- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: University Press of Kansas; New edition edition (31 Mar. 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0700606289
- ISBN-13: 978-0700606283
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.7 x 23 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 488,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform (Modern War Studies) Paperback – 31 Mar 1994
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Dr. Corum also makes a statement in focusing on General Hans Von Seeckt as the driving force behind many of the reforms the Reichswehr undertook during his years as chief of the general staff. By taking the spotlight away from Heinz Guderian, Corum has placed the emphasis on the man who fostered the kind of general staff where sweeping tactical and organizational changes were possible. Professor Corum also makes it very clear that those changes were in large part due to a serious assessment of the lessons of the First World War.
A reader from an allied country may have difficulties in trying to separate the great advances in warfare made during the period of the Reichswehr, and how these principles were misused only a few years later. However, one can not avoid marveling at the professionalism and flexibility of the tradition of the Prussian General Staff, and it is those qualities that Professor Corum has focused on in his text.
The Roots of Blitzkrieg consists of eight chapters and an epilogue. Corum begins with von Seeckt's emphasis to study and learn from the mistakes of the First World War to build a new doctrine for the Reichswehr. As the author notes, the victorious Allies paid little attention to learning from the First World War while the defeated Germans assiduously scooped up all the essential lessons for their new war-fighting doctrine. Interestingly, von Seeckt attached great importance to both tanks and gas warfare, both of which he saw as war-winning tools. The second chapter covers von Seeckt's re-evaluation of German military doctrine. Von Seeckt saw "the key to future victory was mobility" and the answer to the enemy's superior numbers. Despite the demonstrated strength of the defense witnessed in trench warfare, he emphasized an offensive orientation for the Reichswehr. The result of von Seeckt's re-evaluation was the `Leadership in Battle' regulations, written in 1921, that had a strong influence on the development of German tactics up to 1940.
The third chapter deals with debate within the Reichswehr. To his credit, von Seeckt did not enforce orthodoxy but allowed serious professional debate within the Reichswehr about doctrinal development. There were three opposing schools of thought: the defensive school, the psychological school and the `People's War' school. The fourth chapter deals with training the Reichswehr. Since the Allies had limited the Reichswehr to only 4,000 officers but set no limit on NCOs, von Seeckt re-structured the Reichswehr so that more than half the army was composed of NCOs. He created a `Fuhrerheer' - an army of leaders - where NCOs were trained to be future officers and paving the way for future force expansion. Tactical training of officers and NCOs in the Reichswehr was superb. Chapter five covers the development of modern weaponry. The author discusses German covert development of new artillery and tanks using shadow companies abroad and secret training bases in the USSR. The author claims that Germany did not fall behind in any areas of technology but this is not entirely true, particularly in vital areas such as the development of a reliable diesel tank engine. He places considerable emphasis in this section on development of tanks and motorization.
Chapter six covers the development of German armor doctrine. Corum highlights the role of Ernst Volkheim in leading development of tanks. Far from opposing tanks, von Seeckt endorsed them and set the stage for organizing the first prototype tank battalion in 1927. The author points out how Guderian's role in German armor development has been exaggerated. Chapter seven covers the development of the Reichswehr aviation doctrine. Chapter eight covers the Reichswehr's development of war plans and mobilization plans, as well as its multi-division training exercises.
Overall, this is a very well done scholarly analysis. The level of research that went into this is evident in the footnotes and list of sources used. There are some areas that the author did not cover which might have shed more light on the relationship of the Reichswehr to Germany's performance in the Second World War. He does not discuss the Reichswehr's doctrine in regards to logistics or intelligence - two key areas of battlefield weakness. Also, he only compares Reichswehr doctrine to French, British and American doctrine which, considering the military laziness of the democracies during the interwar period, is not exactly fair. Since the real test in the Second World War would be German versus Soviet doctrine, it would have been worthwhile to compare the Reichswehr with its most likely opponent. The author also tends to skip over some of the problems in the early days of the Reichswehr - troops not getting paid for months, lack of discipline, political unrest - that paints perhaps too rosy a picture of von Seeckt's army in 1919-1923 (e.g. no mention of the Reichswehr's role in Hitler's Beer Hall putsch). Up front the author said that he wanted to avoid some of these political issues, but by omitting these complications, he presents a somewhat abstract version of the Reichswehr. Nevertheless, James Corum's The Roots of Blitzkrieg provides a superb examination of how Germany rebuilt its military in the interwar period and laid the doctrinal groundwork for one of the greatest war-making machines of all time.
Some more things that stick out in memory: Corum asserts that war changed more 1914-1919 than it did from 1919-1945. Ludendorff was good at operations but poor at strategy, the effort expended on operation micheal should have been spent on knocking italy out of the war thus improving its economic situation and leaving it with one less front to worry about.
To set the stage, Germany has lost WWI, the Kaiser has abdicated, there were revolutions in the streets and Germany's army has been shrunk by the victorious Allies to a shadow of its former power and capability. A man is chosen to command the Reichswehr in this time of defeat and humiliation: Hans Von Seeckt.
Von Seeckt was not associated with the disasterous defeat in the west, having been in Turkey at the end of the war. He comes in with a clean slate, as it were, and takes advantage of it. Among the first things he does is to order the creation of a series of committees to look at what went wrong (and also what they did right) in the last war. He essentially orders these officers to take a no-holds-barred approach in which heated debate and criticism were not only tolerated, but encouraged. Unlike most large entities, the German army could tolerate mavericks and eccentrics to a greater extent than other contemporary militaries.
When it came time to select officers and men for the new, 100,000-man army Von Seeckt and his subordinates preferred men of intellect instead of the nobility or even the front fighters - the men who rose from the ranks during WWI. Von Seeckt wanted men - at all levels - who could think on their feet and who could understand what to do even without orders from above.
Von Seeckt kept air officers even though the Treaty Of Versailles forbid them an air force. He retained men with experience with tanks even though they were forbidden tanks. Hans Von Seeckt and the Reichwehr wanted men with the broadest experience and intellect possible. Standards were high and only the best and brightest could pass the written and verbal testing to join or advance in the inter-war army.
Von Seeckt was not a "father" of Blitzkrieg although he created the environment where it could be "born" and even steered it along a little without knowing in which direction it would ultimately go.
This is not just a fine work of military history, it is a story of a failed enterprise that managed to reform itself into a very successful entity that in a couple decades would arise and challenge the world - and come within a few mistakes by their head of state of winning. This is a well-written and researched book and I recommend it with five stars.