The German High Command Military Strategy was Predicated and Built upon Experiences Following the First World War
By Thomas White
Following World War II, much has been written about German military war strategy, concerning whether a philosophical split occurred in military strategic planning within the German General High Command following the outbreak of war in 1940. Specifically it has been alleged by some historians that as a result of General Erich von Manstein’s Sickle Cut Plan which was implemented against the western powers in 1940 there began a split with previous German military strategic thought which emphasized concepts learned and practiced since World War I. One historian in particular, Karl-Heinz Frieser, provides ample supporting evidence for the argument that no such break in military strategic planning occurred in the higher echelons of the German military command. Furthermore Frieser also provides sufficient evidence which suggests that the majority of German military leadership, from Adolf Hitler on down, practiced a style of military strategic planning based upon concepts learned and built upon following World War I.
In The Blitzkrieg Legend, Frieser makes an excellent point in refuting a change in philosophy with regards to German strategic planning. Frieser claims that when the General staff was preparing for a military campaign against western forces, it used a model of a long war of attrition when conducting strategic planning against western forces. Specifically when it came to German economic and armament planning, Hitler and his generals prepared for a long war with the west but with a surprise attack. Frieser points out that when “planning the campaign in the west, the German command was still guided by the model of the long war similar to World War I” Another point Frieser makes is that German military might from an operational tactical perspective could best be described “as semi modern” , which again would make strategic planning for any type of more modern battlefield scenario pointless. Frieser describes that only sixteen German divisions could be considered modern in terms of equipment, while the rest of the army “looked rather old fashioned and had inferior equipment”, which would result in limiting strategic planning.
There are those historians, however, who would argue that German generals such as Manstein and Heinz Guderian represented a split with the German military philosophy built upon World War I military strategic planning. Those historians would point out that these individuals and their innovative planning and use of tank armor represented a change in military strategic thinking. What those historians must realize is that the innovative change in military strategy that was put forward by these individuals was not a shift in military philosophy but a reaction to a strategic crisis. This strategic crisis was precipitated by Hitler with his “go for broke game” that involved invading Poland and bringing both France and Britain into the war. Frieser makes clear that Manstein’s plan does not represent “a long planned …strategy aimed at world rule. Instead it looks like an operational-level act of desperation to get out of a strategically desperate situation”. In other words, this was not a military break in strategic direction, but a one time go for broke plan that even chief of the general staff Halder remarked that the consequences of not attempting such a daring plan would be graver for Germany than doing nothing.
German military leadership practiced a strategic planning philosophy built upon lessons learned during World War I. The state of the German military in terms of equipment and trained personnel negated any other type of change in military planning. Secondly to those who would argue that Manstein’s planning for 1940 represents the beginning of a change in military planning, the most compelling counter argument to that position is that Manstein’s Plan was the result of a crisis, not a shift in philosophy.
Frieser, Karl-Heinz. The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005
Ropp,Theodore. introduction to Addington, The Blitzkrieg Era, xv as quoted in Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005
 Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005, 27
 Theodore Ropp, introduction to Addington, The Blitzkrieg Era, xv as quoted in Karl-Heinz Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend. Annaplois: Naval Institute Press, 2005, 31
 Frieser, The Blitzkrieg Legend, 31
 Ibid, 98