Blitzkrieg


Blitzkrieg is the use of a concentrated attack force consisting primarily of mechanized units working in conjunction with air support in order to surprise and overtake enemy positions, usually through the exploitation of speed and force. The German army used this tactic quite a bit, having employed it in the Polish invasion in 1939, the French invasion in 1940, and finally in the Soviet invasion in 1941 (although without the desired effects). The way that blitzkrieg worked was a series of mechanized columns were assembled on the battlefield at strategic positions. These mechanized groups, usually consisting of a wedge formation of tanks with support from other mechanized units, then targeted areas that appeared to be weakly held by the enemy, allowing the mechanized units to get behind the enemy lines. Once behind the enemy lines, the mechanized assault force then used a series of pincer-like maneuvers to encompass the enemy position, cutting off any avenue of escape that the enemy could have taken. It was from this point that the main infantry divisions could then advance; taking advantage of a disorientated enemy that had no means of escaping.

Blitzkrieg was an important tool in the Nazi arsenal, as by this point in the war the Nazi war machine was not very powerful, as shown by the fact that the French held superior tanks and other armaments when compared to the Germans. Another problem that the Germans were facing was the fact that they did not having a solid economic footing to launch an exceedingly aggressive campaign, meaning that they were forced to use tactics to minimize their losses until such a time existed that they could mount an all-out war. Thus it was from this set of circumstances that the German strategy of blitzkrieg.

Western Front

In the initial days of the Second World War, the role of strategy, namely blitzkrieg, was vital to the success of the German war effort. The French government, feeling as those the German army would utilize the Schlieffen Plan for the second time (the first time was during the First World War), sent their forces towards Northern France to intercept the German army. This was their first crucial mistake, thinking the Germans would make the same move again. The French governments second mistake was believing that the Ardennes forest was impassible, and it was this mistake that led to the initial successes of blitzkrieg. Due to the majority of the forces being deployed towards Northern France, and the relatively weak positions held in the Ardennes forest, the German army was able to secure a 40 mile stretch from Sedan to Dinant, allowing the German armor to envelop the Northern French army and effectively cut them off. This pocket of Allied forces then allowed the Germans to force the opposing armies Northward towards Dunkirk, something which would inevitably led to the miracle at Dunkirk. After securing most of Nothern France, the German then set their sights on the south, where the French forces readied a defensive line that would later become known as the Weygand Line. This line, which employed a Hedgehog tactic, was intended to provide an easily defendable area for France until they could regroup. However, this was not the case as the majority of the French troops were still trapped within the pocket in Northern France. Needless to say, the Weygand Line collapsed and shortly after this point the French signed an armsitce which effectively resulted in the creation of the Vichy Republic and furthermore removed the French as one of the Allied nations. The significance in blitzkrieg on the Western Front was that it allowed the Germans to quickly disorientate the opposing forces and furthermore allowed for the easy defeat of France.

Eastern Front

On the Eastern front, Blitzkrieg proved to be a valuable tactic in the beginning. The German forces were able to quickly take out the Soviet positions and expanded at a faster rate than they had during the Battle for France. Despite their initial successes however, the Soviet Union was able to withdraw their troops towards Moscow and prepare for a defense there, something that the German army did not want to have happen. As the German army advanced towards Moscow, the Russian winter set in, causing the advance to become slowed considerably, espicially since the supply routes had become slowed and resources weren't arriving when they were needed. Despite the lack of resources and proper equipment, the German soldiers fought onward, however as the winter settled the Russians were able to launch a counterattack, forcing the German army back. With this massive push one of Hitler's top Generals desired a withdrawal of forces, and from this withdrawal order he was given the pink slip, as was any other person who advised a retreat. In the following spring, the Soviet resolve to continue the fight increased, as they were now fighting from easily defendable positions and they now knew how to deal with the German forces. The next move for Germany was the capture of Stalingrad, and this move resulted in the massive loss of life on both sides as well as the German defeat. The German army would not be able to recover from its losses, as seen through the string of defeats that immediately followed the loss at Stalingrad.

Blitzkrieg was an important tool in the Nazi arsenal, however the original creators did not count on the fact that others might use this strategy with a greater effect. General Patton of the American forces saw the capabilities of blitzkriek and applied it on a larger scale, increased mechanization of forces and troops numbers, allowing them to essentially beat the German forces at their own game. This new strategy was rarely implemented outside the Second World War however, although this was the basis for the American invasion of Iraq where it was termed Shock and Awe.

http://www.longwood.edu/staff/hardinds/Blitzkrieg.html
http://www.be.wednet.edu/OurSchools/Hs/staff/jgotfredson/USH/USH/WWII%20Stuff/Eastern%20Front/Eastern%20Front%201941.ppt
http://web.mit.edu/ssp/seminars/wed_archives_98fall/doughty.htm