General Heinz Guderian

The Father of Blitzkrieg

Although the term Blitzkrieg was coined by the Allies, Heinz Guderian's vision of armored warfare and the rapid, ruthless advances that Germany would realize through the application of this strategy were key to the success that would come to be known as the Blitzkrieg.  Guderian was probably the most influental man in armored warfare in the German Army, and in fact in the world.  His book, Atchung, Panzer! was  published in 1937 and pleaded with the leaders of the Wehrmacht to employ its armored forces in massed units supported by mobile, mechanized infantry.  This was in contrast to the prevailing views of the day, including those held by France and England.  The traditional way of employing tanks at that time was to use them as infantry support vehicles, or mobile gun platforms.  This is how they had been employed since their introduction in WWI.   According to Guderian, the tanks would be massed in formations supported by mobile artillery, and with aircraft in close ground support roles to act as "flying artillery" to enable the ground forces to achieve breakthroughs and continue the rapid advance.

Perhaps more significant that his thories on the operational employment of tanks was Guderian's insistance on putting a radio reciever in every tank, and a reciever/transmitter in every command tank.  With this capability, German forces were much more adept at operating in chaotic environments where other armored forces were lost in confusion.  Guderian was also among the first to operate from a command car equiped with several radios in order to allow his subordinates to operate faster and further than an army had ever operated before.

One of the men most able to take Guderian's theories and innovations and turn in into action was Erwin Rommel, who served under Guderian in France during the 1940 German invasion.  Rommel, commanding the 7th Panzer Division, was first to cross the Meusse river and race through France to the English Channel. 

When the Wehrmacht turned east to attack the Soviet Union, Guderian was again at the forefront, this time commanding the II Panzergruppe (2nd Panzer Army). His armies gained as much as 40 miles a day as they raced east across the Steppe. By November, his forces had been reduced from 600 tanks of all types to barely 50. Less than 200 miles from Moscow, Guderian was ordered south to encircle a huge group of 4 Soviet armies. As he closed the noose with Gen Hoth and the III Panzergruppe, over 3 million Soviet soldiers were captured. Slowed by supply problems, diversion of his supplies to support the attack on the Ukraine, Partisans and the massive Soviet KV-1 and KV-2 tanks, winter began to fall as Guderian, again supported by von Luck, approached Moscow. Rain turned the Steppe into mud, making travel nearly impossible for all but the fully tracked Panzers, and difficult at best for them. By December, von Luck could see the Kremlin in the distance, but the Germans would go no further.

After the failed push to Moscow, Guderian was relieved along with many senior officers by Hitler. He was recalled in 1943 after the fiasco at Stalingrad to be the inspector of armored troops. In this role he was the key person responsible for the development of new tanks and equipment. Under his guidance, the massive Panzer VI Tiger, which was already in production, was improved. More significantly, Guderian was instrumental in correcting deficincies in the Panzer V Panther, which quickly became recognized as the best tank to fight in the war. Also under his leadership, Germany produced the most powerful weapon to take the battlefield during the war, the 70 ton Panzer VIB King Tiger.

 

Sources:

The German Army, 1933-1945

Achtung-Panzer!

Museum of Tolerance Multimedia Learning Center

The German Army

Clash of Chariots: The Great Tank Battles

http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quarters/8662/guderian.htm

http://motlc.wiesenthal.org/text/x09/xr0942.html

 

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by Chris Shimp March 1, 2001