Heinz Guderian is considered to be the father of Blitzkrieg – the method of attacking that took all nations by surprise up to 1941 in World War Two. Heinz Guderian’s mode of fighting had a devastating impact on Poland and in the west of Europe leading up to the Allies withdrawal at Dunkirk. Probably its most awesome use was at Operation Barbarossa – the attack on Russia in 1941. Guderian remained a favourite of Hitler while Blitzkrieg proved so successful.
Heinz Guderian was born in 1888 at Kulm. He was educated in Prussia and in 1908 gained a commission in the German Army. He served as an infantry officer. From 1914 to 1917, Guderian served in Flanders and would have experienced the lack of mobility first hand that existed on the Western Front. He would also have been acutely aware of the carnage that took place on the Western Front. Guderian joined the General Staff and by the end of the war, he had developed a specialised knowledge in motorised transport.
Guderian concentrated his idea on developing a highly mobile mechanised army. He wrote “Actung Panzer” which came to the attention of Hitler. This was Guderian’s plan to make war mobile by having a force that was consistently moving forward, never giving the enemy the time to regroup etc. From July 1934, Guderian was given the task by Hitler of perfecting the fighting techniques of the Panzers – light tanks, supported by infantry and planes – which was to become the legendary Blitzkrieg mode of attacking an enemy.
Guderian faced numerous obstacles within the Wehrmacht’s hierarchy. He was told that an attack on Belgium and France would falter because of the river systems that flowed through the region. How could tanks cross rivers – especially the wide River Meuse?
Guderian’s plan included the use of specialist engineering units that could assemble pontoon bridges quickly that could take the weight of tanks and supporting vehicles. In this way, his Panzer units crossed rivers with ease – and those senior commanders who had failed to support Guderian in the development of his idea, had to admit that they were wrong. A Blitzkrieg attack could also include the use of paratroopers.
It was Blitzkrieg that resulted in the Allies being pushed back to Dunkirk and the initial success of the huge attack on the Soviet Union that was Operation Barbarossa, was also based on Blitzkrieg. For the attack on Russia, Guderian was in charge of the Second Panzer Army.
Ironically, it was the failure of Blitzkrieg to deliver a knockout blow in Russia that led to Hitler sacking Guderian at the end of 1941. However, Hitler reinstated him in 1943 as the Inspector General of Armoured Troops and after the July Bomb Plot of 1944, Guderian became Chief of the General Staff.
Such a resurrection of a military career under Hitler was rare but Hitler himself had experienced the horrors of trench warfare in World War One, and the relationship he had with Guderian was usually a positive one as Guderian had been the man to bring mobility to the Wehrmacht. In response to Hitler’s treatment of him, Guderian remained loyal to Hitler and accepted his dismissal from the positions he held on March 28th 1945, when it was clear that he was incapable of preventing the Russians from occupying Berlin.
Guderian died in 1954 aged 66.