Nevertheless, nearly every senior German officer felt that if such reversal required war, Germany would have to wait to fight it. From its prescribed post-Versailles size of 100,000 men, the German army had recently expanded to well over a million, and would eventually grow to 4 million; but the expansion had come too fast, and the new soldiers lacked thorough training. The appearance of organized and armed SS military units - the force that would become the Waffen SS - was also of deep concern to Germany's regular army officers. How would these new soldiers, so thoroughly indoctrinated with Nazi dogma, so ferociously loyal to the party elite - and most important, so openly scornful of the regular army - behave in the field?
Even more crucial was the question of incorporating Germany's new military arms - the Luftwaffe and the panzer (armored) divisions - into the operations of the German army as a whole. In Germany as elsewhere, the debate over mobile armored warfare had raged ever since British tanks had made their presence felt in World War I. In England, Captain Basil Liddell Hart and Major J. F. C. Fuller had spent the decade of the twenties calling loudly but in vain for a new kind of army, in which masses of tanks would shatter linear fronts, race to the enemy's rear, and disrupt military and political control. It was warfare wholly unlike what had been the rule from 1914 to 1918. Fast and fluid, limiting destruction through mobility and seeking decision rather than devastation, mobile armored warfare represented a quantum leap in military thinking.
The idea was at variance with Britain's military tradition, as well as with that of the other victorious Allied powers, and was slow to take root. But in Germany it found fertile soil, for it must be remembered that the protracted attrition that was World War I was an anomaly in German (and especially Prussian) military history. Because of her geographic position - in a word, surrounded - Prussia's military goal since the days of Frederick the Great had consistently been quick, decisive campaigns that would allow her forces to turn speedily from one enemy to the next. Multiple-front wars were anathema to Prussian soldiers; protracted wars equally so.
The philosophy of mobility and quick decisions developed steadily in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Prussia and was given its fullest embodiment by Helmuth von Moltke during his stunningly swift victories over Austria in 1866 and France in 1870-71. Thus the new armored tactics did not represent a departure from the German emphasis on quick decisions and mobility; on the contrary, they simply sped those processes up, to a point where - to older, more conservative minds - they were scarcely recognizable. But the link between blitzkrieg and Prussian campaigns of the past was real and evident, even if senior commanders could not see it.
Of course, the partisan attitude of many armored and air enthusiasts during the interwar years was not altogether helpful in easing the German army's old school into the new era of blitzkrieg. This was particularly true of the father of Germany's panzer tactics and divisions, General Heinz Guderian. Building on the theories of Fuller and Liddell Hart, Guderian envisaged a new style of warfare in which tanks were supported by motorized infantry, mobile artillery, and air power - an integrated force that could achieve decisive results at the strategic as well as the tactical level. Whole nations, he believed, could be brought to capitulation within a matter of days through the use of such a force.
Guderian was not a member of the Prussian military aristocracy. He was plainspoken to the point of bluntness - even, on occasion, rudeness - and his opinions of junior and senior officers alike were ill-shrouded. For example, General Beck, the much-admired chief of the general staff who had been dismissed by Hitler, had been to Guderian "a procrastinator," "a paralyzing element wherever he appeared," "a disciple of Moltke...[with] no understanding of modern technical matters." Recalled another armored commander, General Ritter von Thoma, following the Second World War, "It was commonly said in the German army that Guderian was always seeing red, and was too inclined to charge like a bull."
Reprinted from No End Save Victory Edited by Robert Cowley by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Edited by Robert Cowley. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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