Welcome to a second week of interesting topics in the Second World War. I guess I do have to say that these posts are not going to be about the Second World War every time, but it just to happens that these two posts are both about WWII.
So in class last week we had been learning about how WWII started off. That is why my last post was about the invasion of Poland. But this week is more about the invasion of France and the beginning of Nazi-Europe. This post will be about the Germans extremely effective, and extremely potent form of warfare; Blitzkrieg.
If you look at the definition of blitzkrieg, it translates to “lightning war.” Its a fitting translation, as it is quite literally a lightning war. Blitzkrieg consisted of using tanks and aircrafts to smash through enemy lines with extreme force and speed, discombobulating the enemy and eventually surrounding them. This form of attack kept casualties to the minimum while allowing armies to cover massive areas of ground in a short period of time.
So I did some research on blitzkrieg, and found that it was popularized by Heinz Guderian. No he was not the founder of Heinz ketchup (trust me I looked), but he was a very important figure in German military in the 1930s. But why was blitzkrieg so effective?
Just like my last post, we have to go back to WWI. The main form of warfare used in WWI was trench warfare. Thousands of troops packed in holes in the ground, not advancing for months. Sounds horrible doesn’t it. Well after WWI the French built a line of defence on its eastern border called the “Maginot Line.” This impenetrable wall of concrete structures was designed so the Germans couldn’t invade again, and would have to find a way around the wall. The only problem was that this defence was built for trench warfare. As a massive wall couldn’t be built across Europe due to environmental reasons, so the Belgians, British, and French devised a plan to fill the holes in the wall with a brutal advance of troops, should war begin again. What they didn’t think of was that the Germans wouldn’t be using trenches again.
The French had allowed parts of the wall to be defended by forest, thinking the Germans couldn’t dig trenches in there. How wrong they were. Taking advantage of this costly assumption the Germans smashed their tanks through these forests, clearing a gaping hole in the wall for future advancements. The allies were completely on their heels. Remember the effectiveness of blitzkrieg relies on discombobulating and surrounding the enemy. Well the Germans had discombobulated the enemy, and began surrounding the bewildered Allied troops. This led to a majority of troops being forced out of Europe through the evacuation of Dunkirk. The Germans would then occupy France in 6 weeks, an incredible feat, and blitzkrieg was used for most of the war.
Another reason for blitzkrieg’s success was the technical advantage the Germans gained throughout the war. For most of the war german planes outmatched allied planes in all categories. This allowed air superiority for the Germans, letting them bomb enemy structures, then using land forces to occupy these structures. It is also a well known fact that German tanks like the Panzer and Tiger were dominant over Allied tanks. The Germans used this to their advantage, using the tanks to the best of their ability.
The final reason blitzkrieg was so effective is a little shady. Wehrmacht soldiers were given a methamphetamine called Pervitin. Pervitin was a drug distributed in the 1930s as a pick me up, and German generals would give them to troops, especially Luftwaffe pilots, as the drug would allow a soldier to fight for days on end, with extremely little rest. This would allow the troops to keep up with the tanks, and fight the ever tiring enemy day after day. It is rumoured that the Wehrmacht fought for 10 straight days, while high on Pervitin, forcing the Allied forces to Dunkirk. Now i know this sounds shady, unfair almost, but according to an article by livescience.com, both sides used “performance enhancing” drugs liberally throughout the war. Both sides would use amphetamines to keep soldiers awake, and after a german pane was found with Pervitin tablets, the Allies began using their own form of the drug called Benzedrine. But my point is using these drugs gave the Wehrmacht an advantage over the Allied soldiers as they didn’t need as much rest.
Blitzkrieg does not always work though. The element of surprise and access to resources was essential to Germany’s success at the start of the war, but the Allies saw it coming during the liberation of Europe in 1945. While German troops were steadily being pushed back, Hitler saw one last way of exit. Allied supplies were coming through Antwerp, so if Hitler could reach the port, the Allies would lose supplies. So the Nazi’s performed a desperate attempt at smashing through the Allied lines very much like they had done 5 years earlier, but tanks ran out of fuel and the Allies were prepared and crushed the offensive as quickly as it had started. This offensive mainly known as the Battle of the Bulge.
It is interesting just how much the Second World War was influenced by the First World War. World War One fueled the beginning of WWII, shaped the events, and moulded the way battle was conducted. The consequences of WWI were exemplified in WWII, and I find it amazing how much of WWII can be traced back to an event or person 30 years earlier. The same can be said for WWII and now. I mean, it is obvious how much WWII has affected people and shaped our society, but battle tactics like blitzkrieg are still used today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Tune in next week for week 3 as well, I can’t promise it wont be about war, but I hope you read it.