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Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

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Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  BehemothNL on Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:35 am

Alot of you have found the idea appealing when I asked for it! And now I'm finally going to write it.
And first of it's the very popular and effective tactic: Blitzkrieg.


But what is Blitzkrieg? How is the tactic built up? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Is it still in use today?
I will tell you all in segmented portions divided by the "spoiler" tags.

What is Blitzkrieg?:
But what is Blitzkrieg exactly? Wikipedia has this to say about it:
WikiPedia wrote:Blitzkrieg (German, "lightning war") is an anglicized term describing a method of warfare whereby an attacking force spearheaded by a dense concentration of armoured and motorized or mechanized infantry formations, and heavily backed up by close air support, forces a breakthrough into the enemy's rear through a series of deep thrusts; and once in the enemy's rear, proceeds to dislocate them by utilizing speed and surprise, and then encircle them. Through the employment of combined arms in maneuver warfare, the blitzkrieg attempts to unbalance the enemy by making it difficult for them to respond effectively to the continuously changing front, and defeat them through a decisive vernichtungsschlacht (battle of annihilation).
The main terms are Spearheaded, armoured and motorized or mechanized infantry formations, heavily backed up by close air support, a series of deep thrusts, utilizing speed and surprise, battle of annihilation.
In Blitzkrieg, everything depends on speed while catching the enemy off guard. Making them route, surrender, or getting annihilated and sustaining close to no losses yourself. If the enemy knows what's coming, the Blitzkrieg will have close to no effect and will be countered easily with heavy losses on your side. 
There is also one more thing which is inherent: a numerical disadvantage. In WW2, the Germans had bigger numbers in the sky. But certainly not on the ground. The Allies of France and Britain in 1940 had more infantry and more armoured vehicles. But they did get overwhelmed by the Germans with the use of Blitzkrieg.

How is the tactic Built up?:
But how does the tactic work? There are 5 major steps to being taken with the use of Blitzkrieg.
No matter what year it is, these steps remain the same every time.
Step 1: Deception:
Sun Tzu once said in his book 'The Art of War': “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
This too is true for Blitzkrieg.
In the spring of 1940 the Allies expected an attack through the lowlands of Holland and Belgium. So they had several army groups positioned near the France/Belgium border. Once the Germans attacked through the lowlands with Army Group B, the Allies did move forward to meet them in a head-on battle. What they did not expect was another German Attack. Army Group A, consisting of nearly 70% of the German attacking force on the western front in spring 1940, Were hidden further south near the Ardennes. But before they could attack, there was another element which needed to be controlled and held. The Skies.
Step 2: Control the Air:
The biggest fighting force of an Army using Blitzkrieg tactics are tanks/armoured vehicles and infantry. Those backed up by Bombers and Artillery are the main components of such an army. The German Luftwaffe had Air Superiority in Spring 1940. 1.700 German bombers versus 400 French and British bombers. 1.00 modern fighters versus just over 800 for French and British. The Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber was extremely lethal and fearsome for it's targets. Mainly due to the sound that could be heard when one was diving on his target. This fear effect was almost greater than the actual damage done by it's bombs. And the Messerschmidt Bf 109's outmatched every other aircraft in existence, but only the Supermarine Spitfire could compete it. But there were over a thousand Me Bf 109's and under 100 Spitfire's. These numbers mean quite alot. Not only Air support is needed. Artillery is a vital asset for any attacking force. And the Germans had one artillery piece which was superior to those of the Allies. The 8,8 cm Flak 36. The French and British could not match it's superior accuracy and firepower. And the emplacement time of the 88 meant that it could relocate very rapidly in the support of a fast moving attack like the Blitzkrieg.
Step 3: Break Through:
Once the Allies moved forward, Army Group A moved in for a spearheaded attack through the Ardennes and over the Meuse (Maas) River. The Allies totally did not expect any fighting force coming through the dense forests and hills of the Ardennes. And because of that, they had there over aged reserve forces on the flank of their main forces. These forces were ordered to defend the Meuse river at all costs. And then onward to the English Channel. Creating a pincer movement on their entire army force in Belgium and forcing them to Dunkirk. But the attack does create one massively stretched line of vehicles and tanks. Moreover later on this point.
Step 4: Strike Deep:
The reason why the Blitzkrieg was successful was not only due to it's speed. But the amount of land that was covered in that time. The main goal of the German army in Spring 1940 was to cross the Meuse river and pincer the Allied Armies with a 2 pronged attack, which they wouldn't expect. But they pressed on. They went all the way to the coast. Covering a massive amount of land and encircling the enemy. Within 3 days they were over the Meuse river. Just under 2 weeks later, they have surrounded the enemy at Dunkirk. The Allies did not know what hit them, but the Germans also feared what was happening. Hitler wanted his forces to stop when crossing the Meuse river to refuel, regroup and resupply. But the German Commanders worked like a dog unchained. The masters back home in Berlin no longer had control over the situation while the attack was going on. Only after the attack reached the coast, they would listen again. But now they had next to no fuel, ammo or any other supplies.
Step 5: The Follow Up:
The main goal of a Blitzkrieg assault is to rapidly push for the main price. Be that Paris, Baghdad or the enemy's cap circle. It also bypasses a lot of defenses. This is hazardous for the incoming supply train. So every stronghold and choke-point taken. Must get a follow-up from friendly troops. A bridgehead may be taken by the armoured forces, but it still needs to be secured. Only after it has been secured, can it be crossed safely. That's where the main bulk of the army comes into play. The less mobile armor and infantry secure towns, bridges or causeways. Once they have done their jobs, the supply train and artillery can move up to support the thrust further up ahead. After that, the most of the enemy army is either destroyed, retreated or surrendered.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Sun Tzu once said: "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."
Blitzkrieg not only secures land quickly and overthrows country's rapidly. But the fighting is so fierce and swift, that the country at home can still live at high standards. Like the German civilians did back home. There was no shortage of food or supplies. The attacks were shorter than the follow-up and clean-up. The entire German offensive through Holland and Belgium took just under a month. 2 Country's capitulated, the French army mostly defeated, the British Army retreated to the Isles. And that under a month without a massive loss of German lives and material. That's the biggest strength of the Blitzkrieg. That's why it was and still is loved by Generals and Commanders alike. It certainly was loved by the folk back home. They could still live like they were used to and their husbands/sons/brothers were still alive.
But this tactic does have major drawbacks.....
Blitzkrieg Limitations:
Simply put. The German Blitzkrieg could not have happened if there was not a significant Air superiority over the Allied forces. Allied air superiority became a significant hindrance to German operations during the later years of the war. Early German successes were conducted when Allied aircraft could not make a significant impact on the battlefield or its air space. In addition, the Germans enjoyed air parity or superiority which allowed the unencumbered movement of ground forces, close air support and aerial reconnaissance.
Environment is key to the success of a Blitzkrieg assault. Attacking through impassable terrain like dense forests, mountain ridges, swamps and urbans would make the armour vulnerable against close quarters infantry combat or unable to break out at full speed. It should however be noted that the disadvantages of such terrain could be nullified if surprise was achieved over the enemy by an attack through such terrain. Not only terrain, but also the weather was important for a successful campaign. Heavy snowfall, thawing of the mud, blizzards, dust storms, floods caused by heavy rainfall. All the weather conditions that impair rapid movement are hazardous for the Blitzkrieg. And it is true as well, if total surprise was achieved because of movement during these weather conditions, the disadvantage could be nullified.
Blitzkrieg Countermeasures:
The most obvious counter to a Blitzkrieg assault is the Counter Attack. When the spearhead of the army is deep in enemy territory, it's flanks and possibly rear are exposed. Counterattacking behind the spearhead can cause the Blitzkrieging force to be cut off, surrounded, and taken prisoner. 
During the Battle of France in 1940, De Gaulle's 4th Armoured Division and elements of the British Expeditionary Force's 1st Army Tank Brigade both made probing attacks on the German flank, actually pushing into the rear of the advancing armoured columns at times. This may have been a reason for Hitler to call a halt to the German advance. Those attacks combined with Maxime Weygand's Hedgehog tactic would become the major basis for responding to blitzkrieg attacks in the future: deployment in depth, permitting enemy or “shoulders” of a penetration was essential to channeling the enemy attack, and artillery, properly employed at the shoulders, could take a heavy toll of attackers. While Allied forces in 1940 lacked the experience to successfully develop these strategies, resulting in France's capitulation with heavy losses, they characterized later Allied operations. For example, at the Battle of Kursk the Red Army employed a combination of defense in great depth, extensive minefields, and tenacious defense of breakthrough shoulders. In this way they depleted German combat power even as German forces advanced. The reverse can be seen in the Russian summer offensive of 1944. German attempts to weather the storm and fight out of encirclements failed due to the Russian's ability to continue to feed armoured units into the attack, maintaining the mobility and strength of the offensive, arriving in force deep in the rear areas faster than the Germans could regroup and resulting in the devastating destruction of Army Group Center.
The less obvious one is that of the Logistics problem. And here's a wonderful quote compliments it.
"Only a commander who understand logistics can push the military machine to the limits without risking total breakdown."
- Maj.Gen. Julian Thompson, Royal Marines
The logistics will keep your army running. For every working army group, there is a supply train behind it about 5 times as big as the army it self. And that supply train is extremely vulnerable to attack. What can a tank do without fuel? What can a soldier do without food and water? How can an army fight without ammunition? Especially in a Blitzkrieg assault, it is vital to keep the supply train coming. The supply trucks will be far out in enemy territory, they will need to be guarded. They can only advance through a choke-point, like a bridge, town or causeway, if it already has been secured. Although effective in quick campaigns against Poland and France, mobile operations could not be sustained by Germany in later years. Strategies based on maneuver have the inherent danger of the attacking force overextending its supply lines, and can be defeated by a determined foe who is willing and able to sacrifice territory for time in which to regroup and rearm, as the Soviets did on the Eastern Front (as opposed to, for example, the Dutch who had no territory to sacrifice). Tank and vehicle production was a constant problem for Germany; indeed, late in the war many panzer "divisions" had no more than a few dozen tanks. As the end of the war approached, Germany also experienced critical shortages in fuel and ammunition stocks as a result of Anglo-American strategic bombing and blockade. Although production of Luftwaffe fighter aircraft continued, they would be unable to fly for lack of fuel. What fuel there was went to panzer divisions, and even then they were not able to operate normally. Of those Tiger tanks lost against the United States Army, nearly half of them were abandoned for lack of fuel.
Is it still in use today?:
The Blitzkrieg assault tactic was very recently used by General Tommy Franks of the combined US forces during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Having highly mobile and accurate forces in Kuwait, they feigned the waiting for the 4th Infantry from the North through Turkey. Securing a minimal amount of bridges over the 2 main rivers: Euphrates‎, Tigris. And bypassing large enemy strongholds expecting an attack later on in the campaign. It took 3 weeks from the start of the invasion to roll into Baghdad. 

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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  Ding760 on Tue Jun 25, 2013 6:42 am

Wow.... +1
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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  Harlequin on Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:08 am

Nice work!, I knew most of this anyway but none the less good job
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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  CountOfTuscany on Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:32 am

Nice work! Blitzkrieg is the kind of strategy that worked well versus relative small countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and France, but is no match versus Soviet Deep Battle Strategy.

Still reading Achtung Panzer. The book describes the failures of WW1 and how the German army should be prepared for a WW2. Nearly every country established mechanized/motorized infantry divisions, and had some tactical view on the use of tanks (Britain: Infantry tank+Cavalry tank, idem France and Germany (latter though more mobile) Soviet: Longrange-midrange-shortrange)
Why mechanized/motorized forces and tanks? -> no more ww1 slugfests
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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  BehemothNL on Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:40 am

CountOfTuscany wrote:Nice work! Blitzkrieg is the kind of strategy that worked well versus relative small countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and France, but is no match versus Soviet Deep Battle Strategy.

Still reading Achtung Panzer. The book describes the failures of WW1 and how the German army should be prepared for a WW2. Nearly every country established mechanized/motorized infantry divisions, and had some tactical view on the use of tanks (Britain: Infantry tank+Cavalry tank, idem France and Germany (latter though more mobile) Soviet: Longrange-midrange-shortrange)
Why mechanized/motorized forces and tanks? -> no more ww1 slugfests
The reason why they couldn't perform well with the Blitzkrieg tactic was mostly because the Soviets let them come wayyyy deep into their territory, buying enough time to come up with a counteroffensive at the time where their supply train couldn't reach the frontlines anymore. And using the Scorched Earth tactic, so they couldn't use anything on their way to Moscow. So when winter came, the German army was far in a hostile environment, with low amounts of supply, bogged down in the snow, infantry with the wrong clothing, fighting guerrilla warfare in urban environments where the Soviets could hold out for an extended amount of time.

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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  CountOfTuscany on Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:54 am

German soldiers were accustomed to fight gloriouslyy in the field/
Soviet soldiers were aalso accustomed to fight a bloody close quarters fight.

I read somethin about General Chuikov and his battle doctrine in Stalingrad. Bizar..
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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  BehemothNL on Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:12 am

CountOfTuscany wrote:German soldiers were accustomed to fight gloriouslyy in the field/
Soviet soldiers were aalso accustomed to fight a bloody close quarters fight.

I read somethin about General Chuikov and his battle doctrine in Stalingrad. Bizar..
Chuikov, a peasant born General. Not afraid to lose men and comfortable with fighting bare-handed. That I heard of him.
Drawing the Germans into the city to render his enemies advantages useless. And apparently the first officer to hear about Hitler's death, and the one receiving the German surrender.
Quite impressive Very Happy

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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  Kostis_Larsson on Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:45 am

Excellent article Behemoth, really enjoyed it

In my opinion the best execution of the "Blitzkrieg" is the "6 days war" in Sinai desert during 1967.
Here is a nice video about this battle.
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Re: Military Tactics - Blitzkrieg

Post  CountOfTuscany on Sat Aug 24, 2013 10:59 pm

Read some Achtung Panzer yesterday, about the tactics of the panzer forces.
(mind you this is 1937 Blitzkrieg theory)
Attacks should be executed early in the morning to make effective use of the reduced visibilty. Recoinnassance should have been executed days before the attack. Tanks would assemble at the assembly place in the night before the attack. The attack would consist out of three waves:
-1 wave: engineers (Panzerpioniere), to clear anti-tank defences (minefields, obstacles, ditches etc...)
-2 wave: Tanks roll in and try to force a breakthrough and criple defences (AT-guns, machinegun posts). When a breakthrough is achieved, it's exploited. Next target are commandcentra, enemy tanks and artillery batteries.
-3 wave: (mechanized/motorized) Infantry follows up the tanks and start to tackle the remaining defenders (pinned enemy infantry).
(-4 wave: reserves)

throughout the attack aircraft are ordered to slow down the advance of enemy reserves (without the reserves, the enemy line is destroyed and the breakthrough succesful) and the attack on enemy artillery batteries and tanks. Paratroops are also used to slow down the advance of the reserves.


-----

so far for now. Maybe I post some more soon.


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