Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War IIby John Mosier
The great myth of the First World War was that defense was all-powerful. In the inter war years, a new myth appeared -- that the new technology of the airplane and the tank would result in rapid and massive breakthroughs on the battlefield, with the enemy being/i>/center>
The great myth of the First World War was that defense was all-powerful. In the inter war years, a new myth appeared -- that the new technology of the airplane and the tank would result in rapid and massive breakthroughs on the battlefield, with the enemy being destroyed in weeks.
John Mosier shows how Hitler, Rommel, von Manstein, Montgomery, and Patton were all equally seduced by the breakthrough myth, or blitzkrieg, as the decisive way to victory. He shows how the Polish campaign in the autumn of 1939 and the fall of France in the spring of 1940 were not blitzkrieg victories. He also reinterprets Rommel's North African campaigns, D day, the Normandy campaign, and Hitler's last desperate breakthrough effort to Antwerp in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, among others. All these actions saw the clash of breakthrough theories with the realities of conventional military tactics. The Blitzkrieg Myth is a compelling and original rethinking of the strategy and tactics of World War II by the author of the highly praised The Myth of the Great War.
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The Blitzkrieg Myth
How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II
War as Pseudoscience: 1920-1939Nothing is more dangerous in war than theoreticians.
- MARSHAL PÉTAIN
The Second World War was the complete opposite of the First. In the latter, Allied propagandists had been free to weave their fables, unchecked and unquestioned. The result was a highly consistent series of myths that foundered not because of any real internal inconsistencies but because they were based on a series of palpable untruths, facts about relative losses of men and territory that could ultimately be verified or proved false.
This was not possible in the Second World War, in which, from the very first, many of the claims of the combatants were subject to verification. Americans listening to William Shirer's censored broadcasts from Berlin in 1939-40 received a surprisingly coherent and in many respects truthful account of what was happening -- even under the worst censorship it far exceeded what had been available in 1914-15. Moreover there were men in Great Britain who had bitter memories of how their government had managed the truth. When, in 1940, the government attempted to lay all the blame for the collapse on the hapless Belgians, Adm. Sir Roger Keyes stood up in the House and exposed the government's efforts for what they were -- an attempt to find a scapegoat to cover up its own ineptitude. Like all slanders, bits and pieces of this one stuck, but the myth of how Belgium betrayed the Allied cause and brought it to ruin was quickly shattered.
It was precisely the lack of any central coherent myth to recast the narrative of World War II that made all the various accounts so full of internal contradictions and anomalies. It was easy to see that, but the very incoherence of the narrative of the war made it difficult to piece together what had actually happened.
The explanation is that military theory between the wars was dominated by the work of airpower enthusiasts and apostles of armored warfare. In both cases and in every country, the theoreticians resorted to rewriting the history of the Great War to vindicate their theories about how wars should be fought. When the Second World War actually broke out on September 1, 1939, both the military theorists and the propagandists of the combatants produced converging explanations of what had happened.
The invasion of Poland provides a perfect example. Hider's propagandists were eager to portray the Polish offensive as a terrifying German military triumph that glorified not only the achievements of the Luftwaffe, which from the first had been regarded as the most National Socialist of the services, but would glorify those achievements in such a way as to cower everyone else into submission.
The airpower enthusiasts and armored apostles were only too delighted to shape the Polish campaign so that it justified their emphasis on armor and airplanes. To the followers of Giulio Douhet (and to the airmen in the United States and Great Britain who hit on these same ideas independently) the Polish campaign was proof positive that the side that lost command of the air would be quickly destroyed -- from the air. The misleading and simplistic belief that Warsaw was destroyed by the Luftwaffe was thus turned into a great symbol with all sorts of layers: on one level it represented the barbarism of Hitler's ideas, on another it served as a sort of dissuasive bogeyman for timid Frenchmen and Englishmen. And on still another level it supported the arguments that more money needed to be spent on airplanes instead of other areas of national defense.
Since Poland had even fewer tanks than it had planes, much the same process occurred. The German successes, insofar as they were not exclusively caused by airplanes, were attributed to the fact (in reality not particularly true) that they deployed tanks en masse, organized as armored divisions. An army with no armored divisions was helpless in the face of this onslaught.
However, the primary reasons for Poland's defeat were strategic, not tactical. When Erich von Manstein dissected the causes of Poland's defeat, his concluding sentence was that "Poland's defeat was the inevitable outcome of the Warsaw government's illusions about the actions its allies would take, as well as of its over-estimation of the Polish Army's ability to offer lengthy resistance." As we shall see, even this oversimplifies the situation considerably, but then Manstein, a keen supporter of Hitler, forbore to do more than briefly mention Poland's other strategic difficulties.
The point is not to deny the importance either of technology or tactics on the battlefield, but simply to say that the fundamental error lies in elevating those two components above all other concerns. The Polish government believed, with justification, that it had a guarantee from both France and England to begin offensive operations against Germany if that country attacked Poland. If Poland's army could hold out for two weeks, the Allied attack would force Germany to reallocate its army and air force to the defense of its own territory. That these agreements were actually made, and were not simply some illusion on the part of the Polish government, is incontrovertible. So is the fact that on September 14, 1939, Poland still had substantial armies in the field and was in control of a surprisingly large amount of its national territory. So although tactics and technology played an important part in the defeat, they were by no means the primary causes. In a war that pitched its army against Germany's and the Soviet Union's, Poland would have lost, whether the Germans deployed tanks and airplanes or not.
The Blitzkrieg as an Idea Both True and False
As the Germans occupied northern France and what we now call Benelux, demolished Yugoslavia and then Greece, and routed the Soviet armies in the summer of 1941, Allied analysts insisted that the cause was simple ...The Blitzkrieg Myth
How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II. Copyright © by John Mosier. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
John Mosier is the author of The Myth of the Great War. He is full professor of English at Loyola University in New Orleans, where, as chair of the English Department and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he taught primarily European literature and film. His background as a military historian dates from his role in developing an interdisciplinary curriculum for the study of the two world wars, a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. From 1989 to 1992 he edited the New Orleans Review. He lives in Jefferson, Louisiana.
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