1 September 2008
: Wehrmacht invades Poland, starting the
second European war in a generation and introducing the world
to a new kind of warfare: blitzkrieg. This form of attack,
which helped the Wehrmacht obliterate the Poles in three weeks
and the French in only six, relies on rapid mobility and the
co-ordination of massed armour and infantry, with fighter
planes and dive bombers providing air support. It also depends
on the element of surprise, one reason Nazi Germany never
declared war prior to invading an enemy.
The concept of blitzkrieg was a matter of adapting 20th century
technology especially the tank, the aeroplane and the radio
to the age-old tactics of mobile warfare. The Germans were
not alone in exploring these possibilities military thinkers
like Britain's Basil Liddell Hart and France's Charles de
Gaulle also wrote extensively on the subject during the inter-war
years but conditions within the German army, and inside Germany
itself, made for a more receptive audience.
is the acknowledged father of the blitzkrieg.
was a signals officer during World War I, but he studied tank
tactics in the early '20s and became a proselytiser for armoured
warfare. He later published a study, Achtung Panzer!, that
amounted to a blueprint of German blitzkrieg tactics for the
Adolf Hitler, meanwhile, was in the process of rearming the
country when he attended a wargaming exercise that combined
tanks and motorised infantry. Hitler was impressed by the
swiftness and the striking power, and he told Guderian
who was running the exercise that this was the army he meant
The tank is the blitzkrieg's decisive weapon. Tactically,
the key is to attack en masse rather than committing tanks
piecemeal, in an infantry support role, which is what the
French did. In Germany, this philosophy led to the creation
of the panzer divisions, the world's first truly armoured
, though only a colonel, was given command of
the 2nd Panzer Division in 1935. As a general in World War
commanded the XIX Panzer Corps during the Polish
and French campaigns and, later, the Second Panzer Army in
Russia. He also served as inspector general of panzer troops
and, finally, as chief of the army's general staff.)
The classic blitzkrieg attack unfolds like this:
Air strikes, rather than artillery, open the attack, hitting
at key targets such as enemy airfields, communications centre's,
rail lines, main roads, supply depots and troop concentrations.
Early in the war, the Ju
"Stuka" dive bomber was heavily employed
in this role.
Artillery zeros in on those points in the enemy line selected
for the armoured breakthrough.
When the barrage lifts, massed armour attacks those points
(Schwerpunkte in German), tearing gaps in the enemy's line.
Tanks, supported by motorised infantry, achieve the breakthrough,
driving deep into the enemy's rear areas without stopping
to consolidate gains or engage troops on the flanks. The point
is to disrupt communications, paralyse command structure and
destroy the enemy's ability to mount a co-ordinated counterattack.
Infantry divisions follow up the breakthrough, encircling
and mopping up enemy resistance, shoring up the flanks and
consolidating the conquered territory.
Success is achieved through surprise and speed, which keeps
the enemy off balance. Manoeuvring is co-ordinated through
the use of radio, which was used so extensively by the Germans
that individual tanks carried their own equipment. The French,
by comparison, hardly used radio at all. The French High Command
was not even connected by radio to units in the field. Instead,
it dispatched orders by motorcycle courier from its headquarters
outside of Paris.
Incidentally, the German Wehrmacht never officially used the
word blitzkrieg literally, "lightning war" though
it did appear in several pre-war German military publications.
It came into popular use after turning up in Time magazine's
coverage of the Polish invasion.
Other: WWII News
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