Sunday, March 14, 2021

Heinz Guderian and Modern Armored Warfare


Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (1888-1954) is remembered by history as being a dedicated soldier, a great military leader and a brilliant military theorist. Guderian was, in fact, the father of "Blitzkrieg," which is literally translated as "Lightning War." 
Gen. Heinz W. Guderian

Yet, in remembering the service and even the brilliance of Guderian's tactical accumen, it would be a disservice not to also remember he was a Nazi who willingly followed every murderous order Fuhrer Adolf Hitler ever gave. Maybe Guderian was just trying to survive, or he had some philosophy about 'the greater good' of his service. Nevertheless, one of Guderian's faces was that of a Nazi stooge and that existed in the same person as the great military leader and brilliant strategist. 

Guderian's "Lightning War" played a central role for the Nazi War machine, especially in the early days of World War II on battlefields in Poland, France and the Soviet Union, among others.  Essentially, Guderian had placed a premium on coordination between combat arms, air, combat support and combat service support during the attack phase of military operations. 

Today, the idea of brigade or even division combat teams, where singular commanders control a wide array of assets for periods of time is not unusual. But the "combat team" concept could be said to have its origins in Lightning War. 
Guderian confers withi hs staff

In order to make Lightning War possible, the development of armored warfare was a must. Lightning War depended upon the creation of a fast, powerful and crushing tank force that would be accompanied by armored infantry, fast-moving artillery, and with logistics elements fast enough to keep up with any advance these forces could achieve.

In modern military forces throughout the world today, all of Guderian's concept seem like common sense. Yes, they are common sense. But, in the world of the early 20th century these ideas represented a revolution in creating armaments, organizing forces, training these forces, promoting the right kinds of leaders and, finally, engaging these forces in actual field oeprations. The fact that these concepts arose from a Nazi is, historically, a shame but nonetheless true. 

Guderian had the resume of great German generals, beginning when he was born in West Prussia to Friedrich Guderian, a Prussian officer who was from a line of Prussian officers. Guderian began at cadet school during 1903. Guderian entered the Army as a cadet officer in 1907, with the 10th Hanoverian Light Infantry Battalion commanded by his father. 

When World War I broke out, Guderian served as a communications officer and the commander of a radio station. During this assignment he earned the rank of first lieutenant. Subsequently, it was Guderian who was in charge of signals intelligence for the 4th Army. By the time the war finally concluded, in 1918, Guderian had been promoted to the German General Staff as an operations officer. 

Though allowed to remain in the Army after the 1918 Treaty of Versailles, where Germany surrendered to Allied Forces, he served in an army without a direction. For Guderian, however, the Interwar years (1918-1939) he studied the works of leading military theorists about armored warfare and between 1922 and 1928 wrote scholarly works in five papers about the advance of armored warfare and related those works to the loss of the war by Germany. 

World War I German Imperial Battle Flag

Guderian's work did not go unnoticed and, during the 1930s, he played a central role in the development of armored warfare concepts and the development of mechanized offensive warfare. Guderian was placed in command of the 3rd Motor Transport Battalion during this period and this unit literally became the blueprint for his force development later.

There are military readers who believe force improvements can be made in isolation from the total force. However, without the ability to supply beans and bullets forward, where combat units are throwing lead, then no fast-moving combat arms force could survive its own operations. And, Guderian knew that and developed ideas in logistics along with his Lightning War. 

In his 1937 book "Achtung -- Panzer!" Guderian wrote directly to the invasion of the Soviet Union, which appealed to the Nai political movement that was in the process of seizing military power in Germany. Unlike many officers, Guderian was optimistic about a German invasion of the Soviets. And, by 1941, Guderian had accepted Hitler's vision that such an invasion was necessary to the national security of Germany. 

Guderian's final rank was as Generaloberst

At the beginning of the war, Hitler placed Guderian in charge of an armored corps during the Invasion of Poland. With his corps, Guderian also played a key role in the successful invasion of France by the Germans. Finally, Guderian was appointed as commander of the 2nd Panzer Army during the invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941. The objective of this invasion, codenamed "Operation Barbarossa," was intended to culminate in "Operation Typhoon," which was the conquest of Moscow. 

Guderian failed to reach the mark, though. And, in 1943, Hitler appointed Guderian as General of the Armored Corps. With this assignment, Guderian was expected to oversee military training of armored units and develop the creation of an improved armored force. However, by then, the Germans had begun the long process of losing the war and the resources Guderian had to achieve this goal were worsening. 
Adolf Hitler congratulates Guderian after the Polish invasion. Guderian was a
staunchadvocate for Hitler and Nazism during his wartime service and after. 

Finally, with Germany retreating on all fronts in 1944, Hitler appointed Guderian in charge of his "Court of Honor." This court essentially discharged military officers associated with a failed July 20th coups against Hitler, clearing the way for them to be executed as traitors by the state. 

Guderian surrendered to U.S. Forces in May, 1945 and was imprisoned until 1948. In the end, he was discharged from prison without any charges and went on to become a notable memoirist who died in May, 1954 of unreported reasons.

Though there were never any documents linking Guderian to war crimes, he remained a supporter of Hitler's and Nazism after the war, despite frequent employment with U.S. Forces in a historical context. 

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