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Blitzkrieg Legend

Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2005

THE BLITZKRIEG LEGEND
By Karl-Heinz Frieser
(Naval Institute, 507 pages, $47.50)

['The Blitzkrieg Legend']

When American troops stormed through Iraq in the spring of 2003, they were following a model made famous by the Germans in May 1940. With France defended at length by pillboxes and artillery pieces, German tanks rammed through a narrow front and reached the sea in just three weeks -- the same time it took the U.S. Marines to reach Baghdad. Their armies in disarray, the French surrendered, and the British escaped by the skin of their teeth at Dunkirk.

All the while, like television pundits fretting that the rapid American advance left the troops vulnerable to flank attack, the German high command -- including Adolf Hitler -- was in a panic over the risks inherent in the blitzkrieg (lightning war). Afterward, of course, Hitler took credit for inventing the concept.

Hitler's authorship is just one of the myths debunked in "The Blitzkrieg Legend" by Karl-Heinz Frieser, a German army colonel and military historian whose work has been ably Englished with the help of U.S. Army historian John Greenwood. Another misapprehension Mr. Frieser puts right: that the blitzkrieg was an altogether new tactic in 1940. In fact, it was prefigured by German storm-troop assaults of World War I and indeed by the cavalry charges of an earlier time.

Mr. Frieser also attempts to revise conventional wisdom about the French army's quick capitulation. He argues that France had more and better tanks than the Germans, a substantial air force and soldiers who fought stoutly whenever they had the chance. But those opportunities were rare, the consequence of ossified leadership and poor communications. In war, fortune favors the swift -- and the commander with the working radio.

--Daniel Ford

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