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Blitzkrieg - From the Ground Up

Niklas Zetterling
It has long been the accepted view that Blitzkrieg (lightning war) was a German invention which used armour and infantry combined with close air support to break through the opponent's lines. The surprise and speed of the attack combined with the (usually) deep penetration did not allow the opponent time to regain the initiative and the end result was usually encirclement followed by capture or annihilation.

The phenomenal number of rapid victories gained by the Germans in the early years of the Second World War defied a conventional explanation and left the Allies struggling to come to terms with an apparently new type of warfare. The term “Blitzkrieg“ was coined by way of explanation, although it should be noted that this term was not commonly used by the Germans.

The author, a researcher at the Swedish Defence College, argues that the adoption of such tactics by the Germans came about by way of evolution of existing doctrine rather than being a revolution in military tactics. The “Stormtrooper“ tactics adopted towards the end of the First World War had simply been adapted to incorporate new weapon systems and a new military doctrine which emphasised rapid decision-making at the lowest level with success being exploited immediately by those at the “sharp end“ without reference to a higher authority, other than to keep them informed.

The author also argues that the harsh terms of the Treaty Of Versailles had some unintended consequences. Limiting the size of the future German Army ensured that only the best officers and men were selected which resulted in a highly motivated force, which by 1921, had a new field manual, written to incorporate the lessons learned from the First World War. The emphasis was on offensive operations, mobility and decentralised decision making.
The restrictions of Versailles did not stop the Germans keeping abreast of military technological developments. They had access to published literature and were able to send observers to other country's military exercises. Additionally, in 1922 Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo with Russia which contained a secret clause establishing military cooperation between the two states. This neatly side-stepped Versailles allowing access to, and training with, weapon systems banned by the Treaty. The army now had everything it needed to practise and train for the next war.

Given all the above it is not surprising that the use of tanks and air power in support of infantry, or as a weapon system in their own right, received a great deal of attention with a view to incorporating them in existing doctrine. They were simply tools to be used to achieve an end.

In support of his convincing argument the author uses several accounts of German actions seen through the eyes of the soldiers and junior officers who had to put theory into practice on the battlefield. My only criticism is that some of these accounts could do with being a little shorter, there is a danger that they might be viewed as page fillers.

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