Blitzkrieg was never a codified dogma in the German army. Rather it evolved due to a situational requirement. Schwerpunkt, literally means, ‘Heavy-point’, although a better translation might be ‘Focal point’. In German it is a word that describes a type of solution when problem solving. Many German businesses use this term to illustrate when the majority of a finite resources should be used on a critical area of focus.
This tactic was used very successfully by Erwin Rommel during the battle of France. His armored division was often so far a head of the main line that is was referred to as the ‘Ghost Division’ since no-one knew where exactly it was, and by the time they did, Rommel had likely already moved on.
Situationally the German army could not afford to get bogged down in Poland and France. Having learned from the disaster of The first World War and how quickly the fighting had devolved into attrition trench warfare they were keen not to repeat their mistake.
The Schwerpunkt is a culmination of the situation, technology and terrain. Is is basically a modified version of the refused flank or Oblique order. Instead of concentrating your forces on one flank however, the Schwerpunkt can be used anywhere along the battle line.
The Schwerpunkt tactic uses a large hard hitting, highly mobile unit (in the German case, tanks) arranged against a long strung out battle line.
Before the offensive started, the Luftwaffe and ground based artillery would soften up the target area with bombardment.
The heavy unit would then assault the weak point in the line using overwhelming numerical superiority and speed to punch through.
Once the heavy unit had broken through it could carry on going or swing round to attack the rest of the line in the rear.
- The terrain needs to be conducive to high speed warfare. If the French had immediately blown up all their bridges and defended choke-points created by valleys and rivers the offensive would have ground to a halt.
- If your opponent is robust enough to survive the initial attack, digs in and does not panic or surrender because formations are in his rear this tactic will likely fail. The German army relied heavily on the psychological effect of Panzers and dive bombers to demoralize the enemy.
- Logistics nightmare. To feed, arm and supply a unit working behind enemy lines becomes very difficult. If your opponent can weather the storm you will quickly run out critical components. The Germans in North Africa struggled to keep their supply lines operational. A critical shortage of diesel fuel, parts and water likely aided in their defeat.
If you enjoyed reading this post, I have other posts on Tactics linked here