Blitzkrieg was an innovative and fast-moving strategy for warfare developed and used effectively by the Germans in World War 2. Blitzkrieg strategy emphasized the use of tanks, aircraft and mobility to rapidly accomplish battlefield objectives.
During the prewar years, Germany perfected the Blitzkrieg (or "lightening attack") and unleashed it on countries who were still preparing for World War I type trench warfare. By using the radical new concepts of the Blitzkrieg, Germany proved to be the exception to the adage that countries always prepare for the last war they fought instead of the next one. The Blitzkrieg tactics gave the Germans quick successes even though the total force arrayed against them was often numerically larger than their own.
When employed early in World War 2, Blitzkrieg warfare shocked the world. They had never seen anything like it!
Austria and Czechoslovakia fell to Germany without a fight in the late 30's. Poland's time then came in October 1939. They would not go without a fight. They were a courageous people and had a large army. They also had a pact with Britain and France that compelled these countries to come to their aid. The Poles were confident they could hold out until help arrived.
Unfortunately, they would soon wonder what hit them. They were living in a pipe dream. Their army, while large, was a World War I type army. It was almost totally non-mechanized. Their cavalry would end up having to charge Germany's tanks and cavalry does not do well against tanks. There were other disadvantages: the country is very flat making it an ideal battleground for mechanized forces such as the German Panzer divisions. All in all, perfect terrain for the Blitzkrieg. The fall of Czechoslovakia had extended the Polish border with Germany another 500 miles making the total length about 1800 miles making it hard for the Poles to defend such a long border. To pour salt into the wound, Germany had entered into a non-aggression pact with Russia, the only power in the region that could have provided practical assistance to Poland. Poland, therefore, had to keep an eye on their border with Russia. All in all, Poland had little chance against Germany ; But the Poles would not know for sure until the Blitzkrieg hit them.
Germany utilized some of its finest generals in the Blitzkrieg assault: Brauchitsch, Rundstedt, Von Kluge, Kuchler, List, Guderian, etc. The Poles had positioned the bulk of their forces too far forward and the German panzer divisions immediately moved to outflank and eventually surround them.
The Germans were using what Liddell Hart in his book Strategy called the "indirect approach." Instead of confronting the Poles directly and engaging in toe to toe combat, the Germans used surprise, deception and their superior mobility and tank forces to flank the Poles, cut off their supply lines, and generally confuse and unnerve them. The flanking moves sometimes changed direction so rapidly that the Germans moved though large areas unoccupied by Polish forces. The Poles often had to fight in reverse as the German tanks got behind their lines. The flanking maneuvers worked very well and much of the Polish army was soon surrounded. The remainder of the Poles sought to set up defense lines elsewhere but similar German strategy soon routed them there also. Just when it couldn't get any worse for the Poles, it did. On October 20th, Russia attacked them from the rear. In a matter of days, it was over. Blitzkrieg war had claimed its first victim! Blitzkrieg would soon claim more.
In case you are wondering where France and England were as Poland was slaughtered, they had fulfilled their part of the pact with Poland by declaring war on Germany. However, they could do little else in the short time the Polish campaign lasted. If they had prematurely assaulted the German's Siegfried Line located on the German/French border, losses would have been heavy even with a large part of the German army engaged in Poland. It was a no-win situation for France, England and Poland.
While the Allies and the US could not act effectively to help Poland, you can rest assured that one American - General George Patton - watched the success of the Blitzkrieg tactics in Poland with open eyes. Patton watched and learned....and learned. He would be ready when his time came!
After Poland, the war front became very quite for a short time as the Germans planned details for the Blitzkrieg attack against France. Then, on April 9, 1940, the Germans, hearing from Norwegian traitor Vitkun Quisling of a possible English attack on Norway, launched a brilliant preemptive strike quickly conquering Denmark and Norway. They used lightening strikes by sea and air to accomplish this. British and Norwegian forces fought back bravely but were continually outsmarted by the Germans. The Germans did suffer a great loss, however, as one-half their small navy was sunk or heavily damaged by the British and Norwegians. Had this loss of seagoing ships not occurred, the Germans might have been more inclined, a few months later, to have attempted an invasion of England.
A month after Norway, it was France's time to learn what damage a Blitzkrieg assault can do to a large opposing army prepared to fight in the trenches as per World War 1. You would have thought the French would have learned from Poland. They had had seven months since the fall of Poland to adjust their strategy.
General Erich von Manstein developed the plan for the Blitzkrieg attack on France and sold the idea to Hitler while at a dinner for newly promoted or transferred generals. Hitler was enthusiastic about the concept which, as described below, was carried out essentially as planned. Hitler, who had served and been wounded in the trench warfare of World War I, was an advocate of mechanized warfare and he adopted von Manstein's ideas as if they were his own (some accounts indicate that he actually claimed to be the originator of the Blitzkrieg).
On May 10, the Germany panzer divisions struck France and the lowland countries of Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg. The Germans used three army groups in their Blitzkrieg attack: Army Groups A, B, and C. The southern army group - Army Group C - with 19 divisions, simply had to keep the huge French garrison in the Maginot Line occupied and did this with a few feints.
The northern army group - Army Group B - with 30 divisions, attacked Holland and Belgium. The purpose of this group was to lure the major French and British forces into Holland and Belgium after them.
Then, the more powerful central army group - Army Group A - with 45 divisions, invaded France across the presumed "impassible" and therefore lightly defended Forest of Ardennes. The purpose of this thrust was for the army group to break into the clear in France and race to the channel thereby trapping the Allied forces that had been lured into Belgium and Holland. Then Army Group A and Army Group B would work together in finishing off the trapped allied forces while Army Group C continued to keep the French occupied along the Maginot Line.
As in Poland, the Germans avoiding attacking heavy concentrations of Allied soldiers. Instead they used the "indirect approach" always looking for soft spots. Sort of like a football back "running to daylight" instead of trying to run over people.
The most audacious German general was General Guderian (reporting to General Rundstedt, leader of Army Group A) who commanded a army corps of only three armored division. But nothing would stop him. Gudedrian loved tank warfare and was a natural for the Blitzkrieg type of military tactics.
When Guderian's Corps established a beachhead across the Meuse River, he was ordered to halt because he was moving too fast. After arguing with the more cautious German generals of higher rank, Guderian was told he could only widen the beachhead. Instead Guderian took advantage of the limited go-ahead and raced forward another 50 miles. Two days later, when he was halted again by his superior officers, he asked to be relieved of his command. A few hours later, he was restored to command and told he could make strong reconnaissance moves only. He took this as another go-ahead and raced forward with more speed than before.
Guderian could move fast because of his mastery of tank warfare and the other elements of Blitzkrieg warfare.
It appears to me, the German upper command wanted to let Guderian go but didn't want any personal responsibility if he had problems with his rapid advances. It was OK for him to advance as long as he was disobeying orders. General Manstein may have been the brains for the plan for attacking France but General Guderian was its facilitator. He was the heart and soul of Blitzkrieg warfare.
An integral part of the Blitzkrieg was the use of behind-the-lines activities to terrorize the enemy. Paratroopers and gliders played a key role in the attack on Holland. Also, effective was the spreading of rumors to terrorize both the enemy military and civilian population. Holland was hit heavy by this activity. Just when they should have been massing to face the Germans, many of their troops were engaged in combing the cities looking for rumored saboteurs. Also, when Hitler had Amsterdam bombed to hurry the submission of Holland, about 900 civilians were killed. As the news spread, the figure of civilians killed grew to about 40,000. The metropolitan areas in Holland, Belgium and France emptied as civilians fled what they thought was the oncoming slaughter from the air. The Allies had to contend with this mass migration as civilians clogged highways.
Attack from the air played an integral role in the success of the Blitzkrieg. The German Stuka dive bomber was an extremely effective terror weapon when it could be protected from enemy fighter aircraft. It was slow moving (a modern American car could almost drive as fast as the Stuka could fly) but, when in its slow dive, it made a loud shrieking noise that seemed to last forever terrorizing both military and civilian personnel on the ground. Later, the Stukas were ineffective in the Battle of Britain as the much faster Spitfires and Hurricanes made mince meat out of them, but in the Blitzkrieg of France, protected by German fighters, they were a weapon to behold.
The combination of all the above factors rendered the French terrorized and paralyzed. As the Germans advanced, they could observe totally beaten French soldiers and civilians cowering together along the highways seemingly afraid to move. France was about done.
Meanwhile back at the northern part of the battlefront, Belgium and Holland had both capitulated after less than three weeks of resistance and the British expeditionary force had been forced to retreat to the English Channel city of Dunkirk where they were threatened by Guderian's corps which had reached the channel, and General Reinhardt's panzer corps positioned on Guderian's right.
The British were ripe for the slaughter. But inexplicably, Hitler ordered a halt to the advance for two days. Guderian was enraged but even he did not dare to disobey the Fuhrer. The delay gave the Allies time to build a perimeter defense line which held while a massive evacuation of over 300,000 British and French was made. Had Hitler not halted the advance, few Allies would have escaped. Unfortunately, most British weapons had to be left on the beach. While the weaponless evacuees regrouped in Britain, that country stood in peril had the Germans been able to cross the channel. (A planned invasion of Britain is discussed on German Battles Of World War 2
With the British gone and the northern front solidified, the German armies now quickly wheeled and moved to the south to finish the job in France. Guderian, promoted and now commanding two panzer corps, again played a key role. General Rommel's panzer division also played a key role. It was his forces that pulled one of the most audacious "stunts" of the French campaign. The French had set up a defense line along the Somme River but did not destroy a very narrow railroad bridge because they didn't think German tanks could cross it. Even for infantry to cross, it would been similar to "running the gauntlet on a tightrope." However, in full view of the French forces, Rommel's men removed the rails and German tanks and equipment began to stream across under artillery fire. In three days, they advanced 30 miles. As with Guderian, Rommel used the indirect approach avoiding heavily armed points and traveling across country to avoid direct confrontation. His objective was to cover long distances, confuse the enemy by attacking them from the rear, and disrupting supply lines.
Meantime, Guderian's panzer corps had broken out again and the French Government, observing the collapse of its armies, decided to capitulate. Germany stood victorious. Blitzkrieg warfare had claimed another victim.
It should be pointed out to Rush Limbaugh who is now very angry at France because France didn't support the U.S. attack on Iraq, that the French were not cowards in World War 2. They were simply outsmarted and outmaneuvered by the Germans. Had the Germans come straight at them as in World War I, the French might very well had been able to hold them off. But they were facing a different Germany than they did in World War I. This Germany was loaded with enough of the right mechanized equipment, revolutionary military ideas, and talented generals to walk over any country on earth in 1940. The French were not cowards - they never really knew what hit them. They got their butts handed to them by the Germans.
No use telling any of this to Rush Limbaugh. He has his mind made up about France's supposed cowardice.
Although Blitzkrieg tactics would again be used effectively by the Germans in the attacks on Yugoslavia and Greece in spring of 1941 and, later that summer, in Russia, the heyday of the Blitzkrieg was in France. The newness would soon be gone and Blitzkrieg-type tactics would become standard operating procedures for modern armies. In our more recent time, the development of deadly efficient anti-tank weapons - especially attacks from the air - play a role in limiting the use of Blitzkrieg tactics.
Nations such as Syria and Iraq have built up massive tank forces only to see them quickly obliterated by precision attack from the air. Also, the new wars tend to be guerilla-type wars. For example, in the Iraq War, the U.S. used blitzkrieg tactics and quickly overran the weak Iraq military. However, the Iraqis then turned to guerilla warfare and the war raged on for many years. How much good are tank attacks if your enemy is scattered through the countryside? The tanks won't disappear as battleships did (replaced by aircraft carriers), but will have to accept a lesser role in modern day war.
In any event, before the Blitzkrieg became part of old school strategy, General George Patton would get his chance to use what he had learned.
1. Germany in World War 2. Causes of World War Two . Could Germany have won World War 2?
2. Planning & Strategy. The German's Blitzkrieg strategy was a great success early in the Second World War but the success may have spoiled them because they failed to come up with new ideas later on. On the other side, the Allies developed a devastating grand strategy - "Germany-first" and "unconditional surrender" - that worked well.
3. Guderian, Panzer General, Won Battles But May Have Lost War. Field Marshal Guderian was master of Blitzkrieg warfare using Panzer divisions. But Guderian's massive ego caused Germany problems in the Russian campaign.
4. France in World War 2. Rush Limbaugh loves to rant about how cowardly the French were in World War 2. That is false! France tried to fight World War 1 style (static trench warfare) but the Germans would have none of that. Since World War 1, the Germans had learned a new style of fighting.......featuring tanks, Stuka dive bombers, etc. The French never knew what hit them. But they were not cowards.
The Blitzkrieg was a very innovative military strategy for Germany to use in World War 2 and it led to many early victories as German opponents were surprised by the new warfare strategy featuring tanks, aircraft, and mobility instead of static trench warfare.
Last Updated: 02/03/2017