Blitzkrieg: Weapons & Methods The word Blitzkrieg was coined by Hitler in 1936 (Macksey 68) and gained its use of the word when it first appeared in Time Magazine’s issue dated 25th of September 1939. Blitzkrieg or lightning-fast war was fashioned long before the Second World War. It was already an idea based on the fear that if Prussia engaged one enemy into a lengthy war, other enemies would have joined in and failure would ensue. Thus, Blitzkrieg, as it is now used, is Heinz Guderian’s development of the Prussian military thought of sudden military offensive. It was first used by his forces in May of 1940.
I. Guderian & his Blitzkrieg – Heinz Guderian was born in 1881 at Kulm, a Prussian town that is now Poland. He attended military schools in Germany before being sent to the battalion his father commanded at Bitche in Lorraine. He then elected to serve with the telegraph battalion and took charge of the heavy wireless station working in connection with cavalry. It was the time of wireless communication; new ways of improving radio communication were discovered at an unbelievable pace. Radio communication allowed a commander to be virtually present on any field, plane or tank.
This Guderian, with a right vision, saw as the future. Since then, he never lost sight of the thought that military radio would one day play an important role in the army’s military operation. During the First World War Guderian served as a staff officer and after the war he served as a senior staff officer in the infamous Iron Division. Then he was selected for staff job with the Inspectorate of Transport Troops, the office responsible for selecting tactical uses of motorized infantry in combat and the use of motor transport.
He became an asset in the motorized infantry studies but much to his disappointment, he was later assigned to the mundane jobs of construction, fuel supply and other technical jobs. Unbeknownst to him then these three experiences would later be the components of blitzkrieg. However, during that time, Guderian was so disappointed that he requested for a return to his old company. When his request was not granted, he sought solace in a self-imposed study of armored warfare, particularly that of J. F. C. Fuller’s. The peace treaty of 1919 prohibited Germany from constructing military tanks.
This resulted in an overly theoretical study of the tank by the German army and made them experts, above other nation, in the military tank design. By 1928 Germany made a secret agreement with Soviet Russia that enabled them to experiment on actual tanks. Germany and the Soviet share the facilities of the testing ground in Kazan with a deal that the Germans imparted their expertise while the Soviets provided the tanks. By this time Guderian, now a Troop Officer, was already well known in the army for his military lectures on the future role of the tanks, aircraft and the motorized infantry.
In 1933 Hitler became Chancellor. In 1934 PzKw1 begun its full-scale production and one year later when Hitler came to inspect the testing grounds of Kummersdorf and saw some of Guderian’s tanks in action. It was then that Hitler’s said his famous ‘That’s what I need. That’s what I want. ’ This historians and war scholars cite to prove Hitler’s intention to wage war as early as the early 30s (Deighton, 172). Guderian’s rose to greater height of respect and popularity. His theories on storm troop tactics were generally accepted and were almost never challenged even by those officials in higher ranks than him.
By October of 1935 Guderian was already colonel and chief of staff of the Armoured Force. In 1937 he wrote a book, Achtung! Panzer! this clearly conveyed his support on Hitler more than it demonstrated his tank and mechanized troop theories. So when Hitler staged his massive shake out of senior officer unsympathetic to Nazi which included Guderian’s superior General der Panzertuppen Oswald Lutz, Guderian was appointed Generalleutnant and became the commander of the first armoured corps. A year later he was appointed to take command of the spearhead force for the Anschluss, or the annexation of Austria.
The armoured formation met difficulties mainly due to the long 400-mile journey and showed its weakness. But Guderian extended his tactical ideas into strategical ones by integrating supply services, fuel, food and ammunition into the whole fighting unit. Thus begun Blitzkrieg; the fast, deep penetration of the enemy territory that would eventually bring its collapse. Guderian earned the nickname ‘Hurrying Heinz’ by way of his tactical attacks and his impatient personality that dominated his way of command in battlefields. II. Weapons 1.
The Tanks – Hasso Manteuffel, in an interview by Basil Linddell Hart about Heinz Guderian, explained that Guderian favored the strategic use of panzer forces by cutting a deep thrust into the enemy, without worrying about a possible threat to his own unprotected and far-extended flanks. This is the main reason why he planned to transport all supporting elements of the panzer forces, infantry, artillery and engineers, on tracks and why the supply services such as petrol, ammunition and food, were incorporated in with the fighting troops.
He stated that it was Guderian, and he was alone in the beginning, who introduced the tank to the army for its use as an operative weapon. He said, “… during my term in the war ministry in the Inspectorate of Panzer Forces I was well acquainted with Guderian’s struggle on behalf of the use of this weapon. In the best sense of the word, this new weapon bears the stamp of his personality. Its successes during the war are due to him. ” (qtd. in Blitzkrieg, 1940) It was Guderian alone who pushed the idea that tanks should break-through enemy front lines.
The peace treaty barred Germany from building tanks, but more than the restriction; the dismantling of Germany’s heavy industry was the major obstacle. This brought about a foremost interest, almost an obsession, of the German army in tank design and manufacture. Left with no tanks after the war, they were able to build and design what was considered a modern tank at that time. Different experimental prototypes were secretly manufactured almost all at the same time that parts were interchangeable.
All the German tanks weighed less than 24 tons to conform to the maximum weight of roads and bridges at that time and to allow them to be carried by trains or rafted across rivers. They were no wider than 9 feet 7 inches to fit into railway tunnels and side by side traffic. The tanks were designed for adaptation to future situations and demands as proven by the PzKw III. The PzKw III was designed in three sections: the lower main hull housing the engine, transmission and control and the front and rear superstructure.
The superstructure could be changed, if needed without having to design a new tank. Later as the war progressed, the PzKw III had enjoyed various modifications which were allowed by its flexible design. It also featured the latest development of Porsche at that time, the torsion bar suspension. It was already a relative success on the Volkswagen car. Fitting the suspension to the tank was important in its overall design. Not only did it create comfort and safety to the crew, it also improved its performance. The suspension system allowed the tank’s weight to be distributed evenly.
And as the tanks design got heavier and the terrain became softer, an efficient suspension system became even more important. Guderian knew that one of the main reasons of the failure of the tank in the First World War was the poor condition of the crew. The temperature inside the tank exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The noise was so loud that communications inside the tank were done by hammering on the engine. There were also dust and oil fumes that caused nausea and vomiting, even delirium. The crews with only a few days under that condition were unable to continue fighting.
All these Guderian knew and he demanded comfort and convenience to the tank crew in the new tank designs. At the same time these crew were selected scrupulously to guarantee their performance even under the toughest condition. Still, the PzKw III and PzKw IV had five crews to ensure that they will not be overworked or pressured once the battle begins. The tanks were also designed to have added protection in the front. Unlike most of the tanks of French and the British which have the same armor thickness throughout the body, the German tanks have thicker and sloped armor in front.
The design was so successful that most of the missiles were deflected. The construction of the German tanks was also different. They were electro-weld and not bolted or riveted. This shattered uncapped shots and enabled many German tanks to survive even direct hits. The first of the German tanks, the PzKw I was no more than 15 feet long and weighed a little less than 6 tons. It was a small armoured machine with only a room for two and armed with only two machine guns. The PzKw II was then created as the army realized the ineffectiveness of its predecessor.
But it was only a little improvement compared to the first. The weight reached 10 ton when its armor was reinforced and had 20 mm anti-aircraft gun. Still, better designed tanks were needed and PzKw II was relegated to lesser tasks. Some were converted into commander’s tanks, protection ride for some selected engineers and some became self-propelled artillery pieces. By the time Poland was invaded the whole army only had PzKw I and II. Only 221 PzKw IV had been delivered and even fewer PzKw III. The designs on the PzKw III and IV overcompensated for the faults and weakness of the I and II.
They were complex machines and as such created problems for the engineering department and workshop. Too often they had to go back to the workshop for repairs. It seemed that they were designed for a luxurious ride more than for their hitting power. And each machine was hand made rather than mass produced. Production wise they were a nightmare. Had it not been for the Czech tanks the attack against France in 1940 would not have been successful. Soon however the tanks overcame all its initial problems and the PzKw III and IV became one of the powerful forces of the German army.
The panther was also developed when the invincibility of the PzKw III and IV had been surmounted by the enemy. 2. Artillery – In order to achieve his lightning-fast war Guderian needed fast moving artillery that can keep up and protect them as they invade enemy territory. The Luftwaffe unit became the army’s support since Germany had no bombing force. Guderian then decided that the bomber was to be the artillery. Despite much credit the Luftwaffe unit did not become an altogether bombardment unit and the panzer division, for most part, brought their artillery with them.
The howitzers were the Panzer-Artillerie. It is a low-velocity weapon that throws the missile into the air until it dives back to the target. They have 14 feet long barrels that could be elevated up to 45 degrees. They were towed by large half-tracks which could position the guns easily and swiftly. They needed short time for set-up and could be reloaded quickly for short distance target. They were light and inexpensive, perfect for blitzkrieg. Each division had three battalions of artillery. The heavy battalion had 12 big 15cm FH 18 howitzers. The light artillery battalions had twelve 10. cm FH 18 howitzers. Both were called Haubitze, meaning they could be used as howitzers in high elevation and also in lower-reach targets. The artillery, though an integral and vital part of blitzkrieg’s success, was much criticized after the attack on Poland. They were still not fast enough in keeping up with the infantry and the 8. 8 cm anti-aircraft guns proved to be as useful as the howitzers. 3. Half-track Vehicles – The half-track vehicles were indispensable in transporting the artillery. Its weight, the way it had to be towed and position in the field required the use of half-track vehicles.
It was used by the Red Army in the previous war and during the 1930s the German army provided the panzer division with half-tracks. It was M. Kegresse, a Frenchman working under the Russian Tsar who invented these half-track vehicles. He combined the steering wheel with tracked drive using an Austin car and his own created suspension. His invention later became the Austin-Kegresse armoured car. Half-track vehicles ranged from 5 ton Leichter Zugkraftwagen, or light prime mover, to middle sized ones to huge 18 ton Schwerer Zugkraftwagen, or heavy prime mover.
The light ones were used to tow anti-tank guns and light anti-aircraft guns. The middle sized ones carried the howitzers and pontoon bridge section. While the 18-tonner were used to winch a damaged tank out of the mud on to a trailer and bring it back to the repair shops. The half-track vehicles are cheaper and more maneuverable cross country capability than the tank steering because it is steered by the front wheels like the car. But anything towed by the half-tracks affects is capability; that when self-propelled guns were still used before the 40s, they were placed inside the half-tracks.
The half-track vehicles were transformed into semi-track that were designed and provided for the as the German armoured personnel carrier. It was a transportation vehicle with armor slopes on all sided to deflect hits. It was open-top to enable infantry men to jump from quickly but this had made it more vulnerable to grenades. Though not designed for fighting, it had large track areas giving it an excellent traction. The steering was brilliantly designed that when the steering wheel was turned far enough, brakes were applied. These vehicles became the preferred vehicles for reconnaissance units.
They were also used for carrying ammunition, laying cables, evacuating casualties and of course, as Kommando-Panzerwagen or mobile armoured command cars, like the specially equipped one that Guderian personally used. The versatility of the half-track vehicles made it always in short supply and soldiers were considered lucky if they got a ride on one of these vehicles. 4. Motorcycles – In 1930 the German army had provided motorcycles to its soldiers. In fact, powerful motorcycles were even given to a whole battalion of a panzer division’s rifle brigade who rode to battles and dismounted to fight.
However early war motorcycles were quite vulnerable to several conditions such as, bad weather, soft roads and oil spills which were deliberately spilt by the enemies. In the summer of 1940 BMW and Zundapp, both German manufacturers, were in a full-scale production of the powerful 750cc motorcycle, the BMW R75, for the German army. These motorcycles were designed to drove, not only the front and the rear of the wheels, but also the sidecar wheels. Tests were successful; the performance of motorcycle was dramatically improved. At the same time, at the Volkswagen factory, the 1936 car redesigned by Professor Porsche was also in full production.
The new design changed the rear-axle reduction gear to improve traction and increased ground clearance. This light car called Kubel or bucked, a military version of the Volkswagen Beetle, was the only passenger car that remained in production for the German army and the motorcycle was demoted to communication duties. 5. Armoured Cars – By 1940 Germany had about 600 armoured cars. Since the Germans were not allowed to build tanks, they used armoured cars for military purpose and begun developing them into variations of four-wheel, six-wheel, and eight-wheel armoured cars.
And unlike the French and the British who simply modified other vehicles, the Germans, staring with the chassis, built new armoured cars. Motorcycles were first used in reconnaissance jobs but they were soon replaced by armoured cars. For speed and protection to the crew alone armoured cars became more suited for the job. 6. Motor Lorries – By 1939 Germany’s motorized army was virtually non-existent. Their ordinary infantry division had around 5,000 horses and only around 900 motorized vehicles. When war started in 1939 the German armed forces sequestered civilian motors.
All in all they had about 16,000 units of motorized vehicles that by then they had enough for the army’s use, even for training. However the civilian lorries were not enough to form a reserve. By 1940 General Franz Halder the Chief of the Army General Staff reported that the army’s normal loss of trucks, through wear and tear, was about 2,400 each quarter per year. The production however was only 1,000 each quarter. Conclusively, without even fighting, the army was losing 1,400 trucks per quarter each year (Deighton, 205).
He was so troubled and dismayed by the situation that he proposed a ‘demotorization programme’, replacing motor vehicles with horses despite reports that horses were not able to keep up with motorized vehicles and tanks. However such drastic move approved as there came enough supply of tanks from Czechoslovakia. 7. Anti-aircraft Guns, The Flak – Another factor that lead to the success of Blitzkrieg, and made Germany an air power, is their anti-aircraft gun called the Flak, short for Fliegerabwehrkanone. Flaks have high muzzle velocity that enabled it to have a high rate of fire, long range, and flat trajectory.
The flaks guns, from 20 mm to 10 cm, all had muzzle velocity of 3,000 feet per second. They also have solid shot or armor piercing ammunition and high explosive shells. They were quite mobile and were considered lightweight. The 8 cm guns had only 4. 92 tons. These Flaks were designed to shoot at tanks, as well as enemy aircraft. By 1939 Germany had 72 anti-aircraft regiments while France had only had five smaller, 20 mm and 40 mm, weapons. Though they had longer training by May 1940 Germany had more experience in fighting modern war and knew the techniques of fighter-bomber, anti-aircraft use and bomber formations. . Infantry – The infantry carried out almost single-handedly the attack on Poland in September of 1939 using highly trained active divisions and sent reservist to other duties. Each ten-man ruffke squad was issued the Mg 34 that weighed about 25 pounds. The infantry men were given bolt-action riffles to give them flexibility of use and to encourage improvisation and initiative amongst the rank and file. The panzer division riffle brigade had three battalions of infantry. Anti-tank guns were given to the infantry regiment and the anti-tank battalions. The heaviest infantry gun was the 1. ton howitzer while the 880-pound small artillery pieces were also issued to them. 9. Combat Engineers – Pioniere or combat engineers were also one of the most important units of the blitzkrieg technique. These combat engineers were not the manual-labor units. They are highly trained specialist, which in most cases, were in front of the battle. They were special equipments such as flamethrowers, mines, explosives of various shapes and sizes, smoke equipment, mine detectors, power saw, pile drivers, compressors, generators, emergency lighting equipment, welding gear, barbed wires and various hand tools.
They had inflatable boats, pontoons and two bridging columns per divisions. Their main job was to do engineering tasks, such as building bridge, in order for the unit to move further. They were rigorously trained: they could build a bridge across a river and dismantle it six times in one afternoon. Obstacles such as crossing rivers that were under fire were the job of the Pionier. Records showed that for such cases they used inflatable boats for the assault and then ferried 3. 7 cm anti-flak gun or small howitzer. They sometimes rafted tanks and even built bridge of 4 ton’s capacity using pontoons or boats assembled together. 0. The Commander – Heinz Guderian had accepted the fact that his army would never have the sufficient supply and equipment that the British and French commanders had. What he lacked in supply he made up for speed. He had a mentality that instead of measuring the strength of the enemy and counter it force by force, it is better to destroy them fast before they could use any of that strength. His ways of command also encourage individualism among the rank and file. They were allowed to improvise and have ideas of their own and were not always obedient.
This gave them the flexibility and individual sense of purpose. A rank and file would do, even on his own, whatever he thinks must be done in order to defeat the enemy. In cases of emergency they were also better in improvisation. And even with the loss of their officers, the German soldier, unlike other soldiers, did not stop fighting. They efficiently and systematically fought to the end, down to the last man standing. He also had the advantage of experience in staff work and expertise in the mechanized warfare that the enemy commanders did not have.
He, in effect, designed the German tanks and personally handled the production line. He also had deep understanding of logistics, having experienced defeat in 1914 due to its problems. He also commanded wireless communication station and knew how to use the advanced radio communications to its maximum potential. The radio was used by the German commanders to change plans, and change again if necessary, in the middle of the battle. This was not the case with enemy commanders who were ordered to follow a systematic battle plan, even to the death. 11.
The Division – A division is the smallest unit in which infantry, artillery, and cavalry combined with supporting services under one commander. A division is capable of fighting independently and is called ‘general command’ and its commander, the general. The soldier’s ration, ammunition supply, transport, medical care, hygiene and sanitation, pay and other necessities were organized by the division headquarters (Deighton,, 210). The panzer division was different from the other military divisions. The parts of the division can be re-arranged and re-assembled to fit the requirement of certain mission or battle.
These assembled formations are called ‘battle groups’ and can be attached to other components. At the same time, other components can be attached to them. A battle group usually consists of a riffle regiment, engineers, panzer regiment, signals and artillery division. 12. The Air-forces – The French Armed Forces Commander General Maurice Gamelin did not believe that aircraft would play an important role in future warfare and believed that planes would burn each other even in the first clashes. The French armed forces practically did not have air transport facility.
Even some of the German high ranking officials must have shared this thinking but as each division, officials and even infantry men must learn the jobs outside of their respective designation the army was forced to learn about the plane. Soon many officials were converted as they experienced flying the monoplane Fieseler Fi 156 Storch as every panzer division commander was given the Stork for his personal use. They saw the convenience of flying from the base to another for conferences or even flying directly to the battlefield.
The Junkers Ju 52 three-motor transports also enabled transports of a whole division halfway across Europe. For reconnaissance, the availability of the plane also proved to be very significant. Before the Polish invasion, 288 aircraft were ordered to do ground surveillance for army requirements. 13. The Dive-Bombers – Despite training and slide rule and scope use, level bombing was still suitable for large targets and not for ships and bridges. Dropping bombs from a plane diving towards the target proved to be more accurate than planes flying straight and level.
The first dive bomber, the Curtiss F8C called Helldiver, was made for the US Marines. It was this dive bomber that German air veteran Ernst Udet saw in a demonstration in America on September 1933. Awed by its performance, Udet campaigned for the development of German dive bombers. German manufacturers were soon invited to submit prototypes for testing by the Luftwaffe. The Junkers Ju 87 soon became known as the Stuka, short for Sturzkampfflugzeug and meaning dive bombers. The Ju 88 was soon developed and together with the Ju 87, these dive bombers begun a series of successful campaigns against enemy line.
The dive bomber was cheap and small, carrying only two crewmen. The plane dives at 70 or 80 degrees from an altitude of 10,000 feet and pulls out at lower than 3,000 feet before dropping the bomb. Dive breaks slow the speed of the dive to put less strain during pull out. They were equipped with sirens to produce high pitched screams. And although Stuka bombers became one of the terrors of the blitzkrieg they were not as dominant as they were feared. The Luftwaffe unit, by September 1939, only had 350 Ju 87. III. Methods of Blitzkrieg 1. The Power of Blitzkrieg
The shock tactics of blitzkrieg was an improvement of the nineteenth century defensive warfare. It was developed from the idea that if the defense of the enemy is formidable, tactics must be devised to provoke the enemy to attack and attack again until defeated. From this idea, Kesselschtlacht theory was then born. The theory was to encircle the enemy so that he is forced to break out of the encirclement, then use ‘defensive firepower’ against him. If encirclement is impossible, then the enemy front must be pierced, if possible in several places, and then encircled.
It was this method that was used against Poland in September of 1939. Speed was the basic foundation of Blitzkrieg. But strategic planning and powerful and unrelenting attacks were its key elements. It was designed to infiltrate enemy territory by moving with outmost speed. And then hit enemy targets with paralyzing power to the extent of rendering the enemy disabled in defense and thereby consequently surrender. To achieve this, orchestrated and well planned movements must be accomplished with unbelievable speed.
The surprise of being attacked with unequalled strength and force will definitely bring havoc to the defending army. This element of surprise will eventually counter any plan for defense. Success then was guaranteed by brining doubt, confusion and paralysis to the enemy’s government and its military. Under the blitzkrieg tactic, a strategic target is first selected. Once the target had been selected, air force using dive bombers were deployed to attack enemy front-line and rear positions. They destroy all enemy rail lines, major rail links, main roads, airfields and communication centers.
The tanks were then sent out to attack; and only when the tanks were within the target did the bombers withdrew. Tank units now move to destroy enemy main lines of defense and then advance deeper into enemy territory. Then more mechanized units pursue and engage enemy defenders to prevent them from establishing any defensive positions. The tank attacks were then supported by the infantry on half-track vehicles. The infantry attacks the entire frontline or major places and engages enemy to confuse them into knowing where the main force will attack and makes it impossible for them to prepare any defenses.
Then infantry continues to engage the enemy to keep their forces from withdrawing and establishing effective defense. Infantry and other support units now attack enemy flanks and then they link up with other groups. They complete the attack by eventually encircling the enemy and/or capture strategic position. While mechanized groups lead deeper into the enemy territory to preventing withdrawing troops and defenders from establishing effective defensive positions. Main force then links up with other units encircling and cutting off the enemy.
Once the target had been overcome, they move on to the civilians to create further mayhem and hinder any attempt of defense by the enemy. All the combined elements of the attack and the information gathered by intelligence command and reconnaissance missions would not have been useful if not for the speedy attack which made blitzkrieg the terror during the Second World War. The tactic and the unbelievable speed by which Blitzkrieg was carried out was clearly described in a diary by an unknown French soldier was found in 1941.
In a period of just five days, from May 15th to 19th of 1940, the soldier clearly wrote, “When the dive-bombers come down, they (the French) stood it for two hours and then ran with their hands over their ears… Sedan fell as a result of a bombardment. It was a superb example of military surprise… The pace is too fast; it’s the co-operation between the dive-bombers and the tanks that is winning the war for Germany…News that the Germans are in Amiens; this is like some ridiculous nightmare. ” (Blitzkrieg) Before the First and Second World War commanders were at the battlefield, watching the progress of the battle minute by minute.
They gave commands and planed and changed plans according to what happened and the moment they happened. They were part of the action, in as much as in planning and command, as well as in the actual engagement with the enemy. Some commanders even fought and died in the battlefields. The First World War saw changes in the way and presence of the commanders in the battlefields. Commanders were moved back from the battle front and were moved away from the line of fire. As war became a more and more systematic and scientific the commanders became accustomed to the methodical ways and tactics in engaging the enemy.
Rules or formula were followed by the commanders and rarely did they give orders out of their own ingenuity. But at the end of the First World War advances in technology started to change again this way of command. A new style of war developed. With the use of radio communication, instead of Mores Code, commanders were able to receive actual accounts of the battle and give the necessary direct orders. It was like the battles of the old when the commanders were present in every situation. Only this time, they were safe and in harm’s way. Thus the change paved way for blitzkrieg.
Using radio communication the German commanders were able to concentrate on every tactical combat and give orders per minute by minute decision. Since the German commanders, unlike that of the French and British, were allowed to think out of the rigid formula of battles and give orders according to what they see fit, this had become one of the ultimate factors in the success of blitzkrieg. In the 1940s and before army movement was dependent on railway system. But the size of the supply dumps alone warned the enemy where the next attack would come.
This was also the case with the Polish campaign but air reconnaissances were evaded because Germany came without declaration of war. In Poland, these motorized units and tanks were used only in a limited way. However in France, the world was now surprised to see the speed by which Guderian was able to move his army due to motorization and the speed of the new tanks. The plan was carefully laid. Only those with strong fortified positions would the tanks be used. They would come by batch, 60 yards between each tank, and the movements would be carefully timed to cover the necessary grounds.
Each tank company consisted of three platoons of five tanks each and two tanks for the company commander which are equipped with two-way radios. The platoon commander’s tank had only one-way radio so that he could receive orders but not reply. The other tanks do not have radios and had to rely on signaling for commands. The divisional commander receives reports of enemy resistance and had to manage the attack using his own forces or if necessary request assistance from the Luftwaffe. Infantry would be at the front, as well as the engineers. Sometimes they ride alongside the tanks.
The speed increases to more that 3 mph once the breakthrough had been achieved. Air reconnaissance then drops photographs to the mobile headquarters to inform the commander of what resistance lay ahead. Three armored cars often made the advance move. One contained the artillery observer who could radio for emergency covering fire. The narrow front was always large enough to allow two or three attacking columns to advance side by side which would then converge as pincers on to towns or large enemy units. The columns should diverge immediately to avoid risk of congestion on the road.
Fast armor was essential for attack and air support protected the exposed flanks of the attacking column. Speed of the attack was vital to its success. But in order to achieve it, planning was carried out with supreme attention to details. Logistics of war was of prime importance as Guderian was only too aware. Blitzkrieg was so effective that it was unleashed with such power and determination by the soldiers who brought it. Blinded by command and without any thought of action than to carry out what they had been ordered, the soldiers brought unrelenting cruelty to not only to the enemy soldiers but even to the civilians.
William (Welek) Luksenburg, born in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland in 1923, describes in 1990 interview the first night of the German invasion of Poland, “Things began to change right the first night… there were blackouts all over town… After dark, nobody’s supposed to leave the house… when some of our neighbors tried to… a young man tried to cross the street and he didn’t realize just crossing the street, uh, would… would break, breach the curfew and a German soldier said, “Halt,” and he kept on running. And he got machine-gunned all the way across, and he fell right in front of our house.
So the Germans started yelling, all the men “‘Raus” [Get out], all the men out to help carry the body in and made me carry the body with four other persons… he was completely like cut in half. When I got home I was completely covered with blood… I was just absolutely covered with blood, and I always remember my mother’s, uh, expression and my mother’s fear and my mother’s cry out when she saw me completely covered with blood and that was the first night, the first expression what was… We didn’t know what’s coming and it was a horrible thing, that first night” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Collections). . Phony War to Second World War Germany’s defeat of Poland in October 1939 and the invasion of Norway in April 1940 was generally referred to as the “Phony War” in a sense that the French’s major action was the fortification of their defenses and their successful dissuasion of the British, who wanted to bomb targets inside the German territory. The French fearing German reprisal refused to act upon Germany’s moves even while propaganda messages blared across the German and French lines. They felt secured enough behind the Maginot Line and were willing to fight only in a defensive position.
Hitler, on the other hand, invaded Norway and Denmark on April 9 to isolate the iron ore resources of Sweden and to secure his northern flank. On May 10 he unleashed blitzkrieg against the Netherlands and Belgium. The attacks were so fast and strong that the defending troops were forced to retreat. The roads overflowed with fleeing refugees while the sky was filled with Stuka dive bombers that continuously fire on retreating civilians and soldiers. The rescuing French and British troops were pushed back and were forced to retreat.
The Allies fought courageously but their efforts were all in vain and they were all put to shame by this new technique of German war. In England, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign and was replaced by Winston Churchill. The French security, the Maginot Line, was soon defied by Hitler. Blitzkrieg forces skirted the Maginot Line and slashed into France through Luxembourg and Ardennes Forest. General Erwin Rommel, led the 7th Panzer Division as it crashed through the Belgian defenses into France. He skirted the Maginot Line and then smashing it from behind using the methods of blitzkrieg.
This method was a new kind of warfare integrating tanks, air power, artillery, and motorized infantry into a steel juggernaut emphasizing speedy movement and maximization of battlefield opportunities. Two days later, Rommel and his forces raced behind and parallel to the Maginot Line, and then turned north to attack the fortifications from behind. Rommel kept a journal of his experiences and describes the action as his tank formations plunge through the French defenses: “… The flat countryside lay spread out around us under the cold light of the moon. We were through the Maginot
Line! It was hardly conceivable. Twenty-two years before we had stood for four and a half long years before this self-same enemy and had won victory after victory and yet finally lost the war. And now we had broken through the renowned Maginot Line and were driving deep into enemy territory. It was not just a beautiful dream. It was reality. ” (Blitzkrieg, 1940) With lightning speed the Germans, cutting off the Allies in the North, reached the English Channel on May 21. They fought their way to the north annihilating the trapped armies and secured the coastal ports.
However the German army called for a 48-hour reprieve that gave the British enough time to defend Dunkirk and evacuate the Allied armies. The Germans entered Paris on June 14 and on June 22 France signed an armistice with Germany, leaving the British to fight alone with the war with Germany. By now the German army had successfully used its blitzkrieg tactic against Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and France. Yugoslavia and Greece followed by April of 1941. Great Britain was protected by the English Channel and the Royal Navy.
Still at war with the Great Britain, the German forces invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Their first attempt was successful with the Soviet forces driven back to more than 600 miles to Moscow. In December of 1941 Hitler unilaterally declared war on the United States of America. America consequently added its resources, economically and military power, to the Allied Forces that were against Germany. Germany pushed through with its attack of the Soviet Union in 1942 and successfully brought its forces to the shores of the Volga River and the city of Stalingrad.
But the Red Army, by November of 1942 launched a successful counteroffensive that destroyed the entire German army at Stalingrad. The force of the blitzkrieg lost its initial power by the fact that the enemy had, by this time, studied their moves and tactics. The element of surprise was no longer working. They have become like the enemy, regimented and methodical, following a formula for their attacks. The methods of blitzkrieg had become famous and with its fame came the enemy’s knowledge of its tactics and were use it against them.
Major General Sukhov, a tank commander in the Red Army who fought against the German Army described the war the Germans brought to them. The Germans, as he described, have applied the methods of mobile attack. Hitler’s depended on the crushing force of his tank divisions, accompanied by large numbers of motorized infantry. One hundred and seventy divisions were concentrated in the east and 60 of which were mobile troops added by 25 tank divisions. Deploying three times as much troops as the Nazi deployed in France, it was apparent that they intended to rout the Red Army with blitzkrieg method.
Though they gained certain territorial success, they were not as successful as they were counteracted in certain directions. The Red Army was able to destroy small and large groups of German tanks and motorized troops, cutting them from their infantry units. And this was accomplished by the Red Army without the use of aircrafts and tanks, only infantry and artillery. The Red Army knowing attack was imminent, have studied the tactics of blitzkrieg and have made successful measures to counteract them.
Germany was unable to defeat the Soviet Union. The Soviet together with the United States of America and Great Britain continued to fight and was determined to finish the war which Germany had started. Germany soon became trapped in a long war. What had been the fear that if Prussia engaged one enemy into a lengthy war, other enemies would have joined in and failure would ensue had come true for Germany. It was ironic that blitzkrieg was defeated by the same idea from which it was born. Germany was ultimately defeated in May of 1945.
Works Cited “Blitzkrieg. ” Achtung Panzer. Oct. 21, 2006 http://www. achtungpanzer. com/blitz. htm “Blitzkrieg. ” History Learning Site. Oct. 21, 2006 http://www. historylearningsite. co. uk/blitzkrieg. htm “Blitzkrieg, 1940”. EyeWitness to History. 2002. Oct. 27, 2006 http://www. eyewitnesstohistory. com Deighton,Len. Blitzkrieg. London: Triad Grafton Books, 1981. Macksey, Kenneth J. Guderian: Panzer General. Macdonald & Jane’s,1975. “United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Collections”. Blitzkrieg (Lightning War). Oct. 27, 2006