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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December 6, 2013 - Posted by | H200 | , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. I will offer that in my opinion the only new thing about Blitzkrieg was the effective introduction of AIR POWER into maneuver warfare. The element of surprise has always been a fundamental element of warfare and will continue to be for as long as wars exists. Although technology played an important role, innovative thinking may get more of the credit for Blitzkrieg’s success. It only makes sense to avoid your enemy’s strength and attack with surprise and overwhelming force. The fog and friction of war can become your friend if you’re the one creating it.

    Comment by Ray Crotts | December 8, 2013

  2. I agree with Ray.

    The definition of blitzkrieg answers the question. Blitz “aerial bombardment” and krieg “war”. Air power was the keystone to its success.

    During the interwar period, the German military mindset was, “limit war in order to make it” (Paret, 554). With that in mind, it seems German fully intended to make war again on the European continent, but the next time it would encompass technological improvements most notably with aircraft.

    Characteristics of blitzkrieg: mobility and speed over firepower; apply firepower at the decisive points; WWI style infiltration tactics; deep penetrations for disorientation and annihilation of enemy C2; last but not least, concentrated air power (Paret, p. 585).

    Comment by Troy Feltis 17A | December 9, 2013

  3. The blitzkrieg took advantage of cheating/economy of force (by the Allies) on the battlefield. Principles of the defense include depth and flexibility. In a football game (unless you’re Houston), you’d use layers of defense that cover the full reach of the enemy. France stood on the line of scrimmage Red-Rover style and didn’t know what to do once Helmut came over. They had no linebackers or safety. Rather than using the run, the German passing game dominated the French.

    Comment by Major Jim Smith, 17B | December 16, 2013

  4. The German Blitzkrieg was not a new way of war, in that we had seen much of it before, but it was a better way to execute combat operations through integration and speed. During the Blitzkrieg the world was exposed to a RMA and not a MR.

    As mentioned in the reading (H206RA), the term Blitzkrieg was coined by a journalist vice military or political minds and seemed to speak to the rapidity of the operation rather than a specific aspect of it. Early German invasions of WWII seemed more like attempts to prove and work out the flaws in new and untested doctrine and C2. The ideas of combined use of tanks, infantry and aviation had existed previously and had been worked out (at least on paper) byGermany during the interwar years, although never to the scope and level of integration that was seen in WWII.

    Viewing the German invasion as a demonstration of an evolving German war fighting concept, mass integration of multiple warfare areas which already existed and had been honed during the interwar period (air, artillery, mechanized forces, etc), firmly places it in the RMA category. In fact, the German WWI plan seemed to require the speed that Germany couldn’t realize until WWII when mobilization and combined arms had developed to catch up to the speed always required in cutting off allies before intervention during European offensives.

    At its heart, as we discussed in class, the German army of WWII to a large degree still resembled the army of WWI; it was centered on the infantry and represented a wider use of the WWI Stormtrooper tactics and “mission command.” The Germans just had newer technology, evolving C2 and untested doctrine based on lessons learned, not some new or unrecognizable form of warfare. Germany was still working on successful support and integration to quickly and decisively engage their enemies, a problem they identified pre-WWI as a key to victory and had made progress in but not solved before the armistice of 1918.

    Comment by LCDR Matt Krull | December 17, 2013

  5. Though Blitzkrieg proved effective in many battles and certainly gained a reputation for lethality on the battlefield, it was not an entirely new concept and the main battle tank was not the key enabling technological component. Blitzkrieg was an evolution of they way the Germans fought toward the end of WWI, with their use of Stormtroopers. The Germans viewed their doctrine as largely quite effective following their ultimate defeat in WWI, and believed they only needed to make a few changes in order for it to prove their dominance on the battlefield. Ultimately, it was the Germans grasp of combined arms warfare that made Blitzkrieg so effective. It was the combination of the main battle tank, artillery fires, air fires, and and infantry force on the ground finding the point of penetration to fully exploit as quickly as possible.
    Doctrine and leadership, to include mission command, was critical to Blitzkrieg’s success. One of the key lessons learned from this similar tactic in WWI was that once their penetration force continued to have success, their C2 and logistical capability wasn’t able to keep up with the Stormtroopers and the Germans were unable to continue to exploit the successes they were gaining on the battlefield. Blitzkrieg hoped to address those shortcomings and provide a more robust C2 capability that would ensure the force on the ground understood the intent of the operation and could more effectively carry out the mission orders (mission command) without necessarily having to pause and lose the initiative.

    Comment by Jeff Pickler | February 1, 2014


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