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blitzkrieg

blitz·krieg / ˈblitsˌkrēg/ • n. an intense military campaign intended to bring about a swift victory.

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Blitzkrieg

Blitzkriegfatigue, Grieg, intrigue, league, renege •colleague •Blitzkrieg, Sitzkrieg

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Blitzkrieg

BLITZKRIEG.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blitzkrieg, or "lightning war," is a military strategy devised by the German high command between the two world wars and applied during World War II. It was inspired by the lessons drawn from the strategic impasse of the war of position in the trenches and the experience of the lost battles of the last year of World War I. Blitzkrieg became a kind of legend, and in the years 1939–1942 it buttressed the myth of the Wehrmacht's invincibility. In the early twenty-first century historians agree that the concept reflected the mind-set of the generals who invented it and the economic and strategic constraints under which Nazi Germany operated.

The blitzkrieg strategy was thus developed on the basis of the last German offensives on the western front in the early spring of 1918—and on the basis too of their failure. The Germans' obsessive fear of reliving the dark hours of 9 November 1918, a fear discernible at every level of the military hierarchy, was surely the main determinant of the doctrine of blitzkrieg.

Blitzkrieg is a set of tactics employing mechanized infantry assault groups, almost indistinguishable from the Stosstruppen (shock troops) of World War I, advancing with cover from massive armored forces and concentrating their attack on the enemy's lines of communication. The attack is a coordinated one, mobilizing ground and air forces, the combination being essential to the fastest possible destabilization of the enemy troops. Thus air power is concentrated on enemy communications, while the task of the armored units is to breach the enemy defenses at their weakest points and pour through the opposing lines before assaulting the more strongly defended positions from behind. In a second phase of such an offensive, classic troop formations are expected to reduce all remaining pockets of resistance and secure the terrain on a permanent basis. The main objective of blitzkrieg is to avoid getting bogged down and any possible regression to a war of position.

These principles were worked out by Generals Erich von Manstein and Heinz Guderian. Von Manstein was interested in the strategic aspects of the plan of attack in the Polish and French campaigns, while Guderian was one of the main champions of rapid armored units concentrated on particular parts of the front with a view to making decisive breakthroughs.

Debate continues about the nature of blitzkrieg: Was it a doctrine framed in advance and applied by the Germans in Poland and France? Or merely a set of "empirical prescriptions," framed after the fact, that had produced brilliant successes but that nevertheless remained somewhat questionable? Karl-Heinz Frieser has argued for this latter view in a well-documented examination of the question. The fact remains that blitzkrieg made it possible for the Germans to crush Poland, and later France, in just weeks—and this despite the fact, at least in the case of France, that their forces were at a distinct numerical disadvantage.

The possible shortcomings of a strategy of coordinated breakthroughs were already discernible in the Polish campaign, as cumulating losses associated with weaknesses of the German production machine clearly exposed shortages in the supply of matériel. These shortfalls could be partially offset only by great productive efforts, so that the "phony war" was a welcome chance for the Germans to make up some of this leeway. As for the stunningly successful French campaign, it convinced the German generals that their strategy was sound, even though the logistical problems had been considerable, as witness the 250-kilometer-long tie-ups seen in the Ardennes during the early days of the offensive.

It was their faith in blitzkrieg that led the German generals to conceive of Operation Barbarossa as a gigantic instance of the strategy on a subcontinental scale. From the beginning of 1941 their strategic thinking reflected both their ambitions for world domination and their lack of lucidity: some looked forward confidently to a victory over the Soviets within a few weeks; others dreamed of lightning operations that would put Iraq in their grasp and leave them well placed to threaten India from the Caucasus.

Omer Bartov and Christian Gerlach have nevertheless clearly highlighted the structural problems confronting the blitzkrieg approach in the Soviet Union. The immense losses suffered from the outset by the German forces (betraying a structural defect of blitzkrieg already noted with respect to assault troops during the offensives of summer 1918), logistical disorganization, and a desperate but effective in-depth defense on the part of the Soviets combined to defeat a strategy whose main aim was to avoid immobilization. By the end of the summer of 1941 a war of position was the order of the day, and though the Germans managed to escape from this during the offensives of winter 1941–1942, their forces were effectively bogged down. Wrecked, therefore, by logistical constraints, the cost in men, and the Soviets' defensive strategies, blitzkrieg had failed. By an irony of fate it was the Germans themselves who had devised the strategy of in-depth defense alongside that of assault-group offensives in 1917–1918, thus simultaneously developing the most advanced offensive strategy and a defensive response that could counter it. In 1945, as in 1918, victory was vouchsafed to those best supplied in men and matériel, those able to survive the terrible impact of the German armored assault and reply with a more rational, completely conceived, and long-term mobilization.

See alsoArmies; World War II.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bartov, Omer. Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich. New York, 1992.

Frieser, Karl-Heinz. The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West. Annapolis, Md., 2004.

Gerlach, Christian. Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschaftsund Vernichtungspolitik in Weißrußland. Hamburg, 1999.

Moser, John. The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II. New York, 2003.

Christian Ingrao

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"Blitzkrieg." Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe Since 1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of War and Reconstruction. . Retrieved November 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blitzkrieg

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