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Blitzkrieg, from the German for "lightning war", was an operational-level military doctrine which employed mobile forces attacking with speed and surprise to prevent an enemy from organizing a coherent defense. Originally conceived in the years after the First World War, it was a new tactic developing from existing techniques of maneuver warfare and combined arms warfare. It was first used by the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War.
Methods of blitzkrieg operations centered on using maneuver rather than attrition to defeat an opponent. The blizkrieg thus first and foremost required a concentration of armored assets at a focal point, closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery and close air support assets. This required the development of specialised support vehicles, new methods of communication, new tactics, and the presence of a decentralized command structure. Broadly speaking, blitzkrieg operations required the development of mechanised infantry, artillery and engineering assets that could maintain the rate of advance of the tanks.
German forces avoided direct combat in favour of interrupting an enemy's communications, decision making, logistics, and morale. In combat, blitzkrieg forced slower defending forces into defensive pockets that were encircled and then destroyed by following German infantry.
Operations early in the war — the invasions of Poland, France, and the Soviet Union — were highly effective, owing to surprise, enemy unpreparedness and drastically superior German military doctrines. The Germans faced numerically superior forces and technically superior vehicles in the invasion of France-proving the early effectiveness of their tactics and strategies. From this peak, the Wehrmacht's strength deteriorated, Allied forces learned to counter such tactics, and blitzkrieg operations could no longer be conducted as before. From 1943 on, German blitzkrieg operations were generally defensive counterattacks and a handful of mostly failed offensives.
Though "blitzkrieg" is a German language word meaning "lightning war", the word did not originate from within the German military. It first coined by a journalist from the United States newsmagazine TIME describing the 1939 German invasion of Poland. Published on 25 September 1939, well into the campaign, the journalist's account reads:
The battlefront disappeared, and with it the illusion that there had ever been a battlefront. For this was no war of occupation, but a war of quick penetration and obliteration—Blitzkrieg, lightning war. Swift columns of tanks and armored trucks had plunged through Poland while bombs raining from the sky heralded their coming. They had sawed off communications, destroyed stores, scattered civilians, spread terror. Working sometimes 30 miles ahead of infantry and artillery, they had broken down the Polish defenses before they had time to organize. Then, while the infantry mopped up, they had moved on, to strike again far behind what had been called the front.
Military historians have defined blitzkrieg as the employment of the concepts of maneuver and combined arms warfare developed in Germany during both the interwar period and the Second World War. Strategically, the ideal was to swiftly effect an adversary's collapse through a short campaign fought by a small, professional army. Operationally, its goal was to use indirect means such as mobility and shock to render an adversary's plans irrelevant or impractical. To do this, self-propelled formations of tanks; motorised infantry, engineers, artillery; and ground-attack aircraft operated as a combined-arms team. Historians have termed it a period form of the longstanding German principle of Bewegungskrieg, or movement war.
Blitzkrieg has since expanded into multiple meanings in more popular usage. From its original military definition, "blitzkrieg" may be applied to any military operation emphasizing the surprise, speed, or concentration stressed in accounts of the Polish September Campaign. During the war, the Luftwaffe terror bombings of London came to be known as The Blitz. Similarly, blitz has come to describe the "blitz", or rush, tactic of American football, and the blitz form of chess in which players are allotted very little time. Blitz or blitzkrieg are used in many other non-military usages, for instance a "blitz on bad behaviour" in the classroom.
Blitzkrieg's immediate development began with Germany's defeat in the First World War. Shortly after the war, the new Reichswehr created committes of veteran officers to evaluate fifty-seven issues of the war.Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization. U.S. Army Command General Staff College, 1984. Reprinted by University Press of the Pacific, 2002.
- Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Trans. Anthony G. Powell. Presidio, 1994.
- Mosier, John. The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II. HarperCollins, 2003.
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