DZ Season 059 Part 5. Blitzkrieg – Born May 1940 – Died December 1941 – You Won’t Even Cross the Meuse River
On 15 March 1940, less than two months before the launching of the German offensive in the West, Hitler summoned a meeting of General von Runstedt, the commander of Army Group A, the commanders of the individual armies under his command, and the commanders of the panzer forces, Heinrich von Kleist and Heinz Guderian.
The purpose of the meeting was for each of the generals to present their plan for the first phase of the looming offensive. Guderian was the last to speak. He began explaining what he’d do once he‘d crossed the Meuse.
As Guderian was speaking, General Ernst Busch, the commander in chief of the Sixteenth Army, interrupted him saying:
Well, I don't think you'll cross the river in the first place!
Hitler was silent. It was a disturbing suggestion. He looked to Guderian to – hopefully - firmly rebut this comment. Guderian turned to Busch and said:
There's no need for you to do so, in any case.
Long after everything had gone better than anyone of those doubting generals at that meeting had imagined, Guderian spoke of a
hard task ahead, in whose successful outcome nobody at that time actually believed, with the exception of Hitler, Manstein and myself.
Hitler honestly had no idea of the breathtaking operations that Guderian was intending to unleash, as he lost it on more than one occasion when things were under way and going unbelievably as expected. Hitler wasn’t the sort of ally that Guderian was going to need when his panzers were racing ahead of the infantry – no one protecting the flanks or rear of the panzers.
Manstein had been gotten out of the way by Franz Halder the German Army chief of staff who detested the man on the personal level and hadn’t wanted Hitler to hear about Manstein’s ridiculous idea of attacking out of the Ardennes, something Hitler himself was keen to do. Until February 1940 Halder had, managed to keep Hitler in his cage – that was when Hitler’s Army adjutant, Schmundt, had brought the two together – and that plan became THE plan.
The only people who were involved with the execution of the Sichelschnitt (Sickle Cut) Plan, who believed in what Guderian was going to do, who were on the spot, were a few of his younger subordinate generals who increasingly believed in this insane plan. Realising what, until then, had been the largely unsuspected possibilities that slumbered in the German Panzer force. Luckily, commanding one of the panzer divisions, the 7th Panzer Division, was its new commander, Erwin Rommel. Rommel had in fact conducted a blitzkrieg in World War I, commanding infantry, not tanks, in what was going to be the style of the panzer blitzkrieg, exhilaratingly recounted by him in his 1936 book, Infantry Attacks describing his operations during the Battle of Caporetto in north Italy in 1918. His leadership of that Panzer Division resulted in his enemy calling it the ghost division, because no one knew where it was, advancing so swiftly once it was thrown into the fight.
In this programme I’m going to look at the disbelief of the German officer corp, with a few exceptions, at this wild scheme that Manstein and Hitler had cooked up.
Tag words: Blitzkrieg; Meuse River; General von Runstedt; Adolf hitler; General Heinrich von Kleist; Heinz Guderian; General Ernst Busch; Erich von Manstein; Franz Halder; Sichelschnitt Plan; Sickle Cut Plan; Erwin Rommel; 7th Panzer Division; Infantry Attacks; General Alfred Jodl; General Georg von Sodenstern; General Water von Brauchitsch; Schlieffen Plan; Bock; Karl-Heinz Frieser; Blitzkrieg Legend; Oberst i.G. Kurt Zeitzler;