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Posted on Nov 17, 2007 in Armchair Reading

Guderian Article

By Dave Innes

Dear Sir,

Armchair General is a terrific magazine for the military history enthusiast and I look forward to each issue.  While I haven’t consumed the entire January 2008 publication yet, I would like to commend your attention to a few items about the Guderian article:

First, page 52 states, “He wrote staff studies and learned the technical aspects of motorized warfare, reading everything he could find on armoured warfare – primarily the works of Britons J.F.C. Fuller and Liddell Hart.”  It is true Guderian did read and study “Plan 1919”- an operational plan intended by J.F.C. Fuller (as Alexander Haig’s Chief of Staff) to be the final offensive of WWI to be launched in spring 1919.  The Plan was written during the early fall of 1918 which conceptualized into operating orders what later became know as “Blitzkreig.  That is, a combined arms approach using aircraft, artillery, armor and infantry to punch a hole into the enemy lines at a decisive point – what the Germans called “Schwerpunkt”- and then exploit that opening using massed armor to create confusion, disrupt rear area (headquarters and communications units primarily if they could be found) and panic in the rear to collapse the enemy front.  Guderian pursued this line of thought (greatly simplified here) in his book, “Achtung Panzer” published in 1937.

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I love B.H.Liddell-Hart’s books.  In fact I own over 20 of them, all first editions.  Yet, the plain fact is that there is no evidence Guderian, or any pre-war German general for that matter, even heard of him, much less was influenced by him.  Heinz Guderian never met Liddell Hart until he was incarcerated immediately after the war by the victorious Allied forces.  The oft-stated fiction that Guderian read Liddell Hart, and was influenced by him – pre-war – is revisionist history created by Mr. Liddell Hart to promote himself as the co-inventor of blitzkrieg.  Given the historical record, J.F.C. Fuller appears to be the conceptual creator of blitzkrieg.  Even at that, his work on Plan 1919 was a synthesis of armor deployments learned through trial and error in WWI.  A good book that visits the entire issue of who created the concept was Charles Messenger’s “The Blitzkreig Story” (Charles Scribner 1976).

The next error is column three, page 52 which states, “However, the new chancellor Adolf Hitler, was impressed with Guderian’s book and with the motorized troop exercises the panzer leader demonstrated to him.  “This is what I have to have!” Hitler exclaimed at the demonstration”.  The Hitler quote is a direct pull from Panzer Leader.  However, there is no evidence Hitler never read Guderian’s book nor any of the many articles he wrote for the internal German military publications.  Guderian I’m sure would have mentioned it if Hitler told him he read anything he published as Heinz, although a true military professional, certainly was not adverse to having good things said about him.

Admittedly a minor point, page 53 states “The fuhrer (sic) disregarded his generals’ warning and ordered the invasion of France set for spring 1940.”  Hitler initially wanted a fall, then early winter, then later winter 1939 start.  According to Field Marshal von Manstein (Lost Victories, Pg 87), “The first direction given by O.K.W. was October 9 with a projected start date of November 12 which was delayed 15 times by the weather gods”.  This left barely enough time for von Manstein’s plan to be accepted by Hitler on February 7 (von Manstein, Lost Victories, pg 124) and the once revised actual operational start of that plan to May 10, 1940.

Finally, on page 54, the nickname of “Schneller” Heinz – which actually means “hurrying” rather than “fast” Heinz – was a nickname Guderian’s troops gave him in Russia and for which he is proud and mentions in Panzer Leader.  It does not connote that he was hard to get along with; indeed he drove himself hard visiting front line units and his troops loved him for his inspirational leadership and his willingness to share the hardships of the front lines.

Thanks,
Dave Innes

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Dear Mr. Innes, 

Thanks very much for your email and for being an Armchair General reader. We really appreciate your support and thank you for taking the time to pass along your comments on Rick Armstrong’s Guderian article.

You are obviously well-read on the critiques regarding Guderian (especially Russell Hart’s recent book) and are familiar with the criticisms about his alleged post-war mythmaking (and Liddell Hart’s collusion in return for Guderian’s likely unwarranted claims regarding the influence exercised by Liddell Hart’s inter-war writings — scratching each other’s backs?). We included the "On the Other Hand … Was Guderian’s Genius Panzers or Publicity?" sidebar to make sure readers are aware that there is "another side of the story", and provided the brief rundown of several books that bring out most of the points you’ve noted in your email so that readers could delve into the criticisms in as much detail as they wish. You probably realize that it’s impossible to go into great detail on the criticisms in an article restricted to 3,500 words, yet the sidebar clearly identifies the main points of the Guderian doubters and provides readers the tools (book references) they need to pursue this as much as they want.

Liddell Hart, a fascinating and complicated man, deserves an article all his own in Armchair General at some point, and I hope to write one (possibly in 2009). My own article on Liddell Hart and his influence on the U. S. Army’s AirLand battle doctrine appeared in Military Review nearly two decades ago, so it desperately needs updating with the latest scholarship, etc., which I hope to do. That article has been used as required reading on Liddell Hart at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, in the past, which was very satisfying, but the scholarship is too far out of date now.

Thanks again for your comments and for reading Armchair General.

Jerry Morelock
Editor in Chief,
Armchair General magazine

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