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May 21 08 2:19 AM

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What exactly does this term mean? Who developed it and where was it used?
A few years ago I could have given you a Wikipedia-like definition but I'm now confused by it.
Is it just a newspaper term coined in 1940?
donald
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#1 [url]

May 21 08 4:03 AM

I've had this discussion before! It was popularised by an American newspaperman in the 1930's & used to describe the German attack on Poland but apparently it was originally coined by no less than Von Clausewitz himself in his writings. Opinions vary (see Wiki for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blitzkrieg) but I was (very properly) put in my place about this by a graduate of RMA Sandhurst a couple of years ago over on the Flames of War forum, who'd studied Clausewitz in the original.

It means (obviously enough) ligntning war, but perhaps more accurately should be read as 'fast war', as opposed to the deliberate approach of eg a typical WWI operation. The russian term 'Deep Battle' referes to a similar operational concept to blitzkrieg.

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#4 [url]

May 21 08 7:10 AM

I had thought it was linked to the late war thinking of the WWI generals

About attack concentration to puncture a hole in one place and then use over whelming force to arrive at a position where you thought the enemy would withdraw to and try to defend again

hence disordering resistence, and winning a quick victory

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#6 [url]

May 21 08 10:05 AM

When I lectured on War Studies we used to have a discussion on the term 'Blitzkrieg'.

As far as we could reckon the word is not even a correct German word, and it was first used by a Swiss journalist to describe the attack on Poland which he called 'the lightening fast war in the east' and [nipple]led it 'Blitzkrieg'.

Certainly the word does not appear in any pre-war German doctrinal material, and it is not a term used by the Germans to describe their method of attack. They use the term 'schwerpunkt' which is the concentration of force against a focal point. This would then force a break in the enemy lines and allow the second phase the 'Kesselschlacht' to begin.

This is the method of all arms warfare that was first used in WW1, expanded upon by Fuller and Liddel-Hart and then picked up by Guderian who was given the means and technology to allow the doctrine to succeed.

However, Germany's attack in Poland followed the more traditional concept of 'Vernichtungsgedanke' a doctrine of annilation utilising rapid troop movements to cut off an enemy. This term goes back to the Seven Years War and was indeed used by Von Clausewitz in his book 'On War'.

Its my theory that the terms have become muddled and the popular use of the term 'Blitzkrieg', that was not used by the German military till later in the war, is now seen as the term for all arms combined assaults when in reality it is nothing more than a compounded German word made popular by journalists of the period trying to describe what was seen as a new form of warfare, when in reality it had its roots further back in Prussian military thinking and was more the application of new technology to an older form of strategic thought.

I would also offer the contentious suggestion that the Germans never really achieved a 'Blitzkrieg' in the literal sense of the word, other than perhaps Rommel in the Desert, and the first exponents of true 'Blitzkreig' were the Allied forces later in the war, where they were able to combine air, land, naval and airborne troops to fully combined strategic operations.

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#7 [url]

May 21 08 10:23 AM

You'll have to excuse me gentleman for asking obvious questions. I've really only got interested in WW2 in the last 3 years or so & may have missed many great discussions.
If you have the patience I would appreciate you sharing your ideas.
donald

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#9 [url]

May 21 08 10:43 AM

ochoin wrote:
You'll have to excuse me gentleman for asking obvious questions. I've really only got interested in WW2 in the last 3 years or so & may have missed many great discussions.
If you have the patience I would appreciate you sharing your ideas.
donald


I wouldnt say its an obvious question... It has seen many a lively debate in historical circles and I doubt will ever be truly laid to rest.

Carry on asking questions... I did my BA and MA primarily on WW2 and have spent most of my life reading about it and it still scares me how little I really know about it! You never stop learning I guess.

The Guild - Where the eye candy lives...

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#11 [url]

May 21 08 11:01 AM

Indeed intersting stuff, and nice answer La Mancha. Donald, ask any question you like on here mate! We'll all learn from it, I certainly have.

Concentrating overwhelming force..wasn't that a Napoleon tactic too, pin half the enemy with a third of your own, then heavily defeat the other half with two thirds of your own at one decisive point?

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#12 [url]

May 21 08 11:39 AM

I would say the theory of 'Vernichtungsgedanke' underpinned Prussian strategic thinking for the entire Franco-Prussian war and perhaps its best tactical use can be seen at Sedan where Moltke catches the French in a pincer move and effectively destroying the French army that was unable to breakout of the encirclement.

Frederick's actions at the Battle of Rossbach could also been seen as the tactical implementation of Vernichtungsgedanke as he uses rapid troop movement to catch the enemy off-guard and destroy them for little loss.


Indeed the description of Vernichtungsgesdanke could almost be a verbatim copy of what historians like to term 'Blitzkrieg';

"rapid, fluid movement to unbalance an enemy, allowing the attacker to impose his will upon the defender and avoid stalemate. It relies on uncommonly rigorous training and discipline and thoroughly professional leadership."

Its this theory that is given the extra added ability of the Panzerwaffe, a Luftwaffe primarily designed to support ground actions and the German reliance on initiative among its junior officers plus excellent radio communications that see it perform well in Poland and again in the West in 1940.

To me there is no 'Blitzkrieg'. Its merely a updating of exisiting Prussian/German military strategy with the application of new technologies to further the strategy's aims and implementation.

The German's dont have any new ideas, just new technologies that allow them to reappraise old doctrine and build upon it. Even 'Barbarossa' follows the theory of Vernichtungsgesdanke with efforts at annilating the Soviet army in massive encirclements made possible by the rapid movement of German forces.

Just my thoughts on it... and I have to admit... German strategic doctrine aint one of my big points so take it with a pinch of salt!

Still, its interesting to note that their strategy of rapid attack and subsequent defeat led them to develop an army and industry that was woefully inadequate in a sustained conflict and in the case of the Luftwaffe unable to conduct a strategic air war.

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#13 [url]

May 21 08 12:03 PM

yes, very interesting, your analysis is quite plausable

Of course you could say that if your forces are built for quick and reactive fighting to exploit an enemies weakness and reduce the opportunity for a stalemate, then when an army has to change that position it will be somewhat dis-ordered

I would agree that true blitzkreig was only seen during Rommel's desert war because it was very localised actions that resulted in the collapse of the rest of the defensive lines and why Rommel risked Alamein I (the battle for Egypt), but I would argue that the late war allies relied upon overwhelming force to grind down the Germans, as they were never quick to exploit and allowed time for defences to withdraw and resettle...except maybe at Falaise where they were almost successful.

Plus added to this Hitler had adopted the "no step backwards" commands to his troops

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#15 [url]

May 21 08 12:47 PM

uriahheep2000 wrote:
i think we forget to easy that the german army wasent exactly set up for blitzkreig anyway

most of its stuff was horse draw en anyway


Exactly.

For 'Barbarossa' the Germans had 750,000 horses compared to 600,000 motor vehicles and 3500 armoured fighting vehicles. Its estimated that they lost an average of 1000 horses a day on the Eastern Front.

Even late war the army was reliant on horses, some 300,000+ were used in the Normandy campaign with the bulk being required by the artillery.

In total the Germans are estimated to have used 2.7 million horses in WW2, almost exactly double the 1.4 million they used in WW1!

Even at its peak, armoured and motorised units never amounted to more than 20% of the Heer.

Of course you could say that if your forces are built for quick and reactive fighting to exploit an enemies weakness and reduce the opportunity for a stalemate, then when an army has to change that position it will be somewhat dis-ordered


Very true and this certainly happens. The German army finds it difficult to cope with reverses during their campaigns. Arras in 1940 for example, the fact that they do cope is down to individual initiative among their commanders and this is shown time and time again throughout the war when they are lucky to have competent and capable officers at the scene of major crisis and they are able to cope with them.

Their army is not set up for 'Total War' as is required in the East. The whole German war machine goes under a period of redevelopment in 1942 to allow it to cope with the increasing demands of a drawn out, total conflict compared to the short, sharp wars for which it was designed.

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#16 [url]

May 22 08 2:27 AM

Following on from Sr Quixotes most pertinant comments, Robert Kershaw (War Without Garlands) is of the belief that the Germans themselves were victims of their own initial sucesses in the East & that the major victories achieved in 1941 were in fact phyrric in nature. The the loss of much of their high quality leadership during the first few months of the war (particularly due to the German Army's tradition of leading from the front) actively contributed to their subsequent failures. In Kershaws terms 'they victored themselves to death'.

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#19 [url]

May 22 08 8:55 AM

etranger wrote:
Following on from Sr Quixotes most pertinant comments, Robert Kershaw (War Without Garlands) is of the belief that the Germans themselves were victims of their own initial sucesses in the East & that the major victories achieved in 1941 were in fact phyrric in nature. The the loss of much of their high quality leadership during the first few months of the war (particularly due to the German Army's tradition of leading from the front) actively contributed to their subsequent failures. In Kershaws terms 'they victored themselves to death'.



I think Kershaw makes a very valid point here.

The German's were to a big extent caught up by their own propaganda. The seemingly 'easy' victories in the west gave them a false sense of power and the losses in leadership, due to the tendency to lead from the front was a serious problem.

In reality the victories in the west were not easy and the losses placed serious strain on the German war machine at a time when they didnt realise the problems they had incurred.

For example, the pilots and crews used to ferry the Fallschirmjager and 22nd Airlanding to their drop zones and landing zones came from the Bomber Training schools and the majority of the crews were the trainers themselves. Losses amongst the pilots during the airborne operations severly curtailed both the scope and quality of the Luftwaffe bomber training as a direct result of these valuable training staff being used for risky missions. The loss in transport aircraft from these operations and the subsequent drops over Crete would have serious effects on the German military for the rest of the war, none more so than at Stalingrad.

The Germans built a military machine that was for short, sharp wars but very fragile in a sustained conflict.

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#20 [url]

May 22 08 11:09 AM

So I've read Uri: hence my question. Their early tanks (Mk 1-3) seem to have been few & not overly potent weapons.
So could it be that German military prowess (from Napoleonic times to WW2) is based on tried & true doctrines learnt at some cost but never forgotten & always built on?
Learning from the hard experiences of the Great War seems to have been forgotten by Britain & France in 1940?
donald

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