The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Tanks for the Memories

One of the most dramatic transformation that occurred in the interwar years was the transformation of ground combat.  The attrition focused stalemate of the trenches evolved into a new dramatic form of maneuver warfare developed primarily in Germany.  When it was executed during the opening months of WWII it was popularly called blitzkrieg and military professionals and the general public alike associated the technology of the main battle tank with this new form of warfare.  Was the main battle tank the key enabling technological component of blitzkrieg?  Was technology really the most important aspect of blitzkrieg?  How would you describe the importance of doctrine and leadership  to the blitzkrieg concept.  Finally, was blitzkrieg really a new way of war, or simply a better way to prosecute an old way of war?

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November 29, 2011 - Posted by | H200 | , , , , , , , ,

14 Comments »

  1. The German’s laid the groundwork for blitzkrieg in WWI, and tanks were a technological evolution which created a better way for the Germans to conduct offensive operations. During the end of WWI, the Germans figured out that fast moving elements, like storm troopers (insert Star Wars music here) could have a serious impact on the enemy. The storm troopers maneuvered past strongholds and struck at C2 elements. The short artillery barrage that preceded the storm troopers’ attack contradicted the doctrine of the day, which called for very long artillery attacks prior to infantry advances. This brief artillery attack allowed for a quicker attack overall and gave the enemy less reaction time. The limitations of the storm troopers were lack of communication between teams and logistics support. The tank, especially the German tank which had advanced communications capabilities via radio, replaced the storm trooper. The tank therefore became a key enabling technological component of blitzkrieg, but I would argue that the tank’s radio was the key enabling technological. The German leadership was able to adapt their doctrine and incorporate the main battle tank, radio, and aircraft into the blitzkrieg concept. Perhaps to the rest of the Europe, who had not figured out the effectiveness of storm trooper attacks in the end of WWI, the blitzkrieg really was a new way of war when WWII began.

    Comment by MAJ Tim Hickman | November 29, 2011

  2. Was the main battle tank the key enabling technological component of blitzkrieg?

    Although the main battle tank was an enabling technological component of the blitzkrieg, it was not the key component. The key piece of technology that made the blitzkrieg so lethal and successful was the availability, portability, and employment of radios for tactical command and control of the German tank forces. I would argue that although the tank had become extremely lethal relative to other modes of transportation on the battlefield, the concept of blitzkrieg would have worked nearly as affectively with a less lethal vehicle. This is due to the employment of radios for tactical communication among assaulting units. As discussed in class, the German war machine took an existing concept that was highly effective at starting operations (the storm trooper concept of WWI) and through the use of direct, timely communication turned it into a complete operational capability. While tanks were “nice to have” for this concept of waging war to be effective, the radio and the way it was used by the Germans was essential.

    Was technology really the most important aspect of blitzkrieg?

    Technology was not the most important aspect of the blitzkrieg. As mentioned in the first question, it certainly was a key enabler, but not the single most important aspect. The Germans would have likely been able to achieve similar results without the use of radios, but on a slightly more protracted timeline. The aggressive approach the Germans employed during WWI and later refined in WWII was the most important aspect of the blitzkrieg. This concept completely broke with (pardon the pun) entrenched ways of fighting wars and caught defenders completely off guard. The Allies were still fighting the last war and were no prepared for the rapid onslaught of highly mobile and lethal forces the Germans employed.

    How would you describe the importance of doctrine and leadership to the blitzkrieg concept.

    As I argue above, it was the concept of blitzkrieg was what made it so effective as a method of waging war. The foundations of this concept are found in German WWI doctrine that championed the use of the storm trooper approach. Through the use of the German Staff Officer Corps, the concept was refined and improved. Existing doctrine was improved to account not only for lethal employment of assets on the battlefield but also improved C2 capabilities. Leadership was encouraged at much lower levels than in other European armies and therefore allowed tactical commanders a great deal of latitude to use their forces and seize objectives. The foundation of revised, proven doctrine, combined with lower level leadership was vital to the success of blitzkrieg. In short, the commander’s effective employment of the concept was just as important as the concept itself.

    Finally, was blitzkrieg really a new way of war, or simply a better way to prosecute an old way of war?

    Blitzkrieg was not a new way of war at all, at least not to the Germans. They had tried a similar concept during the First World War with storm troopers. The objective was to rapidly penetrate existing lines, seize critical fire and C2 nodes, and clear the way for follow on forces. This is very similar to the concept of blitzkrieg. To the Allies (other armies of Europe) this was a new way to fight. They were not prepared for the rapid advancement of German forces who were more concerned with moving forward than complete victory. When the German Staff adjusted for shortcomings from WWI and technology provided decentralized C2, the lethal capabilities of the German Army were fully exploited.

    LCDR Wes Hester, 17B

    Comment by Wes Hester | December 1, 2011

  3. Blitzkrieg is most commonly associated with the widespread use of the tank, but the real innovation was one of doctrine and leadership instead of technology. The hurdle for for both axis and allied forces was not to develop new technology, but for senior leadership to advance its thinking beyond existing doctrine to incorporate technology as an enabler for new tactics and doctrine. However, despite these innovations in doctrine and leadership, senior leadership on both sides only advanced far enough for blitzkrieg to be the same war with a few changes, instead of a revolution in warfare.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder, 17D | December 4, 2011

  4. The importance of German doctrine and leadership to the success of the blitzkrieg cannot be underestimated. It was its military leaders’ vision of how they wanted to fight the “next war” that gave birth to the German doctrine that maximized its nation’s technological advances.

    By visualizing how portable two way radios could be used for C2, mission command in today’s terms, German leaders were able to overcome one reason that they could not exploit penetrations of enemy lines in WWI. This directly influenced their doctrine in terms of effective range of C2.

    Understanding that aircraft could substitute provide the same battlefield effects that field artillery pieces allowed German leaders to comfortably plan for maneuver operations well beyond established artillery support. This would have been unheard of in WWI, but learning from their experiences and conducting many heated debates German military leaders believed correctly that it could be accomplished.

    Speed, speed, speed. That was the key factor for Blitzkrieg in their minds and German leaders did not care what vehicle they used to achieve the desired effect. As discussed in class, the Germans used motorcycles, planes, and even bicycles in addition to tanks to outmaneuver their opponents.

    Yes, I believe that the German’s doctrine and leadership was essential to the success of the German Blitzkrieg.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | December 4, 2011

  5. Both doctrine and technology led to the innovations of transformation. Examples include; armor and aircraft carriers, such as M1, M2, Light Tank, and the Kampf Panzer. Radios are also important as they assisted with command and control (C2).

    Germany doctrine was critical in the success of Blitzkrig, which can not be overlooked. The leaders involved had a vision and with technological advances they were able to determine what they thought right was like and how they envisioned, which welcomed the development of German doctrine.

    MAJ Jackson (SG 17A)

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | December 11, 2011

  6. I agree with MAJ Jackson that you have to look at the growth of both doctrine and technology to arrive at true transformation. The big thing the Germans did is invest time in their doctrine and make it important tenet of their overall development. A lot of times we forget the basics and the building blocks that give us a long term transformation. The Germans focused on this and you can see the fruits of their labor in Blitzkrieg. Yes, their doctrine and leadership was essential to the success of Blitzkrieg and continues to be studied and modeled today.

    Comment by MAJ Carl Mason, 17A | December 11, 2011

  7. The blitzkrieg was probably the best known innovation in German combat operations. Germany successfully leveraged technological innovation for the battlefield, but they also successfully leveraged industrial capabilities and technology to build up Germany society. Germany was able to build a strong society through effectively synergizing their civilian and military efforts. Some people may have heard the story of Adolf Hitler’s concept sketch for what some deem as an early form of the “people’s car.” Apparently, Hitler drew this sketch in a Munich restaurant.

    For purposes of levity, I discovered an unknown form of German air-ground operations called the “Volkswaffe.” See the following clip and enjoy.

    Comment by Masaki Nakazono, 17c | December 14, 2011

  8. I agree with Tim on the limitations of the storm troopers were due to the lack of communication between teams and logistics support, thus, making the tank, the key enabling technology for the Germans. I would also add that the invention of the tanks enabled the Germans a way to mitigate the communication issues that all military forces were battling during WWI. As discussed in class the tank, enabled the higher headquarters the capability to better command and control their units and facilitated the coordination and synchronization of units on the battlefield.

    Comment by MAJ Michele Torne, 17C | December 14, 2011

  9. I agree with MAJ Moore about leadership and doctrine as both key enablers to the Germans success of Blitzkrieg, however, what about the other two aspects of transformation? Doesn’t that include technology (hardware) and logistical (resources)? You can have the leaders to lead and the doctrine created for transformation but you also require the actual equipment and resources.

    Comment by MAJ Michele Torne | December 16, 2011

  10. After Germany’s success in France and Poland the Nazi Army found itself with tanks from other countries. These tanks were integrated into Nazi units. Some units were pure Panzers, some were mixed with battalions of Panzers, battalions of French tanks, and in some cases battalions were a mixture of multiple types of tanks within companies. I wonder if this affected the effectiveness of Bliztkrieg during the Nazi’s offensive into Russia. Did the combination of technology impact the effectiveness of operation? I would say yes, since the logistics required to support the tanks in the area of maintenance alone, would not have been as efficient as it was during the offensive into Poland with pure Panzers.

    Comment by MAJ Tim Hickman, 17C | January 12, 2012

  11. I concur with many of the posters above that the tank was an enabling platform to conduct Blitzkrieg. The doctrinal development on how to employ and exploit various capabilities added to the tanks, such as the radios, were key. It is not just the technolological developments that allowed the Germans to roll over Poland and France, but practical application and employment of the technology. The French had far superior tanks than the Germans, yet poorly applied them in combat. The combined arms tactics of the Germans handily beat the compartmentalized tactics of the French. That being said, as the war progressed and the Germans began relying on captured equipment to continue fighting, the maintenance limitations would hinder effective use of the captured equipment.

    Comment by MAJ Jerrod Melander, 17C | January 17, 2012

  12. Was the main battle tank the key enabling technological component of blitzkrieg?

    I believe that the battle tank played a major role in blitzkrieg techniques but not the key enabling factor. The German military, bound by severe post-war limitations, was practically forced to develop the most efficient new tactics, blitzkrieg, which naturally involved using tanks and aircraft for mobile ground warfare. The Germans made use of innovative combined arms tactics and radios in all of the tanks to provide a level of tactical flexibility and power.

    Was technology really the most important aspect of blitzkrieg?

    Technology, like the battle tank played a big role in blitzkrieg but was not the most important aspect of blitzkrieg. The development of new doctrine and tactics by German infantry officer, Heinz Guderian was probably the most important aspect of blitzkrieg along with open minds in the German higher ranks ready to examine new ideas and a leader who wanted intended to go to a major war again, and as soon as possible. This doctrine captured the use of the main battle tank and combat aircraft to conduct rapid advances into enemy territory.

    How would you describe the importance of doctrine and leadership to the blitzkrieg concept?

    I agree with LCDR Hester on the importance of doctrine and leadership to the blitzkrieg concept. Through the use of the German Staff Officer Corps, the concept was refined and improved. Existing doctrine was improved to account not only for lethal employment of assets on the battlefield but also improved C2 capabilities. Leadership was encouraged at much lower levels than in other European armies and therefore allowed tactical commanders a great deal of latitude to use their forces and seize objectives.

    Was blitzkrieg really a new way of war, or simply a better way to prosecute an old way of war?

    Germany first used the blitzkrieg concept during the second half of World War I. During World War I the term Blitzkrieg was used to define Germany’s efforts to win a quick victory, not associated with the use of armored or with airpower. Not until the early 1930’s did armored and aircraft become tied to the term blitzkrieg.

    Comment by MAJ Karl Beier | January 19, 2012

  13. I think we tend to overstate the role of the tank in what became known as Blitzkrieg. Yes, it was an important factor in restoring mobility to the battlefield, but everybody had tanks by the start of the Second World War, and many of those tanks were better than the Germans’, yet nobody else was rampaging across their respective continent. It was the marriage of those tanks with other technologies and new doctrine that changed warfare. Blitzkrieg is really a perfect storm of the tank, organized in armored fists rather than piecemeal-ed away in support of infantry, every one of which is equipped with a radio, operating under decentralized control, with CAS in support (truly combined arms warfare), and a doctrinal approach that emphasized speed and encouraged commanders to bypass pockets of resistance, rather than march in lock-step across a broad front.

    Too, we shouldn’t underestimate the helpful incompetence and ignorance of the Allies in the first few years of the war. There were proponents of “Blitzkrieg” tactics in the US, France, and Britain…but nobody listened to them. The Germans practiced their craft in Russia in the 1920’s, since they were not supposed to be training with tanks. You’d think some Russian officers would have been taking notes. In 1937 Heinz Guderian spelled it all out in his book, Achtung – Panzer!, which of course nobody read in Britain or France. The Blitzkrieg was much easier than it should have been partly because nobody anticipated it, and they were totally unprepared to properly defend against it.

    I’m not sure we can elevate the importance of any one of these factor very much over any of the others. Dilute the power of the tank by spreading them evenly across the army’s infantry divisions and the Blitzkrieg fails. Micromanage armored units in the offense, thereby slowing them up, and the Blitzkrieg fails. Take away the instant communications, close coordination with aircraft, revert to a look-out-for-your flanks doctrine following a breakthrough, or fight a prepared opponent (read, Kursk), and the Blitzkrieg fails.

    Interestingly, once the Germans taught the rest of the world how to properly utilize their own tanks, we see massive Blitzkriegs in reverse. The Soviets became quite good at the big armored envelopment game by 1944, and George Patton did alright himself.

    Finally, the impact of the Volkswaffe was huge. If only my VW Rabbit had that feature! Must have been in an options package that I passed on…..

    Comment by Steve Schultz, 17C | February 1, 2012

  14. I agree with Steve Schultz that the tank’s role has been overstated. The French had a better tank at the start of the war, but were unable to use it properly. I like his hypothetical examples of tanks being used in different ways with unsuccessful results. I think he is correct in that assesment.

    I believe the overall mechanization of the German army was a large component of the German success at the start of WWII. Granted, they used a lot of horses to move through Belgium and France, but the ability to coordinate attacks accross a large front with radios and motorized vehicles allowed them to move much more quickly than the French had planned gave them the decisive edge. This also points to superior leadership on the side of the Germans. They were able to communicate orders superbly, understand the grand scheme, and push their men to keep fighting long after they thought they could go no longer. I don’t see it as a new form of war. Simply a technological change that required commanders to think more quickly on their feet and subordinates to take more initiative. The Germans were ready since they had focused their interwar years training for this style of war.

    Comment by Michael Neilson | February 2, 2012


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