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The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II

The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II

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The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II

valutazioni:
3.5/5 (11 valutazioni)
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765 pagine
8 ore
Pubblicato:
Feb 1, 2011
ISBN:
9780062084101
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

A bold reinterpretation of some of the most decisive battles of World War II, showing that the outcomes had less to do with popular new technology than old–fashioned, on–the–ground warfare.

The military myths of World War II were based on the assumption that the new technology of the airplane and the tank would cause rapid and massive breakthroughs on the battlefield, or demoralization of the enemy by intensive bombing resulting in destruction, or surrender in a matter of weeks. The two apostles for these new theories were the Englishman J.C.F. Fuller for armoured warfare, and the Italian Emilio Drouhet for airpower. Hitler, Rommel, von Manstein, Montgomery and Patton were all seduced by the breakthrough myth or blitzkrieg as the decisive way to victory.

Mosier shows how the Polish campaign in fall 1939 and the fall of France in spring 1940 were not the blitzkrieg victories as proclaimed. He also reinterprets Rommel's North African campaigns, D–Day and the Normandy campaign, Patton's attempted breakthrough into the Saar and Germany, Montgomery's flawed breakthrough at Arnhem, and Hitler's last desperate breakthrough effort to Antwerp in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. All of these actions saw the clash of the breakthrough theories with the realities of conventional military tactics, and Mosier's novel analysis of these campaigns, the failure of airpower, and the military leaders on both sides, is a challenging reassessment of the military history of World War II. The book includes maps and photos.

Pubblicato:
Feb 1, 2011
ISBN:
9780062084101
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

John Mosier is the author of The Myth of the Great War. He is full professor of English at Loyola University in New Orleans, where, as chair of the English Department and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he taught primarily European literature and film. His background as a military historian dates from his role in developing an interdisciplinary curriculum for the study of the two world wars, a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. From 1989 to 1992 he edited the New Orleans Review. He lives in Jefferson, Louisiana.


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The Blitzkrieg Myth - John Mosier

The Blitzkrieg Myth

How Hitler and the Allies

Misread the Strategic Realities

of World War II

JOHN MOSIER

Men prefer one great lie to a mass of small truths.

—ALEXANDER PUSHKIN

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Epigraph

Introduction: New Theories of Warfare

Chapter 1 - War as Pseudoscience: 1920–1939

Chapter 2 - The Maginot Line and Hitler’s Response

Chapter 3 - The Tank Production Myths

Chapter 4 - Lessons Mislearned: Poland and the Winter Wars

Chapter 5 - The Germans and the Allies Prepare for War

Chapter 6 - The German Assault and the Fall of France: May–June 1940

Chapter 7 - The Uses and Misuses of Armor: North Africa, Italy, the Eastern Front

Chapter 8 - The Failure of Strategic Airpower: 1940–1944

Chapter 9 - Normandy and the Breakout at Saint-Lô: Summer 1944

Chapter 10 - The Breakthrough Failures: Arnhem, Metz, Bastogne

Chapter 11 - Conclusion: The Persistence of Failed Ideas

Appendix: Researching the War

Index

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also by John Mosier

Copyright

About the Publisher

Introduction: New Theories of Warfare

Their ideas are prefabricated. Experience teaches them nothing.

ALBERT SCHWEITZER¹

This book, the result of a quarter century of research and reflection, demonstrates that traditional accounts of the Second World War are seriously flawed. The fundamental error is this: in the 1920s two new theories of warfare were postulated, most notably by the English armored officer J. F. C. Fuller and the Italian aviator Giulio Douhet. Over the course of the next decades these theories—or their key portions—were adopted almost universally by military and political leaders and by historians and military analysts. The resulting ideas, identified as Blitzkrieg and airpower, are now universally accepted, not merely as important concepts in modern warfare—which they certainly are—but as assumptions defining how the war was fought and why one side was successful and the other not. Douhet and Fuller—and their apostles—reworked the evidence to support their arguments. As this book explains, their ideas were mostly incorrect, but all accounts of the Second World War accept their assumptions.

Although both Douhet and Fuller pretended to be rigorous and scientific theorists, their ideas, far from being borne out by what happened in the First World War, are almost completely contradicted by it. It follows, therefore, that those historians who have accepted their ideas as holy writ give a highly misleading picture of the war.

Not as to the actual outcomes: in this regard the Second World War is entirely different from the First, whose results were at bottom paradoxical and inconclusive. In an earlier book I argued that the military lessons of the Great War were mislearned. The Allies were largely ineffective militarily, the Germans largely victorious, even though they ultimately lost the war. In this book my critical focus is on the reasons given for the various defeats and victories, since the end results are clear: During 1939 and 1940, seven nations officially admitted their defeat by Germany; in May 1945 Germany officially admitted its own defeat and surrendered. Its cities were in ruins, its national territory occupied. There is no ambiguity there at all. The problem arises when we begin to consider how these defeats came about. My argument is that evidence demonstrates that these defeats were not primarily the result of new ideas about warfare but the result of traditional factors: politics and strategy.

The implications of this argument are fundamental for military history. It is almost universally accepted, for example, that the construction of the Maginot Line was an exercise in near futility that revealed the defeatist, retrograde thinking of the French. However, the facts reveal this to be a misperception of the realities of the 1920s and the 1930s. During the 1930s German military engineers presided over the construction of elaborate and extensive defensive positions, both east and west, almost exactly comparable to what the French had planned the decade before. Surprisingly little is known about the nature and extent of these fortifications, whose details (for the eastern frontier) did not begin to emerge until after the collapse of Communist Poland.

The assumption that the Maginot Line was uniquely French, and that it tells us something about France, is simply not true. The evidence shows that the Germans went through the same discussions the French did, that Hitler himself took a keen interest in what was being built, and that one of the key officers involved, a young major on the newly reformed general staff, was none other than Erich von Manstein, generally—and correctly—regarded as one of the Wehrmacht’s most successful commanders and the alleged architect of some of its greatest offensive victories. To understand what happened in this war, one must begin with an explanation that embraces the facts as they are known to exist, not as several generations of analysts have wished them to be.

The other point made by this book is no less fundamental: That is the argument that the airpower theories of men like Douhet, and the Blitzkrieg theories of men like Fuller, are at bottom the same thing, the difference being only in the mechanism used (tanks as opposed to planes). Both proposed to strike directly into the heart of the enemy, to win the war in one swift and decisive stroke. For want of a better term, I have employed the word breakthrough to describe this idea, which came to dominate both the direction of the war and what has been written about it since.

The point of this book is that accounts of this war, as of the one preceding it, are based on a slowly collapsing paradigm that is riddled with anomalies and contradictions—too dependent on the suppression of evidence—to be accepted as a satisfactory explanation of the phenomenon itself. British historians of the First World War produced a gripping and absorbing account of how the war was won. The only thing wrong with it was that little of it was actually true. Through repetition they came to think that it was true, and to explain away any evidence to the contrary by mystifying the facts and hiding primary causes in a forest of secondary ones. In the Second World War partisans of national interest have largely (although in the United States not entirely) been replaced by adherents of the two theories, but the end result is the same sort of tale with all the same problems: It makes for a gripping story, but most of it isn’t true.

The basic ideas of my narrative are simple, although its implications are not. The structure is divided into three parts: The first explains what these new theories of warfare were, and shows why they were largely, although not entirely, incorrect. The second explains how the two chief European powers, France and Germany, prepared for a future war. Not by devoting their defense budgets to tanks and planes but by building fortifications. The third, by far the longest section, reexamines the campaigns of the war in Western Europe in the light of what the first two sections establish as the historical truth.

In researching my earlier book on the Great War, I noticed two significant facts: first, that German losses in combat were substantially lower than those of their adversaries, generally in the neighborhood of two and even three to one; and second, that most of the casualties in the war were caused not by rifle bullets (as had been the case in all previous modern wars), but by shellfire from guns. These two facts led me to an investigation of German artillery, since it appeared that here was one important reason for the casualty imbalance.

By their very nature the instruments of modern warfare are complex technical devices. Yet without understanding the why and how of their basic functions, one can hardly judge the theories of their use that dominated military thinking in the decades before 1940. The old cliché that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it is nowhere more applicable than in the study of warfare in this century. That alone justifies the necessity of combining the technical and the general, the practical and the theoretical, so that this account of combat in the Second World War goes beyond a simple recitation of the conventional wisdom on the subject—for, as we shall see, at every turn the conventional wisdom is hardly sustained by what actually happened on the battlefield.

After 1942 the Germans, having enjoyed absolute air superiority in their earlier campaigns, failed signally to appreciate the realities of armored warfare without it. Their technical expertise in one area blinded them to the underlying reasons for their own success, a theme that this book expounds on at length. None of the specialists who planned for this war, or the military leaders who directed it once it began, seems to have had any real sense of the events that had gone before. Thus we find Patton, far and away the most literate and historically astute of all the major commanders, completely bogged down in precisely the same theater of operations—Lorraine—in which he had fought in the First World War. Of all the senior allied commanders, he should by rights have been the most aware of the difficulties involved in dislodging German infantry from fortifications.

The explanation for these failures, I believe, lies not so much in the personal or professional inadequacies of the commanders but in their conversion to theories of armored warfare that were in themselves mostly erroneous. Significantly Montgomery, generally the most cautious and conventional of all the senior commanders, alone seems to have grasped the realities of the modern battlefield. But even there, with Operation Market-Garden, the attempt to leapfrog into Germany by dropping airborne troops all along the key route through the Netherlands, we see the same failure: on the one hand the belief that armored units could cut swiftly through opposition, and on the other an obvious ignorance of just how costly the invasion of the Netherlands had been for German airborne units in May 1940.

These simple comparisons suggest the principle that underlies this history: Cross-comparisons spread over the course of the war—and over the course of the century—allow us a much more profitable understanding of what actually happened than do the specialized studies of one isolated offensive, weapon, or idea.

Chapter 1 - War as Pseudoscience: 1920–1939

Nothing is more dangerous in war than theoreticians.

MARSHAL PéTAIN¹

The Second World War was the complete opposite of the First. In the latter, Allied propagandists had been free to weave their fables, unchecked and unquestioned. The result was a highly consistent series of myths that foundered not because of any real internal inconsistencies but because they were based on a series of palpable untruths, facts about relative losses of men and territory that could ultimately be verified or proved false.

This was not possible in the Second World War, in which, from the very first, many of the claims of the combatants were subject to verification. Americans listening to William Shirer’s censored broadcasts from Berlin in 1939–40 received a surprisingly coherent and in many respects truthful account of what was happening—even under the worst censorship it far exceeded what had been available in 1914–15. Moreover there were men in Great Britain who had bitter memories of how their government had managed the truth. When, in 1940, the government attempted to lay all the blame for the collapse on the hapless Belgians, Adm. Sir Roger Keyes stood up in the House and exposed the government’s efforts for what they were—an attempt to find a scapegoat to cover up its own ineptitude. Like all slanders, bits and pieces of this one stuck, but the myth of how Belgium betrayed the Allied cause and brought it to ruin was quickly shattered.

It was precisely the lack of any central coherent myth to recast the narrative of World War II that made all the various accounts so full of internal contradictions and anomalies. It was easy to see that, but the very incoherence of the narrative of the war made it difficult to piece together what had actually happened.

The explanation is that military theory between the wars was dominated by the work of airpower enthusiasts and apostles of armored warfare. In both cases and in every country, the theoreticians resorted to rewriting the history of the Great War to vindicate their theories about how wars should be fought. When the Second World War actually broke out on September 1, 1939, both the military theorists and the propagandists of the combatants produced converging explanations of what had happened.

The invasion of Poland provides a perfect example. Hitler’s propagandists were eager to portray the Polish offensive as a terrifying German military triumph that glorified not only the achievements of the Luftwaffe, which from the first had been regarded as the most National Socialist of the services, but would glorify those achievements in such a way as to cower everyone else into submission.

The airpower enthusiasts and armored apostles were only too delighted to shape the Polish campaign so that it justified their emphasis on armor and airplanes. To the followers of Giulio Douhet (and to the airmen in the United States and Great Britain who hit on these same ideas independently) the Polish campaign was proof positive that the side that lost command of the air would be quickly destroyed—from the air. The misleading and simplistic belief that Warsaw was destroyed by the Luftwaffe was thus turned into a great symbol with all sorts of layers: on one level it represented the barbarism of Hitler’s ideas, on another it served as a sort of dissuasive bogeyman for timid Frenchmen and Englishmen. And on still another level it supported the arguments that more money needed to be spent on airplanes instead of other areas of national defense.

Since Poland had even fewer tanks than it had planes, much the same process occurred. The German successes, insofar as they were not exclusively caused by airplanes, were attributed to the fact (in reality not particularly true) that they deployed tanks en masse, organized as armored divisions. An army with no armored divisions was helpless in the face of this onslaught.

However, the primary reasons for Poland’s defeat were strategic, not tactical. When Erich von Manstein dissected the causes of Poland’s defeat, his concluding sentence was that Poland’s defeat was the inevitable outcome of the Warsaw government’s illusions about the actions its allies would take, as well as of its over-estimation of the Polish Army’s ability to offer lengthy resistance.² As we shall see, even this oversimplifies the situation considerably, but then Manstein, a keen supporter of Hitler, forbore to do more than briefly mention Poland’s other strategic difficulties.³

The point is not to deny the importance either of technology or tactics on the battlefield, but simply to say that the fundamental error lies in elevating those two components above all other concerns. The Polish government believed, with justification, that it had a guarantee from both France and England to begin offensive operations against Germany if that country attacked Poland. If Poland’s army could hold out for two weeks, the Allied attack would force Germany to reallocate its army and air force to the defense of its own territory. That these agreements were actually made, and were not simply some illusion on the part of the Polish government, is incontrovertible. So is the fact that on September 14, 1939, Poland still had substantial armies in the field and was in control of a surprisingly large amount of its national territory. So although tactics and technology played an important part in the defeat, they were by no means the primary causes. In a war that pitched its army against Germany’s and the Soviet Union’s, Poland would have lost, whether the Germans deployed tanks and airplanes or not.

The Blitzkrieg as an Idea Both True and False

As the Germans occupied northern France and what we now call Benelux, demolished Yugoslavia and then Greece, and routed the Soviet armies in the summer of 1941, Allied analysts insisted that the cause was simple. The Germans were using a radically new kind of warfare, for which the vague and mystical word Blitzkrieg was simply a convenient shorthand.

To demystify the concept, and for want of a better term, we can speak of this new idea as that of the breakthrough, a term that in the military sense was probably first defined by the U.S. Army to denote a penetration through the depth of the defensive position, a penetration that theorists like J. F. C. Fuller had argued was only possible using masses of tanks operating under an aerial umbrella which involved command of the air.

During the Second World War, both sides pursued the idea of the breakthrough. An almost blind adherence to the concept, coupled with a refusal to examine the mounting contrary evidence, bedeviled Allied strategy from the North African landings on through the end of the war. It explains both why a prudent and experienced general like Montgomery would mount disastrous offensives like Goodwood in July and Market-Garden in September 1944 and why official U.S. Army doctrine was that tanks would not actually fight enemy tanks (and thus there was no need for a high-velocity main gun capable of destroying the enemy’s main battle tank with one shot).

I have used the term blind adherence because, at the highest levels, it certainly seems to be a fair characterization. Neither the armored apostles nor the airpower enthusiasts modified their views as a result of the experiences of the war. In this they were quite like Hitler, who—if we are to believe Manstein—failed to learn from Poland’s strategic failures and apply the lessons to German defensive operations.⁴ Instead Hitler would demand that his beleaguered troops go over to the offensive. In August 1944 they were to cut through the hinge between the British and American forces and destroy them; in December 1944 they were to do the same thing only on a grander scale, aiming at Antwerp. Whatever chance Hitler had of fighting the war to a stalemate of any sort died in those two offensive operations.

But Hitler was hardly the only major figure in the war to ignore the facts of the situation. Despite the horrific losses of German airborne units in their assaults on the Netherlands and Crete, the Allies repeated the same mistake, operating under the mistaken belief that airborne deployments would make the breakthrough an accomplished fact. But this was to be a war in which hardly anyone seemed to have learned anything at all. Senior British and American air force leaders were still insisting that bomber offensives could win the war outright as late as the summer of 1944. And as late as December 1944, American experts were still refusing to equip American tanks with a high-velocity gun, despite the fact that the Germans and the Russians had been deploying such weapons for several years.

Perhaps more troubling, senior commanders were judged not on the traditional basis for success—low casualties and high achievements—but on the extent to which they were willing and able to carry out these ambitious deep penetrations that had been determined to be the only successful way to conduct operations on the battlefield. Indeed, the vastly inflated reputations of both Patton and Rommel are almost totally a function of their successes in directing such operations.

Doubtless some readers will be delighted to hear the achievements of Rommel and Patton questioned, others will be simply surprised, and a few will be distressed. The purpose here is not a reevaluation of their careers but to suggest how our perceptions have been so decisively shaped by the blind acceptance of the breakthrough theory of military operations. Both men were first-rate commanders whose abilities had already been established, albeit at lower levels, on the battlefields of the Great War. Their fame in the next one, however, is more a function of the need to have great leaders whose ideas fit the current paradigm than of their actual achievements.

This mention of personalities suggests, however, the importance of the idea, as it allows us to see in a much different light the notorious conflicts that plagued the Allies. As is well known, there were serious divisions in the Allied command: disagreements based on national rivalries (British versus American), disagreements based on interservice rivalries (air force versus army), and disagreements based on personalities (Eisenhower and Montgomery). These personality problems have proved a vast and fruitful area for biographers, and as biographers have produced some of the most readable and serious work in recent military history, there is an almost inevitable tendency to see things through the prism of personality.

But the basic Allied conflict in the fall of 1944 was not primarily a function of personality clashes or national or service rivalries. Montgomery, no less than Patton or Bradley or Harris or Spaatz, was entirely dominated by the desire to defeat Germany. The real conflict was between Eisenhower (supported by his immediate superior, Marshall) and the senior Allied commanders, who, regardless of their nationality or branch of service, were convinced that the only proper way to win the war was to throw all the Allied resources into one powerful offensive operation. Let us assemble a powerful force of forty or fifty divisions and strike into the heart of Germany, Montgomery pleaded.⁵ The problem, of course, was that Churchill, Bradley, and Patton all had similarly convincing proposals, and the bomber barons, the commanders of the American and British strategic air forces, had their own ideas.

The received wisdom on this issue often seems to parallel Montgomery’s frustrations: Rather than making a decision in favor of option A, B, or C, Eisenhower simply let every option be exercised. The consequent weakening of the Allied efforts through dispersion made an extension of the war into 1945 inevitable.

But Eisenhower had a great advantage as a senior commander of a great coalition: He had never been in combat; he had never held any meaningful battlefield command. His military experience in the U.S. Army had been exclusively that of a staff officer, and one whose duties were mostly concerned with the higher levels of strategic planning. His appreciation of how to fight the war, therefore, was far removed from the actual battlefield.

In fact, his plan of 1944, usually called the broad front strategy, was pretty much the same plan that the Germans had used in September 1939, May 1940, and June 1941: a massive attack on a broad front that simply overwhelmed the enemy’s defenses. Given superiority in resources, the great advantage to this approach was that it had worked before.

The problem with what was being proposed by the advocates of the breakthrough approach was that their ideas couldn’t possibly work. Patton and Bradley wanted to attack up into the Saar, and Montgomery wanted to attack into the Ruhr. Subsequently all three—and their many defenders and apologists—marshaled impressive evidence to demonstrate that if only this had been done, the war would have been over in a few short months.

The problem is that in each case the operation was mounted, and in each case it failed. It is customary to say that it failed because of a lack of resources caused by Eisenhower’s unwillingness to support the most sensible plan. Thus Montgomery wasn’t given enough troops to make his breakthrough operations successful, and Patton wasn’t given enough gasoline for his. What this overlooks is the fact that the Germans, despite Hitler, were very adept at switching their forces around to counter Allied moves. In effect the more resources the Allies threw into any one operation, the more resources the Germans switched over to counter that attack. Claims that any one offensive, conducted with overwhelming force, would have been successful, are thus fatally flawed. They all ignore the most obvious counter: The Germans would simply have matched the Allied buildup, as they did in the First World War, and as to a certain extent they were able to do on the Eastern Front.

Nor is this purely theoretical. Throughout 1944 the Germans did precisely that—despite Allied command of the air, the Germans were able to filter reinforcements into Normandy and contain the American and British troops for months. Allied planners for Normandy were uncomfortably aware of the need to capture Caen (or, more precisely, the territory adjacent to the city, which could be used for airfields) at the very start of the landings. It was hardly a coincidence that the Germans had the resources in place to defend the city, and that they continued to switch forces there as Montgomery tried a variety of attacks designed to seize it. With variations, this pattern continued.

A common thread that runs through all these operations is a certain obliviousness to the reality of a successful defense. Although this is often put down to intelligence failures, in every case an investigation into the situation reveals that reasonably accurate intelligence existed and was passed on. The Allies certainly knew the whereabouts of the German divisions around Caen, for example. But the information was simply ignored. Out of ineptitude? No, because by 1944 it was basically an article of faith that all breakthrough operations succeeded, regardless of the forces arrayed in defense.

Nor was it solely a function of ground warfare planners. The bomber barons motored on with an even more marked disconnect from the realities of bomb damage assessment. As late as the summer of 1944, they still believed that the two competing and curiously complementary theories of strategic bombing employed by the British and the Americans would of themselves win the war outright—ignoring all the abundant evidence to the contrary.

Thus in less than a quarter century the pendulum had swung from the insistence that in modern warfare the defense was all powerful to its exact opposite. In neither case were there many facts to support the dominant idea, but neither governments nor theorists need evidence. Governments have a disturbing tendency to manufacture it, and theorists an equally albeit less dangerous tendency to suppress it whenever it conflicts with their ideas. In the idea of the breakthrough, both were at work.

What is needed is not more and better facts but more rigorous and coherent accounts that use the facts already at our disposal. That is the account this book attempts to provide. Having said that, let me enumerate a few stipulations as to what this book is not about. It is not a comprehensive account of the entire war, because, as A. J. P. Taylor rather puckishly noted, the problem with the Second World War is not so much how did it begin but when did it begin. The Second World War was not some precise, sudden event like the First. . . . Suppose you said that a declaration of war indicates that the world war has started, then you would have to go back to 1932.⁶ Taylor was correct; this was a war that comprised many wars. In some measure it is thus an event closer to what is called in America the French and Indian War—a series of interrelated conflicts fought in a variety of different places.⁷

Instead this is an account of the crucial parts of the ground war in Western Europe, for the reason—which seems to me self-evident—that it was there, in 1939, 1940, and 1944, that the conflict between the Western democracies and Hitler was resolved. On the ground, and not in the air, on the sea, or through economic or political means. The Allies did not beat Hitler because of their strategic air force. Indeed, as this account makes clear, to a certain extent, the prevailing notions of airpower held by the leaders of the Allied air forces impeded rather than caused victory. Nor did the Allies win because of their superior economic power, their political acumen, or their command of the sea. Clearly all these were factors. However, the decisive factor, the most important one, was what happened on the ground. And that is what this narrative is about.

The German Problem

A final point has troubled me greatly these past decades. It was very clear that both the Germans and the Russians had tough and well-equipped armies. The problems afflicting the West before the war had little effect on the military preparedness of these two powers. Both fought tenaciously for years. Although not a great deal was known about the Soviet military (save for the propaganda emanating from the Soviet Union), the Allies had dissected the German military in great detail, and there was near unanimous agreement as to its excellence.

The extent to which German officers, especially senior commanders, knew what Hitler was doing and agreed with it is a difficult issue to resolve in any satisfactory way, and it is quite understandable why military historians would feel it was an issue that could easily be separated out of their accounts of the war. Understandable and defensible but ultimately wrong. It seemed to me that these accounts had fallen into a sort of moral confusion, in which the authors, perhaps without even realizing it, were inclined to gloss over the wickedness of the two dictatorships and emphasize the faults of the democracies.

In Spandau: The Secret Diaries, Albert Speer, while insisting that he was not guilty of the crimes attributed to him, nevertheless observed that he felt himself guilty in another, more profound, way. His presence, his abilities, enabled and empowered Hitler: and yet—I drove with Hitler under those streamers and did not feel the baseness of the slogans being publicly displayed and sanctioned by the government. Once again: I suppose I did not even see the streamers . . . it even seems to me that my own ‘purity,’ my indolence, makes me guiltier.⁹ Whether for that sin or for others, Speer did penance. There is no senior German commander any less guilty than Speer, and most are considerably more so. In any event, all of them were Hitler’s enthusiastic supporters.¹⁰

The Breakthrough Breakthrough

During the First World War an officer in the Royal Tank Corps, Maj. J. F. C. Fuller, had already developed a blueprint for successful offensive operations, which he initially called Plan 1919. Fuller, surveying the experiences of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), reasoned that true breakthroughs were impossible with foot soldiers. The pace of their advance was far too slow. While the infantry laboriously crossed the cratered terrain of the battlefield, the enemy could establish a new defensive position, transporting its reserves into place using railroads or trucks, and thus capitalizing on the slow speed of an infantry advance. Moreover, Fuller argued that in an infantry attack there was an inherent tendency for the attackers to move inward rather than outward. So the area behind the enemy’s initial positions, instead of becoming larger, would inexorably shrink.

To Fuller, who had planned the tank offensive at Cambrai in November 1917, this was a basic law, just like the law of gravity, and he saw the tank as the solution to the failure of the Allies either to engage in a successful battle of rupture or in one of annihilation. His idea, schematically rendered in a diagram that has been reproduced in virtually every book written about armored warfare, had an elegant simplicity: A great army of tanks would break through the enemy lines. Unlike the infantry the tanks would be able to overpower static defensive positions, crush barbed wire, and blow up the automatic weapons positions that had been the nemesis of Allied infantry. And, unlike the foot soldier, the tank’s speed would enable it to thrust deep into enemy lines, achieving penetrations so deep that the rupture could never be sealed.

Indeed, this deep and rapid penetration made the plan so distinctive that it was no longer simply a means of achieving a rupture. The new aim, Fuller hypothesized, was to strike deep through the enemy position, piercing its defenses and attacking its soft and unprotected rear positions. Here is his summary:

In 1918 I substituted another plan, which was accepted by Marshal Foch for the 1919 campaign. Instead of launching frontal attacks against the enemy’s front, it was decided to launch it against his rear—his command and supply system—by suddenly and without warning passing powerful tank forces, covered by aircraft, through his front. Next, directly paralyzation of his rear had disorganized his front [sic], to launch a strong tank and infantry attack of the Cambrai pattern against that front. Thus, what twenty years later became known as the Blitz attack was born; and had the war continued into 1919, seeing that the Germans had no properly ordered antitank defense, these tactics would have produced even more startling results than they did in 1939–1940.¹¹

This statement is probably the single most important paragraph in the military history of the twentieth century. To say that Fuller’s idea took hold is an understatement. By the summer of 1940, after Poland and the fall of France, it had the status of sacred doctrine.

This was an entirely new idea, completely different from the idea of the battle of rupture, as Fuller’s first two sentences make clear. It was the difference between a boxing match and a fencing bout. The rupture battle was like a boxing match: In a series of mighty blows, you drove your opponent up against the ropes, and ultimately, one punch would flatten him. To continue the analogy, that final punch was the battle of annihilation. Fuller’s plan was the strategy of the fencer. Instead of trying to smash in the enemy’s defensive positions, you aimed for the one deep thrust that would disable him completely. Not a slash, but a thrust whose deadly power was a function of the depth of penetration.

Fuller’s idea, then, was not simply about how to win the battle using a different mix of forces, but rather an idea which substituted an entirely new objective, the breakthrough. Fuller realized it was a new idea; his disciples and students during the interwar years realized it was a new idea; and when the war broke out, it became the received wisdom. The Germans were successful because they had studied Fuller’s ideas and applied them. The Allies were unsuccessful because they had ignored Fuller’s ideas and stuck to their old ways, planning to fight classical battles of annihilation, or aiming for a victory that could be achieved using the Delbrückian idea about a strategy of exhaustion.

It was a British idea, but only the Germans had learned how to apply it successfully. If the Allies were to win, they would have to employ the same technique, and this became particularly true when the United States entered the war and Allied planners began to consider a series of successive invasions of Europe, in which they would be on the offensive and the Germans on the defensive. The key to success would be to land and then push armored columns in deep, as Montgomery charged his field commanders during his pep talks for the Normandy offensive.

Pushing armored and mechanized columns in hard and deep was what Patton was all about; it was how the war in the desert had been fought. In short, it was the only proper way to conduct ground operations, and when the events of May 1940 were discussed, the French were roundly condemned for squandering their armor, for using it in penny packets, to employ a British phrase that has become common in such discussions.

Fuller’s ideas spread rapidly. Although initially ignored in his own country, his works were required reading in the Czech and Soviet armies, while both German and French tank experts took it to heart: Denis Daly, the British military attaché, has testified to hearing Heinz Guderian discourse on Fuller at length well before the war.¹² Fuller was indeed an almost unique figure: an officer with experience in the field; a formidable theorist and historian, and a voluminous writer. To several generations of forward-thinking officers, this was an irresistible combination. His ideas had been tested on the field of battle and found to work, a claim that was helped immensely by the interpretations of military history in Fuller’s many postwar writings. Between the wars (and to a certain extent even after 1945) Fuller was probably the most read military analyst in any language, and certainly the most prolific. Certainly no one who read Fuller could miss his main point: Future wars would be decided by fleets of tanks mounting powerful armored thrusts deep into enemy-held territory.

Instead of a battle of rupture or annihilation, there would be a new type of battle, the breakthrough, in which hordes of tanks would strike deep into the soft rear of the enemy and paralyze its command and control facilities, bringing a quick end to its ability to wage war. Any other notion was simply the result of a resolute clinging to tradition, of a refusal to understand that war was a science.

So far as ground warfare went, Fuller’s ideas reigned supreme. All the French and German theorists studied his writings carefully. Their ideas did not take root immediately, and in Great Britain they took root hardly at all. But Fuller’s Plan 1919 became the controlling paradigm for effective ground warfare. Once the Second World War began, generals would be judged not on their actual combat record but on the extent to which their operations conformed to Fuller’s theories, as the opening campaigns of the war seemed to provide irrefutable evidence that he was right.

Breakthrough in the Air

Anyone who dips into Fuller is treated to his scornful condescension of the British military establishment. According to Fuller the reason his ideas were not accepted was, purely and simply, the hidebound traditionalism of most armies (and especially the British) in the face of the new scientific approach to warfare he championed, in which technology, not tradition, reigned supreme.

But this is too simple. Although Fuller was the chief theorist of ground warfare after 1920, the First World War had made it clear that the war would also be fought in the air, and Fuller was not the only officer in the Great War to come up with radical ideas about how to fight the next one. In Italy his colleague, the airman Giulio Douhet, had also come up with revolutionary ideas. Douhet was a veteran of the Great War as well, and as an Italian, he had been forcibly impressed by his country’s vain and costly struggles to break through Austria-Hungary’s alpine defenses.

Like Fuller, Douhet was focused on the next war: Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur. . . . Those who are ready first will not only win quickly, but will win with the fewest sacrifices and the minimum expenditure of means.¹³ But where Fuller’s solution was the tank, Douhet’s was the strategic bomber. In fact the bomber would make armies and navies irrelevant. The way to wage war was to send over a massive fleet of bombers without even a formal declaration. These bombers would destroy the enemy’s civilian population, its industrial centers, and its will to fight. They would be unstoppable, because "viewed in its true light, aerial warfare admits of no defense, only offense. We must therefore resign ourselves to the offensives the enemy inflicts upon us, while striving to put all our resources to work to

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  • (4/5)

    1 persona l'ha trovata utile

    the above comment is a bit much since the author has a book completely dedicated to the eastern front as well. So if you want both read both.

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  • (1/5)
    The art of choosing the examples to fit the theory.Mr Mosier conveniently ignores the eastern front!Any serious military enthousiast will be able to see through the thin arguments and the hughe, I mean really enormous, holes in his arguments.Avoid.Don't bother.