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Blitzkrieg Essay Research Paper The First Phase

Blitzkrieg Essay, Research Paper The First Phase: Dominance of the Axis Man for man, the German and Polish forces were an even match. Hitler committed about 1.5 million troops, and the Polish commander, Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz, expected to muster 1.8 million. That was not the whole picture, however.

Blitzkrieg Essay, Research Paper

The First Phase: Dominance of the Axis

Man for man, the German and Polish forces were an even match. Hitler committed about 1.5 million troops, and the Polish commander, Marshal Edward Smigly-Rydz, expected to muster 1.8 million. That was not the whole picture, however. The Germans had six panzer (armored) and four motorized divisions; the Poles had one armored and one motorized brigade and a few tank battalions. The Germans’ 1600 aircraft were mostly of the latest types. Half of the Poles’ 935 planes were obsolete.

Result of German Blitzkrieg on Poland

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The Polish army expected the attack to come along the Polish frontiers. But Hitler introduced a new kind of war called a blitzkrieg, which means ?lightning war.? Waves of German bombers targeted railroads in Tczew, shown here, which crippled Polish military mobilization. Hundreds of tanks smashed through Polish defenses and rolled deep into the country. The Poles fought hard, but on September 17, the Soviet Union invaded their country from the east. By the end of the month, Poland had fallen.

The Blitzkrieg in Poland

Polish strategic doctrine called for a rigid defense of the whole frontier and anticipated several weeks of preliminary skirmishing. It was wrong on both counts. On the morning of September 1, waves of German bombers hit the railroads and hopelessly snarled the Polish mobilization. In four more days, two army groups?one on the north out of East Prussia, the other on the south out of Silesia?had broken through on relatively narrow fronts and were sending armored spearheads on fast drives toward Warsaw and Brêst. This was blitzkrieg (lightning war): the use of armor, air power, and mobile infantry in a pincers movement to encircle the enemy.

Between September 8 and 10, the Germans closed in on Warsaw from the north and south, trapping the Polish forces west of the capital. On September 17, a second, deeper encirclement closed 160 km (100 mi) east, near Brêst. On that day, too, the Soviet Red Army lunged across the border. By September 20, practically the whole country was in German or Soviet hands, and only isolated pockets continued to resist. The last to surrender was the fortress at Kock, on October The Blitzkrieg in Poland

Polish strategic doctrine called for a rigid defense of the whole frontier and anticipated several weeks of preliminary skirmishing. It was wrong on both counts. On the morning of September 1, waves of German bombers hit the railroads and hopelessly snarled the Polish mobilization. In four more days, two army groups?one on the north out of East Prussia, the other on the south out of Silesia?had broken through on relatively narrow fronts and were sending armored spearheads on fast drives toward Warsaw and Brêst. This was blitzkrieg (lightning war): the use of armor, air power, and mobile infantry in a pincers movement to encircle the enemy.

Between September 8 and 10, the Germans closed in on Warsaw from the north and south, trapping the Polish forces west of the capital. On September 17, a second, deeper encirclement closed 160 km (100 mi) east, near Brêst. On that day, too, the Soviet Red Army lunged across the border. By September 20, practically the whole country was in German or Soviet hands, and only isolated pockets continued to resist. The last to surrender was the fortress at Kock, on October 6.

Course of the War

In a few weeks of blitzkrieg (?lightning war?), mechanized German divisions overwhelmed the ill-equipped Poles, taking western Poland. The Soviets, not to be outdone, seized the eastern part. Encouraged by success, in 1940 Germany swallowed Denmark, Norway, and the Low Countries and invaded France, which rapidly collapsed. British and French forces were hastily evacuated from Dunkerque to England. Hitler then blockaded Britain with submarines and bombed the country with his new air force. He made a ten-year military pact with the other Axis powers?Italy and Japan. In 1941, to aid faltering Italian forces, he sent troops to North Africa, Greece, and Yugoslavia. To block Soviet ambitions in agricultural eastern Europe, which industrial Germany needed, he suddenly invaded the USSR. As the Soviets retreated eastward, German armies engulfed the rich Ukraine.

At this point, Hitler was master of continental Europe. In 1942, however, Britain was still resisting, and the United States, which had entered the war after an attack by Japan, was sending supplies to Britain and the USSR. Hitler then ordered total mobilization of men and resources. Throughout Europe, conquered peoples, especially Slavs and Jews, were executed or enslaved in German war factories, while their countries were drained of food and raw materials.

In 1943 the tide began to turn. Supply lines in the USSR were overextended, and the Germans were gradually driven west. Axis forces in North Africa were defeated, and Italy was invaded. Germany itself, from 1942 on, was being systematically bombed. Although defeat was inevitable, a deranged Hitler refused to surrender. The war dragged on as British and U.S. forces invaded Normandy in 1944 and swept inexorably east while the Soviets marched west. Hitler committed suicide just before Soviet tanks rolled into Berlin in April 1945.

German Invasion

Hitler began planning an attack on the Soviet Union in mid-1940 and signed the directive for Operation Barbarossa in December. Stalin, refusing to believe the worst, disregarded copious messages from his intelligence services about an impending aggression. When Germany finally invaded, on June 22, 1941, it came as a tactical surprise and caught the Red Army, already weakened by Stalin?s purges, at a terrible disadvantage.

The German assault changed the military and political alignment of the entire war, which now assumed global proportions. Italy, Romania, Hungary, Finland, and other Axis countries declared war on the USSR. The United States extended lend-lease aid to the Soviet Union; it ultimately provided some $12 billion worth of equipment and food. After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, it, Britain, and the Soviet Union became military allies. In January 1942, four months after it accepted the principles of the Atlantic Charter, the USSR and 25 other Allied countries signed the United Nations Declaration, formally subscribing to the program and purposes of the Atlantic Charter and pledging their cooperation in the defeat of the Axis powers. In May 1943 the USSR dissolved Comintern.

The USSR?s war with Germany and its allies?the Great Patriotic War, as Stalin?s government called it?was a savage fight to the finish. The Axis assault was launched from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, striking for Leningrad, Moscow, and Ukraine. As the Red Army reeled back in disarray, Stalin began frantic efforts to remove industrial plants and workers from the path of the invaders and relocated them in and behind the Ural Mountains. Much of what could not be removed was intentionally laid waste.

For a time the German blitzkrieg (offensive) appeared successful, as millions of Soviet soldiers were encircled and annihilated or captured. In the Baltic States, Belorussia, and Ukraine, the invaders met a friendly reception from those who had suffered most under the Stalinist yoke. German atrocities, however, stiffened Soviet resistance. The advance on Leningrad was checked in September 1941, although the city was besieged until January 1944; casualties there exceeded 1.25 million. The drive on Moscow was stopped in December 1941 with German tanks about 30 km (20 mi) from the city center.

The Battle of Britain

In the summer of 1940, Hitler dominated Europe from the North Cape to the Pyrenees. His one remaining active enemy?Britain, under a new prime minister, Winston Churchill?vowed to continue fighting. Whether it could was questionable. The British army had left most of its weapons on the beaches at Dunkerque. Stalin was in no mood to challenge Hitler. The U.S., shocked by the fall of France, began the first peacetime conscription in its history and greatly increased its military budget, but public opinion, although sympathetic to Britain, was against getting into the war.

The Germans hoped to subdue the British by starving them out. In June 1940 they undertook the Battle of the Atlantic, using submarine warfare to cut the British overseas lifelines. The Germans now had submarine bases in Norway and France. At the outset the Germans had only 28 submarines, but more were being built?enough to keep Britain in danger until the spring of 1943 and to carry on the battle for months thereafter.

Invasion was the expeditious way to finish off Britain, but that meant crossing the English Channel; Hitler would not risk it unless the British air force could be neutralized first. As a result, the Battle of Britain was fought in the air, not on the beaches. In August 1940 the Germans launched daylight raids against ports and airfields and in September against inland cities. The objective was to draw out the British fighters and destroy them. The Germans failed to reckon with a new device, radar, which greatly increased the British fighters’ effectiveness. Because their own losses were too high, the Germans had to switch to night bombing at the end of September. Between then and May 1941 they made 71 major raids on London and 56 on other cities, but the damage they wrought was too indiscriminate to be militarily decisive. On September 17, 1940, Hitler postponed the invasion indefinitely, thereby conceding defeat in the Battle of Britain.

World War II

At the start of World War II, the German blitz campaigns in Poland and Western Europe skillfully combined air and surface mobility and striking power. These campaigns made the elaborate permanent fortifications of the Maginot line, built by the French in the 1930s and named after its creator, the war minister Andr? Maginot, the symbol throughout the world of military futility. The Maginot line, extending about 320 km (about 200 mi) along the northeastern border of France, was designed to prevent a frontal assault; the Germans invaded France in 1940 by flanking the line. The spectacular success of the German airborne assault on the fortified Greek island of Crete seemed, for a time, to confirm the verdict that fortification was a dead art. As the German campaign against the Soviet Union developed, however, the old Russian formula of trading space for time to mobilize the full scale of Russian resources eventually checked the German invasion and caused it to recoil into a series of fortified positions along a front from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. At both extremes of this front, stabilized siege situations developed, around Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in the north and Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in the south, which, in their demands on human endurance and sacrifice, were similar to the sieges of wars in earlier times. The raising of the siege of Stalingrad by Soviet counterattack became the historical symbol of the German defeat.

In the Pacific campaign, the Japanese surprise raid on Pearl Harbor emphasized the new vulnerability of seaward defenses against air attack. Land and air operations were subsequently directed against Japanese fortified positions, the most extensive of these being on the island of Okinawa. During the reconquest of the Philippines in 1945, the Japanese defense of the built-up section of the chief seaport, Manila, involved siege warfare and house-to-house fighting similar to that in Stalingrad.

The Soviet-Finnish War

On November 30, after two months of diplomatic wrangling, the Soviet Union declared war on Finland. Stalin was bent on having a blitzkrieg of his own, but his plan faltered. The Finns, under Marshal Carl G. Mannerheim, were expert at winter warfare. The Soviet troops, on the other hand, were often badly led, in part because political purges had claimed many of the Red Army’s senior officers. Outnumbered by at least five to one, the Finns held their own and kept fighting into the new year.

The attack on Finland aroused world opinion against the Soviet Union and gave an opening to the British and French. They had long had their eyes on a mine at Kiruna in northern Sweden that was Germany’s main source of iron ore. In summer the ore went through the Baltic Sea, in winter to the ice-free Norwegian port of Narvik and then through neutral Norwegian waters to Germany. The Narvik-Kiruna railroad also connected on the east with the Finnish railroads; consequently, an Anglo-French force ostensibly sent to help the Finns would automatically be in position to occupy Narvik and Kiruna. The problem was to get Norway and Sweden to cooperate, which both refused to do.

In Germany, the naval chief, Admiral Erich Raeder, urged Hitler to occupy Norway for the sake of its open-water ports on the Atlantic, but Hitler showed little interest until late January 1940, when the weather and the discovery of some invasion plans by Belgium forced him to delay the attack on the Low Countries and France indefinitely. The first studies he had made showed that Norway could best be taken by simultaneous landings at eight port cities from Narvik to Oslo. Because the troops would have to be transported on warships and because those would be easy prey for the British navy, the operation would have to be executed while the nights were long. Denmark, which posed no military problems, could be usefully included because it had airfields close to Norway.

Denmark and Norway

Stalin, fearing outside intervention, ended his war on March 8 on terms that cost Finland territory but left it independent. The British and French then had to find another pretext for their projected action in Narvik and Kiruna; they decided to lay mines just outside the Narvik harbor. This they thought would provoke some kind of violent German reaction, which would let them spring to Norway’s side?and into Narvik.

Hitler approved the incursions into Norway and Denmark on April 2, and the warships sailed on April 7. A British task force laid the mines the next morning and headed home, passing the German ships without seeing them and leaving them to make the landings unopposed on the morning of April 9. Denmark surrendered at once, and the landings succeeded everywhere but at Oslo. There a fort blocked the approach from the sea, and fog prevented an airborne landing. The Germans occupied Oslo by noon, but in the meantime, the Norwegian government, deciding to fight, had moved to Elverum.

Although the Norwegians, aided by 12,000 British and French, held out in the area between Oslo and Trondheim until May 3, the conclusion was never in doubt. Narvik was different. There 4600 Germans faced 24,600 British, French, and Norwegians backed by the guns of the British navy. The Germans had an advantage in the ruggedness of the terrain and a greater one in their opponents’ slow, methodical moves. Thus, they held Narvik until May 28. In the first week of June they were backed against the Swedish border and close to having to choose surrender or internment, but by then, military disasters in France were forcing the British and French to recall their troops from Narvik.

The German Invasion of the USSR

The war’s most massive encounter began on the morning of June 22, 1941, when slightly more than 3 million German troops invaded the USSR. Although German preparations had been visible for months and had been talked about openly among the diplomats in Moscow, the Soviet forces were taken by surprise. Stalin, his confidence in the country’s military capability shaken by the Finnish war, had refused to allow any counteractivity for fear of provoking the Germans. Moreover, the Soviet military leadership had concluded that blitzkrieg, as it had been practiced in Poland and France, would not be possible on the scale of a Soviet-German war; both sides would therefore confine themselves for the first several weeks at least to sparring along the frontier. The Soviet army had 2.9 million troops on the western border and outnumbered the Germans by two to one in tanks and by two or three to one in aircraft. Many of its tanks and aircraft were older types, but some of the tanks, particularly the later famous T-34s, were far superior to any the Germans had. Large numbers of the aircraft were destroyed on the ground in the first day, however, and their tanks, like those of the French, were scattered among the infantry, where they could not be effective against the German panzer groups. The infantry was first ordered to counterattack, which was impossible, and then forbidden to retreat, which ensured their wholesale destruction or capture.

Initial German Successes

For the invasion, the Germans had set up three army groups, designated as North, Center, and South, and aimed toward Leningrad, Moscow, and Kyiv. Hitler and his generals had agreed that their main strategic problem was to lock the Soviet army in battle and defeat it before it could escape into the depths of the country. They disagreed on how that could best be accomplished. Most of the generals believed that the Soviet regime would sacrifice everything to defend Moscow, the capital, the hub of the road and railroad networks, and the country’s main industrial center. To Hitler, the land and resources of the Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus were more important, and he wanted to seize Leningrad as well. The result had been a compromise?the three thrusts, with the one by Army Group Center toward Moscow the strongest?that temporarily satisfied Hitler as well as the generals. War games had indicated a victory in about ten weeks, which was significant because the Russian summer, the ideal time for fighting in the USSR, was short, and the Balkans operations had caused a 3-week delay at the outset.

Ten weeks seemed ample time. Churchill offered the USSR an alliance, and Roosevelt promised lend-lease aid, but after the first few days, their staffs believed everything would be over in a month or so. By the end of the first week in July, Army Group Center had taken 290,000 prisoners in encirclements at Bialystok and Minsk. On August 5, having crossed the Dnieper River, the last natural barrier west of Moscow, the army group wiped out a pocket near Smolensk and counted another 300,000 prisoners. On reaching Smolensk, it had covered more than two-thirds of the distance to Moscow.

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