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 or was it something else?  Was technology really the most important aspect of blitzkrieg?  How would you describe the importance of doctrine and leadership, including the idea of mission command,  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 27, 2012 - Posted by | H200 | , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. It strikes me that blitzkrieg was not really a new way of war. Rather, it was the German way of war at the end of World War I taken to its next logical step. In their latter offensives, the Germans focused on rapid, independent movement by highly trained forces against key weak points in the enemy defense. Ultimately, supply considerations led to a forced stop that gave the French/British a chance to catch their breath and reorganize. Blitzkrieg seems to take much the same approach. In this case, the technology served as an enabler. Tanks allowed for rapid movement with little to no fatigue; radios allowed coordinated attack and movement; and wheeled/tracked vehicles allowed for better movement of supplies forward. This technology allowed the Germans to perfect mission command, because it very quickly took the fighter out of range of his higher commanders while still executing the mission. The technology, however, is not the real story. I think the real story is the integration of the technology, the doctrine and the WWI approach to attack into a coherent approach that made blitzkrieg work.

    Comment by Kenneth Mortimer, 11A | December 4, 2012

  2. Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” and is a tactic based on speed, surprise, and coordinated movement. This tactic was built around the use of light tanks units (Panzers) supported by planes and infantry. Until the point when blitzkrieg was used during the beginning of WWII, the Germans were fighting a static war with no significant gains except mounting casualties.

    The German officer Hans Guderian developed the concept of blitzkrieg. He wrote a paper called “Actung Panzer” which means “Attention-Tank” or “Watch Out-Tank”. For several years, Guderian got firsthand experience of the lack of mobility on the Western Front during his fighting at Flanders. He also developed an interest and knowledge in motorized/mechanized transport, which lent itself to concept of Blitzkrieg. The Blitzkrieg concept was described in “Actung Panzer”. It was Guderian’s plan to make war mobile and to have a force that was always moving forward, not giving the enemy time to regroup or reorganize.

    The main battle tank was a key technological component to blitzkrieg and may get most of the attention, but it is not the only key technological component. The use of airplanes and air support was also a key component. Due to a lack of fire support, the Germans used aircraft as a mean of vertical artillery. Once an objective was selected, dive bombers, or “stuka”, were used to pound and soften the enemy, destroy infrastructure, rail lines, communication centers, and create chaos among the soldiers and civilians. These bombing actions were continued right up until the tanks attacked. Aircraft set the conditions for the tanks and infantry to quickly move through enemy defenses and did not allow them time to regain composure. This combination created a rolling or sweeping affect through defenses.

    As important as technology and innovation was to blitzkrieg, an argument can be made that doctrine, leadership, and mission command were equally if not more important. The key concepts to Blitzkrieg were based around speed, coordination, massing of forces and exploiting a soft spot found in the defenses, and continued forward movement. German doctrine, leadership and mission command allowed technology to be fully utilized. Leadership, mission command, mission type orders allowed these units to operate at a fast tempo, and to make decisions and judgments from the front lines which allowed them to hit a target and move to the next one. It facilitated speed and surprise. Blitzkrieg was not a new way of war, but instead was a better way of prosecuting an old way of war. It was an evolution of warfare that combined several aspects such as technological advances, refined doctrine and tactics, and improved command and control (mission command) techniques.

    Comment by John Nash | January 15, 2013

  3. The German Army began experimenting with motorized transport for its troops as well as for supply operations. Many in the High Command felt that would be the extent of the use of the internal combustion engine. The Inspector of Motorized Troops, Colonel von Natzmer said after one motorized exercise, “To hell with combat, they’re supposed to carry flour!” General Heinz Guderian disagreed with this idea and strongly advocated throughout the interwar period for use of the tank as a distinct combat arm with all required enabling troops and elements equipped to keep up with the highly mobile tank. In spite of their professed adoption of decentralization of command and control, German high command was concerned that the panzers would move too fast and they would not be able to maintain command. Guderian persuaded them that the inclusion of a radio in every tank would ensure adequate control. The high-speed advance of panzer elements did require that commanders be up front during operations, which was not the norm. Commanders were used to being in the rear and monitoring field telephones for updates. The tank enabled the German Army to adopt Blitzkrieg (an its accompanying and necessary “mission command” mindset) as doctrine. In this case technology drove the doctrine writers back to their interwar version of cubicles and develop a way to exploit the speed and lethality of the tank. Although the early German tanks were not the best in the world, the offensive spirit they created throughout the German Army may have been the difference in the success of the early war years.

    Comment by Vincent Amerena | March 20, 2013


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