The Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) assault is the German interpretation of a British strategic concept called the indirect approach.

This highly successful strategy during the first years of World War II was developed by Heinz Guderian. He had based his ideas on British strategists, General Marthell, Major General Fuller and Captain Liddell Hart. Both had been great advocates of a highly mobile warfare with the use of armoured vehicles, tanks and dive bombers. The ideas of the British were not as welcome as people nowadays might think. The commanders of the conservative British army saw this kind of strategy as a possible threat to their own position.


The German Army however was experimenting and willing to try any new strategy. It was the Young Captain Heinz Guderian of the mechanised Troops who was very pleased with the writings of Fuller and Liddell Hart. Having served with a mobile infantry unit and a radio station he saw great potential in the strategy of indirect approach. due to his experiences during World War II he recognised that mechanisation and armour enhanced the effectively of infantry incredible. The use of radio transmitters allowed commanders to communicate with each other fast. Combining his own experience with the teachings of Fuller and Liddell Hart he read he developed a complete new devastating strategy.

Guderian's strategy was based on Liddell Hart's military strategy for the indirect approach. Liddell Hart named deception, surprise and flexibility as the most important ingredients for a successful military campaign. Guderian added speed to this formula. His experience with mobile infantry and radio equipment became also part of the idea. The last ingredients were tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft.

This all resulted in a four phase principle he described as the Blitzkrieg.

Phase One

During Phase One infantry units were posted along a broad frontline. Tank and armoured vehicle divisions are posted behind the infantry close to the weakest position of the enemy's defence.

The strategy starts with small infantry units who attack the enemy on several places along the frontline. Their intention is to tie the enemy's troops to them and draw reserve troops towards them. Their second intention is to disguise the assault of the main force. At the same time dive bombers and artillery try to disturb the enemy's communications, infrastructure and strategic objectives. Paratroopers can be used to attack the enemy in the back and seize strategic positions, like bridges and airfields behind the enemy lines.

At the end of Phase One, the enemy is tied to combat along most of the frontline. The enemy's headquarters are shut down or at least unable to communicate with their troops. This leaves the enemy's troops disoriented. The infrastructure and communication lines are disrupted. Strategic objectives are seized by the use of paratroopers. The enemy is confused and disoriented.

Phase Two

Once Phase One is concluded Phase two is executed. The motorised main assault force moves in. Headed by concentrated groups of tanks the force breaks through the enemy lines on a small front. The main task of the tank units is to keep moving. The primary assault group is supported by dive bombers and mobile artillery which attack and soften up defence positions. The primary assault group is followed by mechanised infantry units who pursue and engage the enemy. This prevents the enemy from creating points of resistance and defensive positions. The infantry units along the border keep engaging the enemy in order to keep them from attacking the main force and to confuse the them of what is really going on.

In some cases more paratroopers are used to seize even more strategic objectives and to confuse the enemy.

At the end of Phase Two mechanised units are pouring into the enemy's territory. Defence lines and pockets of resistance are softened up and attacked by dive bombers and mobile artillery. The enemy is retreating and pursued in order to keep them on the move.

Phase Three

Phase Three starts with mechanised infantry and other support units who start attacking the enemy's flanks. With this they try to encircle parts of the retreating enemy's forces which are also attacked by dive bombers and mobile artillery. The same units will also try to reach the paratroopers who have seized strategic objectives.

The primary tank assault group keeps pushing further inside enemy territory supported by dive bombers and mobile artillery. This group will try to not to get involved in large confrontations with the enemy. Movement and speed remains their goal.

At the end of Phase Three the enemy is confused by the speed of the attack. It has great problems reorganising due to the constant attacks, lost of communications and command and the decreasing infrastructure. Large group of the enemy's forces are about to be encircled. Strategic objectives captured by paratroopers are linked up with. At the same time the primary assault group pushes further inside the enemy's territory.

Phase Four

During Phase Four the infantry at the frontline starts moving forward. While moving forward it starts mopping up the by now encircled enemy forces. These units are supported by tanks, dive bombers and artillery.

The primary assault force pushes on and breaks up in order to reach and occupy important strategic objectives like cities, harbours and industrial areas.

The enemy is put under further pressure as civilian targets become targets to force them into a fast surrender.

The strategy ends when the enemy surrenders.


The Blitzkrieg proved to have two major problems:

  • Fast overextension of supply lines which become therefore also extremely vulnerable;
  • Enemies that are willing to sacrifice territory and troops.

The first problem was proved during the Desert war where Rommel had great problems in keeping his tank forces running. Another example is the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The supply lines of the German Army were at some time so overextended that the assault had to be halted to allow supplies to keep up with assault force. These supply lines were also vulnerable for attacks from partisans and Soviet troops which were overrun by the assault force.

The second problem was also proved during the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was willing to sacrifice territory and troops. During the initial stages of the war the Germans took incredible areas of the country and hundred of thousands of prisoners of war were taken. After the initial shock the Soviets started a more or less coordinated retreat known as the retreat of the scorched earth. At the same time they started to prepare defence lines around some of the major cities like Leningrad and Moscow. This strategy resulted in the first German defeat during the battle for Moscow.

As the war went on in the Soviet Union the Blitzkrieg became less and less successful as the Soviets became more familiar with it and the German Army more and more lacked the troops and equipment to properly execute a Blitzkrieg.

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