2010/10/16

Blitzkrieg - the fair weather doctrine

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There were roughly four mobile warfare doctrines of interest in the European theatre of WW2:
The British doctrine, partially inspired by Liddell-Hart. It failed to produce convincing results in wartime (probably because it was a mismatch with the British and Commonwealth officer corps).
The German doctrine known as "Blitzkrieg", inspired by Guderian (armor, motorization, exploitation of radios) and von Schlieffen (encirclement focus) which proved to be a surprising success in 1940 and 1941 and in a modified and rather crude form again after WW2 in 1967 and 1973.

The Russian doctrine practised in the years 1943-1945 (and during the Nomonhan incident in 1939), which was inspired by Tukhachevsky and can be called as his concept "Deep Operations". This proved to be a capable tool for overcoming German and Axis defences, but was hampered badly by certain Red Army weaknesses.

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Deep operations was geared towards a breakthrough and a subsequent exploitation of the same with a deep advance. It was quite a brute force concept and proved to be successful with a substantial quantitative superiority. The relatively high reliance on brute force made several qualitative weaknesses tolerable.

Photograph taken by Michael Jastremski
Blitzkrieg on the other hand required on qualitative superiority of leadership. It did not require a qualitative superiority of material or a quantitative superiority (and had neither in its successful applications). I'd like to call it a fair weather doctrine because it really depends on the inadequacy of the opponent's leadership. This inadequacy is nothing you can achieve on your own; it's an externality just like fair weather.

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Both Deep Operations and Blitzkrieg were still highly influential historical benchmarks during the Cold War. Even as of today they're the two most modern basic recipes for mobile warfare. I am convinced that both rested so much on long gone conditions that they've long since become almost useless except for detail observations. Many if not most informed people would disagree, thus it's worthwhile to point out the aforementioned specific requirements:

Blitzkrieg required and requires a qualitatively superior and well-prepared leadership. Any attempt of Blitzkrieg without such a superiority is bound to fail, like the Iranian armour formation which was all but annihilated during its failed Blitzkrieg attempt early in the Iraq-Iran War. Blitzkrieg does furthermore appear to require a certain superiority of formation mobility. It broke down when too many motor vehicles were lost.


Deep Operations in Russian style required and require a quantitative superiority. Any attempt at Deep Operations without this form of superiority or with a too stark qualitative inferiority will likely fail.

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Both very successful doctrines do therefore fail the litmus test of a symmetric scenario. Neither can advise a force on how to counter an opponent like itself. A truly great, modern doctrine should be able to master this litmus test and thus confirm its superiority over OPFOR or established doctrine.

I am furthermore - as mentioned before - convinced that both doctrines are badly outdated and useful only for anecdotes and hints nowadays. Both doctrines were written and executed in a world which knew front-lines made up of infantry divisions. There's no such thing today any more.Today we have the mobile strike formations (armour or mechanized infantry brigades) and specialized infantry formations (mountain, airmobile) ... but no infantry divisions to set up and maintain a front-line. Any modern operational theory needs to understand what functions were provided by these front-lines and lay out a way how to substitute for these functions or how to make do without them.


Sven Ortmann
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2 comments:

  1. Have you read the book on British Desert Tactics that the late Paddy Griffiths wrote for Osprey Publishing? He demolishes the Liddell-Hart/Fuller thesis.

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  2. You mean "World War II Desert Tactics".

    No armour doctrine of the time was perfect, their degree of failure was merely varying.

    The British emphasis on mounted combat is strangely mirrored by the post-WW2 love for IFVs and relative neglect of dismounted infantry strength in heavy formations.

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