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The Blitz myth?

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"Blitzkrieg was then, no brilliantly thought out military development. It was a fortunate combination of armor and tactics that relied on highly skilled and motivated soldiers to achieve its impressive results. The German High Command failed to either support or develop this revolution in warfare. Their only contribution to its success being the limited ability to tolerate the rogue behavior of its practitioners as long as it proved successful."


What it says in this article makes a lot of sense. I'd always wondered how to repeat the effect of blitzkreig on a CM scale without losing all my tanks early on. According to this article it seems when the blitz worked it was more by good fortune than design. When it didn't work, the German high command held the officers accountable and fired them.

Also, the author here points the finger at the German High command for failing to 'support or develop' the blitz. Later on in the war, directive 41 restricted the advance of tanks to the pace of infantry. However, other commanders such as Patton achieved rapid advances. So what did they do differently to the German style blitz? Did they also go at the pace of infantry? And if they went faster, how did they deal with the problems of getting cutoff from their rear and pockets of encircled enemy attacking from behind?

Looking forward to your comments.

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The dramatic victories in Poland, France and early summer of '41 did indeed depend on luck as much as good doctrine. Yes, the doctrine was sound—and in fact, one version or another of it had been put forward in most of the major armies of the time before the war, most notably the USSR. But to achieve those kinds of fast moving, sweeping large-scale breakthroughs and encirclements depended on an enemy that was either poorly disposed, ill armed, confused, or some combination of the three. Since the battles in CM are usually a fairly even match, those conditions are seldom to be found. If you would put an entire Panzer battalion up against, say, a company of Soviet 1941 riflemen who are green or conscript, low on ammo, have few or no AT weapons or artillery support, and begin with low morale, you'll see something more like Blitzkrieg. But you may have trouble finding a human opponent to play against. ;)

BTW, something similar applied to Patton and the rest of the Allied armies in the race across France during late August-early September. The Germans had been bled white in Normandy with several divisions all but totally obliterated. The survivors were hell-bent on getting back to the permanent defenses of the Reich before the Allies beat them to it and mostly were just putting up small rear guards to slow down the Allied advance. Particularly in Patton's case, most of that time, he was advancing through country that was empty of organized enemy resistance. Once the armies reached the borders of Germany, two things happened. The Allies had reached the end of their supply tether for the moment, and the Germans were rapidly consolidating their defense.

Not until the following April was there again a rapid advance in essentially a similar style to Blitzkrieg, and once again that was against an enemy that was basically already beaten and offering little in the way of organized defense in the West.

In the East, the Soviets had had their share of breakthroughs followed by deep penetrations, especially after the middle of 1943. But the distances in the East were much greater. The armies could only advance so far before they would necessarily halt to move up logistic support and prepare for the next offensive. So it took a couple of years to cover all that ground.


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I don't really think its a myth so much as it is a combination of sound military principles with new equipment and excellent command and control structure. Most of the doubts about various Blitzkrieg operations have stemmed from the fact that much of the German army was not motorized, and still relied heavily on horses for transportation.

Keep in mind though:

The armored spearheads used by the German army were not dedicated to the destruction of the enemy army in the field. The idea was to concentrate an overwhelming amount of armor along and axis of little resistance, and to exploit that breakthrough as quickly as possible, trapping large pockets of enemy forces which would later be reduced by infantry and more conventional arms.

The Germans had fewer tanks than the French, and faced an enormous disparity against the Russians, yet managed to extricate a series of crushing victories against both opponents. Part of this has to do with armored concentration, but alot of their success came from the inherent confusion caused by armor spearheads. By quickly penetrating and advancing, the Blitzkrieg deprived opponents of the initiative by presenting them with operational and strategic difficulties that could not be dealt with without a flexible command structure and the availability of quality mobile operational reserves. The command and control difficulties were alos made much more accute when combined with the logistical problems of deep enemy penetrations and partial/total encirclement.

Furthermore, German forces were, in my opinion, qualitatively superior to any early war opponent that they faced, especially in terms of training, experience and tactical flexibility. I know that some of these issues came up in the "What really happened in 1941" thread, and I fully expect to be categorically opposed by some of the people here on the board.

The fact remains however, that the objective of a defense operation is not to hold terrain but to defeat the enemy. When Poland chose to defend their Western borders for both political and patriotic reasons, they subjected their army to a rapid enveloping operation from three sides before battle even begun.

When France and England attempted to use the "swinging gate" to halt the German advance into Belgium and the Low Countries (which was unbeknowst to them, a diversion), they exposed themselves to the main thrust through the Ardennes which cleaved the defending armies in half and brought about the six week fall of France.

Finally, the invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, although lacking in clearly defined objectives and side-tracked by numerous branch attacks and the ever present intervention of Hitler, succeeded in destroying the cream of the Soviet peace-time army. There are numerous what-ifs surrounding the whole war, but I really do not think that Soviet victory is the forgone conclusion that some make it out to be. All in all, it was an oppressive and brutal regime thats support was bolstered consderably by German atrocities. Had Barbarossa been more focused on capturing Moscow, or had Army Group Centre not stopped in August to lauch a massive pincer attack (which was a tactical/operational victory), and had the Germans tried to take on the role of liberators rather than conquerers, they may have been able to topple the regime.

In the end, none of Germany's early war opponents had a command and control structure able to deal with a mobile and fluid war. They lacked the mobile operational reserves necessary to conduct an elastic defense, and in the case of the French, were still focused mainly on positional and static warfare.

The Blitzkrieg was not an invincible steamroller, nor was it a piece of propoganda and a clever myth. It was simply a combined arms approach and an expansion upon the already established tactic of encirclement and destruction, and it worked. Provided that it could continue to move, and assuming a continuous flow of supplies and reinforcements, large quantities of enemy soldiers and equipment could be destroyed relatively easy, keeping the entire front off-balance and negating disparities in fighting strength and industrial capacity.

Of course, it couldn't sustain itself indefinately, and the real reversals came when it lost momentum and the supply lines bogged, down, restoring the manpower advantages of the enemy and making further offensive operations considerably more difficult

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There is much in what you say. However you should not forget that in the West in 1940 and in Russia in 1941 there were instances when the German army were fought to a standstill by their opponents who managed to get their act together. Therefore, I would be wary of claiming that the German soldier was that much superior to any other.

What I would agree with is that, taken as a whole, the German Army had better Generals than the equivalent groups in the allied armies.


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Originally posted by Sivodsi:

However, other commanders such as Patton achieved rapid advances. So what did they do differently to the German style blitz? Did they also go at the pace of infantry? And if they went faster, how did they deal with the problems of getting cutoff from their rear and pockets of encircled enemy attacking from behind?

Looking forward to your comments.

They waged war on shattered, war-weary German formations, saturation bombed them with tons of artillery and even heavy bombers, and in general refused to "fight fair." Firepower.
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It's an interesting question. Simply put, I think there were those who had faith in the expanded role of armoured vehicles and those who didn't. The French and English, for example, seem to have been on the fence. They had large numbers of tanks, but tended to disperse them in an infantry support role. Germany, on the other hand, was more willing to accept or more in need of a new doctrine, but was by no means sold on the idea. Russia, due to a number of concerns, could not make up its mind on the issue until 1940. Remember they completely abolished their mechanized corps after Poland.

Put better, there was a great deal of good thinking coming out of both camps in the great debate on the proper use of armour. Everyone wanted to restore mobility to the battlefield, but no one seemed to agree on how to do it. It was this debate, IMO, that led to the various myths that later surrounded the blitzkrieg.

The Germans, for their part, drew on lessons from the Spanish Civil War and the mistakes of WWI, but did not always draw the same conclusions. The role of airpower, for example, became the subject of considerable debate as did the survival hopes of tanks deployed without proper infantry support. The debate is clearly visible in Russia, even after dramatic successes in 1939 and 1940.

Why do I say all of this? Well, in answer to your question, I do not think that the blitz was a myth so much as it was the source of considerable tension among military thinkers of the time. It was a new form of warfare that was proved to be effective, but that everyone had to learn as they adopted it. In fact, the hesitation shown by significant numbers of commanders on all sides, became a dominant characteristic of almost the entire war. Where were the limits?

I believe the myths surrounding the blitzkrieg resulted from the shock of the early German successes and immense changes in doctrine that followed. What were those myths? Namely, they were the clear superiority of German armoured vehicles, the power of the Luftwaffe, the real reasons for the early successes and the victory of German doctrine.

Some of these myths have long since been dispelled. We now know that German armoured vehicles were not superior to their counterparts. Similarily, no one still believes that the Luftwaffe, or any WWII air force, was able to rain fire and death from the skies in biblical proportions. These were myths that clearly originated in the dark years of the war when military thinkers postulated wildly and almost randomly on the reasons they had been so decisively "outthought".

The real reasons for the early successes, in the same manner, were not what many believed them to be. In fact, most of the misunderstood conditions which allowed Germany to run riot in Western Europe (i.e. better infrastructure, better intelligence, shorter supply lines, etc.) were absent in Russia and therefore became the first cracks in the armour of a doctrine pushed to its absolute limits by overzealous leaders.

Lastly, the victory of German doctrine. Clearly, German usage of new technologies proved decisive in the early part of the war, but was it really the better thinking? I do not think so. I see the success of the blitzkrieg being as much a result of the failures of the Allies as the successes of the Germans.

The French and English plan for the defense of Western Europe was flawed, but was not a clear invitation for disaster. Russia was criminally unpreprared for war and the Americans were locked in their strange brand of isolationism. Once these powers were up and running, it was really no contest. German doctrine, tactically sound up to a point, was strategically incomplete. It did not take into account realities which were all too plausible and crumbled accordingly.

In short, I believe the great myth of the blitzkrieg is that it worked. IMO, it did not work. In fact it only resulted in a few early victories (the biggest of which, France, was never assured) followed by years of defensive battles ending in the utter defeat of its originators.



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When I say that I think that the early war German soldier was superior, I'm not trying to imply that it was some innate advantage, but rather that the circumstances surrounding the German army at the time yielded highly compotent soldiers.

There can be little doubt that morale in the German army was higher than in France, and the French military attitude in face of stunning defeat is well recorded. The dramatic early war success, the reversal of the Treaty of Versailles, along with the militaristic culture of the 3rd Reich I believe indoctrinated many to the military mindset very early on and I believe facilitated to a degree the immense sacrifices made to conduct the war.

When you say that the Blitzkrieg didn't work and that the Germans evenutally lost, consider who they were up against. Soviet Russia was a unique enemy that played by entirely different rules than the rest of the war. If you look at how many Russians were killed in combat, the immense civilian casualties that followed the campaigns, the tremendous destruction of private and public property, the endless repression of the regime, combined with the relentless purges and political killings, its a wonder how the Russian people simply didn't give up.

I can assure you, that had such catastrophic losses been encountered in a country with a free press and real political discourse, the Germans would have forced the Russians to surrender in 1941.

I'm an American, and I agree that we do have a rather strange form of isolationism that recurs from time to time. Now consider that the US and the Soviet Union were traditionally on pretty even footing in terms of resources, industrial capacity, manpower etc.

Now consider this:

-The sacrifices made by American soldiers in WWII will never be forgotten, and are at the forefront of public consciousness, and our casaulties pale in comparison to many other particpants.

-Korea was an unpopular war that remains somewhat responsible for anti-UN sentiment in the United States

-In Vietnam we lost some 53,000 men and that was enough to topple much more than the Johnson administration, and remains one of the most culturally significant forces of the 20th century.

-The current war in Iraq has cost 1,600 dead and many more wounded, and is languishing in various states of popularity. I don't want to get into a political debate about current issues, but it should suffice to say that many Americans are STRONGLY agains the war, despite the relatively light casualties in comparison to previous engagements.

I can garauntee you, that if America had suffered 20 million + dead (combat & civilian) in the Second World War, even the "greatest generation" would have taken a hard second look at Americas involvment.

My fundamental argument therefore is that the repressive nature of the Soviet Union, the lack of free press, the brutality of the regime, combined with the lack of a better alternative to fighting (Who wants to be an 'Untermensch'?), was just as important to sustaining Russia's ability to stay in the war as was its industrial capacity and vast manpower, especially considering the distaste for the Stalinist regime in areas like the Ukraine that had suffered heavily during the Kulak purges and farm collectivizations.

Furthermore, and on a different note, I believe that German tanks were better designed, although not superior, than those of their opponents.

Tanks like the Pzkpfw III and IV had excellent spotting capabilities with good optics, very well thought out command cupolas, and low-light red-lit interiors that aided in gunnery. In addition, they had excellent communication capability, with good radios. Their crews, unlike Russian and French tanks, were well suited to the task at hand, and the addition of a seperate loader greatly improved gunnery speed and accuracy.

To add to these advantages, they had well tempered and generally high quality armor mounted over (in the case of the Pz. III)an advanced torsion-bar suspension that made for a stable gunnery platform.

Its true that the 37mm gun wasn't good enough to take on the T-34 and KV, but the 50mm L/42 was a welcome upgrade that at least mittigated the worst defficiencies of German armor.

That being said, their tanks were not invincible, nor did they have the horsepower that they really needed. Then again, none of the engines made in the 40's were really that good, and it wasn't until the introduction of high-octane leaded gasoline in the late 50's that you really see rises in compression ratios and higher power engines. Why they didn't go with diesels is beyond me, but for gas engines, I think theirs were at least on par with what other people were doing at the beginning of the war.

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Originally posted by Generaloberst Guderian:

When you say that the Blitzkrieg didn't work and that the Germans evenutally lost, consider who they were up against. Soviet Russia was a unique enemy...I can assure you, that had such catastrophic losses been encountered in a country with a free press and real political discourse, the Germans would have forced the Russians to surrender in 1941.

For the most part I agree with you. I'm not so certain about the motivation of the Russian soldier, but mainly because of the lack of documentation. The Russian soldier has more or less remained faceless in the West and I am not really ever convinced that he/she fought simply because of a brutal dictatorship. Not disagreeing with you. I just wonder if there isn't more to the picture.

On the subject of the nature of Russia as an opponent, I will only say that they did what they had to do to survive. It was a fight to the death and Russia lived. I often think that the image garnered from the brutality of the victory over Germany has led to extrapolations concerning the nature of Russians and their ability to absorb punishment. I think they were forced into taking the extreme measures they took. Would the Americans have capitulated if the battles were fought on their soil?

I do agree that any Western country would have pulled out of a war as bloody as that fought on the Eastern Front, but I do not think the issue would have been so clear cut if that same country were fighting for its very survival.

Anyways, this is all off topic.

I'm an American, and I agree that we do have a rather strange form of isolationism...
I didn't mean it in a bad way. I raised the point only to say that Allies were not as prepared for war as the Germans, but that once they had woken up to reality they quickly learned to be as ruthless, or more so, than their enemies.

My fundamental argument therefore is that the repressive nature of the Soviet Union, the lack of free press, the brutality of the regime, combined with the lack of a better alternative to fighting (Who wants to be an 'Untermensch'?), was just as important to sustaining Russia's ability to stay in the war as was its industrial capacity and vast manpower
Good point. The victory was not just about superior doctrine. I agree.

However, I do believe that pre-war Russian doctrine was as good or better than any other at the time. In reality, mind you, they had few of the necessary tools to carry out the kind of grand maneuvers they envisioned, but the theory was definitely there. After they got going they were able to take combined arms warfare in another direction which was extremely effective.

Or rather, in the same breath as I say Russian doctrine was not the only reason they eventually overcame the Germans, I can equally say that German doctrine was not the only reason for their early war successes. You see what I mean? Basically, I'm saying the effectiveness of the blitzkrieg has been overrated. That is the myth I meant to single out.

Furthermore, and on a different note, I believe that German tanks were better designed, although not superior, than those of their opponents.
I think the Germans placed more emphasis on quality than quantity, undoubtedly, but I am never sure about just how often that translated to battlefield technical superiority. In the early war, at least, all things being equal, German tanks could not claim to be any better than French or Russian models.

The PzI and PzII were aging models by the beginning of the war and were bettered by any one of a dozen models used in other armies. Czechoslovakian models were decent enough, but suffered from many disadvantages. The PzIII and PzIV (before it was given a better gun) were good tanks, but were not markedly superior to modern Russian models and, in any case, were not yet available in large numbers.

I think the reasons for the success of German armoured divisions lies with other factors centering more on support, maintenance and retrieval. I just don't see the finer points of their designs being so decisive as to produce a 6 to 1 loss ratio.

Anyway, good arguments. It's an interesting topic.



p.s. I didn't know they had red-lit interiors so far back, btw. Interesting. Who came up with that idea? Was it the Germans?

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Originally posted by jacobs_ladder2:

I think the reasons for the success of German armoured divisions lies with other factors centering more on support, maintenance and retrieval. I just don't see the finer points of their designs being so decisive as to produce a 6 to 1 loss ratio.

As far as the design of the tanks themselves goes, I think the fact that they had three-man turrets (on their main tanks at any rate) and radios was by itself a decisive advantage. But combine that with better training at all levels and especially at the level of company and battalion command, and I think you have most of the explanation for the difference. The difference in training with regards to the 1941 Soviets is especially marked. Glanz writes that often that summer the tankers arrived on the battlefield and simply didn't know what to do.


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The red-lit interior struck me as a bit of a surprise as well, but if you've ever seen "Das Boot", I believe they make use of red lights on several occasions when they are attacking at night.

The source I got that from mentioned it in passing. The following is a quote from "Panzerkrieg: The Rise and Fall of Hitler's Tank Divisions", pg. 40

"Panzer interiors contained four main colours: red, green-gray, white and black. An anti-oxide red lead primer, brick red in colour, was painted on all surfaces and the interior floor was then painted a grey-green. On the uppoer parts of the hull and turret an ivory-coloured paint called 'elfenbein' was applied - this bright colour had the advantage of increasing visibility in the dark , red-lit interior"

The question of fighting for survival is an interesting one, and I agree that a country facing destruction will fight harder than one that doesn't have so much at stake.

I thought about this a good bit yesterday, and lets entertain the following stipulation: Let's assume that you were in total control of the Third Reich during the planning stage of Operation Barbarossa, and that your will was well-respected enough that you could shape policy in whatever direction you liked, even if it meant going back on previous ideas.

I acknowledge that given the nature and personality of Hitler, the following plan would not have been possible, but nor would it have been impossible given different leadership with all other things being the same.

As we are planning the invasion, let us take stock of the popular support of the Soviet Union, and formulate a plan that will get the Russian people on our side.

-- The Soviet Union fought a brutal civil war after the Revolution that cost the lives of many Russians that still had an affinity to the old religious order

-- The atheist regime largely curtailed the Russian Orthodox Church, the largest Eastern Orthodox denomination and a culturally significant movement responsible for both impressive and ornate architectural masterpieces and powerful religious iconography, two things which for centuries defined Russian society abroad.

-- The Czarist regime was more inept that it was brutal, and the amount of freedom that it did allow was enough to garauntee its destruction. The first stage of the Revolution was not to establish a Communist government, but rather to overthrow the Czar and create a provisional body. The main driving force behind this movement was tremendous unrest caused by the massive casualties and defeats suffered by the Russians during the First World War. After the Revolution, however, the Western Allies forced Kerensky and the Provisional Government to stay in the war, setting the stage for the latter "Bolshevik" revolution. And indeed, after that Revolution succeeded, Lenin ended the war by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Therefore, I would argue that there was a strong precedent in Russia for being against massive casualties and hardships, and in the First World War, the Russian people chose to lose territory in prestige rather than face continual and heartbreaking defeat.

-- Finally, the Soviet regime was a morally bankrupt and tyrannical dictatorship that reduced every aspect of the labor force to the "lowest common denominator". During the old regime, a group of enterprising Ukranian peasants, known as the Kulaks, attempted to better themselves under the vestiges of the Feudal system, by combining the best aspects of enterprise and farming. They were, in turn, enable to elevate themselves to a sort of middle class status, and increasingly had a voice amoung the people. My grandfather and his family were Ukrainian immigrants to the United States in 1911, and throughout the Cold War resented the hardships placed on that particular ethnic and social group by the regime.

-- The Great Officer Purges, motivated by Stalin's distrust of the military and his own paranoia, deprived the Red Army of some of its best officers, and instilled a "culture of brutality" that continually justified the inhumane and at times foolishly bloody way the Red Army conducted itself in combat. Even in victory the Red Army had staggering casualties, mainly out of a lack of caring. I just finished reading Glantz's excellent 'Zhukov's Greatest Defeat" which was about "Operation Mars", a stunning example of the Soviets reinforcing failed Operations for political reasons.

Thus in 1941 there was alot of material which could be exploited by an invasion force. My plan as leader of the German nation and armed forces would be as follows:

-Present the German army as a liberating force, and make all atrocities and crimes punishable with the same measures as would crimes against Germans.

-Begin a massive propoganda campaign exposing the injustices of the Soviet regime. Make an appeal to religion, and show admiration for Russian cultural and architectural advances

-Expose the injustices of the regime, especially its ethnic cleansing and purges. Publish pictures of the atrocities if possible, and expose Soviet attempts of repression aimed at keeping the populace in line.

-Offer lucrative rewards for collaborators and volunteers:

-Accept Russian volunteers into combat units, given the same pay and benefits as German soldiers.

- Offer competitive pay and benefits to Russians who provide logistical and labor support to the invasion force, both in terms of food, clothing service on railroads, construction of defenses, and providing horses for transportation of supplies.

- Offer the same lucrative deals to Russian soldier who desert, plus a bonus to compensate for the danger of deserting.

-Finally, promise the establishment of a German protectorate that would largely leave Russia's local affairs to be decided by Russians, with the stipulation that key resources needed for war would go back to the Reich.

You might ask how this would all be paid for, but I would argue that Russia had and still possesses great economic potential that has yet to be exploited. I would also argue that while benevolence is more costly than brutality in the short term, it is not nearly as detrimental as say, losing the war and having your country partitioned by conquering enemies. Furthermore the occupation would have paid for itself by allowing some German troops to be moved elsewhere and by providing Germany with a massive new industrial base and source of labor.

Now as I said, such measures would not have been considered, but I do believe that in light of the vices of the Stalinist regime, such progressive actions would have kept enough people at least on the fence to win the war for Germany. Lemme know what you think.

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Originally posted by Generaloberst Guderian:

, and it wasn't until the introduction of high-octane leaded gasoline in the late 50's that you really see rises in compression ratios and higher power engines. Why they didn't go with diesels is beyond me, but for gas engines, I think theirs were at least on par with what other people were doing at the beginning of the war.

The T-34 had a 12-cylinder diesel engine in a partially aluminum block. It officially cranked out about 500 HP and was one of the most fuel-efficient engines of the war. It would run on the nastiest of diesels, which had the side benefit of being less likely to catch on fire if the tank was hit.

I seem to remember the basic model had three forward and one reverse gear, although that no doubt increased over the course of the war. Checking my books I see the engine produced 1,800 RPM, which is not bad for a diesel motor designed in the 1930s.

The reliability of this engine was legendary - for practical purposes there was no such thing as a weather condition in which it would operate. I personally have seen that engine crank right up at 30 degrees below zero, although admittedly the driver has to build a fire under the crank case to convert the fuel and motor oil from frozen sludge to liquid.

Crew-performed maintenance basically consisted of keeping fluid levels as necessary and cleaning filters. The fluid levels were important because like all diesels the T-34 burned motor oil as it ran. I have heard tales of everything from rifle cleaning fluid to vegetable oil used to sub out the motor oil, but I don't know if that's true.

This engine, armor and gun aside, and tied with an over-engineered suspension, made T-34 arguably the premier blitzkrieg tank of the war. If and when the Soviets created a breakthrough, there were of course lots of factors determining whether or not that would mean anything. But the mechanical ability of the tank to run as far as necessary was not a limiter, that's for sure.

I think Sherman falls into the same category, also a very sound motor vehicle. On the plus side it's also tied to long-wear tracks, although on the minus you are on gasoline not diesel, and that's not so hot if the tank gets hit, as we know.

I think it's interesting to contrast this Russo-American focus on motors and long-distance performance for medium armor, against German tank priorities as the war wore on, which basically were the heavier the tank the better.

I would be curious to hear what others think about this claim: By midwar, the Germans had dealt themselves out of blitzkrieg by concentrating building on battle-winning panzers, and so sacrificed having tanks capable of pulling off true operational envelopements - in other words a blitzkrieg.

Off the subject but still coll - the T-34's sengine is still in use today in MAZ heavy trucks. One sees it most commonly in the media when you see one of those big SCUD missle launchers - the carrier typically is a MAZ-437 "Urragan" truck, powered by the 1930s-era diesel V-12. The truck has civilian applications in rough area construction and transport and the like.

[ May 29, 2005, 06:54 AM: Message edited by: Bigduke6 ]

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Y'all realize the Germans never practiced "blitzkrieg" right? That it wasn't commonly used in military circles? BigDuke6, you say that "operational encirclements - (were) in other words a blitzkrieg."

Are you sure you are using this term correctly? And if the Germans never used it, why is everyone here using it?

I always thought this term (an English newspaperman picked it up early in the war and went with it) referred to the combined arms aspect, including the use of airpower. Operational encirclements were nothing new to the German military, they were doing them in 1870. The cauldron battle or battle of annihilation were also "classic" German military concepts that were dusted off in 1939, 1940, 1941. Long ranging military movements were not really new - look at the Schlieffen Plan - but certainly the use of armour was. When the Germans weren't too scared to use it the way some of the interwar "revolutionaries" had dreamed of.

Just wanting to make sure we are all talking about the same things.

The article in the original post, by Ralph Zuljan, seems not to define "blitzkrieg" either and leaves it to the imagination of the reader. I suspect we are all imagining different things.

Once again, I'll recommend Matthew Cooper's The German Army for anyone truly interested in "blitzkrieg" and German operations.

[ May 29, 2005, 07:49 AM: Message edited by: Michael Dorosh ]

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As far as the engines go, like I said, it really is quite interesting that the Germans didn't develop diesel engines for their AFVs. As you point out, the fuel efficiency, operational range, reliability and torque of a diesel engine are all very well suited for tanks, and the liberties you can take with the fuel ease the burdens on refineries.

All I'm saying is that as far as gas engines go, 300+ bhp wasn't bad at all in 1939, especially considering what they had to work with.

Perhaps, however, they were moving in that direction, as I believe the Puma recon vehicle had a 200hp diesel, and that was a fairly late war development.

The fact does remain however that they didn't go with diesels in their tanks, and I'd be interested to hear any theories as to why you think that is.

As far as blitzkrieg terminology goes, yes, the word kind of surfaced by chance, and no, it wasn't an entirely new concept. I do think however, that in the context of this discussion it means "the method in which the German army conducted its operations from 1939 to mid-1942". Furthermore, I think its fine using a word that has grown to mean something else than it did originally -- provided that we all acknowledge its origins and how it came to mean what it does today.

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Yes Michael I had that same thought, reading the per se very interesting posts in the thread. What exactly do we all mean with Blitzkrieg?

The term Blitzkrieg is sometimes used in literature to refer to the German strategic conviction of assaulting her neighbour states so fast that they had no chance to mobilise. German postwar literature also use it. You know the railways, highways, obsession with mobilisation tables. Because if the enemy had time to prepare, Germanys inferior strength would loose the war for her, she never could win a war of attrition. In WWII that meant using motorised columns of course, but also airborne assault, diversionary units, sheer bluff and diplomatic lies. The usefulness of these methods ended in 1941 of course. There were no neighbours left to assault.

Operational doctrine for combined arms were not static.

I must agree that German doctrine and training was very much superior in the early war. It's not an issue of controversy really, the UK started copying German manuals word by word after the initial experiences (in particular the 1941 Infantry manual). They had a chance to adapt and overcome - the others did not. None of the states Germany faced had a streamlined doctrine, to which equipment was designed and men thoroughly trained, in remotely the determined manner. The UK and French - and Poles, Dutch, Belgians, Greeks etc - had only moral fibre and guts to offer against that, and as poignant as such displays are they don't lead to victory, only heroic defeats. Western equipment were by and large skilled designs, very good at most things but purpouse designed for nothing in particular, and lacking a successful doctrinal context. I fail to find a single significant battle where allied forces win, or even extract a draw, on a 1:1 basis with German troops of this phase. Antitank weaponry was at this time inferior to armoured assault, it was rational to focus on the latter. Men and formations were inexperienced, C3I not yet fully developed to WWII standards, when armour appeared men very often ran away. German doctrine worked fine, with a few non-significant hickups and backlashes.

Problems arise when the conditions of combat changes for the Germans. Enemy antitank firepower increases, troop density is decreased, the sky is contested, well trained young motivated and fit troops were becoming depleted. You need the latter for offensive operations. The enemy grows experienced and increasingly immune to bluff and threat, they reach comparable levels of skill and training and superior numbers and resources. Given the picture as a whole, from rifles to airplanes, the enemy was rapidly chewing up Germanys edge on the field. Essentially the same situation as Japan had after the intial onslaught in many ways. German doctrines were revised to meet the challenge.

The comparing between the two Ardennes offensives 40-44 reveals most of the change of offensive doctrine that took place during the war. In 1944, not one of the offensive pincers opened with armoured direct assault whereas in 1940 all of them did.

It's all like one of them movies really. Good guy gets beat at first, then recovers, train intensely and finally best the bad guy - but it isn't easy. smile.gif

I couldn't agree that Germany's doctrines were a hoax, nor that these cost her the war. On the contrary IMHO doctrine, purpouse design and close attention to training won her the victories that she had. The success of the doctrine is reflected in the development of modern armies after the war, from the minute to the overall picture.

It is rather fortunate that her strategic capacity, in contrast, was so hopelessly inferior to her enemies, and strangely underdeveloped.



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Originally posted by Generaloberst Guderian:

As far as the engines go, like I said, it really is quite interesting that the Germans didn't develop diesel engines for their AFVs. As you point out, the fuel efficiency, operational range, reliability and torque of a diesel engine are all very well suited for tanks, and the liberties you can take with the fuel ease the burdens on refineries.

I am not a refinery engineer, but AFAIK that is not necessarily correct, since the proportion of gasoline to mid-range distillates (diesel and kerosene for aero engines) produced from refineries is relatively fixed. You need to get into some major technical work to change it.

So from an overall resource perspective, since you have to produce an output of distillates together with your gasoline, it may make sense to have your tanks run on gasoline, if you are capacity constrained. That way you service your airforce and your tankfleet from the same refinery run. Otherwise your tanks and planes are competing for the same output. Which means you need to increase the run (more oil into the refineries) and are left with a product that is not so useful anymore (surplus gasoline).

At least that is how I understand refining to work. Maybe somebody can correct me if I am wrong.

Not saying that this planning was actually behind how the Germans did things, BTW.

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Originally posted by Bigduke6:

I think Sherman falls into the same category, also a very sound motor vehicle. On the plus side it's also tied to long-wear tracks, although on the minus you are on gasoline not diesel, and that's not so hot if the tank gets hit, as we know.

Nothing beats the Cromwell with the Meteor engine.

BTW - Diesel or Gasoline for fuel, it does not really make a difference from what I understand. The T34 burned just fine when hit. Ammo stowage was the key to this problem. Hence, later Shermans with wet stowage, and strict discipline about where the rounds were stored (NOT rolling about on the floor) reduced the Ronson problem considerably.

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Originally posted by Andreas:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Generaloberst Guderian:

As far as the engines go, like I said, it really is quite interesting that the Germans didn't develop diesel engines for their AFVs. As you point out, the fuel efficiency, operational range, reliability and torque of a diesel engine are all very well suited for tanks, and the liberties you can take with the fuel ease the burdens on refineries.

I am not a refinery engineer, but AFAIK that is not necessarily correct, since the proportion of gasoline to mid-range distillates (diesel and kerosene for aero engines) produced from refineries is relatively fixed. You need to get into some major technical work to change it.</font>
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I think it is time we find ourselves a refinery engineer who is also a WW2 tank engine grog.

Brings up the question - could the synfuel plants produce synthetic gasoline? Because current GTL and CTL technology, which ISTR is based on German WW2 technology acquired by the South Africans, is mostly about producing diesel, I think.

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Originally posted by Generaloberst Guderian:

As far as blitzkrieg terminology goes, yes, the word kind of surfaced by chance, and no, it wasn't an entirely new concept. I do think however, that in the context of this discussion it means "the method in which the German army conducted its operations from 1939 to mid-1942".

That was my understanding as well. I find the word blitzkrieg fairly convenient, but to each his own I guess.

In response to your earlier comments on theoretical strategy...I don't know. I have such an incomplete picture of the Russian soldier that I am unable to even begin to speculate on what he might have done.

My guess is that the measures you describe, at the very least, would have reduced partisan activity a considerable degree (especially in the areas you mentioned).

What effect they would have had on the Soviet ability to mobilize troops and get them something to fight with, I am unsure. My feeling is that the majority of Russian troops would not have had a chance to learn of German intentions, good or bad, before finding themselves at the front lines. There would have been no way of disseminating propaganda given the paucity of technology in 1940s Russia and, in any case, I doubt that many Russian soldiers ever really understood the bigger picture anyway.

People love their land, no matter how screwed up it is. That is my experience. Given the amount of bad blood between the two countries, I doubt very much that a suddenly benific German army would have been trusted.

I know what you mean, but I think that the Germans could never have pulled off a nice invasion of Russia. IMO, the boat had long since sailed from that shore.

BTW, in response to points raised by others, Russian doctrine was not absolute crap by any means. Their performance in the early war was not due to bad ideas, but rather poor ability to implement them.

It is my feeling that Russian doctrine, once provided with the materials it needed, made German early war successes look like Romper Room. That is not to say that both sides did not learn from each other and that the Russians had farther to go, but it is to say that they did not simply copy their opponent's ideas. The Russians were behind the eight ball right from the start and had to make gigantic sacrifices to get into the driver's seat, but they did. And they did not do so by luck or some kind of masochistic love of punishment. At times, even in the early going, they were able to seriously challenge the German war machine (Smolensk, Yelnia and Mogilev to name a few places) and within a year were able to do real damage.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that, German doctrine, although somewhat more refined, was simply inadequate for the Russian campaign. It worked well in France because nothing required that it explore its own limits (for any number of reasons), but it simply did not meet the grade in Russia.

I think my principle objection to some of the points raised is the impression that German doctrine started out superior and ended superior, but was failed by strategic realities. In the case of the Russo-German War, I do not think this was true.

Russian doctrine reflected the reality of the Russian situation in the same way that German doctrine was based on German strengths and weaknesses. The Russians, despite early setbacks, were finally able to fight the kind of war they wanted on their own terms. The Germans, on the other hand, found themselves fighting in a way they had hoped they would never have to.



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Had Manstein been in overall command rather than Hitler, I think that the Russians would have had a much more difficult time implementing a successful doctrine. Hitler's corporal mentality, obsessed with holding ground rather than consolidating a line, kept the army from operating an effective elastic defence. Furthermore, the rapid introduction of wonder weapons such as the Tiger and Panther squandered their surprise value and made them less effective than they would have been had they been used en masse in a decisive operation. In the summer of 1942 the Tiger was a very difficult AFV to kill, and I've yet to see one be killed without using air support (at that time period), but at the same time, the Red Airforce of 1942 was not the Red Air Force of 1943-44.

Stalingrad was a major German defeat, yet the recapture of Kharkov and the utter derailment of Operation Mars in the Center both left significant opportunities for limited counter attacks. Had the Tigers been saved until late 42/43 and been used unannounced and in sizeable numbers in an immediate counteroffensive following the recapture of Kharkov then perhaps the front could have been fought to a stalemate, especially if the Panthers were not prematurely committed at Kursk, but saved until the operational flaws had been worked out (as Guderian suggested). Had Germany established a strong operational reserve of armor, rather than launching Zitadelle, and stayed on the defensive, they would have had real tools to counterattack and encircle oncoming Soviet armies.

Instead they fought it out in a slugfest, and although many of Germany's new weapons performed quite admirably, and while their tactical successes inevitably lenghtened the war, their full potential was never realized.

Basically, I don't believe that firepower and numbers always win the day--if they did, America would've fared better in Vietnam. Perhaps German defeat was a forgone conclusion, but I really do think that with different leadership, the greatest Soviet victories, and especially Bagration, could have been avoided.

Also: What I mean is that more fuel efficient tanks allow either for existing tanks to operate more freely, or for the construction of more tanks using the same fuel supplies, OR and perhaps this is the most important point, for the continued use of existing tanks at a petroleum production capacity lower than normal.

Furthermore, in a rapid advance, outrunning one's fuel supply was a major problem for many of the combatants involved in the war. The less fuel you use, the less needs to be transported, which in itself mittigates supply problems by putting less wear on rural roads.

One potential reason that the Germans didn't go with the Aluminum block diesel is simply a scarcity of aluminum in relationship to cast iron (a safe assumption). It is also my understanding that aluminum merely saves weigh, and when all things are equal, cast iron cylinder heads etc make more power than their aluminum counterparts.

[ May 29, 2005, 04:42 PM: Message edited by: Generaloberst Guderian ]

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Happened to peek in, and was pleasantly surprised to see such discussions still grace this forum smile.gif

To respond to Paul's comment on German/Soviet 'doctrine', I think you are pointing in the right direction. The problem in properly identifying the concepts you refer to is that there is no underlying universal terminology that addresses it. Of all the military powers during that time, only the Soviets took the effort to properly identify what it was they were aspiring for in their military art. That is, the Soviets wanted to know not only what they were trying to achieve, but how it related to warfare, both past and present.

Thus, Soviet military terminology is very precise. What the Soviets realized was that rather than two levels of armed conflict, the tactical and strategic, there were now three tiers, the newest level being the operational where it was placed between the tactical and strategic. Below are definitions for those levels of military art, which owe a debt to Soviet military theory but are not entirely bounded by them. They are:

Tactical - concerns the employment of forces in combat or battle. Corps level is the upper limit of the tactical.

Operational - concerns the conduct of military forces at diverse scales and scopes within a theater of military operations, which are ultimately directed by strategic aims. Lower limit is corps formations, and upper limit, army groups.

Strategy - Concerns the decision of if, why, when, where, and how military forces will be used in armed conflict. Strategy gives purpose to armed conflict, and is in turn directed by a nation's political will.

Using these definitions, what was it that defined German military prowess? Tactics. Tactics was the fulcrum of German military art. It greatly facilitated German operational performance, which in itself was not very developed--but, critically, was modelled so as to easily interact with and respond to its tactics.

For the Soviets, the operational level was the foundation of their military art. It facilitated their tactics, and methodically approached the attainment of strategic objectives.

But, was one better than the other? That is a more difficult question than it seems, because now we're basically asking if Total War was superior to Limited War. The short answer is that, no, neither theory of war was necessarily inferior to the other, but both required different emphases. The Germans lacked numbers, which made Limited War more reasonable, so long as they could make the most of their resources in manpower and equipment. By and large, they did, their invasion of the USSR only coming undone due to Soviet resources that far outmatched Germany's. And, still, it was a close thing (mid to late 1942 was a time where the Soviet Union was tettering on the brink of collapse economically and politically. Stalingrad was crucial in alleviating that, is my opinion).

Things were not as cut and dry for the Soviets either. Merely weathering the storm of the early German offensives didn't mean inevitable victory in the end. It was entirely possible that the USSR could've ended in a stalemate, or worse, due to critical economic/political dissent internally. Economic research was done that indicated in 1942 the Soviet did not have enough resources to both build and feed their army and feed their citizens too. In fact, for a time in 1942 the citizenry of the USSR were slowly starving from lack of sufficient food and other necessary provisions. Put a nation on this 'tightrope' long enough--even as determined a people as the Soviet citizenry--and you better show results soon. Otherwise, it'll come crashing down like a house of cards hit by a stiff breeze. Stalin, or no Stalin. Thus, the Soviets made the most of their pre-war military theories on mechanized warfare from the perspective of operational art.

Where the Germans failed was not in their tactics, and not even in their operational art. It was in their strategy. They went to war with a strategic assessment that was seriously flawed. Because of it, the Germans invaded the USSR without the means to win--except in the most advantageous of circumstances.

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Re the Diesel question.

I don't know if you can back date this to 1940, but a friend of mine is a chemical engineer working for a oil refiner.

According to him, different types of oil have different chemical properties re the hydrocarbon chains they contain, and that different oils are best suited to producing certain fuel types (based on output efficiency and waste).

Australian oil is apparently better suited to petrol production, so we import oil to make diesel from.

Burnei light crude by comparison is almost fuel oil without any refining, hence Japanese ships in WWII apparently burnt it straight.

European oil from Romania and Hungry is meant to be best suited for making petrol.

You can of course make the full range of distalites out of any oil, but that usually requires chemical imputs.

Germans in WWII still had to add an octane booster to their petrol, a naptha compound alot like moth balls.

As to the Blitz myth, the myth evolved because it was used against nations who lacked the space to withstand a 500 mile breakthrough.

Basically, most nations possess a military reserve of untapped manpower and industrial output which can, given time, be converted into forces in the field. The best way to defeat an enemy quickly is to overrun these reserves before an enemy has a chance to use them.

Germany's victims in 1939 & 1940 fell so quickly because German breakthroughs not only surrounded their existing forces, but also overran those cities and regions where the resources to sustain ongoing military resistance were located.

For example French forces in the South fought well even after Paris fell, but they were rapidly draining a now fixed pool of ammo, spare parts and manpower.

Vietnam is a good example. The fact that the USA and its allies declined to invade the North meant that the resources required for a long war - namely manpower - were left in the North's hands.

The Germans failed in WWII as soon as they encountered an enemy where they couldn't quickly take that enemy's reserves - firstly Britain itself, then in North Africa, and then in Russia - as this allowed that enemy time to fully mobilise.

By the same token Germany was only defeated once the allies had occupied most of its territory and by doing so removed any remaining manpower or resources from the German military.

So German success was based on (a) concentration of force to achieve breakthroughs in depth, (B) enemies lacking the forces, will or coordination to constrict or cut off the spearhead of the breakthrough, and © the ability to quickly occupy the enemy's population and industrial heartlands.

They couldn't reach London nor Cairo, nor despite overruning a fair percentage of the Russian heartland, could they reach the people, mines and factories beyond the proposed stopline in Soviet Asia.


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Where to begin? There is so much loose thinking on this subject, among the original participants, later observers and historians, and in this thread. First to dispense with a few straw men to get them completely out of the way, without ascribing them as positions to anyone present.

There are some modern revisionists that have their own ideal type of maneuver warfare theory and what it is allegedly supposed to be about, and how wonderfully it will slice bread before it is sold, who look back on anything that departs an iota from their present precriptions, and say "oh, no, not that, that's not real maneuverism". Real maneuverism leads a life of dreaming abstraction between the ears of pedants.

Meanwhile, out in the corporeal world, actual maneuverism is deciding wars by its success or failure, merely writing world history. Something is or is not that thing, not by matching or failing to match the quibbles of a pedant, but by the internal military logic of the concept and the way it actually worked in the field. The pedantry is useless when it abstracts from that.

This does not mean its isn't an idea or method at bottom, it is. It has a real history like any other technology, from conception to development to practice. But the measure of that technology is its actual practical variations and their effects, taking in the counters it evokes over time etc. Not whether a modern monday morning quarterback likes to pretend he can have all the brilliant thoughts of all the men of an earlier time just by virtue of living later, correct their supposed "errors" in the light of hindsight, and then call them insufficient disciples of his glorious doctrine for their failings.

To that particular variety of revisionist, the practical answer is just this. First conquer Europe. Then we'll talk. "Oh but I'm too moral to want to do that". Right, the only reason you haven't conquered Europe is you are so nice. Incapacity has nothing to do with it. Such delusions have only to be spelled out to be seen as ridiculous.

The opposite straw man is the carefully fostered myth of a techno elite ruling mankind through magical prowesss. Bizarrely enough, this incredibly crude idea was actually part of the motivation of the earliest armor theorists. From any larger historical and rational perspective, it is clear the whole thing is a piece of applied technical know how, like making airplanes that fly, which can be learned as a piece of engineering if the various factors and constraints are thoroughly understood. But that is not always how it seemed to some of the men thinking about it, not a few of whom were (to put it kindly) romantic individualists or (to put it more accurately) proto-fascist madmen. You can't understand the history of the idea accurately, unless you are aware of this odor of craziness, and the barrier it presented to reception by sound military professionals.

The earliest serious theorists of the armor revolution in warfare were not German, and they didn't wait until WW II. They were British, hip deep in the debate over the proper use of tanks in WW I, and all the sound professionals among them were eclipsed by one crazy guy named Fuller, who was an officer and a practitioner, but was also an author, a proto-fascist "modernist" of the Nietzsche-Pareto style, and a perfectly certifiable lunatic who worshipped Aleister Crowley and the nuttiest occult nonsense imaginable.

Fuller was the one who said, mass the armor, don't dribble it out all along the line. Let armor be the decisive arm, not an aid to the infantry. Let it move at its own mechanical speed, instead of slowing it to the pace of the dull plodding masses of infantry. Strike for deep objectives. The shot to the brain instead of superficial cuts at the extremities.

This was all presented as having political overtones everywhere. Being tied to the dull plodding masses supposedly happened in politics and culture, too. The magico-technical elite could and should act independently instead, determining their fate. With only other elites worthy targets - not morally speaking, just magico-technically. Some air theorists were saying similar things - let us fly over and destroy the enemy will to resist, and all this ground fighting by massed peons can be made obsolete.

You can't understand why these ideas all had the same "savor" to literary nostrils without seeing their nutty-elitist overtones. Free of morality, the new magicians were going to seize technical power, wield it decisively and self servingly, and install themselves as masters. Mass anything would bow to magical techno prowess. When he wasn't writing armor theory, he was reading spellbooks and indecipherable gibberish from occultist charlatans. (I swear I am not making this up).

BHL Hart was Fuller's sane publicist, trying to strip away the encrusted garbage and keep the military sense of the idea. But at bottom he was only an historian, and his military judgment was superficial at best. This lent itself to cartoon formulas and ideological propagation, but also acted as a "seriousness repellent". Your average general, told the secret of all warfare was to go around, rightly scoffed that amateurs know nothing about war. Although admittedly it was an improvement over the full Fuller.

Everybody had read these people. It was not a matter of being unaware of the thoughts involved. They were just presented in such extreme forms, by such nutty people, or so simplistically, that they were clearly just wrong as stated. (Fuller wanted attacks by -pure- armor, ignoring fronts, riding right through them straight for deep political objectives. At a time when armor meant either "Mother" or whippet tanks. Think Cambrai with 10 times the scale and without a supporting arms plan). The question was how to correct them, what to keep, what to throw away.

To Hart, the whole point of tanks was to get back to charging around on the map chasing political aims, instead of seige warfare between the armies at the front line. In this he was decidedly more conventional than Fuller. The whole British army spent WW I obsessed with the idea of "breakthrough" in the "one big push" that would "restore movement" and "win the war". Anybody who thinks they fought WW I as they did because they didn't know enough to try for this hasn't the first idea what happened in WW I. They continually thought, this new formula will break through, when breakthrough was a mirage. Breakthroughs did occur in WW I, sizeable ones. The Germans stacked up long lists of them. They just didn't end the war.

The Germans had their own front generation nuttiness, not Fuller but Junger. For him WW I was the war of material, mechanized total war. It reduced men to ants, to raw materials being poured into and processed through mechanized death factories. He "got" the horror of artillery warfare. But wanted to find some romantic prowess in the middle of it, in the minimalist form of bare willingness to take it without going stark raving mad. (It is not at all obvious he didn't). All that mythic, superhuman will can magically vanquish all before it, just never tell them to retreat, junk, that you see Hitler spouting on the east front was regurgitated Junger. (He always thought he "got it", having been a corporal under shellfire, and that the foo-foo staff officers never would).

The Nazis did not have a military doctrine. They had an attitude, romantic magical elitist immoral deliberately brutal, that they thought was the secret of power. Scraps of ambient elitism absorbed from the wider culture also wafted first into, then back out of, the pages of the nuttier maneuver theorists. Well schooled military professionals were inclined to look on the nutty bits about the way a classical economist would look at a Foucault seminar, and turn up their noses. And were snubbed in turn as reactionaries.

The old German army had an actual military doctrine and quite a good one. Its defense schemes and some of the finer tactical points had been elaborated during WW I. The basic approach was much older, going back through Moltke the elder to Gneisenau and the lessons of the Napoleonic wars.

The object was the complete defeat of the fielded forces of the enemy in decisive battle - annihilation battle. The enemy could be forced to give battle and to do so on unfavorable terms by threats to his communications - that was all Napoleon, and taken over bodily as simply correct. The German wars of unification had added the importance of an overall initiative, combined with a tactically defensive stance to exploit the full firepower of modern weapons. And had shown how flanking and encirclement could combine the two. Nobody needed any tanks to encircle the French army at Sedan, and annihilate it as it tried to get out of the trap.

When the German army crushed Poland in 1939, the pros running the show believed they were simply applying the same sort of methods that had defeated Austria in 1866, France in 1870, and had shattered lesser allies (Italy, Rumania) in WW I, done at least massive damage to larger ones (Russia repeatedly, the Brits in 1918, the French in 1914) - without use of a single tank. The German general staff did not share the western belief that warfare was futile and indecisive because of machineguns, barbed wire, artillery, and trenches. (Actually, I doubt they would even have understood the conjuction, "futile warfare". They lost WW I, but at no time did their methods seem to them incapable of achieving the strategic task).

So what happens when you give a few officers in this school Fuller and Hart to read? They throw away the excesses and keep the parts they think fit what they know to be a sound existing doctrine, overall. They are not in the position of a Fuller in England, hurling anathemas at an establishment that won't take him seriously. The German adapters do not think Fuller's ideas can replace Moltke's and Napoleon's. They would as soon ignore the advice of Boeing and Lockheed about a new aircraft design in favor of four hand-drawn sketches made by an out of work bicycle mechanic who dropped them over the transom as a way of asking for a job. But they'll look at the drawing - the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics, they might come up with the darnedest thing.

Guderian immediately saw that no infantry would not work at all. This was the first objection to the pure tank theorist of WW I era by the British and French armies, too. Guderian's solution was to make the infantry as fast as the tanks (operationally, not tactically) by motorizing them. And including all the other arms, as well.

Notice, this meant he immediately saw the mobility issue as an operational one, not a tactical one. Tactically, there were definite tactics from WW I about how you penetrate anything, even with pure infantry. Guderian did not regard this as an unsolved problem that it would take tanks to solved, because it wasn't. German infantry regularly created breakthroughs in WW I. The method used surprise, limited arty prep, advanced detachments to blind the enemy and find weak points, reinforcing success, pushing deep into the enemy position to mess up deployment of reserves and create confusion, etc.

Guderian put armor in the same leading role. The all arms motorized force was to exploit the breach once made. From a German point of view, that is where all the grand WW I attempts had failed - not at the breakthrough stage.

They broke through the French frontiers in 1914, but stalled at the Marne, tired and overextended. The French could rail in whole reserve armies faster than they could march. They broke through repeatedly in Russia, they encircled and destroyed entire Russian armies in 1914 and 1915, and broke the front again at Riga in 1917 - without a single tank. But it took 2 revolutions to knock Russia out of the war - the breakthroughs alone did not do it. They had thought them about finished after the 1915 smashing successes, but in 1916 the Russians still hit back hard in the Brusilov offensive. The broke through in Italy and wiped out an army - but the Italians rallied on French and British reinforcements, the line soon stabilized, and a year later the Italians were attacking them. They broke through the Brits and later the French in the grand 1918 spring offensives, and advanced dozens of miles - but then faced reserves with arty all railed in, while their own supplies were back on their side of the original front.

So the problem he thought he was solving was not breakthrough, it was making one decisive. He also though, to be sure, that tanks could achieve the breakthrough more reliably and more economically in lost lives and strength. But in case everybody forgot, his greatest victory was crossing the Meuse at Sedan in 1940, and Pz IIIs do not float. Infantry made the bridgehead, and held it under supporting fire from the far bank as tanks were ferried across. Air support mostly just suppressed French artillery fire until after the crossing had been effected. The French batteries were waiting for the "raid" to be over, to avoid giving away their positions.

Did Guderian learn how to make a breakthrough decisive from Fuller? No. First, it was Guderian personally and not some overall army doctrine. When they conducted the wargame of the French operation, they got to the point where his armor had broken through. He had to decide his next move. He was aware of the case for deep objectives and a "shot to the brain", and knew that it meant the target should be Paris, trying to win the war in one "go". But he rejected this as unsound. And instead picked the channel, to cut off the Allied armies in Belgium. That was Molkte speaking, and through him Napoleon - seek annihiliation battle on favorable terms. Target the main body of the enemy army. Secondary matters will take care of themselves.

That was not a lack of maneuverism. It was military sense rather than ideological and pedantic abtraction. And it won the campaign, easily. The odds remaining for the rest of the French force were too high, and they Germans found it easy to break through again, and slice up the remaining French force.

Notice, however, that the same logic dictates the turn south for Kiev in 1941. That was no more a mistake than the turn to the channel was. It destroyed an enemy force of a million men for trivial loss, and seized the entire Ukraine. Yet monday morning QBs - including German generals after the fact - pretend it was insufficiently Fuller-esque, so it isn't maneuver-ee or something. Which is just nonsense. It was, and it cashed in previous positional advantage for more favorable odds through annihilation battle, entirely successfully.

Now, back up a second. What about the aforementioned romantico-magical aroma around this stuff, how did in "play", politically? Answer, it let the officers willing to play it as an ideological "card", by e.g. denouncing the "old army" as reactionary, get around the formal hierarchy and get their way on things. Guderian reached around his chain of command to be allowed to send his force wherever. Manstein got his plan for France picked over those by men far senior by selling Hitler on it privately as the bold path to decisive victory.

Hitler was going on promises and "scent". When people failed he just sacked them, he had no real ability to assess their talent beyond the empirical one, had they won? But he could be manipulated, readily, by flattery - giving him a whiff of romantic elitism and "counting him in" as "visionary" for "seeing it", as opposed to those old reactionary vons. (One just couldn't ever get him to do anything pessimistic-realistic that way - a great big gamble, no problem, the simplest precaution for a likely downside, forget it).

Part of this was just being susceptible to flattery like any tyrant. Part of it was his way of politicizing the officer corps, trying to indoctrinate them to his way of thinking. Think big unrealistic magically-nutty thoughts, get your way - as a sort of standing offer or inducement to sign up for a higher dose of nutty than your neighbor. (He had an endless supply of nuttier than fruitcake to sell, no serving officer would ever get to the end).

Does all this then mean the German soldiers were just better at things, at least early in the war? Well, consider the Stalingrad counterattack for a second. When a German army group was hit by massed armor used to set up favorable conditions for annihilation battle, what happened? Favorable conditions for annihilation battle, for the attackers - that's what. There was no more command paralysis and incomprehension in Paris in 1940, than in Berlin at the end of 1942. The Germans could not believe what hit them, did all the wrong things about the pocket, nearly lost the entire wing, etc. OK, afer El Alamein, did the Germans get away clean? Um, no. After the Russian offensives following Kursk, surely then the Germans just stopped 'em cold, right? Um, no. After Cobra? Um, no.

The fact of the matter is, it is hard to be in the receiving end of concentrated armor creating breakthroughs exploited to create favorable conditions for annihilation battle. The guys on the receiving end are roughly handled with some regularity. The French counterattacks at Sedan or Arras, the Russian attempts to seal off the German breakthroughs with mech corps counterattacks, British armor seeking Germans who've penetrated their infantry line in the Gazala fights - don't go very well. But neither does Mortain, and many others like it.

When the defender has plenty of armor in reserve and immediately commits it to blunt the attack, and the attacker does some things wrong or the defender has odds or a massive quality edge, then sometimes they are stopped - Mars, Kursk (by the Russians), opposite the Brits for a while in Normandy. But the depth actually needed to stand on defense against it is extreme, far more than anybody thought necessary early in the war.

In 1941, the Russians have armies in reserve lines, and it keeps individual breakthroughs from winning the war, but it does not remotely stop them. By 1943, they have multiple tank armies plus a full army group in reserve, without frontage, immediately behind the expected point of attack. And ride it out, but reverse it only by also attacking themselves on the flanks of the attempt.

It takes *a lot* to defend against this stuff. In the west, the Allies have hyper reactive arty counter-concentrating against the small scale stuff, massive air, all kinds of motorized ability, including otherwise underused TDs and armored cav, most ADs off the line - and when the attack is sufficiently large, they still need to throw in an airborne corps as motorized infantry to hold the line, reorient entire armies, etc.

So part of the explanation for the early German successes is simple offense dominance, while defense techniques against massed armor for breakthrough etc are still being worked out. The theory of attacking this way was technologically ahead of the theory of defending against it. I am not talking about tanks, but about tactical doctrines and operational deployments.

Early measures against it stress the gun front. This goes back farther than you might think - clear back to the battle of Cambrai in 1917, when a German battery in the middle of the line held out like a stone under a wave, accumulating dead tanks all around it. The Germans learned the way to stop massed tanks was to fall back on a well built up gun position, and let the tanks come on well into range, then open up and smash a flock of them.

We know today that this method of defense only works completely when the attacker doesn't understand combined arms, and sends tanks in unsupported. MGs can keep infantry off, that isn't the point. A gun front is defeated by tanks cooperating with their own arty. But that takes an all arms motorized force and cooperation with the arty involved, which is typically divisional. It therefore requires definite doctrines and scales (a brigade won't do it; believing tanks should operate independently won't do it). It is a tactical method that only works against a tactically unsophisticated attacker.

It was enough to keep a German to allied disparity in offense dominance for quite some time. The French were out early. The Brits suffered from excessive literalism about Fuller and used armor too independent of other arms, until mid war. (With "tanks", infantry support ones that is, allowed to do the older WW I thing, and thus get combined arms but not mass). The Russians had massive technical problems supplying large armor forces in the field, at first, and difficulty coordinating indirect artillery in anything but static conditions for a while. Until those allied deficiencies were corrected, the Germans thus has a simple WW I era answer to tank attack that worked for them but did not work against them (because they had tank - artillery cooperation from the start - largely thanks to Guderian's interwar insistence on upgrading communications for the tanks. He was originally a signals officer).

Once both sides knew to mass guns but also knew how to counter them, dealing with armor attacks of sufficient scale could not be addressed with just a tactical tool. It required whole deployment schemes at the operational level, or massive advantages in overall mobility and mass-able firepower assets. If you don't have a tank army in reserve, it probably works. The initial break in essentially never failed, though the follow up frequently did. The follow up needs local odds in the non-armor arms, infantry and arty, and it needs sufficient scale. If the defender can throw in a whole fresh army group, forget it, breakthrough is as much a mirage as it was in 1918 against that kind of depth.

Nobody knew any of those principles of successful defense against an attack not only sending a brigade of tanks, but a brigade of tanks talking to its arty in real time and supported by all arms, motorized to exploit, corps scale, etc. And nobody defended against it successfully, against an attack who knew what they were doing, until Kursk. From then on, there isn't any offense dominance to speak of, as a matter of doctrinal technology. But as with all move and counter chains in military matters, there are still opportunities for them, because the defender doesn't always have the assets needed to stop it, just because he knows how. It you are the Germans and you want to hold the Dnepr bend, you don't need a different theory, you need an infantry army's worth of replacements and two corps of fresh panzer divisions in reserve. And since you don't have them, you won't hold it.

So that is what is really going on. Meanwhile, everybody is confused as heck about it, at the time I mean. The Nazis think they are winning because they are following their elitist formula and national superiority. The Fullerites think they aren't quite winning because they don't head for Paris and Moscow instead of the channel and Kiev - or maybe because they are insufficiently accomplished in the occult, for Fuller personally. The Hart popularizers think it works just because it avoids frontal attack, that is the only thing that matters (when in fact, they attack frontally to breakthrough without a qualm and e.g. that is essential to Manstein's plan in France, and the reason they aren't supposed to be expected in the middle of the line). The Brit tank corps types saner than Fuller think just massing the tanks independently would work - and fail utterly at places like Knightsbridge. A Patton gets the point from Guderian than the critical thing in the exploitation - but hasn't caught up to the advances in defensive use of armor reserves that make tank vs tank fighting far more important than it was in the early period. The Russians think it all depends on deeply echeloned deployment, which is half true, but hardly explains the ease with which the westerners stop later attempts, using motorized everywhere mobility, reserve defense role arms, and counter-massing with firepower arms (arty and air). The Germans for a while don't want to admit they've lost exclusive possession of the technique, and long after that think the lesson is that armor gets its power from attacking and possession of the initiative - and thereby throw away the reserve linebacker armor they need for a true mobile defense, recklessly counterattacking anywhere and everywhere they temporarily have armor (about enough to defend).

Those are still the participants. The journalists come along and try to boil the whole thing down to a word so they can refer to it easily. The historians then going looking in German records for their doctrines of blitzkrieg and notice the word is not theirs. Every theorist who learned only a third of the problem writes a book describing the solution as one of the halfway misunderstood versions (like, just have tanks, or mass tanks, or use tanks to exploit), missing all the wider relations and nuances. Everyone who notices one of those is a half truth sees another half truth lying around and thinks the two between them must be the whole story - so you get mass the tanks and also go around, or you get exploit is what tanks do and deep objectives - shot to the brain, or you get "actually, tanks do need to work with all arms", dismissing the whole chase as a blind alley that only worked briefly against the uniformed (when in reality, tanks remain massed after the whole evolution, etc).

Then, because all of that isn't involved enough, a third of the people talking about it don't actually give a rat's rumpus about military technique or the actual history, either of the practice or of the ideas, but instead treat the entire arena as a stage on which ideological or national points might be scored. Who are only interested in what any of it says about their silly national prejudices, or are only interested in the elitist overtones, or just want to excuse their favorite class of officers or other historical actors for their mistakes, or to peddle their own version of maneuverist theory, etc.

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I suppose it depends on whether you are refering to Blitzkreig on a tactical or strategic level.

At its base the concept of breakthrough warfare is as old as fixed defensive lines. Every General worth their salt knew that the key to breaking up a defensive line was to concentrate overwhelming force at a given point, and once the tip of the assault was through the lines to continue through into the rear areas. If the remainder of the defensive line stayed put, then it could be encircled and struck from all directions.

But the same token the methods of combating a successful breakthrough were also understood: you need reserves to counter-atttack, or you could squeeze the breakthough and prevent further forces from reinforcing those units already through the line, in effect allowing the spearhead of the breakthough to surround itself.

This is tactical level breakthough warfare.

On a strategic level the aim of breakthough warfare is to repeat the tactical on a grand scale. This time the aim is to pass through national defensive lines with the aim of seizing strategic centres and also encircling enemy forces (or at least force a hasty retreat).

All powers attempted such grand breakthoughs in WWI, but what was lacking was speed - speed to allow the successful attacker to outrun the ability of the defender to move their forces to counter the breakthough. Until tanks arrived, the defender using their shortened lines of communications could always outrun the attacker - hence all breakthoughs tended to be limited.

What the tank and mechanised transport coupled into mobile formations allowed was the attacker to move at a speed equal to or superior to the defender. Hence once a breakthough was achieved, the defender was unable to retreat fast enough to reform anything beyond a new ad-hoc defensive line.

But these new mechanised forces had a weakness: the inability of non-mechanised forces - including logistics - to keep up. Hence the extent of the breakthough was limited by the fuel in the mobile units fueltanks.

The over great weakness was a lack of infantry and heavy support. These new mobile spearheads lacked the internal capability to deal with forces defending urban areas.

All this was understood by the major powers before WWII. Most nations armies had experimented with mobile armoured formations, all with the exception of Germany (and Germany itself was on the point of disbanding its panzer units on several occassions) abandoned these units, either due to cost or a conservative reaction (like the liquidation of progressive officers in the USSR).

That was the rub for most: cost. These new armoured spearheads comsumed resources that would have supported several infantry divisions at least. The Great Depression convinced most powers that the forces needed to carry out Fuller's plans were unaffordable. Also, such units were offensive by design, and nations who intended to defend from fixed lines were not interested in expensive offensive weapons.

So in 1939 only Germany - who was heading for financial ruin if the war was delayed - had the elements needed to conduct what was dubbed Blitzkreig. Germany planned to be the agressor, and it needed to win quickly, so the cost of the panzer divisions was deemed justified.

But the cost of supporting the mechanised units meant that the rest of the army walked or rode horses.

The reason Poland, France and the Low Countries fell to Blitzkrieg was the inability to move quicker than the attacking forces, and the inability to exploit the pauses forced on the attacker by the need for the spearhead units to wait for supplies and infantry to catch up. Western Europe lacked the space to trade space for time.

In Russia the Blitzkreig was in fact a series of small breakthoughs, with pauses of sometimes weeks in between pushes. The Russians had space to trade for time, and they were able to exploit the pauses in the German advance to move factories back east, and fortify positions like Kiev and various other defensive lines.


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