World War II spawned the creation of many new inventions, inventions that were greatly needed in order for whole countries to survive the war, and one such creation was introduced by the Germans, the Blitzkrieg. The word “Blitzkrieg” is German for “lightning war,” and it describes the military tactic used by the Germans and was coined by Western newspapermen in 1939 to convey the immense speed and powerful destruction caused by the three week German campaign against Poland. The term Blitzkrieg is mainly used to describe German tactics, however the general tactic itself was not entirely unique to only the Germans. The lightning quick method was used whenever the opportunity presented itself, particularly by the forces under the command of General Patton. In analyzing the German utilization of this “lightning war” tactic it becomes clearer how much of an intricate role the Blitzkrieg played in the Second World War, and how it could have completely succeeded.
Blitzkrieg was a fast and open style of warfare, heavily reliant on new technologies. First aircrafts were used as long-range artillery to destroy enemy strongholds, attack troop concentrations, and spread panic. Then combined arms forces of tanks and motorized infantry coordinated by two-way radio destroyed tactical targets before moving on, deep into enemy territory. A key difference to previous tactical models was the devolution of command. Fairly novice officers in the field were encouraged to use their own initiative, rather than rely on a centralized command structure. Essentially, the idea behind Blitzkrieg was organizing troops into mobile forces with exceptional communications and command, being able to keep the onslaught up as the battle unfolded, and basically the plan was to concentrate all available forces at a single spot in front of the enemy lines, and then break a hole in it with artillery and infantry. Once the hole was opened, tanks could rush through and strike hundreds of miles to the rear. This allowed the attacking force to fight against lightly armed logistics units, starving the enemy of information and supplies. In this way even a small force could destroy a much larger one through confusion, and effectively avoiding as much direct combat as possible. In the ideal Blitzkrieg confrontation, the enemy would be retreating to the rear in an attempt to construct new defensive lines, new lines that the attacking force would have already passed, thus increasing confusion between soldiers and tremendous worry amongst their chain of command, rendering the opposition completely ineffective.
By the late 1930’s The Germans had re-organized their Army to include a number of elite Panzergruppen, divisions within the German Heer of the Wehrmacht (“heer” is equivalent to “Army” and the “Wehrmacht” is literally “defense force or means/power of resistance.” The “Heer of the Wehrmacht” was the name of the armed forces of Nazi Germany.), consisting of light tanks, armored transport vehicles, which were precursors to modern armored personal carriers, and support equipment necessary for supporting the light tanks generally referred to as the Panzerkampfwagen. The Panzergruppen were an instrumental component of the Blitzkrieg coordinated-attacks, these divisions were credited with much of the success of the German campaign into Russia, and operated widely throughout the various fronts during World War II.
The Blitzkrieg was particularly effective against France. The Wehrmacht bypassed the main French defenses, such as the Maginot Line, the line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, machine gun posts and other artillery, which France constructed along her borders with Germany and with Italy at the beginning of World War I. By May 20th, the Wehrmacht was at Amiens. The next day, it reached the English Channel, near Abbeville, and hemmed in the retreating British Expeditionary Force. In late May and early June, the British evacuated their troops at Dunkirk. Nearly every available vessel, including fishing boats, yachts, and motorboats, were mobilized for this operation. On June 14th German troops marched into Paris, and eight days later, France and Germany signed an armistice. The Wehrmacht had defeated the French army in only a month, something that the German army had failed to do in fighting the First World War for four years, showing and proving the supremacy and strength that the Blitzkrieg had during this time. The swift and forceful strikes of the Blitzkrieg tactic were beginning to become more and more ferocious and at the same time more and more feared.
France was now divided between an area controlled by German troops and a smaller southern zone that maintain almost little or no significant independence by joining forces with the Nazis. The Vichy government — so named for the capital of the unoccupied region — was compelled to be uniformly obedient to German directives. An underground network of French resistance movements, however, valiantly attempted to subvert Nazi rule. Opposition to the German occupation also emerged from General Charles de Gaulle and his “Free French” government in London. Nonetheless, German control of France, and of the continent, was indisputable. Europe belonged to Hitler.
Blitzkrieg was crucial for both sides on the Eastern Front. Both the German successes in Russia from 1941-1942 and the ensuing Russian victory depended on the application of progressively more sophisticated combined arms units, and The Battle of Stalingrad shows both the good and bad points of that concept. The battle began with the German attack in an unexpected location, sending the Soviet forces reeling back over hundreds of kilometers in only a mere matter of days. The movement ended when Hitler became increasingly interested in capturing Stalingrad itself, allowing the Soviet forces to regroup and counterattack.
An example where the lightning fast Blitzkrieg was not so successful is when Germany tried another offensive against the western forces during the Battle of the Bulge in the later part of 1944. This time the allied planners had their counter-strategy well developed. With the opening of the battle, forces were rushed to fold in onto the Germans. The Allied forces were not in front where their heaviest concentration of forces was placed, but in fact, at the sides, and in an attempt to avoid direct combat, the armored spearhead, was forced into a short narrow street. The idea behind the amrored spearhead was to concentrate as much firepower into a small front as possible, so any defenders in front of them will be overwhelmed. But the spearhead was ambushed and its plan unsuccessful.
The German tactic of Blitzkrieg allowed for many advances by Germany, and an overwhelming majority of them were extremely successful. Utilizing this lightning war maneuver was tremendously efficient and startlingly powerful, which made Germany such a tough opponent in World War II.