Our newest book from military historian Niklas Zetterling is an examination of the German Blitzkrieg operations from Poland to Operation Barbarossa, as experienced by junior commanders and enlisted men, exploring why they were so successful.
Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up uses accounts previously unpublished in English from the Blitzkrieg operations in Poland, Norway, Western Europe, and Russia. It looks at, for example, how a company commander led his tanks, how a crew worked together inside a tank, and the role of the repair services. The author fits these narratives into a broader perspective to give the reader a better understanding of why the Germans were so successful in 1939–41.
We’re excited to share with you the first chapter of this important work, available for download in PDF format.
Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up
Chapter 1: The Turbulent Interwar Years
The word had existed for a long time, but it was hardly well-known. A few writers had used it in their texts and some had even used it in book titles, but it was not used on the front pages of the major newspapers. However, this changed in the fall of 1939, as the media and propaganda introduced the word to a broader audience. It began to be said that Germany had defeated Poland by using something called “Blitzkrieg.”1
With time, the word would prove catchy—despite the fact that it was unclear what it actually meant. The lack of a clear definition allowed various writers and commentators to ascribe the term to whatever they saw fit, and the striking nature of the word meant it was frequently used. This meant the word “Blitzkrieg” came to have a vague meaning that could differ considerably depending on who used it.
The German armed forces did not use the word themselves, except possibly in publications by individual officers. Still, they had created something regarded as revolutionary by their contemporaries, even though a mere four years had elapsed since Hitler denounced the Treaty of Versailles. The peace treaty signed after World War I had forbidden Germany to possess modern weapons such as submarines, tanks and aircraft, also drastically curtailing the size of the German armed forces.
It may appear puzzling that an armed force that had been fettered not only expanded rapidly but also created something that appeared revolutionary. Furthermore, this revolution was accomplished by a country lacking most of the raw materials needed for modern warfare and recovering in the wake of a worldwide economic depression.2 Several circumstances influenced the process, but some were perhaps more important than others. One of these was the German effort to circumvent the Treaty of Versailles, a process that had been initiated in the early 1920s. The German armed forces clandestinely cooperated with the Soviet Union, allowing them to experiment with modern weapon systems such as tanks and aircraft. The Germans also carried out projects in their home country—for example, constructing tank prototypes under the disguise of agricultural tractors. Several theoretical studies were undertaken and the developments in foreign countries were followed closely.
However, one could argue that the German Blitzkrieg was not revolutionary at all. Perhaps it can be better understood if it is not regarded as a break with the past, but rather a development of existing German military concepts. If the Blitzkrieg is conceived as an almost logical continuation of existing lines of development, it is easier to understand how the Germans could go to war in 1939 and swiftly conquer Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and France despite the fact that conscription had not been introduced until 1935.
Blitzkrieg: From the Ground Up
The successes of the German Blitzkrieg in 1939-41 were as surprising as they were swift. Allied decision-makers wanted to discover the secret to German success quickly, even though only partial, incomplete information was available to them. The false conclusions drawn became myths about the Blitzkrieg that have lingered for decades.
It has been argued that German victories in the early part of the war rested less upon newly developed tanks and aircraft and more on German military traditions: rather than creating a new way of war based on new technology, the Germans fitted the new weapons into their existing ideas on warfare. These doctrines focused on independent action, initiative, flexibility, decentralized decision-making and mobility. The conduct of German soldiers, particularly the lower-ranking men, on the battlefield was at the core of the concept and German victories rested upon the quality of the small combat units.
This book focuses on the experience of the enlisted men and junior officers in the Blitzkrieg operations in Poland, Norway, Western Europe and Russia. Using accounts previously unpublished in English, military historian Niklas Zetterling explores how they operated, for example how a company commander led his tanks, how a crew worked together inside a tank, and the role of the repair services. The author fits these narratives into a broader perspective to give the reader a better understanding of why the Germans were so successful in 1939-41.
About the Author
Niklas Zetterling is a military historian and researcher at the Swedish Defense College. His previous books include Bismarck, The Korsun Pocket, and The Drive on Moscow, 1941.