BLITZKRIEG (LIGHTNING WAR)
In the first phase of World War II in Europe, Germany sought to avoid a long war. Germany's strategy was to defeat its opponents in a series of short campaigns. Germany quickly overran much of Europe and was victorious for more than two years by relying on a new military tactic called the "Blitzkrieg" (lightning war). Blitzkrieg tactics required the concentration of offensive weapons (such as tanks, planes, and artillery) along a narrow front. These forces would drive a breach in enemy defenses, permitting armored tank divisions to penetrate rapidly and roam freely behind enemy lines, causing shock and disorganization among the enemy defenses. German air power prevented the enemy from adequately resupplying or redeploying forces and thereby from sending reinforcements to seal breaches in the front. German forces could in turn encircle opposing troops and force surrender. Germany successfully used the Blitzkrieg tactic against Poland (attacked in September 1939), Denmark (April 1940), Norway (April 1940), Belgium (May 1940), the Netherlands (May 1940), Luxembourg (May 1940), France (May 1940), Yugoslavia (April 1941), and Greece (April 1941). Germany did not defeat Great Britain, which was protected from German ground attack by the English Channel and the Royal Navy.
Despite the continuing war with Great Britain, German forces invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. At first, the German Blitzkrieg seemed to succeed. Soviet forces were driven back more than 600 miles to the gates of Moscow, with staggering losses. In December 1941, Hitler unilaterally declared war on the United States, which consequently added its tremendous economic and military power to the coalition arrayed against him. A second German offensive against the Soviet Union in 1942 brought German forces in the east to the shores of the Volga River and the city of Stalingrad. However, the Soviet Union launched a counteroffensive in November 1942, trapping and destroying an entire German army at Stalingrad. Germany proved unable to defeat the Soviet Union, which together with Great Britain and the United States seized the initiative from Germany. Germany became embroiled in a long war, leading ultimately to its defeat in May 1945.
This second global conflict resulted from the rise of totalitarian, militaristic regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan, a phenomenon stemming in part from the Great Depression that swept over the world in the early 1930s and from the conditions created by the peace settlements (191920) following World War I. After World War I, defeated Germany, disappointed Italy, and ambitious Japan were anxious to regain or increase their power; all three eventually adopted forms of dictatorship (see National Socialism and fascism) that made the state supreme and called for expansion at the expense of neighboring countries. These three countries also set themselves up as champions against Communism, thus gaining at least partial tolerance of their early actions from the more conservative groups in the Western democracies. Also important was a desire for peace on the part of the democracies, which resulted in their military unpreparedness. Finally, the League of Nations, weakened from the start by the defection of the United States, was unable to promote disarmament (see Disarmament Conference); moreover, the long economic depression sharpened national rivalries, increased fear and distrust, and made the masses susceptible to the promises of demagogues. The failure of the League to stop the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1931 was followed by a rising crescendo of treaty violations and acts of aggression. Adolf Hitler, when he rose to power (1933) in Germany, recreated the German army and prepared it for a war of conquest; in 1936 he remilitarized the Rhineland. Benito Mussolini conquered (193536) Ethiopia for Italy; and from 1936 to 1939 the Spanish civil war raged, with Germany and...
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