Friday, February 2, 2007

The Blitzkrieg Legend by Karl-heinz Frieser

This book goes far to show that Blitzkrieg wasn't used in France, on the contrary, it was put together and finally created during the campaign Germany unleashed against France. Most of the general officers of the German High Command (both OKH and OKW) didn't believe that the Germans would be successful, and their hopes plummeted even further when presented with Manstein's plans. The planning for the campaign encompassed the idea that it was going to be a slogging match and a long one at that, reserves of men and materials were planned well in advance.

In the end everyone from Hitler to Guderian were surprised by the enormous success that the Wehrmacht began to enjoy from day one. The French were as surprised during the German invasion as the Soviets would later be when the Germans attacked them. A noteworthy quote from the book:

"The 1940 blitzkrieg, thus, is in no way connected with the blitzkrieg strategy that Hitler is credited with. According to this theory, the major objective of world power or world rule allegedly was to be achieved no longer in a single total endeavor, as in World War I, but stage by stage, on the basis of a phased plan by fighting short blitzkriegs. However, at the time, Hitler had not planned any war against the Western powers - and certainly not a blitzkrieg. After all, the Wehrmacht was still being built up due to the Versailles Treaty and even its own general staff graded it as "not ready for war." Instead, it was Great Britain and France that declared war on Hitler after the German invasion of Poland. Thus, the dictator - as a result of his failed go-for-broke gambler's policy - had maneuvered the German Reich into a situation from which there was no way out. A war against the Western powers, with their superior strength, looked hardly winnable. Because time, in the long run, worked against Germany, there was really only the chance of starting out on a flight forward, putting all the money on one card, and overrunning the enemy by a surprise attack. But the German command shied away precisely from this kind of venturesome undertaking, mindful of the trauma of the Schlieffen plan that had failed during World War I..The campaign in the west thus was not a planned campaign of conquest. Instead, it was an operational act of despair to get out of a desperate strategic situation. What is called "blitzkrieg thinking" did not develop until AFTER (author has 'after' in italics) the campaign in the west. It was not the cause but rather the consequence of the victory. Something that, in May 1940, had come off successfully to everyone's surprise, was now to serve the implementation of Hitler's visions of conquest in the form of the secret of success." pgs. 348-349 "The Blitzkrieg Legend" Karl-Heinz Frieser

That is actually one aspect that I found very interesting when comparing this campaign to Barbarossa. First off both the French and Soviets had few radios amongst their tanks which led to horrible losses when communication problems arose. Contradictory orders offset some of the offensive attacks that the French wanted to throw against the Germans, the same could be seen in 1941 with the Red Army. General communication problems developed between army groups, armies, and their subordinates, again reminiscent of the Eastern Front in 1941. The list goes on and on, it was remarkable to see that the French who in fact declared war on Germany were caught by surprise and reacted practically the same way as the Soviets did in 1941.

The author also makes a great assessment in the fact that after Hitler beat France which had support from the British and others he thought that the Soviets would be no problem, if in WWI the Russians were the ones that were defeated and the French the ones who held out, who knew that WWII would be the exact opposite? Another interesting discussion is who was responsible for the 'halt' order before Dunkirk.

In the end reading this book will give the reader an understanding of how Blitzkrieg was created and 'perfected', as best it could be, with the campaign in France. What mistakes the French made that led to continued German success, and in reality the Germans had tremendous luck with their actions and the French were horribly unlucky in many of their plans, counter-attacks, maneuvers, etc. An excellent read and a great addition to any library on WWII.

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