Lightning war in practice. German tanks with support of dive bombers advance through Poland in September 1939.



Blitzkrieg - or "lightning war" - is the term characterizing a set of war features, whose theoretical paradigms are elaborated to assure prompt victory. The victory in a "lightning war" is achieved through overwhelming the enemy by massive and surprising strikes from the air and on the land.

In the course of the "lightning war" within a short period of time the enemy forces are destroyed,  the social and economical life of the  country is disorganized, and its territory occupied. 

The theory of the "lightning war", as an aggressive war, aiming at surprising and overwhelming of a stronger opponent before it has a chance to mobilize its strategic resources, had been worked out since the beginning of the 20th century, especially by the German military strategists. It was based on the works of the German Field-Marshal Helmuth Moltke (1800-1891) and Field-Marshal Alfred Schlieffen (1883-1914), proclaiming the thesis of achieving the final victory in one, decisive general battle.

Despite of the failure of that theory in 1914, which transformed the First World War (1914-1918) into a static, materiel war of attrition, the theory of the "lightning war" got it further development during the inter-war period, chiefly due to the emergence of the air and armoured forces, which re-invigorated old theories and added the concepts of "air war" and "tank war" to the military thought.

Among the continuers of the theory of the "lightning war" in Germany was General Erich Ludendorff, who summarized his views in the book Der Totale Krieg (The Total War). Emergence of the air and armoured forces made his theories extremely popular; in Nazi Germany they had got further development and were adopted as the official strategic doctrine.

Quick military victories over weak opponents at the outset of the Second World War seemed to prove the German theories of the "lightning war", and influenced further development of the German armed forces, especially the air force and armoured troops, and their organization, training, tactics and operational deployment. For short, they may be summarized in the following set of basic concepts:
  1. Air forces deal massive air strikes against the enemy standing army, its rears, major roads, airfields and communications centres. At the same time ground troops attack along the entire length of the front (or the state border) and engage the enemy in minor skirmishes, to prevent the enemy from discovering the main axes of attack.
  2. Assault of the bulk of motorized forces breaks through the enemy defence lines, disrupting its supplies, communications and the routes of retreat. Infantry continues advance to consolidate the success of the motorized troops, capture POW's and stocks of mar materials.
  3. Infantry and other units outflank the enemy in order to encircle pockets of enemy defence.
  4. Mechanized units wedge and penetrate deep into enemy territory to disrupt enemy efforts to restore defences on new positions.
  5. Joint forces surround and destroy the core of the enemy forces, force them to surrender, and force the enemy state to capitulate.
Nevertheless, the theory of the "lightning war" proved faulty in the clash with equal or superior enemy, in which material and human resources of the opponents, the strength of their economy, industrial output, and the ideological unity of the fighting nation played the crucial role.