Blitzkreig Coursework


Blitzkreig Coursework Essay, Research Paper

Before the importance of Blitzkrieg in the German campaigns of 1939 and 1940 can be evaluated, Blitzkrieg must first be defined. Translated Blitzkrieg means ?ightning war? it was a new method of fighting campaigns with the aim of: defeating countries quickly to avoid a two-front war and avoiding the attritional battles that had ultimately lost the Germans the First World War. The results of Blitzkrieg were intended to be fewer casualties, no need to mobilise the economy for war because the war would be over before production capabilities could make any difference to the outcome of the war. Blitzkrieg was the result improvements in technology in the 20? and the 30?. This had given the Stormtroopers the mobility that they had lacked in the First World War. Where this mobility most improved the German armed forces was in the efficient motorization of reliable tanks and support vehicles, this resulted in a significant improvement in the speed at which German divisions could move. Also the improvement in radio communication meant that the correspondence between these new fast moving armies was also improved and that these armies could receive new orders throughout a battle. Perhaps the most vital point was the development of airpower, the Germans had developed a new divebomber, a Stuka, that was both powerful and accurate.

In order to achieve its objectives, Blitzkrieg combined the following elements: surprise, paralysing the enemy? defenses while they were of guard. Speed, because of the Panzer IV?, the new German tank?, supported by other armored vehicles, combination of armor and artillery with speed allowed the German armored divisions to continue to advance despite enemy fire. Continuous advancement meant that the attacks were more difficult to resist and extremely difficult to counter attack. Combined arms, the coordination between attacks from land, air and sea. Coordinating these forces could maximise the effect of an attack making them harder to withstand than before. A German Panzer division consisted of reconnaissance aircraft (Stukas), artillery and motorised infantry; these divisions could also work in conjunction with the German navy. The use of air power was central in German campaigns and the advanced air craft heightened the effectiveness of this strategy. Concentration of firepower, in order to take points critical to a country or her defensive plan or to direct a large scale attack on a particularly weakly defended point in the enemy line in order to breach the line and move troops in behind it. Also the Germans massed their armored vehicles together in armored divisions rather than using tanks as servants to the infantry and spreading them sparsely throughout the army, this formed fast moving and effective divisions the like of which had never been encountered before. The German tactical maneuvers as well as their methods were a new type of warfare, Blitzkrieg one of these strategies was known a thee ?incer movement? this involved the invasion of an enemy by several different armies from various points on a country? border. The armies would advance at speed and their paths would meet at predetermined points resulting in the encirclement of key points, or armies, of the opposition, for example perhaps a capital city or a first army, and isolating it from the rest of the country and any military aid thus rendering it defenseless.

Blitzkrieg tactics were used to different degrees in the German invasions of Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and finally France from 1939 and 1940. The Germans obtained victories much more quickly in the campaigns in Poland and the Low Countries and France than in Norway. After invading Poland on September 1st the capital, Warsaw, had surrendered by September 27th and the last Polish troops cease fighting on October 6th taking a total of just 36 days to occupy Poland. It took the German army just 5 days to defeat the Dutch army after invading Holland on May 10th 1940. After invading Belgium on May 10th 1940 from the eastern frontier of Luxembourg the Germans had advanced across Northern Luxembourg, through the natural defenses of the Ardennes Forest to Sedan in France and advanced Northwards to the English Channel, occupying Abbeville on May 20th, a total of 240 miles, in11 days. After this initial breakthrough, in the early minutes of June 25th after the rest of France had been invaded southwards and the French government has withdrew to North Africa and had asked for an armistice on June 17th France lay prostratThe German army was well equipped in terms of artillery, manpower, air strength, armored vehicles and manpower. This itself made the German army more successful however this was not an element of Blitzkrieg tactics. The deployment of the resources into concentrated groups, the concentration of firepower, was and attributed considerably to the Germans´ success in winning quick victories in their Polish and French campaigns. Army groups were used in both these campaigns. In Poland Army Groups North and South were used to invade the Poland from the different fronts in the north and south of the country as has been previously. Massing men, tanks, armored vehicles and heavy artillery together rather than distributing them thinly and evenly throughout the infantry combined with considerable force from the air, the Lutwaffe made these army groups more penetrative and devastating in attack and much more difficult to resist. Army Groups A and B were used in France with similar effect. Army group B invaded France via a further north part of Belgium at Liege while Army Group A made up the main invasion through the Ardennes Forest in the south of Belgium. Both of these groups because of the concentration of firepower were able to penetrate French defenses with relative ease. Army groups were not deployed in the Norwegian campaign as the main invasion was by sea and air, this was perhaps a contingent factor in the long amount of time that was taken for the German army to occupy Norway in comparison with the much quicker victories in Poland and France. I believe that the concentration of firepower used in the Polish and French campaigns was more of an influential factor in gaining the Germans a quick victory in the French campaign rather than the Polish as Polish defenses due to their inferior armed forces and their flawed defense plan would have been breached by the Germans without the concentration of firepower. However the French defenses were much better equipped, despite their flawed defense plan, and may not have been breached so easily without the concentration of firepower. Though due to the flawed French defensive plan and other factors the Germans may have breached French resistance eventually without the concentration of firepower is a possibility it is fairly certain that they would not have done so as quickly had it not been for this element of Blitzkrieg. The quicker successes in Poland and France where this tactic was used compared to the lengthy campaign in Norway when it was not is suggests that this element of Blitzkrieg was a contingent factor in German quick victories.

The use of army groups allowed the pincer movement to be used by the German army, this was used in both the French and the polish campaigns however not in the Norwegian campaign, where army groups were not used. In Poland Army Groups A North and South and the various armies of which they were comprised encircled Warsaw and combined with the bombardment by the lutwaffe inflicted Warsaw´s surrender. In France the pincer movement was employed to trap the French´s strongest army, that had been placed in the Gembloux gap at liege in Belgium by the French, in Belgium prevented them uniting with French troops in the south and mustering considerable resistance to the German invasion. This was done by Army group A that had invaded at Sedan being joined by Army group B that had invaded through Liege and then driving northwards to the English Channel. In France this ploy was very influential in the French´s failure to use their considerable armed to good effect in resisting the German invasion; Warsaw would most probably have fell to the Germans despite the pincer movement but no doubt the pincer movement attributed considerably to how quickly the Polish capital fell. The trapping f the French troops in the pocket however was completely due t the German pincer movement however only attributed in part to the quick defeat of the French. In the Polish and French campaigns where the pincer movement was employed the Germans won quicker victories than in the Norwegian campaign where it was not suggests that the pincer movement helped the Germans to win quick victories in which it was employed.

Having evaluated the importance of each element of Blitzkrieg in each campaign the interim conclusion is that Blitzkrieg was a much more important factor in the quick victories in France and Poland, where it was fully employed, than in the Norwegian campaigns where only certain elements of the Blitzkrieg tactics were used. However in Norway it took the Germans much longer to secure a victory than it did in Poland and France where Blitzkrieg was more prominent. It is notable that each element alone contributed in a way to the achievement of quick victories in the campaigns, especially Poland and France, but combined as a method of fighting Blitzkrieg, as a method of fighting was a major factor in the quick victories won. There were more elements of Blitzkrieg used in the French and Polish campaigns than in Norway and therefore their effects combined together to accumulate into a major factor in the German quick success, this partly explains the quicker success that the Germans achieved in Poland and France compared to Norway.

Blitzkrieg tactics are not the only factor that attributed to the quick victories achieved by the Germans in these campaigns. Other contributory factors have to be considered to evaluate the importance of Blitzkrieg in these campaigns fully.

One other factor is the inferior armed forces of the countries invaded. This was an important in the defeat of Norway, the Norwegian armed forces were tiny compared to the German forces. Also the French force that was put ashore at Nasmos to aid the Norwegians in their defense as poorly equipped as the ship containing their equipment was too large to dock in the harbour there. The French force did not even have snowshoes let alone tanks or guns. The Germans superiority in terms of equipment was important in Norway and meant that they would probably have been successful there whether Blitzkrieg had been employed or not the Germans were also superior in terms of equipment than the Polish army, the Germans had 10 tank divisions to the Polish 1, 850bombers and dive bombers compared to the Polish 210 and 400 fighter planes to the Polish 15. However by no means as markedly as they were compared to the Norwegian army, the polish had one of the most advanced anti-tank weapons in the world at that time which was effective against the German Panzer IV´s and the stories of Poles on horseback being scythed down by German tanks was more German propaganda than substance. Because the poles were not as inferior as the Norwegians were compared to the Germans this factor is not as important in the invasion of Poland which means that the use of the German arms, Blitzkrieg, was more important. Holland had tiny armed forces and the Belgian army lacked modernisation which was an important reason why the Germans advanced through these countries with such ease. However the French in fact outnumbered the Germans in terms of infantry, tanks and artillery with the Germans only enjoying real superiority in the air, the recognition of the importance of which was an element of Blitzkrieg, therefore this is not a valid reason why the Germans defeated the French so quickly and so easily

The German´s strategy regarding international relations in preparation for these campaigns is also a noteworthy factor in the successes of Germany in both Poland and France. The Nazi-Soviet pact that Hitler had signed with Stalin resulted in the Soviet Union joining the invasion of Poland on September 17th 1939. This was after the Germans had appealed to the Soviets to intervene; the first appeal on September 3rd had been declined with the Russian army claiming that they were not reading. However the Soviets hurried to enter the campaign after the second request on September 10th as the Germans were defeating the Poles so quickly that they feared that the Germans would defeat the poles before they could enter and therefore not surrender Polish territory to the Soviets up to the demarcation line as were the terms of the pact. However this factor was not really a major factor as only 2 Russian division entered the eastern half of Poland where the Poles were in a minority and due to the German attack the Polish state had already disintegrated so the Soviet intervention was not a major contributory factor in the German victory. Instead the Russians concentrated their efforts on shepherding the Germans out of their zone. Before the campaigns the Germans had made an alliance with Mussolini´s fascist Italy. Mussolini invaded France after declaring war on France and Britain. More significant was the threat of fascist Italy on France´s southern border during the German invasion that meant that the French were not able to commit all their forces to the area under threat from the Germans. The interventions of Stalin in Poland and Mussolini in France both occurs after the German had nearly ensured success alone and are not major reasons why the Germans won quick victories in these campaigns. However it is also apparent that in Norway where the country that was invaded by the Germans was not under threat from another hostile neighbour the Germans took longer to secure a victory. Though militarily the interventions of Stalin and Mussolini were not a key cause the effect that their threat had upon the defensive plan of the nations invaded did attribute to there being less resistance to the Germans. Combined with Blitzkrieg tactics that were very effective in breaching resistance this was amore important factor in the German success in these campaigns.

Another factor in the German success was the geography of the countries that were invaded. The geography of Poland was particularly significant, the separation of East Prussia from Germany under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles gave Germans territory on each side of the Polish corridor to the sea. The Germans attacked from these two fronts Pomerania to the west and East Prussia to the east to occupy the Polish corridor which was essential to the supply of the Polish population and more importantly the army. Silesia and the recently occupied, by the Germans, Czechoslovakia gave the Germans territory to the south of Poland from which they could launch an attack from a third front. This three front attack combined with the Russian threat on her eastern frontier made Poland extremely difficult to defend whether German Blitzkrieg tactics were employed or not. In addition to her position among hostile neighbors more geographical factors made Poland hard for her small army to defend: she had very long frontiers of which for every inch of these to be defended by the limited capabilities of the Polish armed forces was implausible. Also all of her important industrial areas were on these frontiers which were the first areas that would be captured by the Germans and therefore making the supply of her already limited army even more difficult. Poland´s hard and flat terrain was suited very well to tanks, the use of which was central to the German war plan. Hard and flat terrain in Holland and also aided the German advancement and resulted in them reaching France faster to take the French by surprise, flat terrain also suited the German tanks. France bordered Italy to the south and the French government´s concern over this led to the French army not being concentrated on defense against the Germans as has been previously explained. Though geography did help the Germans considerably in the polish campaign and less significantly in the French campaign the geography of Norway did not suit the German style of warfare with undulating landscape and Scandinavian weather. The geographical position of Norway made a direct ground attack by the Germans impossible, the meant that other elements of Blitzkrieg like the concentration of firepower or the pincer movement impossible to implement. However the Germans were successful in Norway despite the problems that her geography posed, this suggests that the geography of the countries that Germans invaded was not the most important factor in the German quick victories however the Germans achieved quick victories where geography favored them suggesting that it did contribute to their success. The geography in itself would not have been as important but for the way the Germans exploited it, this was no more apparent than in the Polish campaign where the three front attack was a key reason why Poland fell so easily.

Rarely is a military success won due only to the actions of the victor; mistakes made the opposition are often also significant. The polish, Norwegian and French campaigns were no exception, mistakes made by the Allies were very important in the German successes. The French and British period of inactivity until they ultimately mobilised their armies on a large scale when the German invaded in May 1939 known as the “phony war” was but one of these mistakes. This led to the Allies not launching the large-scale operation to defend Poland as had been promised prior to the German invasion in 1939. Such an intervention may have prolonged or even prevented the German occupation, this suggests that Britain and France´s view that they were fighting a “phony war” was an important factor in the German quick victory won in Poland. Another Allied mistake that was of large consequence in the German victory over the Poles was the Polish defensive plan which was based on principals opposite to those that the successful Blitzkrieg tactics were based upon. Instead of massing their forces together in divisions that may have stood a chance of resisting the Germans and making use of natural defenses like the Vistula and San rivers; the Poles spread their forces thinly over Poland´s long frontiers in forward positions that were quickly overwhelmed by the fast moving German armies. The polish defense plan complimented the German attack and the result was the speed and effectiveness with which the Germans occupied Poland. The polish defensive plan was a considerable contributory factor in the German quick victory in Poland. Allied mistakes were also influential in the German victory in Norway, the only helped offered to the tiny Norwegian forces was that which was put ashore at Nasmos and Andalsens. British, French and Polish forces were beaten easily as they fought against heavy odds. A French force was put ashore at Namsos with no equipment or ammunition, a force that was then withdrawn in the first week of May, after many different defensive plans to land at Narvik and the Trondhjem fjord. This disorganisation was partly due to the surprise tactic employed by the Germans and partly due to the “phony war” mentality and the incompetence of the French. At this time the British had an extremely strong navy and British naval aid to Norway may have prevented the occupation of Norway, therefore the mistakes made by the Allies in Norway contributed largely to the German victory. French incompetence was an important factor in the lack of aid given to the Poland and Norway but in their defeat to Germany. The French had failed to use the 8 months they had had between the declaration of war and the German invasion to prepare for military confrontation with Germany. All the preparation that the French had made at preparation for a possible German through the gap that existed in the Magint Line was the digging of a shallow anti-tank ditch. This is how the “phony war” mentality effected the French. The Allies had also underestimated how much more advanced the German forces had become since the end of the First World War, they had attributed the incredible occupation of Poland to the weakness of the Poles rather than the strength of the Germans. This misconception added to the surprise that was a key reason why the French were defeated so quickly. One of the main adequacies of the French (and British) was that they had not appreciated the need for modernisation the way that the Germans had. The French organisation resembled that of World War One: tanks were seen as infantry servants and were spread thinly throughout the infantry rather than massed together in effective divisions like the Germans, the French did not appreciate the effectiveness of combined arms and their and unwieldy movement and organisation compared to the Blitzkrieg speed was a factor in the unexpected speed with which the Germans invaded France. This outdated slowness was epitimised by the 5 days scheduled for Corap´s Ninth Army to move to the Meuse with only cavalry protecting it on the other side. The French were also incompetent in terms of their organisation their equipment was also out dated as much of the French weaponry dated from World War One, they had also failed to appreciate the significance of air power in modern warfare. The slowness of the French movement and organisation combined with their outdated equipment and method were a key cause of their quick defeat to the Germans. The French´s shortcomings may not have caused the defeat alone as these tactics were sufficient for the French to win the First World War. If the Germans had fought in the same way as the French the occupation of France may have been prolonged or even prevented. But as the Germans had adopted new tactics, Blitzkrieg, as opposed to the French out-dated methods made the contingent factor of the German quick victory in their French campaign. Another mistake by the French was a false sense of security that was instilled in the war-weary nation by the Maginot Line. This was known as the “Maginot Line mentality”, the French believed that the Maginot Line, a line of defensive fortifications running up the French Eastern frontier to Longuyon, would protect them from any invasion on their eastern frontier. The gap in the Maginot Line from Longuyon to the English Channel was significant as this is where the Germans entered France. The French did not expect an enemy to invade her through this gap in the Maginot Line as it was partly filled by the natural defenses of the Ardennes Forests. As the French did not see this area as a significant threat their effort to fortify defenses there when war was declared were minimal and their surprise when the Germans invaded through the Ardennes was heightened. The French´s complacency pertaining to the Maginot Line enabled the Germans to use with stunning effect the surprise element of Blitzkrieg, this was a significant contributory factor in the German initial breakthrough which attributed to their success. Another mistake made by their Allies was their failure to cooperate to make significant their numerical advantage over the German Army. This was true in Poland and Norway where British and French forces sent failed to coordinate to good effect with the Polish and Norwegian forces. If this had been the case then the Germans successes would probably have been nowhere near as remarkable. However the failure of the Allies to cooperate was particularly significant in the French campaign. The failure of France (and Britain) to verify defense details with Belgian forces was an important factor in the quick advancement of the German army through Belgium. The French had assumed that the Belgian army would have been capable of delaying the German advancement significantly because of the strong fortresses at Liege, Eben-Emael and the natural defenses provided by the Albert Canal, the Meuse and the Ardennes Forest. However in actual fact the Belgians (and the Dutch) were maintaining a policy of neutrality that these hoped would prevent their countries from falling under Nazi rule. This confusion led to the Germans quickly advancing through the Low Countries allowing the French to muster only a fraction of the resistance of which they were capable. The failure of Britain and France to cooperate in the formation of any counter-attacks after the initial German breakthrough was also a factor in the success of the Germans. A counter attack formulated by Lord Gort on May 2nd, to drive southward from Arras in an attempt to unify the troops in the pocket with forces in the south, was promised considerable French help was only helped by 60 tanks and the Germans easily overcame them. This is but an example of Britain and France failing to cooperate in the defense of France. Had Britain and France been able to combine their forces effectively they could have resistance the Germans much more effectively therefore this is a significant factor in the German quick victory won in France.

The interim conclusion after evaluating the other contributory factors of the German victories won in Poland, Norway and France is that the Blitzkrieg tactics used were not the only reason why the Germans won quick victories.

In Poland Blitzkrieg tactics were important as all the elements were implement successfully: surprise, combined arms, the use of army groups using the pincer movement, the use of airpower and the principle of speed. The Blitzkrieg tactics employed was the only factor that made the victory in Poland so quick however Blitzkrieg was not the only reason why the Germans won. This is because of the polish flawed defensive plan, the lack of help from Britain and France for their small armed forces together with the geography of Poland that meant she was surrounded by hostile neighbours and that she was able to be attacked by the Germans from three fronts meant that the Germans would have probably defeated the poles regardless of the use of Blitzkrieg tactics. In the Norwegian campaign the mistakes made by the Allies and the vast military superiority that the Germans held over the Norwegians were enough to defeat the Norwegians regardless of the Blitzkrieg tactics employed. This seconded by the fact that the elements of Blitzkrieg tactics that were employed were not as successful as the elements employed in the other two campaigns as the Norwegian campaign was a lot longer than the other campaigns. This meant that the blitzkrieg tactics employed was not the only reason why he Germans were successful in Norway. In France where military superiority could not be said to be the contingent factor as the armies were fairly equal in terms of manpower and equipment. The geography of France was not conclusive to the German victory and the threat of the Italians on the French southern border was not really a major factor in the victory either. Though the mistakes made by Britain and France was a major factor these mistakes were only made significant because of the far superior German tactics used. The French strategy can not really be said to be the contingent factor as the same strategy had beaten the Germans in the First World War. The only change that had occurred between the First World War and the Second was the tactics used by the Germans. The French tactics that had been enough to beat the Germans before they developed the Blitzkrieg tactics but were not after the Germans began to fight in this way. This suggests that though Blitzkrieg was not the only factor that caused the German quick victory but it was definitely the contingent factor


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