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The German Army

LAURENCE REES: To what extent can we see the successes that the German Army had in the early years of the war not as something wholly revolutionary, but as more of a continuum?

ROBERT CITINO: One point I’ve always tried to make in my studies of the German Army is that you have a situation here, a certain kind of military culture, which arose out of Germany and earlier than that Prussia’s geography, traditions, and position within Europe and relative lack of resources. So this was a state that almost always tried to fight so called ‘short and lively’ wars, the term is Frederick the Great’s as a matter of fact, the King of Prussia in the 18th century.  'Short and lively' wars which were translated into relatively rapid victories over the enemy’s main force within the first 6 or 8 weeks of the fighting. I could give you a long list of battles and campaigns that were fought in that mode from Frederick the Great all the way through to the era of the great Moltke in the 1860’s and 1870’s, attempted to do so in 1914, and then the early battles in World War Two. I think this was always what set Germany apart from its neighbours, it was a state that was crammed into a relatively uncomfortable spot in Central Europe with a relatively low base of resources and certainly a smaller population than the coalition of enemies that Germany could potentially be fighting. Because of that I think this whole period of the 1920s and 30s, the doctrinal and tactical reforms regarding mechanised vehicles, tanks and aircrafts, is so fascinating. And what sets the Germans apart is that they were really trying to restore something they’d been doing fairly successfully all along, fighting what they called the war of movement or the war of movement in the open field. Large scale operational manoeuvres designed to bring their main force down on the flank or into the rear of an enemy army.

In World War Two they kind of achieved the Holy Grail  - there was a brief moment in time where they had a more advanced doctrine for the utilisation of large tanks or as the Germans called them Panzer formations; their enemies were relatively less well armed and relatively less well equipped with this kind of doctrine (I’m thinking of the Polish campaign). In the French campaign while the French and British tanks were quite decent the doctrine was not there for fighting this new kind of faster paced war. In both cases a relatively small chunk of the German Army, a handful of Panzer divisions in Poland and a couple of handful of Panzer divisions in France, managed to break through the crust of the allied defenders and drive far into the rear, almost in the characteristic of large scale armoured raids that the command systems first uphold, and later the British and the French were really unable to counter. It was an all too brief moment, but it’s still one that’s impressive and still one that people ask a lot of questions about.