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Germany Almost Became The Victim of the World's First Blitzkrieg (In World War I)

Michael Peck

Key point: The Germans learned from the British and then used it against them.

Blitzkrieg is usually thought of as a German invention in World War II. But had Imperial Germany not been defeated in November 1918, the first victims of mechanized warfare might have been the Germans themselves in World War I.

Plan 1919 would have amassed an astonishing 5,000 tanks for a sledgehammer assault to crush the German army on the Western Front. By comparison, the Germans mustered only 3,300 tanks for its enormous invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, and just 1,200 tanks at the Battle of the Bulge.

Plan 1919 was the brainchild of JFC Fuller, a brilliant British staff officer (and later Nazi sympathizer). Fuller proposed a concept that drew on the growing success of tank warfare in the final year of the First World War. Though the first "landships" had floundered during their debut at the Somme offensive of 1916, by 1918 the British army mastered combined arms warfare that integrated infantry, armor and artillery into a devastating package. It wasn't quite the popular image of blitzkrieg—not with early tanks crawling along at 3 miles per hour—but it was sufficient to break the bloody deadlock caused by trenches, machine guns and barbed wire.

Yet had the First World War continued into 1919, Fuller envisioned something much, much more ambitious.

The forces he called for were staggering. In the initial phase of Plan 1919, a phalanx of 2,600 heavy tanks and 400 medium tanks, supported by concentrated airpower, would penetrate the German defenses along a 90-mile front. In other words, just the first wave of the offensive would comprise more tanks than the Germans employed to conquer France in 1940.

Next, 800 medium tanks would strike at German division, corps and army headquarters. Their mission would be to destroy or displace these HQs, disrupting command and control links and hampering movement of defensive reserves.

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