Table of Contents
A series of rapid and victorious campaigns conducted by the German army in 1939-1941 demonstrated that it was necessary to adhere to the new combat tactics to achieve success. Fighting in the new conditions demanded a good intelligence and the interaction of different types of troops. Thus, tanks were supported by mobile artillery units, Luftwaffe (air forces), and mechanized units.
At the end of the World War I, the Germans discovered huge possibilities in combining air power, radios, and mobile units. The inculcation of the Blitzkrieg strategy could be regarded to the infiltration tactics that was used by the German troops in 1918. The German strategist, Alfred von Schlieffen, realized that Germany could not win a long war, so it was necessary to match quality with quantity. The Blitzkrieg doctrine was based on such factors as the speed of maneuver and the effectiveness of the idea of attacking enemies in their weakest point. Usually, that meant the attack on the flanks.
Such a strategy could be very successful for short-term campaigns, but it was often disastrous when war was delayed. This paper deals with the explanation of reasons why the techniques of the Blitzkrieg strategy did not bring the victory to Germany in World War II.
Tank Speed and Maneuvers
The most important lesson for the German troops from World War I was the realization of the necessity to use tanks, artillery, infantry, and air forces as holistic system. German strategists recognized that the German army’s ability to maneuver could be increased by the protection from tanks . Such tactics could also enhance mobility and speed.
The main component of the German tactics was the rapid progress of the tank divisions in the depth of enemy’s territory in order to destroy it from the core of the opponent’s defense system. In the first three years of the war, Germany had played the role of the aggressor, attacking suddenly, where it was considered necessary. Each time, such actions were accompanied by the disorganization of the enemy’s resistance. The Germans appreciated the pace of the offensive actions above all. In practice, this meant that all support and providing forces had to move with the same speed as the shock tank units.
The first implementation of the Blitzkrieg strategy took place in Poland in 1939. Poland was defeated in 26 days. The success of the German Blitzkrieg strategy in Poland was caused by the use of the combination of quick-strike divisions with the close air support as well as the logistical support.
Thus, the effect of surprise helped the German troops to succeed. However, this effect was temporary. Such a tactic worked perfectly in the neighboring countries of Germany, but the work of intelligence services of the more distant states allowed finding the ways of protection against such operations beforehand. The triumph over Poland, Greece (22 days), and Yugoslavia (10 days) contributed to the fact that the Germans had overestimated the possibilities of the Blitzkrieg. As the war with the Soviet Union was delayed, the Germans’ tactics failed. In addition, there was at least one more problem – the German foot soldiers were too slow to maintain mechanized forces, and mechanized forces could not win by themselves.
One of the main lessons from the First World War for the German troops was the awareness of the need to increase the maneuverability of military enginery. During the interwar period, the Germans paid much attention to the testing of new artillery troops. Due to this, at the beginning of the war, unlike the Allied forces, they had the latest technologies. For example, the artillery guns were installed on a large number of German tanks. However, the role of these technologies was temporary. While the Germans were conquering Central Europe, the Soviet Union rapidly improved their own military equipment. As a result, the German artillery guns were too weak to stand up to the Russian T-34 tanks.
In addition, there were some technical limitations of the German artillery. For example, anti-aircraft artillery was too dependent on the optics, which entailed excessive dependence on weather conditions. Auxiliary means for anti-aircraft artillery were almost unusable during night shooting.
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The main task of the German air forces was to provide close air support for the German ground troops. The structure of the German Air Defense Corps allowed them to conduct independent air operations as well as to support other types of troops. Representatives of the German air controllers were located in other military units. This innovation helped to maintain a constant interaction between different types of German troops.
German air raids included dropping bombs by German planes. There were two types of bombs - big and small. The former ruined buildings while the latter started fires. The aim of the German army was not only to bomb cities but also to test new weapons. The main objective of the German air force was not to provide the physical extermination of civilians but the desire to sow panic among them. These air raids had ended in 1941 because Hitler changed his target – since that time, he wanted to destroy the Soviet Union.
This decision made by the German commanders was the reason for the German Air Forces failure. Despite the new technologies, during the first two years of war, the Allies destroyed more than two thirds of German combat aircrafts. Furthermore, the remaining forces were not enough for the distribution on various fronts. Thus, Hitler chose the target that was unattainable for him because of the amount of German military equipment in 1941. Moreover, until that time, the Allied Forces had improved their own aircrafts that became capable of deterring the enemy.
Supply System and Logistics
The problem of the German supply system was that the distance between the German supply centers and the front lines was too big. The Allies also attacked those areas periodically. The Soviet road and railroad systems were in very poor condition. Consequently, German soldiers were poorly equipped, and the ground forces were not fully motorized. Moreover, the most problematic task was to find sources for air re-supply.
The German army organizational and supply system was worse as compared to that of the Allies. For example, the German supply system provided each combat division with supply capabilities and ample service that was enough to draw upon rear stocks as needed. Opposite to this, the Soviet army built their system on the contrary principle – the army’s transportation units and army depots delivered supplies to the troops. Thus, more combat troops could be placed on the front lines. The other good example of the Soviet logistics was the movement of industrial capacities from the European Part to Central Asia as well as the evacuation of 20 million people. It helped to save the Soviet economics and deprived the enemy’s ability of providing its own needs on the occupied territories.
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Other Reasons of Failure
After the war, Hitler highlighted three factors that had caused Germany’s defeat: the strong power of the Soviet Army resistance, the great weapon supply from the USA, and the powerful Allied Air Forces.
The unexpected limitations for the German troops were the weather conditions: the Soviet Union had a very severe climate with very low temperatures. The majority of German soldiers did not have even winter clothes. Another geographical factor, which played against Germany, was a great length of the Soviet territory. This factor helped the USSR to locate its economic center beyond the Urals, which was unreachable for the Germans, and to create more equipment issues that were destroyed by enemies. Moreover, this territorial factor helped to win the time for the technological improvement of the military units. For example, the Soviets created the T-34 tanks that were much better than German Panzers.
To summarize, there were three key factors of the Blitzkrieg success - superiority in firepower, speed, and surprise. The Blitzkrieg tactic worked only as long as the interaction of all the armed forces and coordination between their efforts was maintained. Tanks often successfully coped with the task of neutralizing the enemy’s defense and expansion of the breakthrough area, but the main burden fell on the shoulders of the infantry that had to move quickly behind the tanks and to clear out the territory at the same time.
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The main factors that led to the defeat of the Blitzkrieg strategy were the following ones. Hitler and his allies did not consider the time factor and the weather conditions as well as the fact that they had overestimated their capabilities too much.
The lessons from the German failure were considered in the development of new war strategies. The fighting in Israel, Egypt, and Syria, on the Korean peninsula and in Iraq during the 20th century could be named as the examples of the improved strategies successful implementation. The ideas of the Blitzkrieg doctrine also were the basis for the US Shock and Awe military strategy.
An important factor in the success of contemporary operations with the Blitzkrieg doctrine elements is that modern strategists take into account the shortcomings of logistics, which became one of the German failure reasons. The key problems for the Germans were the great distance to the supply centers and insufficient supplies of the military equipment. Thus, today, the necessity of placing military bases in the areas of possible fighting plays a very important role. Such a placing allows troops to prepare for possible problems with the supply of military equipment and related products in advance before the enemy attacks.