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What Was Blitzkrieg and Why Was It So Effective?

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The Tanks were the central part of the Blitzkrieg

The Tanks were the central part of the Blitzkrieg


Blitzkrieg was a military tactic used by the German army in WW2. It relied on the speed and surprise of highly mobile units. The surprise attacks were spearheaded by tanks and mechanized infantry which were supported by air attacks as well. The word ‘blitzkrieg’ means ‘lightning war’. True to its name, the tactic involved surprising the enemy with quick concentrated attacks to take them off guard.

Heinz Guderian- The mastermind of the blitzkrieg

Heinz Guderian- The mastermind of the blitzkrieg

Who Came Up With The Idea of Blitzkrieg?

The idea of a Blitzkrieg attack can be found even before WW2. In the early 1870s, German Field Marshal Alfred von Schlieffen came up with an idea which is very similar to the Blitzkrieg tactic we know now. Schlieffen knew that Germany would be outnumbered and out-resourced in any war that they may fight. To compensate for this he suggested that Germany should strike hard and fast to secure a victory.

He proposed that specialized crack troops should penetrate the enemy defenses deep and bypass the main enemy force to secure decisive victory without a major engagement. J.F.C. Fuller, a British Tank Commander pointed out the potential use of tanks and air power in a concentrated thrust. This was published in his book, Reformation of War in 1923. This was sadly ignored by the Allies but studied by the Germans.

Stukas were used to support the armored units in the front

Stukas were used to support the armored units in the front

Blitzkrieg in WW2:

Although the concept of a concentrated attack on the enemy was prevalent from the 1870s, it was the Blitzkrieg attacks used by Germany that made it famous. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and the battle was over in just over a month. The Blitzkrieg attacks used by Germany relied on their tanks and close air support provided by the Luftwaffe. Total air superiority was essential for their success.

This was again repeated in the Battle of France. The French did not expect the Germans to attack through the Ardennes as they considered it to be impenetrable for tanks. They concentrated fewer troops in this area and it was exploited by the Germans. Large groups of units were cut off and encircled. France fell on 25 June, 1940. This time it took just over a month and a half.

Existing Tactics:

During WW1, trench warfare was more prevalent and the border remained stationary for long periods of time. It took a lot of time and huge losses to gain even a few meters in the front. All this changed with the introduction of the tanks. Since WW2 was fought with a large number of tanks, the tactics needed to be modified to fully utilize them.

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During that time, tanks were used along with support infantry. There was no specific tank division with a large number of tanks. This was because they believed that tanks could not operate alone for the fear of them being overrun by the enemy units. The tanks that were available were therefore spread across all divisions evenly.

The panzers were used to encircle large enemy divisions

The panzers were used to encircle large enemy divisions

German Tactics:

Although having tanks with the support of infantry was useful it did not deliver a killing blow. The Germans knew that to win a war they needed to finish things off quickly. Germany did not have the manpower or resources to fight a drawn-out war. Their tactic therefore aimed at delivering a killing blow to the enemy and securing a victory before the front got bogged down into the trench warfare of WW1.

The idea of a Blitzkrieg attack was suggested by Heinz Guderian. This required the concentrated thrust of armored divisions deep inside enemy lines. They would be supported by ground attack aircraft as well. Speed and surprise was the key. Since the tanks did not wait for the infantry divisions to catch up, they could penetrate deeper into enemy territory faster and pull out pincer movements to encircle enemy divisions.

Hitler approved the idea and the German Blitzkrieg was unleashed. The Panzer divisions rolled across the battlefield and crushed their enemies. The Panzers were supported by Stuka dive bombers which picked off the ground targets from the air. Germany crushed Poland in one month and France in under two months. Although they had initial success versus the Soviets, they ultimately failed to secure the final victory.

Many tanks were abandoned after they ran out of fuel

Many tanks were abandoned after they ran out of fuel

German Failure:

The Germans were stopped by the Russian winter and stiff resistance. Even though they were halted, the Germans still had excellent tanks even late in the war. So why was it that they could not replicate their initial success? There are many reasons for this but the major problem was the lack of surprise.

The German tactic was studied and used even by the Allies now. With code breaking, they could also predict the German attacks which meant that the Wehrmacht did not have the element of surprise anymore. The Germans also lost air superiority over the skies which meant that their ground troops did not have the air support they needed.

Germany was also outnumbered on all fronts and facing a well-prepared enemy which had learned from their past mistakes. With fuel and resources running low, defeat was inevitable. Even during the battle of the Bulge in December 1944, the Germans managed to break through the allied lines but the lack of fuel and allied reinforcements forced them to retreat. It was now a lost cause.

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