The Blitzkrieg Myth
John Mosier
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Buy *The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II* online

The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II
John Mosier
352 pages
November 2003
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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"It is often opined that truth is the first casualty of war. On the contrary it would be more accurate to say that truth is the first casualty of the theories of war."
       -- The Blitzkrieg Myth, John Mosier, p. 279
There are many things that are "common knowledge" about World War II, at least for those of us who have any interest in it whatsoever. The German army was far superior to the Allied armies and was defeated by the sheer numbers and industrial capacity of the Allies, especially the United States. The Germans ran over its conquests in a series of lightning thrusts that broke down defenses before they could react, surprising them and terrorizing them until they surrendered. A large part of the Allied victory was the strategic bombing of German cities that severely disrupted German industry, especially munitions.

According to The Blitzkrieg Myth by John Mosier (professor of English at Loyola University), only two of those three statements are actually true, despite them being known to everyone. The German army was superior to other armies, especially where training and officer experience was concerned. Mosier quotes sources that say that every German soldier was equal to about 1.2 Allied soldiers and 2 Russian soldiers. When Germany lost the war, it was not because of quality but because of strategic errors made by proponents of what has become known as Blitzkrieg (Mosier calls it "Breakthrough"). Advocates of this strategy, where tanks are used to smash through enemy lines and to create havoc in the defenders' rear areas, believed that infantry had had its day and that tanks and other armored vehicles were the future of warfare. Despite what historians have been saying for years, Mosier thinks that this is all a myth.

Mosier certainly presents his case well. The Blitzkrieg Myth is meticulously researched, with extensive notes where the author not only quotes his sources but often also tells how accurate those sources are. He is not afraid to quote sources he doesn't agree with, and then present facts to show why he disagrees with these sources. The notes are laid out in a clear fashion, attached to the end of each chapter rather then all gathered at the end of the book. Mosier refrains from using the form of notation I hate, which is when just a fragment of the quote is given and then the note. Instead, Mosier uses numbers, which is much clearer. The layout of the book is easy to read, and it's easy to keep track of Mosier's notations. For once, I actually followed each one instead of giving up in frustration.

Mosier tackles two "myths" in this book: the power of armored warfare and the power of strategic air bombing. Mosier shows that, despite what we have been told, Germany did not have a clear superiority in tanks at the beginning of the war, and that the Germans did not subscribe to the "Blitzkrieg" strategy to invade Poland and France. Instead, he demonstrates how a large portion of German military funding before the war was spent on fortifications on the French frontier, much like the French did with the Maginot line (and which the French have historically been criticized for doing). Thus, German tanks were small in number (the French actually had more, despite conventional wisdom) and many were obsolete by the time the war started.

He demonstrates that German military doctrine was far different than many have believed. They did not use armored spearheads to inflict panic on Allied rear areas. Instead, they used a broad-front strategy, attacking in many different places at the same time, overwhelming the defenses and making it so they couldn't react. When they did attempt the Breakthrough strategy, it never worked or caused huge casualties when it did work (like the airborne drops on Belgium and Holland). In point of fact, Hitler was one of the few Germans who believed in the Breakthrough doctrine, and he attempted to use the strategy once he took over military affairs. He tried it twice (Avaranches in France and the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium), and both times the result was a hastened German defeat. Allied generals who tried the strategy inevitably found that the Germans were able to quickly shift defenses to halt the attacks. If Hitler hadn't wasted German resources on futile offensives, the Germans could have held on a lot longer than they finally did.

Mosier attacks the concept of strategic bombing, making a vivid case for how immoral it was. This was because it ended up killing hundreds of thousands of civilians despite having no real effect on the war. He shows that German industrial capacity did not go down in 1943, when the bombing process really began. It did start going down in 1944, but a large part of that can be attributed to the loss of natural resources in areas where the Allies were taking back territory and depriving the German war machine of these resources. Mosier attempts to discredit those who say the bombing campaigns contributed to the ending of the war, and criticizes those who massage the numbers (or completely ignore them) to make it look like it did have an effect.

The Blitzkrieg Myth is compelling reading and will force the reader to rethink many of the things you thought you knew about the war. While the book is excellent, it does have a few mild faults. First, Mosier stays away from the Eastern front completely, only talking about the Soviets when it comes to their war with the Finns. He concentrates on Poland, Scandinavia, France, North Africa and Western Europe. He comments on Italy and states often how erroneous it was for the Allies to invade it when the real war would be won in France, but he doesn't concentrate on it (though he does keep referring to the waste of Allied lives there). He does mention the fact that most of the battles with the Soviets would only strengthen his arguments, but it would have been nice to have him show that. At 312 pages, this book could stand to have been expanded to include it.

Secondly, he spends a lot of time defending Montgomery, one of the most disliked British generals in the war. This is not a fault, as Mosier goes far to prove that Montgomery was one of the most misunderstood generals. But sometimes he overemphasizes it, going out of his way to clear the maligned general's name. Thankfully, he does acknowledge Montgomery's shortcomings, especially when it comes down to Operation Market Garden, the ill-advised plan to drop airborne troops in Holland to take a bunch of bridges and then have an armored spearhead drive up the road to meet them. That's what makes this a minor fault rather than a major one.

All in all, The Blitkrieg Myth is a fascinating book if you are at all interested in World War II. Even if you aren't convinced, it will make you think and re-evaluate what you know about the war. Give it a try.

© 2003 by David Roy for Curled Up With a Good Book

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