The following lesson will cover the German war tactic known as blitzkrieg, which was used with great success in World War II. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check for your understanding.

The Blitz

Have you ever been to a football game and watched as one team’s defense rushes all at once towards the other team’s quarterback? This move is called a blitz. The hope is that the opposing team’s quarterback will be taken by surprise by the many defensive players coming at him and will panic and not be able to complete a play successfully. This same strategy is also one used by the Germans in World War II.

Definition

The word blitzkrieg is German for ‘lightning war.’ It was a tactic that was based on speed and surprise. In order for it to work successfully, a military was constructed around tank units, air support, and soldiers.

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Purpose

Fighting in World War I was similar to trying to walk through quicksand. You could fight and struggle to make it through, but in the end, you would find that you made very little progress. This was partly due to trench warfare, during which opposing armies would dig long trenches in land across from each other, firing at each other and anyone who tried to cross the ‘no man’s land’ in between the trenches. Ground was gained and lost very, very slowly using this strategy.

To combat this problem in the Second World War, the leader of Germany, Adolf Hitler, used a strategy purposed by one of his army officers to use the element of surprise to quickly overtake an enemy’s territory. The tactic was developed in Germany by an army officer called Hans Guderian, who actually got the idea from French and British military officers.

The strategy of blitzkrieg required speed and coordination of the military. It was important to hit hard and then move on to the next target before an enemy had time to recover or prepare for an oncoming strike. Since blitzkrieg was meant to move quickly and use the element of surprise, it created panic in civilian populations. Thus, blitzkrieg had a strong psychological component to it.

Imagine the last time you panicked in a situation instead of remaining calm. Perhaps you didn’t study well enough for a big test, or maybe your car skidded on the ice, and in a panic, you pumped on the brakes instead of turning into the skid. Panic can affect us emotionally and cause us to react irrationally. When we panic, we are more likely to make mistakes.

This is exactly what the Germans were hoping for with their strategy of blitzkrieg. A civil population that was panicking and retreating made it quite difficult for a defending army to get through to the war front to protect its territory. A defending army, therefore, didn’t know how to handle all the panic, and the power of doubt and confusion was a hard thing to overcome.

Strategy

The technical component to using the strategy of blitzkrieg is as follows. A target would be selected to attack, and military aircraft would fly overhead and bomb all rail lines, communication centers, and major rail links. This was done so that the enemy could not mobilize, or get ready, its own military forces. There would be no way to get supplies in or out by rail, no way to communicate orders through command centers, and no roads or rails to transport troops. Right behind the planes would be incoming groups of tanks and soldiers to come in and overtake the territory for good.

Facts

Hitler was able to conquer countries in Western Europe in a matter of months individually and in a matter of about two years collectively, including Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. French, British, and Polish militaries were not able to defend against the superior tanks of the German army called panzers. In fact, the Polish army still maintained a cavalry of horses!

Lesson Summary

The German war tactic of blitzkrieg was extremely successful in conquering enemy territory. This was done using the elements of surprise, precision, and quickness. The German air force would soften a target by bombing key locations and then German tanks and soldiers would move in after. The psychological effect of panic and chaos that the blitzkrieg created in a civilian population also greatly helped the German military conquer territories quickly.

Lesson at a Glance

During World War II, the German military used a war tactic called blitzkrieg. Meaning ‘lightning war,’ blitzkrieg used the elements of surprise, precision, and quickness. The psychological effect on civilians was major panic, something that the opposing military could not control. Also, the physical effects of the bombing included hampered communication and transportation systems, which immobilized the troops.

A blitzkrieg did not allow enough time for the defending army to prepare for a German attack.
blitzkrieg

Learning Outcomes

Ensure knowledge of the lesson on blitzkrieg by completing these steps:

  • Define blitzkrieg
  • Outline the Germans’ purpose for using it
  • Interpret the strategy of blitzkrieg and emphasize its psychological and physical effects
  • Discuss the outcome of Hitler’s use of blitzkrieg as a war tactic