Victory in the West, 1940: Accident or Design?

Traversée des Ardennes, credit Wikipedia

Victory in the West, 1940:
Accident or Design?


And when we come to examine their actions and lives [Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and others like them], they do not seem to have had from fortune anything other than opportunity. Fortune, as it were, provided the matter but they gave it its form; without opportunity their prowess would have been extinguished and without such prowess the opportunity would have come in vain.

         Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

Der Gedanke war allerdings kühn, fast zu kühn. Aber ohne Wagemut und Kühnheit sind im Kriege selten große Erfolge zu erzielen.

         Ernst Schmidt, Schlachten des Weltkrieges, Argonnen (1927)

  1. Introduction
  2. Heinz Guderian and his Contribution to Blitzkrieg Doctrine
  3. Hitler’s Denkschrift (9th October 1939) for the Conduct of the War in the West
  4. Incipient Blitzkrieg (Poland, September 1939) and Blitzkrieg complete (France, May-June 1940)
  5. Reliance on Zufall cannot explain German Success in May-June 1940
  6. Conclusion. Blitzkrieg by Name and Blitzkrieg in Action: the German Offensive in the West (10th May 1940)
  1. Introduction

In Blitzkrieg-Legende: Der Westfeldzug 1940 (The Blitzkrieg Myth: The Campaign in the West 1940, 1995), the German historian Karl Heinz-Frieser  argues that the German victory over the Anglo-French forces in May-June 1940 was not planned as a Blitzkrieg since, according to him, there was no formulated Blitzkrieg doctrine. Further, he maintains that the use of the word Blitzkrieg was applied retrospectively by NS-propaganda and that the concept has been uncritically accepted by historians. Frieser believes that Blitzkrieg was a consequence of the German victory in the West in 1940 not its cause. In this article the author challenges the Frieser thesis, arguing that there was a Blitzkrieg doctrine and that its essential components had been formulated by May 1940.

On 1st September 1939, German land, air and naval forces attacked Poland. On 3rd September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany and then just as quickly abandoned Poland to her fate. Overwhelmingly, historians lay the blame for starting World War II on National-Socialist Germany, so ignoring or playing down the fact that Hitler’s partner in aggression, Stalin, sent Red Army troops into Poland on 17th September 1939.[1] Stalin’s delay in ordering the deployment of Red Army units into Poland was quite deliberate and was intended to ensure, among other things, that the full weight of international condemnation would fall on Hitler and not on the Soviet Union. Although the Soviet Union was just as guilty of violating Polish sovereignty as NS-Germany, the British and French governments issued no declaration of war against the Soviets, so compounding their crime of inaction in the face of German aggression on 1st September 1939.

The German-Soviet victory created at least two problems for Germany. To begin with, the subsequent dismemberment of Poland brought Soviet military forces that much closer to Germany – the two regimes now had a common border – and while Hitler could reckon with Soviet observance of the Non-Aggression Pact for the time being, he understood the obstacle posed to Germany’s ambitions in the East by the Soviet state. The immediate military problem was Britain and France. The longer a war lasted between Germany and the Western Allies, the more time there would be for the industrial capacity of the two states to be brought to bear on Germany. A war of attrition favoured Germany’s enemies, actual in the West, and potential in the East.

The second edition of Frieser’s book, the one cited here, was published with a preface by Günter Roth. Many of the points raised by Roth are fundamental to the subsequent Frieser thesis and require some comment. Thus, according to Roth: ‘That the campaign in the West had been planned, prepared and executed by the Wehrmacht leadership and particularly by OKH as a “Blitzkrieg”, is a myth. Here, for the first time this is demonstrated by the author with convincing evidence’.[2] Roth points out that it was Hitler’s intervention that ensured that von Manstein’s plan for the Sickle Cut was finally adopted. Halder, for example, had initially been against it. The other successful component was Guderian. To cite Roth:

Only Guderian’s breakout from the Sedan bridgehead, taken on his own initiative – and against Halder’s instructions – lent the German attack a momentum which had not been calculated in advance, and provided therewith the precondition for the “Sickle Cut” as conceived and planned by Manstein.[3]

There are a number of objections to this point. Firstly, Guderian’s breakout order taken on his own initiative in defiance of senior authority is the very essence of Auftragstaktik, something deeply inculcated in the Germany army. By its very nature decisions taken by junior leaders and senior commanders on the ground in accordance with this doctrine cannot be calculated in advance. One element to Auftragstaktik is to identify opportunities on the ground, something which is beyond senior commanders in the rear, such as Halder, and then to take advantage of them. To the extent that Auftragstaktik was a calculated, deliberate and inherent part of German Army training and leadership, the results of such a doctrine, its successes and failings, cannot be due to pure chance, since they ensue from the doctrine. Roth, for example, acknowledges that there ‘was a multitude of daring tank commanders and assault group leaders who in the spirit of Auftragstaktik repeatedly deviated from the instructions of their risk-averse superiors and so drove the attack onwards in “Blitzkriegtempo”.[4] It is the cumulative effects of decisions taken by German commanders in accordance with Auftragstaktik at all levels, from junior leaders right up to senior commanders in the field – Guderian and Rommel – that gave the German Army one of a number of decisive advantages. Secondly, the results of such a doctrine, given the nature of war, cannot be calculated in advance. Thirdly, if Guderian’s initiative led to the implementation of the Sickle Cut, as envisaged and planned by von Manstein, then the probability that von Manstein’s plan would achieve its goals cannot just be dismissed out of hand as a reckless gamble. In fact, there is a contradiction in Roth’s assessment. He insists that Guderian’s breakout from Sedan ‘lent the German attack a momentum which had not been calculated in advance’ and then notes that once out of Sedan the thrust to the Channel coast ‘developed completely in the sense envisaged by Manstein’.[5]

Roth denies Hitler any credit for the success of the campaign: ‘The much-cited Blitzkrieg strategy of Hitler turns out on closer examination to be a mixture of a dangerous gamble, coincidences, opportunism and decisions taken on the initiative of dynamic tank commanders.’[6] However, the factors cited by Roth as contributing to German success are the very essence of war: it is sometimes a dangerous gamble; it is the realm of chance and opportunism; and talented commanders at all levels make a difference. It is not plausible that a long chain of chance events could have all worked for the Germans yet against the Anglo-French forces. When coincidences and chance work so overwhelmingly in favour of one side the most plausible explanation is that one side has analysed and interpreted the current state of war better than its opponent and is therefore better placed to exploit opportunities on the battlefield. Was it pure Zufall, for example, that German tanks were equipped with radios so making swift and coordinated action possible? Equipping German tanks with radio was a consciously planned action carried out on the orders of Guderian. Moreover, as Frieser shows, it imparted decisive advantages to the Germans in high-speed and mobile warfare since the French lacked proper provision of radios (likewise the Red Army). Armies and soldiers make their own luck. This is what Napoleon meant when he said that generals must have fortune.

In the spring and early summer of 1940 German land and air forces defeated the combined air and land forces of Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands (Luxembourg offered no resistance to German aggression), having earlier defeated Norway and Denmark. That this astonishing feat of arms was carried out in a mere six weeks, whereas the Kaiser’s Army had failed to defeat the British and French in the four dreadful years of World War I was by any set of standards a lightning war. Blitzkrieg perfectly encapsulates what happened, the concentrated aggression and above all the speed. Any objections to the use of the word Blitzkrieg are easily dealt with. What occurred in 1940 could just as easily be called Schnellkrieg (fast/rapid war), Bewegungskrieg (mobile war), Überraschungskrieg (surprise war) or Hochtempokrieg (high-tempo war). Historians who object to the use of the word Blitzkrieg because they believe its use unjustly and incorrectly perpetuates Goebbels’ propaganda are free to use another word. The essential features remain unchanged. On the other hand, the case for retaining the use of Blitzkrieg, even if one concedes Frieser’s argument, is strong. This was the word used by Goebbels to project German power and prestige through propaganda and is thus a word which is firmly part of the historical record.

Frieser provides the following definition of Blitzkrieg: ‘By the term Blitzkrieg one understands the concentrated deployment of armour and air power in order by means of surprise and speed to confuse the enemy and after a completed breakthrough to encircle him by means of wide ranging thrusts. The aim is the rapid defeat of the enemy in an decisive operational encounter’.[7] Armour and air power were the decisive components but a major role was played by German airborne and special forces. Not only did these formations carry out important missions but the very methods of their deployment accentuated the general impact of speed and psychological dislocation on the enemy associated with Blitzkrieg. The psychological aspect to Blitzkrieg was to induce as soon as possible, and as widely as possible, such a sense of hopelessness and futility among the enemy that he lost the will to resist. Overall Blitzkrieg can be compared to a stun grenade disorientating an enemy and confusing his response. Rommel’s breakthrough on the road from Solre-le-Château to Avesnes during the night of the 16th/17th May 1940 gives a clear idea of the sort of panic that can be caused by armour in the enemy rear.[8] Psychologically the French were totally paralysed.

2. Heinz Guderian and his Contribution to Blitzkrieg Doctrine

Heinz Guderian, portrait, credit Wikipedia

A striking omission in Frieser’s study is his failure to examine the major contribution to the emerging doctrine of Blitzkrieg made by Heinz Guderian. Much of what subsequently became known as Blitzkrieg was adumbrated in detail by Guderian in his 1937 essay, Achtung – Panzer! Die Entwicklung der Panzerwaffe, ihre Kampftaktik und ihre operativen Möglichkeiten (Attention – Tanks! The Development of the Tank Arm, its Combat Tactics and Operational Potential).

Guderian’s advocacy of concentration, encapsulated in his famous aphorisms, consolidation not dissipation (Klotzen nicht Kleckern), surprise (Überraschungseffekt) and speed (Schnelligkeit and Hochtempo) and a disregard for the flanks all prepared the way physically and psychologically for the spectacular crossing of the Maas. To quote Frieser: ‘The “Blitzkrieg” that now emerged led to a revolutionising of the hitherto prevailing picture of war. It marked a transformation from a linear to a non-linear operational leadership’.[9] True enough, but this revolution in movement and speed had been foreseen by Guderian in the 1920s and 1930s and found its formal theoretical expression in Achtung Panzer!, and its first battlefield successes in the Polish campaign.

The essence of the Guderian doctrine – incipient Blitzkrieg – was movement and speed since these forced the enemy to move, disorientated him and denied him the time or the means to set up new defensive lines and positions. Guderian’s advocacy of the concentration of armoured forces, surprise and speed persuaded von Manstein – and later Hitler – that what appeared to be an appalling gamble was in fact viable because of the speed and operational range of German armour and supporting motorized infantry, and the high quality of German troops. The degree of risk and daring (Risiko und Wagnis) that a commander can accept rises with the quality of his men. Guderian, von Manstein and Hitler grasped this consideration better than most.

Anglo-French commanders dismissed the possibility of German armour’s being deployed through the Ardennes not only because they believed the terrain to be impassable to armour but also because they planned to use their own armoured forces in piecemeal fashion. Had Anglo-French commanders thought in terms of the mass operational deployment of armoured forces, they, like von Manstein, Guderian and Hitler, might well have appreciated the dangers arising from a mass armoured deployment through the Ardennes (or anywhere else for that matter). Even if they accepted the possibility that the Ardennes were panzergeeignet, they thought in terms of piecemeal armoured deployment and so were institutionally and doctrinally predisposed to reject the dangers arising from mass armoured deployment.

The multiplier effect of close and effective cooperation between ground and air forces was also fully appreciated by Guderian, as was his grasp of the role to be played by parachute and other airborne forces. Like Rommel, he understood that leadership from the front gave commanders unique advantages which were denied commanders who remained too far behind the front line. Heinz Guderian more than any other German commander prepared the way for Blitzkrieg.

3. Hitler’s Denkschrift (9th October 1939) for the Conduct of the War in the West

Frieser cites some German commanders who in varying degrees warned of the dangers of a long war of attrition.[10] Hitler himself was well aware of the dangers and addressed the problem of how the Western Allies might be defeated, and much else besides, in a detailed memorandum dated 9th October 1939, circulation of which was restricted to Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch,  Großadmiral Erich Raeder, Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring and Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel, that is, respectively, to the three heads of service, Heer, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe and to Keitel in his capacity as chief-of-staff at OKW. Hitler’s starting point was the belief that the aim of the Anglo-French alliance was to bring about the dissolution or disintegration of the Reich and restore a balance of power which was threatened by Germany. On this point, Hitler concludes: ‘One way or the other, therefore, this struggle must be withstood by the German people’.[11] A peace treaty with the Western Allies was not ruled out by Hitler, provided German gains were not jeopardised. In the event that this is not possible the German war aim must be the destruction of the Western powers so that they are unable once again ‘to be able to oppose the state consolidation and further development of the German people in Europe.’[12]

Hitler’s analysis of the Soviet position which he sets out in this memorandum is flawless and removes all doubt about the purpose of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact:

“One can say with certainty that a long-term neutrality of Soviet Russia cannot be secured by means of any treaty or agreement. At the present time all considerations are against the abandonment of this neutrality. In 8 months, a year or even in years to come, this situation could be completely different. The low significance ascribed to the worth of treaty agreements has especially been revealed from all sides in recent years. The greatest security from any Russian intervention lies in a clear demonstration of German superiority or that is to say in a swift demonstration of German strength”.[13]

Time, Hitler concludes, is not on Germany’s side: the neutrality of Soviet Russia cannot be taken for granted; Italy’s reliability as an ally rests on Mussolini’s remaining in power; and Belgium and Holland will remain neutral only in so far as they are not subjected to Anglo-French pressure to abandon their neutrality. Were Belgian and Dutch neutrality to cease there would be an enhanced threat to the south-west zone of the Ruhr. The Ruhr is thus highly vulnerable and from this Hitler draws the following conclusion:

“Given that this weakness [the threat to the Ruhr] is as well known to Britain and France as to us, an Anglo-French military leadership that has envisaged the destruction of Germany, will under all circumstances strive to attain this end. Indeed, the less Britain and France may hope to be able to destroy the German Army in the field by means of an operational success in battle, both sides will all the more be concerned to secure the general preconditions for the effective outcome of a long-term war of attrition and annihilation.  This precondition is, however, to be found in the moving up of French-British forces to the German border and consequently in a lifting of Belgian and Dutch neutrality”.[14]

As far as Hitler is concerned, a protracted war brings three dangers.[15] Firstly, economic needs might compel certain states to adopt a position hostile to Germany. Secondly, a war of long duration might cause certain states to throw their lot in with the enemy on the assumption that a long war does not favour Germany. Thirdly, access to foodstuffs and other raw materials necessary for the prosecution of a long war would be jeopardised. Hitler also concludes – and subsequent events proved him correct – that the longer a war the more difficult it will be for Germany to maintain air superiority, especially air offensive superiority. Hitler also shows an uncanny prescience when he states that in a war of long duration as soon as a ‘belligerent believes to have attained a definite superiority in a specific area of waging war, he will make use of this superiority regardless of any reprisals that might be incurred thereby’.[16] Hitler believed that might confers the right on a power to behave more or less as its leaders please. There are echoes here of the warning issued by the Athenians to the Melians, in the Melian Dialogue: ‘you know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical people the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept’.[17] German use of submarines, British bombing of German cities, German development and deployment of Vergeltungswaffen, and the eventual use of the atomic bomb support Hitler’s view.

In his memorandum Hitler demonstrates that he is well aware of the offensive opportunities open to German armoured and air forces and that the quality of German leadership is exemplary. A great deal of French weaponry, notes Hitler – older mortars and artillery – is not significant in mobile warfare, an observation that suggests Hitler is thinking in terms of a mobile and fast-moving campaign. Not only does delay in acting favour the Anglo-French forces who may be able to make good various deficiencies but it also leads to a loss of momentum on the German side, above all psychological and aggressive momentum. Hitler is clearly conceptualising the future offensive against the Western Allies in terms of speed and disruption to the enemy, features of Blitzkrieg: ‘Also, in the speed of action there lies a psychological factor of surging unstoppably forward and instilling fear which is not to be underestimated’.[18] The same emphasis on speed, disruption and maximum psychological dislocation’s being caused to the enemy are also evident in Hitler’s plans for the use of armour in the West:

In all of this it is necessary to strive to carry the attack forward on as many broad fronts as possible such that the formation of a coherent British-French defensive line, taking into account the forces available to the enemy, becomes impossible. Following on from this there is, in principle, only any value to the possession of towns and fortresses in so far as they are indispensable for the further conduct of operations. The tank formations in so doing must be deployed operationally in a manner, taking into account their essential features, so as to secure the greatest success. Under no circumstances are the armoured formations to get lost in the maze and confusion of the endless rows of houses in Belgian towns. That is why it is also not important that these formations attack a town, but it is necessary that they maintain the operational forward movement of the army or by means of mass breakthroughs on positions identified as weak, prevent the consolidation of enemy fronts.[19]

The essential features of future armoured Blitzkrieg are clearly outlined here and Guderian’s influence is unmistakable. Hitler’s final point on armoured deployment – ‘mass breakthroughs on positions identified as weak’ – is especially telling, since this represents adoption of the Stoßtrupptaktik pioneered by the German infantry in WWI and its application to armoured forces in WWII. Hitler is also well aware of the need on the part of troops to adapt: ‘The special nature of this campaign may compel us to resort to improvised measures on the greatest possible scale, to mass defensive or offensive forces on specific positions, way in excess of the normal average allocation (for example, tanks or anti-tank defence), and to make do with smaller forces on other positions. If necessary resort shall be had to the concentrated deployment of anti-aircraft guns in defence or in the assault.’[20] Hitler’s emphasis on improvisation clearly anticipates observations made by Halder on 28th June 1940, after the campaign in the West was over, and cited by Frieser: ‘War is always a system of ad hoc measures’.[21] Then why should the planning for what eventually became known as the Blitzkrieg be any different? Planning for ad hoc measures is still planning, and the better one’s soldiers have mastered the basics of war the better able they are to improvise and to adapt.

In the spirit of flexibility he orders for the troops, Hitler advocates the use of 88 mm anti-aircraft guns in a ground role against enemy armour since ‘The effect of such a mass deployment – especially of the 88 mm guns – will be devastating for the attacking enemy tanks as well as for the infantry and the artillery moving up behind’[22]; attacking trains on open lines since repair work is harder than in a station; and the demoralizing effect of bombs is to be used against enemy defences (the next step being the fitting of the so-called Jericho-Trompete to Stuka dive bombers which proved so effective at Sedan).  The type of campaign envisaged by Hitler is one characterised by non-linearity and chaos as the normal rules are rendered redundant. Thus: ‘In so far as the campaign does not acquire the character of positional warfare or loses it, the concepts of defender and attacker cease to apply and on both sides there remain merely marching and fighting soldiers’.[23] In such fluid conditions, high quality leadership and initiative at all levels – the hallmarks of German Auftragstaktik – provide the Germans with a decisive advantage over the Western Allies.

Hitler’s ideas outlined in this memorandum reveal a number of aspects. Firstly, he was well aware of the dangers of a long war with the Western Allies, especially with the British, and the need to resolve the problem in the West while Soviet neutrality still existed. Secondly, after the success of the Polish campaign Hitler had absolute confidence in the German armed forces. Thirdly, his approach to a solution concerning how best the Anglo-French forces could be defeated revealed a high degree of flexibility, innovation and a willingness to improvise that set him apart from many of his own generals and certainly the Anglo-French commanders. Hitler was in search of an unexpected and unpredictable solution to a known problem, and von Manstein provided his master with the solution.

4. Incipient Blitzkrieg (Poland, September 1939) and Blitzkrieg complete (France, May-June 1940)

Junkers Ju87Ds in flight, Oct 1943

Various individuals cited by Frieser – Halder, Generaloberst von Leeb, Generalleutnant von Sodenstern and French commanders and even Reynaud – all took the view that the outcome of the Polish campaign provided no guide concerning any future conflict against Anglo-French forces.[24]The main reason for this – from a German standpoint – pessimistic view was that the French defensive system would prove to be an impassable barrier to German armour. In any case Halder et al were wrong. Like the vanquished Anglo-French generals, Halder, von Leeb and von Sodenstern were still thinking in terms of Stellungskrieg (static warfare) and not in terms of such defensive systems being bypassed. In his assessment of Polish operations von Manstein observed that as a consequence of its having largely adopted the French approach to war, the Polish Army was thoroughly imbued with the ethos of Stellungskrieg and like the French had not grasped the importance of high-tempo war.[25]

One particular Soviet analyst, Georgii Samoilovich Isserson, grasped better than Halder et al that something akin to a military revolution had occurred in the German invasion of Poland. In Novye formy bor’by (Opyt issledovaniia sovremennykh voin), New Forms of Combat (An Essay Researching Modern Wars, 1940), which Isserson had finished in June 1940, just as German arms were triumphant in the West, he perceptively analysed the reasons for the German success in Poland. Isserson noted, for example, that the German build-up on the German-Polish border was conducted in such a way so as to admit of definite ambiguity concerning German intentions: was this build-up to be construed as a serious threat or was it a device to extract concessions?

Isserson’s observations on the Polish campaign were relevant not just for what would be inflicted on the Anglo-French forces in May 1940 but also what would befall the Soviet Union a year later. Isserson identified all the key elements in an emerging Blitzkrieg doctrine: the mass use of armoured and motorised formations acting independently ahead of other forces; the cooperation between land and air forces, the loss of order and cohesion among Polish forces and their inability to form new defensive lines and the concentrated and paralysing effects of air power. The highly effective use of airborne forces was saved for the campaign in the West. Isserson’s assessment of the role played by German armoured and motorised formations is also affirmed by von Manstein: ‘A decisive role in the speed of the success was played by the new way of using large independently operating armoured formations and the support provided by a vastly superior air force’.[26] For his part, Guderian concluded: ‘The Polish campaign was the ordeal of fire for my panzer formations. I was convinced that they had completely proved themselves and that the effort expended on establishing them had been worthwhile’.[27] German operations in Poland were not yet fully fledged Blitzkrieg but some of the key elements were present, and were identified as such by Isserson. This was also recognised by von Manstein:

The Polish campaign was immediately characterised as a Blitzkrieg. Indeed, this campaign stood, as regards the speed of its execution and outcome, apart, as almost unique, until the forthcoming German offensive in the West brought about something similar but on a much greater scale.[28]

Much of Frieser’s analysis of Blitzkrieg cleaves to the view that what happened after 10th May 1940 was something of a miracle, thus one of his early sub-sections is entitled ‘Das Wunder von 1940’ (‘The Miracle of 1940’).  Indeed, Guderian himself uses the word in his memoir and the relevant extract is cited by Frieser. I cite here the full extract from Guderian:

In order to coordinate the movements of both divisions I made my way to the headquarters of the 2nd Panzer Division in the Château Rocan via Donchéry to the Maas heights. From there one had a good overview over the approach march and assault terrain of the 2nd Panzer Division on the 14th and 15th May [1940]. I was surprised that the French long-range artillery had not bombarded and interdicted our approach more strongly from the Maginot Line. When looking at the position the success of our attack struck me as being even more of a miracle.[29]

Frieser uses Guderian’s quote about one part of the overall campaign, the breakout at Sedan, to make a general statement on the whole campaign: ‘In this way the German success was in no way planned in advance but resulted – as still remains to be shown – from the chance coming together of various factors’.[30]

There are so many chance factors that just happened to come together that one starts to question whether such a long list of so many chance events could have occurred in the correct sequence. In other words, the plausible explanation is not one based on a unique concatenation of so many chance factors but on human purpose and planned action. Certainly, von Clausewitz teaches us that war is the realm of fear, uncertainty and chance but it is also the realm of human agency and will. Thus when Frieser says that ‘So however fascinating the theory of “Hitler’s Blitzkrieg strategy” appears in its intellectual unity, it is far too simple in order to be true’.[31] Unfortunately, there is nothing simple about Frieser’s explanation since he claims it was all down to chance (Zufall). If it is all down to chance then it is not amenable to any kind of intellectual analysis. Not only that but Frieser himself provides a great deal of evidence to show that the success of the Blitzkrieg was not only not down to chance but due to a whole series of factors and innovations on the German side which worked. Further, even where various factors could not be controlled by the Germans, they dealt with them in original ways made possible by their thorough training and which wrong-footed the Anglo-French armies. Design cannot negate or avoid chance but it can help to mitigate its surprises.

Training was critical and Frieser himself notes the huge training programme undertaken after the Polish campaign:

What now ensued was a training offensive which is almost without example in military history. So, for example, a special instruction  division was established on the Königsbrück army exercise area that served as a training unit for commanders. In courses of instruction lasting three to four weeks some 300 commanders were fed through at a time. Also, the troops were prepared with exceptional thoroughness for the forthcoming tasks, above all in forcing rivers and overcoming bunker positions. Moreover, the approach of the French Army at this time provides a sharp contrast, which during the 8 months between the German attack on Poland and the campaign in the West, remained totally inactive in its positions. The French formations received hardly any combat training, many were employed in the construction of bunker positions or were set to work in agriculture. By comparison, this gain in time up until May 1940 brought the Wehrmacht all kinds of advantages. There was no area in which it benefitted so much as in the realm of training. Thus the troops who attacked from their starting positions in May 1940 could hardly be compared with those that had occupied these positions in October 1939.[32]

German success can hardly put down to a reckless gamble. Note, for example, the training regime imposed by Oberstleutnant Balck, one of the outstanding commanders in the German campaign:

The training was strictly geared to the future task. Up until the moment of the breakthrough at Sedan everything, in each detail, in planned exercises, and each situation on similar terrain, also with live firing and aircraft, was practised. The river Mosel had to make do as the river Maas and I did not let up until every soldier in my regiment could handle rubber dinghies just like the sappers. I let the exercises run completely freely in order to get everyone used to operating independently. It was the best preparation for an offensive that I have ever experienced.[33]

This is yet another example of the German superiority in training and doctrine which laid the foundations for future success and makes a mockery of the claim that German success was somehow a series of chance events. What Balck describes is the very essence of thorough training and Auftragstaktik. This is conceded by Frieser: ‘The attack was correspondingly successful. As several German officers emphasize the Maas crossing ran so perfectly as if it was an instructional demonstration on a training ground’.[34]

That German troops were subjected to such a long and thorough spell of training while their French opponents (what were the British doing over the same period?) remained inactive means that German soldiers enjoyed a qualitative advantage and one which owes nothing to chance (Zufall). German soldiers made their own luck and ensured that they were far better able to exploit opportunities and to deal with setbacks when compared with the Anglo-French armies. Moreover, given that forcing rivers and taking out bunkers were essential in order to maintain the speed of the advance, the German training regime between October 1939 and May 1940 can be said to have made a substantial contribution to German success and to what became known as Blitzkrieg (or any other word if you do not like Blitzkrieg). It matters not at all that German  victory in 1940 imparted the status of a doctrine to Blitzkrieg and it is entirely possible to have a Blitzkrieg without a pre-campaign formulation of Blitzkrieg.[35]

Maginot Line, 1939, credit

Frieser’s use of “Blitzkrieg” in inverted commas implies that there was no Blitzkrieg and that use of the word is wrong. However, the use of “Blitzkrieg” creates deliberate ambiguity since it permits Frieser to cast doubt on any claim of an actual Blitzkrieg but at the same time allows him to use the word – “Blitzkrieg” – to denigrate the term while still using the term. If Frieser does not like the word Blitzkrieg he should come up with another word and use it in brackets alongside Blitzkrieg. On Weygand’s intention to visit the front and consult with commanders, Frieser comments: ‘In view of the tempo of the German “Blitzkrieg” this must appear to be a complete anachronism’.[36] Such is the German tempo that French command methods which might have been appropriate in WWI are now wholly redundant. The high German tempo is the very essence of Blitzkrieg, yet Frieser by his use of “Blitzkrieg” seeks to deny the very thing – Blitzkrieg – for which he repeatedly adduces a mass of evidence.

Frieser also seeks to demonstrate that because of various failings the German army was not structured for a Blitzkrieg and that since the German army that attacked on 10th May 1940 was made up of 25% who were over forty years old, a Blitzkrieg, which requires young and fit professionals, was not possible.[37] But the reliance on horse-drawn vehicles is irrelevant if the real damage to the Anglo-French is inflicted by armoured and motorised units. That a small highly mobile element in the German army was able to achieve victory and that other units relied on horses, takes nothing away from a Blitzkrieg. If a small proportion of armoured and motorised units were those that inflicted defeat on the Anglo-French forces then images of armour and motorised units cannot be brushed aside as mere propaganda. On the contrary, they were the reality of German success.[38] Indeed, with all these alleged shortcomings, how did the Germans ever succeed? The answer is that the 16 élite divisions made the essential contribution to victory. True enough, the whole German army might not be able to wage Blitzkrieg but that is not necessary. As long as there are sufficient armoured and motorised divisions they will suffice – and they obviously did suffice – since the Anglo-French armies, even if better equipped (in some areas) and more numerous were defeated. Frieser, however,  argues that the raising of third-class divisions as evidence that Germany was planning for war of attrition. Hitler’s Denkschrift suggests otherwise:

If the military leadership of a country is planning a “Blitzkrieg” in order immediately to overrun the enemy with powerful motorised formations, then it appears completely senseless to raise a multitude of third-class infantry divisions which are only suitable for static defence. Yet the Wehrmacht leadership was orientating itself on the basis of a vision of a “long war” and was preparing itself for a new version of the positional warfare of the First World War.[39]

Raising third-class infantry divisions alongside the élite armoured and motorised divisions for a Blitzkrieg campaign is not at all ‘senseless’. It is the task of the élite divisions to break through the enemy defences at the designated point and then to head rapidly into the enemy rear. It is the task of the slower moving infantry divisions to move behind the armoured and motorised divisions so that the enemy now finds himself threatened from his rear and from his front. Moreover, the task of the élite breakthrough divisions will be facilitated by the concentrated use of air power. If there were no slower moving follow up troops to deal with broken up enemy units these units could reform and threaten the armoured and motorised forces from their rear. Thus the roles of the élite armoured and motorised units and the slower moving infantry units are complimentary. That these slower moving infantry units – even if second-class or third-class – would be more suitable for positional warfare and other deployments consistent with their being non-motorised is irrelevant.

Frieser provides excellent detail on the manpower and equipment of both sides. At the start of the campaign in the West some 3 million Germans faced 4 million Western Allies (French, British, Dutch and Belgian[40]). The Allies enjoyed a numerical superiority in artillery.[41] On the 10th May 1940 the total number of German tanks was 2,439, whereas total French tanks numbered 4,111.[42] Total Allied tank forces on 10th May 1940 numbered 4,204.[43] Not only that but German tanks were inferior in terms of armour to French and British tanks and were not as well armed. On 10th May 1940 combined Allied air forces (4,469) outnumbered the Germans (3,578).[44] Even though outnumbered by the Allied aircraft the Luftwaffe concentrated its forces and achieved surprise and managed to create a superiority in numbers at the moment and place of attack. In this regard, once can note how the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) dealt with the superior numbers of the Egyptian and Syrian air forces at the start of the 6-Day War in 1967. The IDF copied the German concentration tactics. By citing the numbers and arguing that the German aircraft did not  enjoy a massive qualitative advantage over the Western Allies, Frieser makes the German performance all the more impressive since doctrine and deployment must account for the German performance. This is conceded by Frieser:

According to the military rule of thumb an attacker must enjoy a numerical superiority of 3:1 over a defender. This ratio rises still higher if the defender is able to fight from well prepared defensive positions (as the Maginot Line). In May 1940 the defenders, paradoxically, were numerically superior to the attacker in almost all areas. In the Western campaign other rules must obviously have applied.[45]

The explanation for German success cannot be found in sheer numbers. Doctrine, training and tactics were decisive. These factors also argue against German success being the outcome of purely chance factors. Frieser himself cites a number of examples of original and innovative planning. That the Panzer divisions were required to take their own supplies with them posed a new order of problem for German planners. One can note the outstanding role played by Oberst Zeitzler:

Oberst i.G. Zeitzler, the chief of staff of Panzergruppe Kleist, had within two months to prepare this enormous motorised major formation for an operation for which there were no rule books or exemplars. Something of this kind could not even be tested under exercise conditions since the need for secrecy alone proscribed anything of the kind.[46]

That Zeitzler solved this problem is further evidence of superior German planning and Auftragstaktik. German logistic preparations were of the highest standard. There were no supply problems for the tanks during the surge to the Channel. Fuel was not a problem, although maintenance of tanks was towards the end.

Frieser’s analysis of the German move through the Ardennes provides further evidence that chance alone cannot explain German success:

Finally, the question still arises why was it that in spite of the unsuccessful operational planning for the deployment march the so-called “Ardennes offensive of 1940” could be transformed into one of the greatest successes of modern military history. It was due to the flexibility of the middle and junior level leadership that out of this chaos nevertheless on 13th May as well as at Sedan and also at Monthermé the Maas crossing could succeed.[47]

As Frieser acknowledges, training and flexibility were decisive factors. The German capture of the bridge at Mouzaive by a motorcycle battalion, during the night of the 11th/12th May1940, was a classic operation coup de main, and further evidence that well trained and well led troops can seize the moment:

The few soldiers who had taken part in this night time storm-troop operation had no idea what the many operational significant consequences their action should still have. After all it was only a matter of an apparently narrow bridge. For reasons of pure chance they had struck at precisely the neuralgic point of the French defence. Here at Mouzaive the boundary namely run between the 2nd Army the left wing of which was formed by the 5th Light Cavalry Division, and the 9th Army which on the extreme right had deployed the 3rd Spahi Brigade. This was responsible for the settlement of Mouzaive and so accordingly for the bridge. As however the 3rd Spahi Brigade later than the 5th Light Cavalry Division withdrew back to Semois there arose briefly a gap into which the German assault troops were able to penetrate.[48]

Was it pure chance that the consequences described by Frieser ensued from the German seizure of the bridge? For both attackers and defenders a bridge is a valuable military asset. It enables the attacker to cross an obstacle and, if held by the defender, denies use to the attacker. Moreover, bridges and rivers are precisely the sort of features that will be used by staff officers to demarcate inter-unit boundaries. If, as in this case, one of the units whose boundary was formed by the bridge was not informed or was unaware that another unit had moved away the tendency on the part of unit commander, unless he has been explicitly ordered to assume responsibility, is to assume that the other unit is still in place when it might not be. Thus, if both units withdraw a gap is created which an aggressive enemy will exploit. It does not follow that all bridges and rivers will be used as boundaries but given they are more likely to catch the eye of some staff officer the probability is that they more often than not will be used for that purpose with the consequences described by Frieser ensuing if they are captured by the enemy. Thus, here and elsewhere, Frieser exaggerates the role of Zufall and underestimates the degree to which its impact can be lessened by well trained and led troops, and, correspondingly, increased by poorly trained and led troops.

It is Frieser’s contention that the absence of any Blitzkrieg concept can only mean that there was no Blitzkrieg:

The advance through the Ardennes has been repeatedly cited as an outstanding example of Blitzkrieg tactics. Far more remarkable however is the fact that no firm system lay at the root of the German advance. In connection with this General Graf von Kielmannsegg (rtd.) speaks of an ad-hoc improvisation. The peculiarity, he claims, was to be seen in the fact that there was precisely no concept, no “instructions for use” to which one could have adhered. It was not a matter of transforming operationally-tactically, a developed Blitzkrieg strategy which indeed had not even been developed, it was far more a question that an extraordinary task was to be solved: “Get to the Maas in three days”. All the many extraordinary methods  which were seized upon in so doing resulted from this demand and were limited by the situation. Only later were these experiences subjected to a general staff analysis and abstracted to form a system that was characterised in journalistic propaganda as “Blitzkrieg”.[49]

A number of objections can be raised to Frieser’s interpretation. To begin with, one might ask whether, had the British or French been doing the attacking, they would have been as successful. All the historical evidence, much of which is cited by Frieser – the adherence of both the British and French to rigid linear thinking and planning going back to WWI – suggests that in 1940 only the German army was capable of such an operational and tactical feat. Training and doctrine (Auftragstaktik) were the two factors making for German success. A third factor, which Frieser is very reluctant to discuss is that whatever senior officers thought about Hitler and the NSDAP, Hitler and his army wanted revenge for 1918. The absence of any prepared system or manuals is also not a decisive argument since much of what happens in war is improvisation (note the earlier citation of Halder and see below on Guderian’s throwing away the rule book). But war is not exclusively a matter of improvisation. The breadth and depth of training, a ruthless willingness to discard what no longer works create opportunities for exceptionally well trained troops (the Germans) which their opponents the British and French failed to identify and to exploit. Where an extraordinary task is to be solved  – get to the Maas in three days –  and the training and preparation and morale of the attackers is of the highest standard – extraordinary things can be achieved. All military operations are ‘situationsbedingt’ (dependant on the situation). What separates the sides is how each side deals with the situation.

A final point is that if, after the event, it proves possible to extract lessons and create a general system, that system, if it is to be viable, must by its very nature have firm foundations deriving from military probabilities on which to base the system. If all the conditions of the German campaign in the West in May-June 1940 were unique to that campaign there would be no point in creating any post-operational system since it could have no further application. The success of the Blitzkrieg in May-June 1940 arose from the application of tried and tested military virtues and experience which was then applied in new ways, with new weapons. There are some parallels here with scientific research. Newton did not specify a system and then set out to discover it: he pursued certain lines of investigation in what appears to be a haphazard way and was able to develop a system explaining planetary motion. That the German army and Luftwaffe managed to overrun France in six weeks – and with such extraordinarily low losses – can only be described as a Blitzkrieg.

German success in the coup de main operation at Mouzaive was partly due to the failure of the respective French commanders to keep each other informed about who exactly bore responsibility for the bridge. When no clear order is issued to one unit commander to assume responsibility, a commander who is not instructed to assume responsibility will tend to assume that another commander has been allocated the task. A more professional commander, and one schooled in the doctrine of Auftragstaktik, would want to know whether another commander bore responsibility and then, if necessary, assume responsibility himself. One concludes that in the French Army in which a doctrine of Befehlstaktik (directive leadership) was the norm, these sorts of command failings were likely to be more common since as long as a commander follows the orders of a superior commander he is doing what is expected. Thus when the French doctrine of “what-is-expected” encounters an enemy whose commanders are trained to exploit the “unexpected”, seeing it as an opportunity, the less flexible French (and British) command system is an obvious weakness.

Far more serious than the failure of French commanders to confer with one another about responsibility for the bridge at Mouzaive (see above) was the astonishing fact that neither the French nor the Belgians had earlier clarified with one another who exactly was responsible for the defence of the Ardennes. The different national policies of France and Luxembourg and Belgium meant that there was no coordinated overall policy: a clear planning failure and a gift for the Germans. Most of the French commanders proved to be wrong about the time needed by the Germans to mount a crossing of the Maas. If, as events turned out, Guderian’s timescale was correct, and that of the French so horribly wrong, why must this be put down to Zufall and not to superior German planning and calculation? One French officer, General Prételat, concluded that the Germans could reach the Maas in 60 hours.[50] It took the Germans 57 hours! If a French general could assess the future German performance so accurately based on his knowledge of German capabilities and doctrine, hardly zufällig, then German planning, execution and success cannot just be dismissed out of hand as being due to some dangerous gamble, the workings of Zufall. Taittinger, a member of the French Defence Committee, visited the Ardennes, and concluded that they were not the major defensive barrier that they were held to be. He concluded: ‘Il semble qu’il y ait des terres de malheurs pour nos armes’.[51] The French General Huntziger dismissed Taittinger’s report since its author was not a soldier, though one suspects even if Taittinger had been a soldier it would the report would have still been dismissed. Given the Taittinger view of the Ardennes – that they were wide open and vulnerable – the Frieser claim that the German operation was a giant gamble is far from compelling. The role of chance in German success in the Mass crossing is further reduced by the fact that expert photographic analysis revealed that what German generals believed to be a well-established bunker position was in fact bunkers still at a rudimentary stage of construction.[52]

The 13th May 1940 was the moment when Guderian finally put his theories to the ultimate test. To quote Frieser on the planning for, and execution of, the Maas crossing: ‘In modern military history there are only a handful of operations which in spite of the unusual difficulties, arising above all from the time constraints, proceeded to such a degree of perfection as Guderian’s armoured corps’s crossing of the Maas at Sedan’.[53] The success was also a vindication of Guderian’s principle: Klotzen, nicht Kleckern! German success speaks for a higher order of doctrine, training and execution and cannot be solely ascribed to Zufall.

Frieser himself seems to be somewhat confused about the German achievement. Having dismissed the Sickle Cut as “mad”, (“verrückt”), which permits the same sort of ambiguity with the use of “Blitzkrieg” noted above, Frieser now calls von Manstein’s Sickle Cut ‘revolutionary’.[54]  Thus: ‘The revolutionary idea of the “Sickle Cut” could only be translated in to action by revolutionary methods, the most important of which was the operationally independent deployment of the armoured arm for the first time’.[55] There was nothing mad – with or without inverted commas – about this plan at all. It was formulated by the most outstanding military mind of WWII and based on the knowledge that a combination of German training and doctrine with new ways of waging war stood a very good chance of carrying the day against an enemy that was still trapped in the methods of WWI. Nor was this the first time when German armoured formations had been deployed in the manner noted by Frieser (see von Manstein and Isserson above).

5. Reliance on Zufall cannot explain German Success in May-June 1940

Zufall as a major component in German success is undermined by factors specific to the Anglo-French and German conduct  of the war. They can be summarised as follows:

(i) Rotation of units at the front – noted by Frieser – undermined the cohesion of French units. The overall lack of cohesion was evident elsewhere. This was also a problem for the Western Allies in general. They – the British, French, Dutch and Belgians – may have been allies but they were not a homogenous, cohesive force, unlike the Germans. Frieser quite rightly flags up the role of the French Communist Party in undermining resistance to the Germans. This weakness of the Western Allies in no way diminishes the German victory. It was a problem that the Western Allies, above all the British and French, failed to solve. They bore the consequences. Graf von Schlieffen notes that ‘The weaker party contributes just as much to victory as the victor’.[56] This is cited by Frieser yet it cannot be used to diminish the German victory. That a whole series of Anglo-French failings assisted the Germans could only have happened because German methods were innately superior. If Anglo-French failings were more or less matched by a whole series of German failings the German victory in the summer of 1940 would (i) not have occurred so quickly and (ii) would not have been so absolute and overwhelming. In Verlorene Siege, von Manstein refers to the von Schlieffen’s well known aphorism in his summary of the Polish campaign. To quote von Manstein: ‘On the other hand, one will for certain have to acknowledge that such rapid and such devastating success in the Polish campaign, is to be attributed along with the favourable operational starting position – and a willingness to run a high level of risk – to the superiority on the German side but also however to the better leadership and to the higher quality of German troops’[57];

(ii).  The French placed far too much emphasis on building bunkers at the expense of combat training, with obvious consequences when the moment of truth came. To quote Frieser:

“The quality of the bunkers was considered to be more important than the quality of the training. So these shortcomings could also not be removed, although after the mobilization until the start of the German offensive there had been eight months for the corresponding combat training. Because the men had hardly been trained for battle many of them at the decisive moment lacked the will to fight. All the greater was the shock when on 13th May [1940] they were attacked by soldiers who were perfectly trained and who manifested an almost fear-conquering determination. As a result, many French defenders did not even bother to offer any resistance and took to flight”.[58]

German offensive success, as described by Frieser, is hardly down to Zufall;

(iii). If the Germans were so far ahead of the Western Allies in their use of available time and everything else such that they had brought about a revolution why can some of the credit for this achievement not be attributed to Hitler? If Guderian was able to tear up the rule book then they were no longer valid rules. The Germans had created a new set of rules. That being the case why must Hitler’s decision to launch the campaign be seen as a dangerous game or gamble? It would be more accurate to say that Hitler better perceived the nature of the technological developments that changed the way of waging war than some of his generals and that he, Hitler, was also more in tune with Guderian and von Manstein, the founders of this military revolution. The French (and British) generals ‘had slept through a technological revolution’.[59] Concerning the deployment of armour Frieser acknowledges that German doctrine was the decisive difference between German and Allied deployment of tanks[60];

(iv).  The collective failure of the French generals seriously to consider whether the Ardennes was passable for armoured vehicles is obvious. On 1st May 1940 the French military attaché in Bern reported the following: ‘Between the 8th and 10th May [1940] the German Army will attack along the line of the whole front, including the Maginot Line: Schwerpunkt Sedan’.[61] Generals Gamelin and Georges saw this as a German deception ploy. After the start of operations reports from French reconnaissance pilots, confirming the presence of massed vehicle movement, were not taken seriously. This is yet another catastrophic intelligence failure. Regardless of what was happening in the Ardennes – the mass movement of German tanks and pontoon bridges  – French generals were hypnotised by the north, convinced that that was the German Schwerpunkt. The unwillingness on the part of French commanders to accept intelligence which challenged their convictions about what the Germans would do has much in common with Stalin’s refusal to take seriously the reports of a massed German build up on the Soviet border before 22nd June 1941. It is interesting to note – possibly significant in terms of military psychology – that the French refusal to accept any threat in the Ardennes, the British assessment of Japanese intentions at Singapore and Stalin’s catastrophic intelligence failings leading up to 22nd June 1941 – all occurred among senior commanders committed to a defensive posture. One wonders whether this reliance on defence arising from a fear of more aggressive action induces a state of mind that is extremely resistant to information that conflicts with any pre-conceived ideas about how an attacker will act;

(v). The Anglo-French deployment of tanks in small units for tactical purposes rather than deploying them in massed, large-scale operational formations. Note, for example, Frieser’s assessment of the French deployment of armour at Sedan:

There were more than sufficient soldiers and tanks available but for the execution of such an operational counter strike however there were neither leadership principles, neither instructions, neither suitably trained headquarters staff nor suitable radio equipment. Above all there was an absence of “intellectual infrastructure” for that operational thought since anything of that kind  had not even once been played out in planned exercises.[62]

German armoured success cannot be attributed to Zufall. Moreover, the French Air Force was too bureaucratic and aircraft were deployed piecemeal (Gießkannenprinzip) instead of in mass[63]’;

(vi).  Frieser rightly points out that: ‘The French leadership fatally underestimated the danger that grew out of the initially tiny bridgehead at Sedan’.[64] So the Germans got it right. Incidentally, note the same error made by the Germans with regard to the Soviet bridgeheads used in Operation Uranus, the Soviet counter offensive launched at Stalingrad on 19th November 1942;

(vii). German tanks since they were intended for operational purposes, not tactical as in the case of the French, had much larger fuel tanks, and were thus able to maintain the forward momentum of the advance. French tanks had to be refuelled very frequently and this reduced momentum. Further, the refuelling measures worked out by Oberst Zeitzler ensured that the tanks did not run out of fuel, yet another reason why the momentum of the German advance could be maintained. That all German tanks were equipped with modern radio gave the Germans a huge advantage in battle (Zufall?). Radio played a decisive role in the tank battle at Flavion. Radios also meant that coordinated attacks could be made on French tanks or other targets by the fire of massed German tanks, the so-called Rudeltaktik. The Germans also used all arms attacks with artillery as well as aircraft. Here, too, radio was essential;

(viii). The Guderian and von Manstein plan was for the Panzers to head for the Channel coast after the breakout at Sedan regardless of their flanks. Any delay would work to the advantage of the Allies. Guderian took the risk and ordered his tanks onwards. Frieser’s comments on this order create a glaring inconsistency with his earlier section headed  “The Myth of the “Tank Breakthrough” of Sedan’[65]: ‘As Guderian later explained,  “the essence” of the success of Sedan lay not in the “breakthrough operation” itself, but in the immediate exploitation of the breakthrough by a thrust of the tanks into the enemy rear’.[66] The “immediate exploitation” counts as a breakthrough;

(ix). In the battle for Stonne, Guderian, says Frieser, threw away all the rules and commandments – disobeyed his orders – dared and won. Does that make Guderian a dangerous gambler or formulator of new rules? Further, Frieser maintains that Guderian’s decision to break out immediately was the right one since the French lacked no time to react or plan. Moreover, the 1st Panzer Division managed to seize the bridge at Omicourt (over the Ardennes Canal) by coup de main. This seizure was made possible because of Guderian’s decision to break out. Another success made possible because of Guderian’s decision was the seizure of the canal bridge at Malmy at Chémery. Attempts by French commanders to micro-manage the battle also contributed to German success. In all these examples Guderian recognised what the ancient Greeks called kairos: a unique moment in time, in the course of the battle, when opportunities, if taken, could win the encounter;

(x). A major component of German Blitzkrieg, largely ignored by Frieser, were German airborne forces, parachute and glider troops. These forces played a major role in the north. They achieved their objectives and induced a sense of panic since they created the impression that nowhere was safe from their reach. They exerted a powerful psychological effect on the British who after the mass evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk fully expected these units to be deployed in southern England. That the Germans raised and trained these units in the 1930s, while the British and French did nothing, even though familiar with developments in Germany and along similar lines in the Soviet Union, further militates against Zufall. The Germans studied, developed and prepared: the Anglo-French generals were complacent. According to Bullock, Hitler played a decisive role in planning the Eben-Emael operation: ‘Hitler had personally conceived the most important points in the plans for the use  of the airborne troops. It had been his idea to capture Eben Emael by landing on the roof a detachment of less than hundred parachute engineers equipped with a powerful new explosive, a success built up by German propaganda as a demonstration of the power of Germany’s secret weapons’[67];

(xi). On the collapse of the Maas front, Frieser rightly points out that:

“Once again, however, the main problem of the French Army in this campaign was revealed. It was unable to bring together large formations quickly enough for an operational counter action but proceeded at the same tempo with which it had initiated counter offensives in World War I”.[68];

(xii). On the German crossing of the Maas by reconnaissance patrols of the 5th Panzer Division, Frieser notes the following: ‘Exactly as at Sedan the Germans were favoured by a series of grave errors committed by the enemy’.[69] Is it chance when all these errors add up to disaster for the French and success for the Germans?;

(xiii). The success of the Sickle Cut operation (Fall Gelb) was brought about by the 10 German Panzer divisions and the 6 motorised infantry divisions. These units carried out a Blitzkrieg. Such was the speed of the German advance that their losses were astonishingly low. Commenting on this outcome, Frieser contradicts his claims concerning whether there was a Blitzkrieg: ‘The explanation for these low losses lay in a revolutionary form of combat leadership’.[70] Precisely. German losses overall in Fall Gelb and Fall Rot were 49,000 killed and wounded[71];

(xiv). What happened to the French fortifications at La Ferté and the Belgian Eben Emael highlights the potential danger of static defence. Initiative is conceded to the enemy. Intended to be an insurmountable physical barrier to an enemy, the Maginot Line had the effect on its makers of blocking any radical rethinking in French doctrine and training, in effect, becoming a psychological barrier to other solutions and encouraging and even justifying inaction. Why, for example, did the French Army and British Expeditionary Force remain passive as Poland was overrun? Why were no major Anglo-French operations undertaken over the period between September 1939 and May 1940? The Western Allies unforgivably and disastrously conceded the initiative to the Germans;

(xv). Note Frieser’s assessment of the British counter attack at Arras:

“In this British attack there was almost a complete absence of the Combined Arms Battle which had been prepared with such perfection by the Germans, since only inadequate communications existed between the individual arms of service. As a result of technical radio problems coordination of the battle was not even possible for the tanks. So the officers were forced partly to leave their vehicles, or however in the middle of a battle, under enemy fire, with an open turret hatch to lead by means of hand signals”.[72]

The Germans prepared; the British did not. Frieser claims that the failed British attack caused the Germans to fear for their flanks. According to Frieser:

“From this overreaction on the part of the German leadership it became clear how far removed the thinking of most senior generals was from the ideas of a “Blitzkrieg”, that is from an “an operational war of mobility””.[73]

Even if the thinking of most German generals was far removed from the thinking about Blitzkriegthis was irrelevant. What mattered was that there were German generals and staff officers and commanders who were able to conceive of such an operation – von Manstein, Guderian, Balck and Rommel – who made it work, so demonstrating the efficacy of Guderian’s ideas and ensuring victory for German arms. The success of the Blitzkrieg was due to a ‘combination of traditional military principles and modern technology’.[74] Exactly, but innovation and progress could only be executed on the basis of a mastery of fundamental principles. Frieser highlights the qualities in von Manstein that made for success: his willingness to do the unexpected but based on complete mastery of military affairs. Von Manstein was the man for the hour (Fall Gelb and later on the Eastern Front). Hitler grasped this point just as well as Guderian and von Manstein, and better than some of his other generals, and Hitler, despite Frieser’s attempts to deny him any credit, does indeed deserve a large share of the credit for the emerging Blitzkrieg doctrine and its success;

(xvi).  Rules are not the immutable laws of physics. Rules are statements about how to behave in certain circumstances; the circumstances may be very narrowly defined and prescriptive –  a soldier is to have his personal weapon with him at all times – or they may be more general – a patrol should as far as is possible leave and return by a different route or rules may state that it is essential to move in tactical bounds. Rules derive their force from observation and empirical data, specifically that in a statistically significant  number of observations based on experience one course of action is to be preferred to another, since adherence to the rules will tend to favour or to impede a certain course of action.

Based on human observation and experience, rules are not infallible prescriptions concerning human behaviour in war or in peace. That something is a rule does not mean that it must be slavishly obeyed at all times; rather it means that unless there are compelling reasons why a rule should not be observed, the rule is to be observed. Given that rules in the military sphere derive their validity from combat experience and insight, they are, as conditions change, subject to change, revision or to their being discarded. Thus an army whose commanders perceive that changes on the battlefield occasioned by new weapons – machine guns or armour for example – or new ways of using these weapons – render rules hitherto accepted as redundant enjoy advantages over an army whose commanders have failed to recognise these changes. What was yesterday regarded as an infallible rule becomes, if not properly evaluated in the light of technologically driven change, a liability. To the extent that rules are rendered redundant by change and that change is a process fully subject to chance (Zufall), the validity and relevance of rules is also determined by Zufall, even more so by the fact that not all military observers and commanders will recognise that change offers advantages as well as disadvantages. Thus the commanders who discard the rule book  – Guderian, von Manstein and Hitler – do so because to continue to adhere to rules which have exhausted their relevance confers no advantage but may, in fact, work against an army. The more daring, the more perspicacious commander will accept a rule if it meets his needs; if not the rule will be dropped, and he will formulate a new rule. Klotzen nicht Kleckern is just such a new rule;

(xvii). Frieser quite rightly notes the contribution of Auftragstaktik to German success:

Never again in the Second World War did leadership through mission play such a paramount role as in May1940. The campaign in the West led to a revolutionising of the operational-tactical character of war. The current doctrines fell apart. There were however no new rules and so many orders of themselves were rendered absurd, since they corresponded to a superseded form of thinking.  For both sides this development came as a surprise. If the German officers  in the campaign in the West revealed themselves to be so superior, this was not because they could have already applied the rules of a “Blitzkrieg” but because they, on the basis of Auftragstaktik, were able to adapt to the new situation of a “Blitzkrieg” considerably quicker  than the Allies.[75]

Consistent with Auftragstaktik was leadership from the front. This meant that German commanders were able to seize the moment far more quickly than the enemy. Given that the ethos of Auftragstaktik was something that was well established in the German Army and its existence and obvious success in earlier wars was also known, and demonstrated, it cannot be a matter of Zufallthat the British, French armies, and the Red Army, failed to adopt something similar.

6. Conclusion. Blitzkrieg by Name and Blitzkrieg in Action: the German Offensive in the West (10th May 1940)

In view of the detailed proposals for the deployment of armoured and motorised forces set out by Guderian in Achtung Panzer! and the pivotal role played by Guderian in the execution of the campaign in the West, Frieser’s claim that the campaign was not planned as a Blitzkrieg is unconvincing.[76] If Germany’s wars were based on quick wars – to knock out the enemy before superior resources could be deployed against Germany – then a short sharp campaign against the Anglo-French forces was fully consistent with the earlier thinking of the Prussian-German General staff. In this regard, Hitler’s insistence on attacking the Anglo-French as soon as possible is also consistent with this thinking and with the Ludendorff offensives of March and April 1918. Even if Germany was not fully mobilised in terms of armaments, waiting was not an option since any delay might well improve the status of armaments and ammunition but the same would be true of the Anglo-French forces.

For the outcome of the German operation in May-June 1940 it matters not at all that the campaign was not planned as a Blitzkrieg campaign. That said, it is the case that some German commanders, above all, Guderian did plan for a fast moving campaign. Although Guderian wanted a rapid deployment, even he could not have foreseen the degree to which his plans and ambitions would succeed. The dramatic scale of this unexpected success takes nothing away from prior planning. Indeed, without such prior planning and preparation on the German side the stunning successes of May 1940 would not have been possible. Having quite rightly criticised the Anglo-French forces for their schematic planning and execution – their addiction to  Befehlstaktik­ – something which in the case of the British, despite the mauling received in France, continued well into 1942 in North Africa and beyond.[77]

Frieser uses the absence of a planned Blitzkrieg strategy on the German side as evidence to show that there was no Blitzkrieg. This is  not a compelling line of argument since once the campaign has been initiated success is now down to commanders at all levels. The Germans planned for, and factored in, chaos and could use the chaos created by them because their soldiers were better trained and led. The Anglo-French forces, on the other hand, feared chaos and believed that the uncertainties of war could be tamed and eradicated by planning. As long as the Germans agreed to play by the same rules the Anglo-French forces could plan at leisure. Unfortunately for the Anglo-French forces – and the Poles before them – the Germans were not prepared to. In fact, Frieser notes that the adoption by the French of the planning principle, manœuvre à priori, made them highly vulnerable to unexpected and innovative methods.[78] Interestingly, excessive planning which Frieser sees as a weakness in the Anglo-French forces is now being used by him – the absence of a plan for a Blitzkrieg – to try to demonstrate that the absence of any such plan must mean that there could not have been a Blitzkrieg. The key difference between Anglo-French and German planning was that Anglo-French planning sought to eradicate the unknowable and uncertain in war – a futile undertaking – whereas German planning embraced these factors, seeing them as opportunities to be exploited. On the German side there was nothing at all zufällig about the German exploitation of opportunities provided by Zufall.

According to Frieser, ‘No previously established doctrine laid the foundations for the “Blitzkrieg” success against France, it was far more a matter – as Halder determined – of an improvisation arising from necessity’.[79] Then why when confronted with the necessity of countering the German improvisation could the Anglo-French forces not counter-improvise and defeat the Germans? The side that was better able to improvise can only have done so because it had better mastered the essentials of war. It matters not whether there was an established doctrine, though a reading of Guderian’s Achtung Panzer! suggests there was one, since the French doctrine was useless. Frieser makes it clear that French doctrine was indeed useless only to insist that the Germans did not have a doctrine and that the absence of any doctrine was no bad thing. Once again, Frieser’s claim that the 1940 campaign was an unplanned “Blitzkrieg” allocates far too big a role to Zufall.

Frieser’s insistence that Hitler was a gambler and that his success must be attributed to Zufall, so denying him any credit for the success of German arms, has an obvious parallel with Tolstoy’s mechanistic view of Napoleon’s military achievements and specifically the claim that chance (sluchai) and millions of chance events (sluchainosti) alone account for Napoleon’s success. Admittedly, Frieser’s appeal to Zufall as the primary ingredient in Hitler’s success lacks the frenzied and unbalanced ravings of Tolstoy which we find throughout Voina i mir (War and Peace, 1865-1869) but the consistent appeal to Zufall and to Hitler’s being a gambler suggests that Frieser is ideologically or psychologically predisposed to deny Hitler any credit for the success of German arms even where there is compelling, objective evidence to show that Hitler played a decisive part and one based not on reckless gambling but on a rational appraisal of German strengths and weaknesses and those of the Anglo-French forces facing Germany.

The three factors cited by Frieser as accounting for German success are: (i). the changing character of war; (ii) Allied mistakes; and (iii) arbitrary actions. For Frieser, the fact that that traditional German military principles combined with new technological developments gave the Germans an advantage was purely ‘chance’ (zufällig[80]). That traditional German military principles were superior to the those of the Anglo-French forces meant that the German forces were better able to combine established principles and new technology in a way in which the Anglo-French forces were not. Chance favours the prepared.  German training and planning meant that the Germans were able to exploit the multitude of Anglo-French errors some of which were profound. The multitude of Anglo-French errors was not due to chance but to failures inherent in the two armies. Zufall that somehow always seems to favour one side, the Germans, cannot be said to be chance. There must be other causes of German success and they are readily to hand. German propaganda about the Blitzkrieg is itself part of the Blitzkrieg since the aim of Blitzkrieg propaganda is psychologically to disarm the enemy. The propaganda of Blitzkrieg was not aimed at the French – now defeated – but at the British and Stalin. Informing us that the spectacular success of the 1940 campaign was also down to arbitrary behaviour on the part of certain commanders is merely another variation of the claim that it was all down to Zufall. The breakthrough at Sedan had its genesis in work carried out by Guderian in the 1920s and 1930s. Guderian’s operational ideas – the obvious incunabula of the Blitzkrieg – provided no guarantee of success but they most certainly increased its probability, especially when engaging an enemy still locked in the static thinking of WWI, and who over the period from September 1939 to May 1940 had shown himself to be committed to inaction.

The Anglo-French forces remained passive while the Germans prepared and planned. Thus it cannot be the case that ‘The spectacular course of Operation Sickle Cut was…not planned in advance’.[81] Without the planning no success would have ensued. Even bearing in mind that no plan survives contact with the enemy, military operations require planning. If the planning and preparation are flexible enough they can deal with the uncertainties. Frieser, however, rejects any idea of planning:

The campaign in the West was therefore no planned campaign of conquest. It was far more an operational act of desperation in order to get out of a desperate strategic situation.  The so-called “Blitzkrieg Thinking” developed only after the campaign in the West. It was not a cause but a consequence of the victory.[82]

That the factors which made for German success in May-June 1940 were only formulated into some kind of doctrine after May-June 1940 does not mean that those same factors did not contribute to victory. If these factors did not contribute to the German victory what did, divine intervention? According to Frieser: ‘The campaign in the West was an unplanned but successful “Blitzkrieg”, on the other hand, the campaign in the East in 1941 was a planned but unsuccessful “Blitzkrieg”.[83] Apart from the absence of planning in what fundamental way does an unplanned Blitzkrieg differ from a planned Blitzkrieg? An unplanned but successful Blitzkrieg can only have succeeded in the absence of a detailed plan because the German forces were better trained and could be relied on by their commanders to create and exploit advantages. In any case, it is not the case that what Frieser would have us regard as an unplanned Blitzkrieg was unplanned. Frieser himself provides a huge amount of evidence that shows just how much planning was undertaken before 10th May 1940. That all this planning and subsequent execution acquired the name Blitzkrieg after the campaign is irrelevant.  It does not at all follow that since the new way of waging war developed by the Germans only acquired the Blitzkrieg label (or any other label for that matter) after the campaign in the West there cannot have occurred a new way of waging war a primary element of which was the concentrated and coordinated deployment of armour, motorised infantry and air power.

The other element to this emerging doctrine was the masterful use of propaganda which had been a major part of the German projection of power before 1939 (re-occupation of the Rhineland, Anschluß, the destruction of Czechoslovakia and the relentless barrage against Poland prior to 1st September 1939). There was nothing unreal about a National-Socialist Blitzkrieg. Aggressive and highly effective propaganda was an essential part of the German military revolution. Moreover, NS-Blitzkrieg propaganda was so highly effective precisely because it was based on the stunning success of German arms, success that was obvious to all, to vanquished and now deeply alarmed onlookers. Instead of his partner in totalitarian aggression being tied down in the West for months, possibly years, the whole situation had changed to Germany’s advantage in a matter of six weeks. Fearful of what might come next, Stalin took the opportunity to invade and to occupy Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, while Germany was engaged in the West. Isserson also foresaw the dangers inherent in the German military revolution and its Blitzkrieg. His study of the Polish campaign was more than an academic study:  it was also a dire warning to the Soviet leadership which went unheeded.

Frieser maintains that the outcome of the campaign in the West was a reckless Vabanquespiel (gamble) and that it cannot be seen as the latest in the series of Hitler’s previous successes:

The campaign in the West cannot be programmatically classified in the sequence of Hitler’s annexations and campaigns of conquest. On the contrary, it was the Western powers that at a most unwelcome point in time declared war on the German leadership and in so doing forced it to react. Therefore, the Sickle Cut plan [Fall Gelb] does not appear to be a manifestation of a developed, long-term expansive Blitzkrieg strategy that would have been aimed at world domination. It represented far more an operational act of desperationin order to get out of a strategically desperate situation.[84]

The British and French did indeed declare war on Germany but then decided to wage phoney war. While German forces were overrunning Poland and Germany’s western border was vulnerable the British and French did nothing to assist Poland, essentially because there was nothing they could do, and Hitler knew it. Anglo-French guarantees to Poland were themselves a reckless gamble. The other problem for the Anglo-French governments was that any active military measures against Germany for attacking Poland would also require that military measures be taken against the Soviet Union, the other aggressor, and violator of Polish sovereignty. Since the British and French governments had not the slightest intention of taking military measures against the Soviet Union – and lacked the ability to do so – they did nothing, abandoning the Poles to their fate. Anglo-French weakness when confronted with Nazi-Soviet aggression against Poland invited Hitler at least to consider whether a high-tempo campaign based on lessons learnt from the Polish campaign could have a successful outcome. Such an option was no act of desperation. On the contrary, the desperation was all Anglo-French: they had declared war on Germany and had no idea how it might be prosecuted, so they did nothing, they waited and were punished.

That the stance of the Western powers was essentially defensive, and would be for some time, is confirmed by their failure to attack Germany while the bulk of the German forces were tied down in Poland. Any attack after the Polish campaign would seem even less likely – as noted by von Manstein – since the attackers would now have to face the full weight of the Wehrmacht. French plans which were later captured by the Germans confirm a lengthy commitment on the part of the Western Allies to a passive stance well into 1940. In a plan drawn up by General Gamelin, it was noted that the necessary matériel strength to attack the Germans would not be available until at least the new year of 1941. For their part, the British were not prepared to commence any offensive before 1941. Overall, Gamelin’s plan provided for three key objectives for 1940: (i). maintain the security of French territory; (ii). make efforts to get Germany tied down in campaigns of attrition; and (iii). make all efforts to blockade Germany so denying vital raw materials. Von Manstein’s assessment of the German position offers some support for the views advanced by Hitler in his 9th October 1939 Denkschrift: ‘Even if OKH could have no knowledge of this Allied war plan at the time in question, it was nevertheless all too probable that the Western powers would conduct the war over the long term in the manner specified’.[85]

On 10th May 1940 Germany forced the Western Allies to react to an attack for which, in terms of men and matériel, they were certainly not at a disadvantage, but doctrinally and psychologically were completely outclassed. This was Blitzkrieg. By the end of June 1940 Germany had overrun and occupied Poland (in an alliance with the Soviet Union), Belgium, Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, Denmark and Norway. Moreover, the same Blitzkrieg methods that had been deployed against the Anglo-French forces were further refined in campaigns against Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete.

Alan Bullock’s summary of Hitler’s achievements in the aftermath of the German victory in the West recognises the decisive role played by Hitler. He had scored a stunning series of diplomatic triumphs and the military triumphs which, argues Bullock, ‘eclipsed the fame of Moltke and Ludendorff and challenged comparison with the victories of Frederick the Great and even Napoleon. Hitler the outsider who had never been to a university  or a staff college, had beaten the Foreign Office and the General Staff at their own game’.[86] Bullock’s final assessment is a suitable response to much of what we find in Frieser’s Blitzkrieg-Legende:

It is customary to decry this achievement, to point, for instance, to the luck Hitler had in encountering such weakness and incompetence  on the other side, to his good fortune in finding a Manstein to construct his plan of campaign  for him and men like Guderian put it into operation. But this is only a part of the truth. If there was weakness and incompetence on the other side, it was Hitler who divined it. He was the one man who consistently  refused to be impressed by the military reputation of France, the one man who insisted that a quick victory in the west was possible, and who forced the Army against his generals’ advice to undertake a campaign which was to prove the most remarkable in its history. If Manstein designed the plan of campaign it was Hitler who took it up. If Guderian was the man showed what the German panzer divisions could do when used with imagination it was Hitler who grasped the importance of armour, and provided the new German Army with ten such divisions at a time when there was still strong opposition inside the Army itself to such ideas. If Hitler, therefore, is justly to be made responsible for the later disasters of the German Army, he is entitled to the major share of the credit for the victories of 1940: the German generals cannot have it both ways.[87]

Hitler, portrait, credit Wikipedia


[1] Frieser ignores Soviet responsibility along with Hitler for starting WWII. See Karl-Heinz Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende: Der Westfeldzug 1940(1995), Herausgegeben vom Militärgeschichtlichen Forschungsamt, Operationen des Zweiten Weltkrieges, Band 2, Zweite Auflage,  R. Oldenbourg Verlag, München, 1996, p.21
[2] Roth in Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.xiv, emphasis in the original.
[3] Roth, p.xix
[4] Roth, p.xix
[5] Roth, p.xix
[6] Roth, p.xix
[7] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende p.8
[8] Frieser,Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.336
[9] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.315, emphasis in the original
[10] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.13
[11]  IMT, Blue Series, volume XXXVII, Document 052-L, p.468 (pp.466-486). Alan Bullock describes this memorandum as ‘a well constructed piece of work’, noting further that ‘The detailed passages, with their emphasis on mobility, speed and the concentration of armour, show Hitler already thinking  in the terms which were to bring such success when translated into action in May and June 1940’ (Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study inn Tyranny (1952), Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, England, 1983, p.563 & 564).  Nor did von Manstein dismiss this plan out of hand: ‘The plan for an offensive which Hitler imposed on OKH on 9th October [1939] was a half measure. It did not aim at a complete decision on the European continent, but at no more than an immediate partial aim’ (Erich von Manstein, Verlorene Siege (1955), Bernard & Graefe in der Mönch Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Bonn, 19 Auflage, 2011, p.89, emphasis in the original).
[12] Document 052-L, p.468
[13]  Document 052-L, pp.469-470, emphasis added. Hitler’s brutally honest assessment of the value of treaties was not solely based on his own willingness to ignore any obligations into which he had entered. The German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact with its secret protocols was a masterpiece of treachery. Likewise, the British and French governments, having given the Poles defence guarantees, did nothing.
[14]  Document 052-L, pp.473-474
[15] Hitler’s memorandum does not lend any support to Frieser’s assertion that the German leadership in planning for the campaign in the West was planning for a long war, as in WWI. See Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.33. It was precisely Hitler’s concerns about a long war of attrition that compelled him to plan for the destruction of Anglo-French forces in the West as soon as possible, then, if a long war became unavoidable, Germany would be better placed to withstand the rigours.
[16] Document 052-L, p.473
[17] Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (circa. 440-404), trans., Rex Warner, Penguin,  London, 1972, p.402.
[18]  Document 052-L, pp.478-479
[19]  Document 052-L, p.480. A suitable response on Hitler’s part to concerns raised by von Stülpnagel that the Army was not equipped to deal with fortresses (Frieser, p.25). In any case what happened to Eben-Emael suggests that the Germans were able to deal with fortresses when necessary.
[20] Document 052-L, p.482
[21] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.1
[22] Document  052-L, p.482
[23] Document 052-L, p.485
[24] Halder’s diary entry dated 29th September 1939, and cited by Frieser (Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.22), ‘Methods used for the attack in Poland offer no recipe for the West.  They cannot be used against a well entrenched Army’, misses the point. The essence of the campaign in the West is flexibility and improvisation, acknowledged by Halder after the event. What worked in Poland and could be used in the West would be, what was deemed unsuitable would not be used.
[25] Verlorene Siege, p.29. This commitment on the part of the Polish Army to Stellungskrieg and the threat to such a doctrine posed by the German high-tempo war, was compounded by the seductive view, to quote von Manstein, ‘that the Germans would conduct an offensive in accordance with French doctrine and that this offensive would very soon get bogged down in positional warfare’, von Manstein, Verlorene Siege, p.30.
[26] Von Manstein, Verlorene Siege, p.56
[27] Heinz Guderian, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten (1950), IX Auflage, Kurt Vowinkel Verlag, Neckergemünde 1976, p.73
[28] Von Manstein, Verlorene Siege, p.55
[29] Guderian, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, p.95
[30]  Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.3
[31]  Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.3
[32]  Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, pp.29-30
[33] Cited by Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.181
[34] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.181
[35]  Comments by Kurt Student, General der Fallschirmtruppen, on Blitzkrieg, and cited by Frieser, in no way support Frieser’s argument: ‘In actual fact, it [Blitzkrieg] was a concept, an idea that was floating about which crystallised only very gradually, and quite naturally, out of existing circumstances and time constraints’ (Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.41
[36] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.349
[37] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.33 & p.34
[38] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.35 & 36
[39] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, pp. 38-39
[40] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.43
[41] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.44
[42] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.45
[43] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.46
[44] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.57
[45] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.64
[46] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.121
[47] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.135
[48] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.157
[49] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, pp.161-162
[50] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.167
[51] Cited by Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.175 & p.178. Military history provides other examples where senior commanders were impervious to any suggestions that specific terrain could be crossed by a determined enemy. The Japanese success at Singapore owed much to an unfounded belief among British commanders that the Japanese would be unable to attack from the north. In the Six-Day War in 1967 Israeli commanders, having conducted a detailed terrain analysis of Sinai, identified areas which could be crossed by heavy armour, but which were considered by the Egyptians to be impassable. In terms of the threat posed by geography and its being surrounded by multiple enemies the modern state of Israel has something in common with the encirclement fears of the German General Staff and its fears about a two-front war. In the 6-Day War Israel used the Schwerpunktprinzip first to destroy the Egyptian air force on the ground, then the Syrian.
[52] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.175. Note, too, what Guderian has to say: ‘My views concerning the worth of the border fortifications had been confirmed as a consequence of the very painstaking studies conducted by Major von Stiotta, the Army Group’s engineer adviser. Herr von Stiotta principally based his analysis on a meticulous evaluation of air photographs. As a consequence his arguments could not be refuted’. (Guderian, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, p.80).
[53] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.191
[54] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.117
[55] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.117, emphasis in the original
[56] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.308
[57] Von Manstein, Verlorene Siege, empahsis in the original, p.56
[58] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.181
[59] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.407
60] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.424
[61] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, cited p.169
[62] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.255
[63] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.429
[64] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.247
[65] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.213
[66] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.243
[67] Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p.584
[68] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.270, emphasis in the original
[69] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.284
[70] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, pp.399-400
[71] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.400
[72] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.357, emphasis added
[73] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.358
[74] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.412
[75] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.422
[76] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.433
[77] The British Royal Navy, unlike the British Army, has a long list of commanders who acted in the spirit of Auftragstaktik and ignored orders when necessary in order to inflict damage on the enemy. Nelson is the most famous example, a commander who relied on his own judgement and expected his subordinate commanders to do the same.
[78] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.109
[79] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.438
[80] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.433
[81] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.434
[82] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.435
[83] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.438, emphasis in the original
[84] Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, p.115-116
[85] Verlorene Siege, p.87
[86] Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, pp.587-588
[87] Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p.588. Observations by von Manstein on the German offensive after the British evacuation are consistent with Hitler’s intention to attack in the West: ‘The veil of uncertainty, the sole thing in war that has any permanence, obscured the situation and the enemy’s intentions: a careless forward movement can lead to setbacks; on the other hand, making a gift to the enemy of even just a few hours makes it possible for him to erect a new defensive line which must once again be overcome with heavy losses. […] The senior troop commander who wants to wait until he has clarity from faultless reports will barely seize just one corner of Bellona’s coat. He will miss the moment of fortune (von Manstein, Verlorene Siege, p.136).  

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