“Blitzkreig”, a German name for “lightning war” was Nazi Germany’s war strategy to avoid a long war during World War Two and defeat the enemies in short campaigns. History is evident that Germany was largely successful in executing this strategy as it occupied much of Europe for more than two years. This emphasized the concentration of heavy weapons such as tanks, planes, and artillery along a narrow front. The next step would be to penetrate the enemy’s defense and move freely to disorganize their defense. The German air force blocked the resupply and the land forces surrounded the opponent army and forced it to surrender.
Many countries such as Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, etc fell to this war strategy. But what is the relevance of this years-old strategy in the modern world?
Blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union
One of the biggest wars of this decade is that of Russia-Ukraine. A full-scale invasion by Russia has caught the World’s attention and might have its inspiration from the German Blitzkrieg. Ironically, the Germans used this strategy against the Soviet Union and successfully pushed the Soviets back up to 600 miles near the gates of Moscow.
A second German offensive was launched in 1942 that brought German forces to the ease of River Volga and the city of Stalingrad. Nevertheless, the Soviet Counter-offensive destroyed an entire German army at Stalingrad. Germany failed to defeat the Soviet Union which later on, with the help of Britain and the United States seized Germany.
The Russian Model of Blitzkrieg
The week reported that Russia is following the Blitzkrieg model to defeat Ukraine in a lightning war. When the invasion began, the air and land attack was aimed at breaking the resistance of Ukrainian armed forces. Months before the conflict, the Russian army surrounded the Ukrainian border and increased its military presence from Crimea and Belarus notably.
Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst said that the Russian president cannot afford a long time war so it will be a blitzkrieg. Another Ukranian academic, Valerii Pekar stated that Russia wanted a short quick war. The war began on a morning with a heavy airstrike on Kyiv just as it began in 1941.
Repeating 1942 in 2022
Maybe the Russian side did not learn a lesson from 1942 as its troops were left stranded usually rounded up by the Ukrainians due to logistical issues. Even though the weapons used were fatal and caused many civilian casualties and infrastructural damage the shortage of supply turned the strategy into “blitzfail”.
What was supposedly a short and easy war for Russia has been going on for 1.5 years with no concrete outcome. There was slow progress in controlling Kyiv and removing the government which indicates a failure. UAVs were an essential part of the war from both sides. Russia attempted to use the “Reconnaissance strike” method which it used in Syria but failed which shows the degrading Russian forces’ intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability.
Ukraine is known to have used the next-generation light anti-tank weapons which failed Russia’s attempt for a successful blitzkrieg. This failed while approaching Kyiv and the forces were forced to withdraw from Kyiv, Chernihic, and parts of Kharkiv. The West’s aid to Ukraine largely changed the face of war with several weapons outnumbering that of Russia’s. Another key factor was the intelligence of Ukraine aided by the United States and European NATO members which anticipated the troop movement and stopped it.
In 1942, the German army was successful in surprising the Soviets with strict army deployment and concentration of forces in areas adjacent to the Soviet border. They were ordered to first fight the approaching enemy and then move into territory. Soviet Intelligence failed as the Kremlin sent a directive to military headquarters to put troops on alert that arrived late.
The Soviet leadership can be blamed partially as its decisions failed to strategize the defense. This became the Soviet Achilles’ heel in the war’s early stages. Also, The Soviet Military was not able to control its troops in several directions right after the invasion started. Undeniably, the lack of technology made it difficult to communicate but the same patterns can be seen in Ukraine. The Red Army’s regular attempts to execute large-scale counter-attacks failed continuously.
A huge part of the Soviet Union was under Germany but the strong will of Soviet leadership, army, and population in general decreased the speed of occupation of Germans. Other factors also contributed to the loss of the Soviets such as the poor quality of the Red Army’s military hardware, problems faced by soldiers in operating this hardware, and inability of commanders to interpret the strategy and operational art of blitzkrieg.
As much as Russia wished for a quick and easy war in Ukraine, the timeline and ground reality have proven that this was not possible and hence speculations have grown about Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine. Russia’s military strategy, and in fact, the military strategy of any country can only truly be known by its regime.
After failure to win easily in Ukraine, Russia has learned from its mistakes and changed its war tactics. It increased the troop numbers and improved weaponry while bringing heavy bombs from its Cold War-era arsenal. This could turn into a long battle of attrition on both sides. Not repeating its mistakes from 1942, and strengthened its ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ defense strategy. Russia has built heavy defense along the 1000 km front line full of land mines that have already destroyed many Ukranian tanks trying to penetrate Russian territory.
The military was stopped from a massive invasion, especially in Kyiv but it managed to retain several territories such as Bakhmut, Donetsk, Luhansk, etc. Russia would try to hit Ukraine from a distance using drones and artillery, avoiding more soldier casualties. With NATO pulling back its support from Ukraine, it will be concerning to see what happens next.
Blitzkrieg has certainly failed in Ukraine and what can be noticed right now is a long war of attrition that will go back and forth. Even if Russian military resources outnumber that of Ukraine, its shortcomings and support by the West to Ukraine have maintained almost an even situation on the battlefield.