guderian's account he single-handedly created the German tactical
and operational methodology. Between 1922 and 1928 Guderian wrote a
number of articles concerning military movement. As the ideas of
making use of the combustible engine in a protected encasement to
bring mobility back to warfare developed in the German army, Guderian
was a leading proponent of the formations that would be used for this
purpose. He was later asked to write an explanatory book, which was
titled Achtung Panzer! (1937). In it he explained the theories of the
tank men and defended them.
Guderian argued that the tank would be the decisive weapon of the next
war. "If the tanks succeed, then victory follows", he wrote. In an
article addressed to critics of tank warfare, he wrote "until our
critics can produce some new and better method of making a successful
land attack other than self-massacre, we shall continue to maintain
our beliefs that tanks—properly employed, needless to say—are
today the best means available for land attack." Addressing the faster
rate at which defenders could reinforce an area than attackers could
penetrate it during the First World War, Guderian wrote that "since
reserve forces will now be motorized, the building up of new defensive
fronts is easier than it used to be; the chances of an offensive based
on the timetable of artillery and infantry co-operation are, as a
result, even slighter today than they were in the last war." He
continued, "We believe that by attacking with tanks we can achieve a
higher rate of movement than has been hitherto obtainable, and—what
is perhaps even more important—that we can keep moving once a
breakthrough has been made." Guderian additionally required that
tactical radios be widely used to facilitate co-ordination and command
by having one installed in all tanks.
Guderian's leadership was supported, fostered and institutionalised by
his supporters in the
General Staff system, which worked
the Army to greater and greater levels of capability through massive
and systematic Movement Warfare war games in the 1930s. Guderian's
book incorporated the work of theorists such as Ludwig Ritter von
Eimannsberger, whose book, The Tank
War (Der Kampfwagenkrieg) (1934)
gained a wide audience in the German army. Another German theorist,
Ernst Volckheim, wrote a huge amount on tank and combined arms tactics
and was influential to German thinking on the use of armoured
formations but his work was not acknowledged in Guderian's
AirLand Battle, blitzkrieg-like doctrine of US Army in 1980s
Rush (computer and video games), an RTS strategy influenced by the
Shock and awe, the 21st century US military doctrine.
Vernichtungsgedanke, or "annihilation concept".
Deep Battle, Soviet
Red Army Military Doctrine from the 1930s often
confused with blitzkrieg.
Battleplan (documentary TV series)
^ a b Some of the historians that have addressed the misconception of
the originality and formalisation of blitzkrieg in their works are:
Shimon Naveh (Naveh 1997, pp. 107–108), John Paret (Paret,
Craig & Gilbert 1986, p. 587),
Karl-Heinz Frieser (Frieser
2005, pp. 28–32),
Richard Overy (Overy 1995,
Mungo Melvin (Melvin 2011, pp. 137), and
Steven Mercatante (Mercatante 2012, pp. 4–5).
^ These are some of the many notable historians that have casually
used the term blitzkrieg—including some who have written on its
misconception—to describe several
Wehrmacht military operations that
were spearheaded by a dense concentration of armoured and motorised
formations with the aim of delivering a breakthrough, and exploiting
it with speed to paralyse and encircle the enemy:
David Glantz (Glantz
2010, p. 14; Glantz 2009, p. 164; Glantz 2001), Jonathan
House (Glantz & House 1999, pp. 254, 269; Glantz & House
1995, pp. 61, 125, 167, 226, 274, 286, 288), Lloyd Clark (Clark
2012, pp. 22–27, 187),
Antony Beevor (Beevor 1999, pp. 13,
148; Beevor 2006, p. 157),
Mungo Melvin (Melvin 2011,
pp. 46, 79–80, 199), John Erickson (Erickson 2001,
pp. 558, 567) and Steven Mercatante (Mercatante 2012,
pp. 65, 77, 91, 301).
^ Nothing appeared in
Luftwaffe 'doctrine' stipulating "terror" as a
major operational factor. The method of "terror", was denied to German
aerial operations (and strategic bombing methods) by the Luftwaffe
field manual The Conduct of Air Operations, Regulation 16, issued in
1935 (Corum 1992, pp. 167–169). Regulation 16 denied "terror"
operations against civilians, and it was not until 1942 when
indiscriminate "terror" operations, in which terror and civilian
casualties become the primary target, took place (Corum 1997,
pp. 7, 143).
^ As far as the
Ju 87 is concerned, it is thought the sirens were
suggested to the Junkers company by
Ernst Udet to undermine the morale
of enemy forces (Griehl 2001, p. 31).
^ 58 percent of prisoners died through neglect, starvation, or other
causes associated with
Nazi crimes against Soviet POWs
Nazi crimes against Soviet POWs (Glantz &
House 1995, p. 57).
Alphonse Joseph Georges
Alphonse Joseph Georges wrote, "Crediting our enemies with
our own procedure we had imagined that they would not attempt the
passage of the Meuse until after they had brought up ample artillery.
The five or six days necessary for that would have easily given us
time to reinforce our own dispositions" (Liddell Hart 1970,
^ Some of the military historians who consider Operation Citadel, or
at least the southern pincer, as envisioning a blitzkrieg attack or
state it was intended as such are: Lloyd Clark (Clark 2012,
p. 187), Roger Moorhouse (Moorhouse 2011, p. 342), Mary
Kathryn Barbier (Barbier 2002, p. 10),
David Glantz (; Glantz
& House 2004, pp. 63, 78, 149, 269, 272, 280), Jonathan House
(Glantz & House 2004, pp. 63, 78, 149, 269, 272, 280), Hedley
Paul Willmott (Willmott 1990, p. 300), Oscar Pinkus (Pinkus 2005,
p. 35) and others.
^ Many of the German participants of Operation Citadel made no mention
of blitzkrieg in their characterisation of the operation. Several
German officers and commanders involved in the operation wrote their
account of the battle after the war, and some of these postwar
accounts were collected by the US Army. Some of these officers are:
Theodor Busse (Newton 2002, pp. 3–27), Erhard Raus (Newton
2002, pp. 29–64), Friedrich Fangohr (Newton 2002,
pp. 65–96), Peter von der Groeben (Newton 2002,
pp. 97–144), Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin (Mellenthin 1956,
Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein (Manstein 1983,
pp. 443–449), and others.
^ Heer is the generic German word for army; the armies of the German
states which existed before the
Third Reich (1933–1945) are commonly
referred to as: the Imperial German Army (1871–1918) and Reichswehr
(1919–1935). The Heer under the
Third Reich was a component of the
Wehrmacht – the German Armed Forces (1935–1946).
^ Glantz 2010, p. 14.
^ a b Frieser 2005, p. 6.
^ a b c Clark 2012, p. 22.
^ a b Fanning 1997, pp. 283–287.
^ a b Harris 1995, pp. 337–338.
^ Keegan 1987, p. 260.
^ Keegan 1989, p. 54.
^ a b Frieser 2005, p. 4.
^ a b c Frieser 2005, pp. 4–5.
^ a b Shirer 1969, ch. 29–31.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 34.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 329–330.
^ Mercatante 2012, pp. 4–5.
^ a b Frieser 2005, p. 7.
^ a b Keegan 2005, p. 109.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 334–336.
^ Griehl 2001, pp. 31, 64–65.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 345.
^ Holmes et al. 2001, p. 135.
^ a b Harris 1995, p. 337.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 338–339.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 336–338.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 5.
^ Domarus 1973, p. 1776.
Hitler 1942, p. 173.
^ Perrett 1983, pp. 30–31.
^ Corum 1992, p. 7.
^ Corum 1997, p. 30.
^ Paniccia, Arduino (Jan 14, 2014). Reshaping the Future: Handbook for
a new Strategy. Mazzanti Libri – Me Publisher.
^ Corum 1997, p. 37.
^ French 2000, pp. 17–18.
^ Sheffield 2011, p. 121.
^ French 2000, pp. 18–20, 22–24.
^ a b Liddell Hart 1970, pp. 435–438.
^ Woodward 2006, p. 191.
^ Erickson 2001, p. 200.
^ Wavell 1968, p. 206.
^ Falls & Becke 1930, pp. 470–1, 480–1, 485.
^ Hill 1978, pp. 171–172.
^ Liddell Hart 1970, pp. 435.
^ Hughes 2004, pp. 181–183.
^ De Gaulle 2009.
^ Watt 2008, pp. 677–678.
^ Willmott 2002, p. 116.
^ Edwards 1989, p. 23.
^ Guderian 2001, p. 46.
^ Edwards 1989, p. 24.
^ Guderian 2001, p. 13.
^ Guderian 2001, p. 20.
^ Murray, Williamson (2011). Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of
Change. Cambridge University Press. p. 129.
^ Grossman, DAVID A. Maneuver Warfare in the Light Infantry-The Rommel
Model (PDF). p. 1.
^ Grossman, DAVID A. Maneuver Warfare in the Light Infantry-The Rommel
Model (PDF). pp. 1–3.
^ Stroud, Rick (2013). The Phantom Army of Alamein: The Men Who
Hoodwinked Rommel. A&C Black. pp. 33–34.
^ Showalter, Dennis (Jan 3, 2006). Patton And Rommel: Men of
the Twentieth Century. Penguin. ISBN 9781440684685.
^ Lee, T.W. (2008). Military Technologies of the World. ABC-CLIO.
^ Brighton, Terry (2008). Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War.
p. 247. ISBN 9781400114979.
^ Murray, Williamson; MacGregor, Knox (2001). The Dynamics of Military
Revolution, 1300–2050. Cambridge University Press. p. 172.
^ Showalter, Dennis (Jan 3, 2006). Patton And Rommel: Men of
the Twentieth Century. Penguin. ISBN 9781440684685.
^ Sheldon 2017, pp. vi, 17.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 89–90, 156–157.
^ Bevin 2002, p. 227.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 344–346.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 119.
^ Keegan 1987, p. 265.
^ Buckley 1998, pp. 126–127.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 137–144.
^ Boyne 2002, p. 233.
^ Boyne 2002, p. 233, Excerpt reads: "The Allies had no CAS
aircraft, training or doctrine..
^ Dildy 2014, p. 36.
^ Terraine 1998, pp. 133–135.
^ Willmott 1984, pp. 94, 89, Excerpt reads: "Many examples of the
experiences and losses suffered by German formations moving up to the
front are well known. Panzer Lehr, for instance, on 7 June alone lost
84 half-tracks, prime movers and self propelled guns, 40 fuel bowsers,
90 soft-skinned vehicles and five tanks as it made its way from Le
Mans to Caen..
^ Simpkin 2000, p. 34.
^ Winchester 2002, pp. 18–25.
^ Edwards 1989, p. 145.
^ Edwards 1989, p. 25.
^ Corum 1997, p. 200.
^ Harris 1995, p. 339.
^ Cooper 1997, p. 176.
^ Ellis 1990.
^ Zaloga & Madej 1985.
^ Liddell Hart 1970, p. 73.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 145–182.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 291–310.
^ Guderian 2001, p. 94.
^ Horne 1969, p. 717.
^ Clark 1965, p. 78.
^ a b Tooze 2006, p. 487.
^ Glantz 2012, p. 30–31.
^ Hardesty 2012, p. 9.
^ Glantz 2012, p. 7.
^ a b c Frieser 2005, p. 351.
^ Glantz 2012, pp. 192, 197.
^ Clark 2012, pp. 233.
^ a b c d Glantz & House 1995, p. 167.
^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 63–64.
^ Clark 2012, pp. 188, 190.
^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 63–65.
^ Clark 2012, pp. 207.
^ Glantz & House 2004, p. 63.
^ Zetterling & Frankson 2000, p. 137.
^ Battistelli 2013, pp. 4, 6.
^ Tooze 2006, pp. 599–600, 636–637.
^ Keegan 2005, p. 48.
^ Keegan 2005, pp. 632–633.
^ a b c Citino 2005, p. 311.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 333–348.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 349–350.
^ Naveh 1997, pp. 128–129.
^ Overy 1995, pp. 233–235.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 333–336.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 25–27.
^ Tooze 2006, pp. 371–373.
^ Frieser 2005.
^ Yersa 2011, p. 11.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 25.
^ Harris 1995, p. 348.
^ Overy 1995, p. 260.
^ Overy 1995, p. 207.
^ Frieser 2005, p. 26.
^ Overy 1995, pp. 192, 195.
^ a b Frieser 2005, p. 29.
^ Overy 1995, p. 195.
^ Overy 1995, pp. 259, 263.
^ Overy 1995, pp. 261, 265.
^ Tooze 2006, pp. 335, 338, 372.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 29–30, 33.
^ Mosier 2003, pp. 284–288.
^ Corum 1997, p. 7.
^ Corum 1997, p. 240.
^ Corum 1997, pp. 143–144, 146, 7.
^ Harris 1995, p. 346.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 346–347.
^ a b Naveh 1997, p. 108.
^ Naveh 1997, pp. 108–109.
^ Paret, Craig & Gilbert 1986, p. 585.
^ Naveh 1997, p. 109.
^ Danchev 1998, p. 239.
^ Danchev 1998, pp. 235–239.
^ Corum 1992, p. 39.
^ Harris 1995a, p. 244.
^ Harris 1995a, pp. 197, 210–219, 220–221, 237.
^ Frieser 2005, pp. 326–328.
^ Harris 1995, pp. 344–345.
^ Corum 1992, pp. 140–141.
^ Guderian 2001, pp. 39–46, Guderian's remarks are from an
unnamed article published in the National Union of German Officers, 15
October 1937 as quoted in Panzer Leader, pp.39–46. Italics
removed—the quoted sections are all italics in the original..
^ Corum 1992, p. 139.
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Mediterranean and Middle East
Free France (from June 1940)
Italy (from September 1943)
Reorganized National Government of the Republic of China
Independent State of Croatia
Italy (until September 1943)
Italian Social Republic
Philippines (Second Republic)
Armistice of 22 June 1940
Soviet Union (Barbarossa)
Syria and Lebanon
The outbreak of the Pacific War
Armistice of Cassibile
Gilbert and Marshall Islands
Northern Burma and Western Yunnan
Monte Cassino / Shingle
Mariana and Palau
Western invasion of Germany
Italy (Spring 1945)
Surrender of Germany
Surrender of Japan
End of World
War II in Asia
Bengal famine of 1943
Chinese famine of 1942–43
Greek Famine of 1941-1944
Dutch famine of 1944–45
Vietnamese Famine of 1945
Air warfare of World
Comparative military ranks
Art and World
Expulsion of Germans
Occupation of Germany
Territorial changes of Germany
Occupation of Japan
First Indochina War
Indonesian National Revolution
Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany
Allied war crimes
Soviet war crimes
British war crimes
United States war crimes
German (Forced labour) /
Wehrmacht war crimes
Italian war crimes
Japanese war crimes
Croatian war crimes
against the Serbs
against the Jews
Romanian war crimes
German military brothels
Rape during the occupation of Japan
Rape of Nanking
Rape of Manila
Rape during the occupation of Germany
Rape during the liberation of France
Rape during the liberation of Poland
Finnish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union
German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union
German prisoners of war in the United States
Italian prisoners of war in the Soviet Union
Japanese prisoners of war in the Soviet Union
Japanese prisoners of war in World
German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war
Polish prisoners of war in the Soviet Union
Romanian prisoners of war in the Soviet Union
Soviet prisoners of war in Finland