Strategy Talk: Is the German Wehrmacht of World War II Over Rated?

  • Col. William J. Astore, former Professor at the US Air Force Academy thinks so.

    I’ll admit, I also have a thing for the German military.  They just looked cool.  The tanks were cool, the helmets were cool, and the trench coats are just about the most bad @$$ threads I’ve ever seen in a uniform.

    I certainly can’t argue with the Col.'s credentials.  I agree with him that one should not selectively read classic books on war and military history, but have a rational, holistic approach to it.  I also agree that the Blitzkrieg is totally unsuited for an imperialistic foreign policy, and of the immorality of such a policy.  There are also some good arguments against the effectiveness of Blitzkrieg from a strategic standpoint.  Still, I have some critiques for this article:

    1. Since the article is meant to be a critique of the German Wehrmacht in general and of Blitzkrieg in particular, I think the article should have focused more on pure military strategy than go off into politics as much as he did (he makes good points, but nothing that hasn’t already been said in Libertarian circles before).

    2. I think the main point of his argument is oversimplified.  Yes, the Germans used Blitzkrieg in the beginning of WWII, and they did eventually loose, but that does not in itself refute Blitzkrieg.  It overlooks several key historical factors:

    a.) Emphasis on maneuver was not a strictly Prussian idea, but one that dates far back to the private mercenary armies of the Middle Ages.  Prussia did not invent the idea of military professionalism.  It only nationalized it.

    b.) Blitzkrieg did in fact win a quick war during the Franco-Prussian War, ending in the double envelopment of two French Armies and the capture of the French Emperor.

    c.) The influence of “Lightning War” within the German high command practically died after Dunkirk.  After that, the tank commanders were subordinate to infantry commanders.

    d.) Despite the fact that the allies won, it can hardly be a credit to the performance of the allied armies.  40,000 German soldiers did manage to hold off 2 million allied soldiers in France for several weeks, and it was only “Blood and Guts” Patton’s Blitz on the western flank that finally broke the stalemate.

    As for my personal ideas about Blitzkrieg, it is only suitable for a limited war, which is precisely what Germany was trying to fight at the beginning of WWII.  There are only really two applications for Blitzkrieg.  The enemy must be either:

    1. A highly centralized government, with most of the civilian population unarmed and dependent upon the government for protection against an outside invader.  This means you only have to deal with that nations military and not their population.  Because power is centralized in the capital city, it’s capture or surrender will win you the war.  You cut a quick deal: a relatively small war reparation, and not taking any land (that would leave a grudge).  Then quickly pull out.


    2. The enemy is not a government at all, but a private mercenary force that is likewise dedicated to maneuver warfare and staying clear of civilian populations.  Since they fight for money, they have no nationalistic zeal.  Ceasefire deals can easily be made among lower officers, since it’s better to live and fight another day.  No “bitter end” conflicts here, but mutually respecting professionals shaking hands and knowing when something isn’t worth dying for.

    Also, in regards to the actual practitioner of Blitzkrieg, it’s best if the group using it is itself not a government, but a private mercenary organization (or several) if you want to avoid a tangled bureaucracy that micromanages from the top and encourage creativity and initiative on the individual level.  Also, if the soldiers see that their officers suck, they simply quit rather that get killed by a stupid strategy.  You don’t get shot for desertion.  You just don’t get paid.

    In short, the German defeat in WWII is not a military refutation of Lightning War, but a moral refutation of Total War, and an example of how a coercive government system will fail to apply even the best of military strategy.

    For a refreshing and challenging view of the nature and the history of war, read The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of National Defense Production, edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.  Here is a link to the free pdf:

  • The blitzkrieg worked fine against France and western Europe in the beginning, but it did not work well against Russia, b/c the Russian TTs are too big, meaning too many km2 to cover.
    Germany needed higher production, and/or should went into total war modus from 1939, then they could attack Russia in 43-44 sometime. But the blitzkrieg or other tactical concepts are never more important than numbers of tanks, soldiers, aircraft, and technology for winning several big battles like happened in WW2.

  • '22 '21 '20 '19 '18 '17 '16

    Blitzkrieg was well meant for Russia because of its size (land mass) and it did not rely to much on productionnbrs, rather on full equipped Panzer Divisions in the first place.
    One big Problem was, that the main goal was never really set in the way how to achieve it.
    I mean when Germany invaded France and just sliced the top off of northern France first not even the enemy but also the German leaders were surprised and shocked, because nobody really would expect such speed in achieving the 1st goal!…>and the world will hold their breath<

    Guderian understood the technique he was dealing with as well as Rommel did but those People were not in charge to set the plans in Headquater…

    Blitzkrieg has less to do w. outnumber the enemy !
    Blitzkrieg is -   you gain Airsuperiority
                  - you break/punch through the enemy line on several locations and press hard w. mobile forces like Tanks i.e.  Groups,Regiments,Battalion or Division size and cut off the enemy from retread and supply while the Infantry forces form a or more pockets to encircle the enemy.
    the effect is that you demoralise and weaken the enemy in the pocket/s.
    you surpress them w. Artilleryfire and the closing Infantry units.
    When the Infantry forces gain controll to an overlookable pocket the faster moving Tanks and Infantry moves on to do exactly the same thing w. the next Area or enemy group you are want to size down.
    The goal is to be set at the beginning and you also need to think about your minor goals to achieve the big goal.
    Considerations of course are size of enemy forces, equipment,terretory,natural blockades like rivers, Cities,and so on…

    The downfall to this concept is, if your enemy is aware of what he has to deal w. and tries to expand his Defence into the DEPTH.  or is able to strike your Panzer arms w. a good coordinated attack !  Pliers only work good w. two pinchers!..

    I’m not saying I’m 100% right or Blitzkrieg was or still is the best method to win a war but to explain that it works well if your settings are right!..Germany did not loose the war b/c Blitzkrieg was not working, Germany lost the war because they had to !!!

    Germany used Blitzkrieg in Poland and France succesful and started succesful in Russia but stopped using it in the right way in the fall of '41…since then it became just another regular Verdun war…it doesen’t matter if Hitler promised it to his people in 1942 on the 8th of Nov. that this won’t happend again.  those are for now my 2 cents…


  • I’m still waiting….

    the author trashed an operational concept as part of a political argument… without shouldering the responsibility to posit an alternative operational concept.

    So like somebody who bitches about your cooking but doesn’t offer to get into the kitchen themselves, he’s left us waiting for the “meaningful” half of his opinions.

    Anyway, he could have - possibly even should have - left out the discussion of Auftragstaktik and kept his piece to bitching about “the continuation of politics”. At least then he’d have stayed within his arcs.


  • One of my strongest objections to the piece is the sentence,

    | To use a sports analogy, it was as if a Major League Baseball franchise, in seeking to win
    | the World Series, decided to model itself not on the New York Yankees but rather on the
    | Chicago Cubs.

    I’ll begin with the following quote, from pages 405 - 406 of Adam Tooze’s book Wages of Destruction

    London by the end of June 1940 was expecting delivery from the United States of no less than 10,800 aircraft and 13,000 aero-engines over the next eighteen months. This was in addition to Britain’s own production of 15,000 military aircraft. . . . By way of comparison, total aircraft production for Germany in 1940 came to only 10,826 aircraft and in 1941 it expanded to only 12,000. . . On 23 July 1940 British procurements agents in Washington were invited to a clandestine meeting with American industrial planners, from which emerged a scheme to expand the capacity of the United States aircraft industry so that it would be able to deliver no less than 72,000 aircraft per annum, guaranteeing to the British a supply of 3,000 planes per month, three times the current German output.

    The scale of Anglo-American aircraft production left Germany with a brutal choice. If it attempted no further conquests, its aircraft production would, over time, be dwarfed by that of the British and Americans. If Germany were to lose control over its own skies, it would mean the loss of its cities, and of a significant portion of its population. To prevent that outcome, Germany needed more manpower, industrial capacity, and raw materials. All of which could be found to the east, in the Soviet Union. Conquering the Soviet Union would also provide Germany the farmland it needed to feed its own people–a must in light of the British food blockade. Finally, the conquest of the Soviet Union would have the obvious advantages of destroying communism and of securing Germany’s eastern border from a land war.

    When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in the spring of 1941, the total German Army consisted of 150 divisions. Of those, 100 were used in the invasion. German military planners had believed they would face 200 Soviet divisions. They were off by a factor of three. In the months immediately following the German invasion, the Soviet Army had expanded itself to a staggering 600 divisions. This advantage in manpower was compounded by its edge in industrial output.

    From page 588 of Tooze’s book:

    The Soviet Union in 1942 managed to out-produce Germany in virtually every category of weapons. The margin for small arms and artillery was 3:1. For tanks it was a staggering 4:1, a differential compounded by the superior quality of the T34 tank. Even in combat aircraft the margin was 2:1. . . . To avoid misunderstandings, this is emphatically a story of Soviet success not German failure.

    Despite these disadvantages, the German Army achieved significant success. In Operation Barbarossa, the German military killed over 800,000 Soviet soldiers, and captured another 3.3 million, at the loss of only 275,000 German soldiers killed or missing. Even later, when the Soviet military had learned from its past mistakes, and the fortunes of war were turning against Germany, it still maintained favorable ratios. In the battle of Kursk (1943), Germany experienced 170,000 casualties, as compared to 860,000 for the Soviet Union. The German military of WWII included the highest-scoring fighter ace of all time (see ) and the highest-scoring tank commander ever (see ). To compare a military like this to the Chicago Cubs is a major stretch, even for the most avid and diehard Cubs fan. Germany fought extremely well on a man-for-man basis, and was beaten only because the Allies had several times as much industrial capacity and available manpower for infantry as the Axis nations had.

  • well he is a yank so he would

  • The first post was amazing. I couldnt have said it better myself. The last post….was just ridiculous.

  • Blitzkrieg was a great system and one great victories early on. It could of beet Russia especially in barborossa. If only hitler let the army go striate to Moscow. But he made them go for Ukraine and destroy the Russia military. That decision let the Russains get there act together. So if Hitler used it properly and went for Moscow Blitzkrieg could have one the war.

  • If they went straight to moscow the entire army wud have been flanked, surrouneded and destroyed!

  • '17 '16 '15 Organizer '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    Right… just like in Poland and Paris.

  • @Imperious:

    Right… just like in Poland and Paris.

    Russia was more powerful than France and Poland combined, and the Russian territories + winter was much easier to defend than Poland and France. Not saying that Germany couldn’t take Moscow if Germany went 100% against it, but it is very unsure how long the Germans could hold Moscow, even if they succeeded, and chances for Germany taking Moscow in 41-42 was less than 50%.

  • '12

    Before I read too much in this thread I just wanted to mention something I had read recently.  Dang, wish I could remember it to cite it, hmmmm google to the rescue.  Ah, finally found it, it was a book review.  The premise was that the blitzkrieg concept actually was created AFTER the deed.  That it was myth that the Germans had planned a ‘blitzkrieg’ but that it was only because of the superior leadership of Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel based on their leading from the front and taking the initiative that created the myth of a planned blitzkrieg.

    9 out of 10 german combat deaths in World War II were caused by Russians.  So who won the war for the allies again?

  • 2007 AAR League



    Right… just like in Poland and Paris.

    Russia was more powerful than France and Poland combined, and the Russian territories + winter was much easier to defend than Poland and France. Not saying that Germany couldn’t take Moscow if Germany went 100% against it, but it is very unsure how long the Germans could hold Moscow, even if they succeeded, and chances for Germany taking Moscow in 41-42 was less than 50%.

    without US aid assistance via lend lease, without the allied strategic bombing campaign tying up much of the luftwaffe and anti air defenses, and without the threat of invasion keeping millions of german soldiers in europe, the soviets would have been smashed before they could ever set up a counter attack.  if moscow was taken, the people would give up on their communist overlords and capitulate.

  • @balungaloaf:

    without US aid assistance via lend lease, without the allied strategic bombing campaign tying up much of the luftwaffe and anti air defenses, and without the threat of invasion keeping millions of german soldiers in europe, the soviets would have been smashed before they could ever set up a counter attack.  if moscow was taken, the people would give up on their communist overlords and capitulate.

    You alluded to the pressure the U.S. and Britain put on Germany; and I fully agree that pressure was immense. Even in 1940–before the U.S. was technically at war–its industrial production created profound implications for the balance of power in Europe. With massive numbers of American aircraft being produced and sent to Britain, Germany had to either a) find a way to keep pace, industrially, with the U.S. and Britain combined, or b) watch its cities and people be destroyed by waves of British and American bombers. The invasion of the Soviet Union was largely precipitated by the desire to allow Germany to attain the raw materials and industrial capacity to achieve outcome A.

    However, keeping pace with the production capacity of the U.S. and Britain also required Germany to invest heavily in its own production facilities. That investment diverted effort from what would have been immediately useful production against the Soviet Union. During 1942, the Soviets out-produced the Germans 3:1 or even 4:1 in all major land categories of production, and even out-produced the Germans 2:1 in planes.

    Prior to launching Operation Barbarossa, the German military staff had incorrectly believed that the Soviet Army consisted of 200 divisions. Divisions which had fought very poorly in the Soviets’ 1940 invasion of Finland. In the spring of 1941, the German Army consisted of 150 divisions; 100 of which were used for the invasion of the Soviet Union. But in the months after the invasion, the Soviets were quickly able to expand the size of their army to about 600 divisions. Given the imbalance of sheer numbers, it is very unlikely Germany could have prevailed in a war against the Soviet Union even despite its military’s advantage on a man-for-man basis.

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