Blitzkrieg–the word evokes images of charging panzers, Stuka dive bombers, and encircled French troops. The purpose of this article is to discuss the accuracy of this general impression and then meditate on the whether or not Flames of War captures this style of offensive warfare on the table top. So what are we talking about when we use the term? In practical terms blitzkrieg refers to the mobile warfare doctrine developed by a younger generation of German officers in the 1930s. These officers argued that armoured forces should be concentrated along a narrow front to achieve a breakthrough in the enemy’s lines. Many military forces in the 1930s saw armour as primarily a tool for infantry support and tanks were distributed among infantry formations rather than concentrated in armoured divisions. According to the German model the concentrated mobile forces could exploit breakthroughs and plunge deep behind the enemy lines to destroy logistics and command structures. At the same time large portions of the enemy would be encircled and eliminated.
Let’s take a look at an actual German operation. The German strategic offensive for the summer of 1942, Case Blue, involved a huge drive into southern Russia. Hitler committed a blunder in August when he split Army Group South into two groups. One group continued to push south to the oil fields. The other group headed to the Volga and Stalingrad. As the Germans approached the Volga there was a major engagment west of the Russian village of Kalach. The German military published a magazine called Signal for popular reading by the troops. The following maps of the battle of Kalach are taken from it.
In this first map below we see the initial German penetration north of Kalach. There is a major cut from the north and a broader application of pressure from the south. Bear two things in mind as you look at this first map. First, we’re in mid-1942 now and the Soviets and others are now implementing (or attempting) counters to blitzkrieg. You see it in the two black arrows. These represent Soviet forces attacking the flanks of the armoured spearhead. If these attacks succeed then the German armoured forces become encircled, not the Soviets. The attack failed in this circumstance–beaten off by German grenadiers following up the armoured forces. The second thing to note is the bulge created by the German advance. This illustrates the dual purpose of the blitzkrieg: exploit but also encircle.