USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Phase #1: Blitzkrieg

The German Blitzkrieg was designed to be a highly dynamic fast-strike capacity that utilized primarily tank divisions, mobile infantry units, and air power. The strategy was developed to avoid two main problems facing Germany. The first is that it wanted to prevent the type of two-front war it faced during WWI. The idea here was that the fast strikes could knock states out of the war in a matter of weeks or months before defending armies could retrench and blunt the German attack. The second problem the strategy was meant to solve was the resource issue. Germany knew that it could not face the combined productive capacity of the Western powers (especially if the United States were included) and therefore it had to achieve fast and decisive victories. This was especially important because the Nazis had been mobilizing and preparing for over half a decade by 1939 while the allied nations had just begun to take hesitant steps to reach a state of war-readiness. Traditional advancement of infantry battalions like during WWI would result in greater German casualties, be more complex from a logistical point of view, and would take much longer to execute. Blitzkrieg maximized the Nazis’ key advantages in 1939.

The results of the Blitzkrieg were shocking. Before September was over, Polish resistance had collapsed in the face of the German assault. After projecting force to the north to protect the vital resource links between Scandinavia and Germany, Hitler prepared for the invasion of Western Europe. In May of 1940, the German army struck. The Netherlands fell in five days. Belgium was quickly overrun. French resistance was shattered. On June 22, less than two months after the campaign began, France surrendered to Hitler. From September 1939 to June 1940, Nazi Germany had taken control over nearly all of Europe.

The only remaining European belligerent was Great Britain. Germany quickly drew up plans for an invasion of the island, the so-called “Operation Sea-Lion.” The first step in the operation was the knocking out of British air power through a sustained bombardment of British military facilities in England. Once air supremacy was established, the Germans could then transport their armored mobile divisions across the English Channel to complete the conquest. Famously, the Nazi air force (Luftwaffe) proved unable to defeat the British Royal Air Force (RAF). British technological superiority and radar capacity gave its fighters a distinct advantage. In addition, Hitler’s decision to bomb British cities in order to break the will of the British population diverted precious capacity away from the battle and allowed the British time to decisively increase their advantage, eventually overcoming the Germans’ quantitative superiority. By the following year, Hitler and his generals had no choice but to put plans for the invasion on ice.   

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