Wikijunior:World War II/Blitzkrieg

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Germans tanks advance through Belgium during the blitzrieg attacks in 1940

In German, blitzkrieg means “lightning war”. It was a new way of fighting a war. In World War I every attack started with a heavy bombardment by large guns that went on for hours. This smashed up the ground, turning it into mud, and often didn't hurt the defenders much as they hid in bunkers. Then infantry (soldiers fighting on foot) would attack at walking pace.

With blitzrieg, if there was an opening bombardment it was very short. Instead the Germans attacked with surprise at high speed using tanks and armoured lorries and halftracks carrying soldiers. The idea was to break the enemy line then circle behind them, cutting them off from support. Once cut off, they could be rounded up and captured easily.

Lightning attack on Poland[edit]

The war began in Europe when Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939. The United Kingdom told Germany that it would fight if they did not let Poland go. Germany did not reply, so Britain, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany two days later. Later that day, France also declared war. Soon, South Africa, Canada and Nepal had also joined the war on Germany.

France and the UK did not want to launch a full invasion of Germany. Neither country sent enough troops to stop the German offensive before Warsaw fell. Then the Soviet Union attacked Poland from the east. Poland was overwhelmed and the last Polish units surrendered after a month of fighting.

Germany attacks North and West[edit]

After Poland fell, Germany waited during the winter while the British and French prepared to defend their countries. In April Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark fell after a few hours, but Norway held off into June. Public outrage over the fall of Norway caused Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain to resign. He was replaced by Winston Churchill.

Then, the Germans invaded France, the Netherlands and Belgium May 10, 1940. The British Forces and the French Army took up position behind the Maginot line. The Maginot line was a fortified series of concrete walls, trenches, and gun positions along the German border to the south. In the north they were prepared to fight a mobile war. They did not expect the Germans to come through the dense Ardennes forest. But that is what Germany did. This split the Allied forces in two. On May 15 the Dutch surrendered, The Belgians followed on May 28. The forces in the North were encircled and cut off from supplies. They had to be evacuated. The British forces were evacuated from a small city on the coast of France called Dunkerque, or Dunkirk. They had to leave most of their heavy weapons and vehicles behind.

Italy also invaded France. France was completely overwhelmed by the blitzkrieg or “lightning war. It was forced to sign an armistice with Germany. The Germans took over Paris and two-thirds of France. They also made a new government of France that would do whatever Germany told it to do. It was called Vichy France, after the town of Vichy in Southern France where it was based. Italy received some territory in south-eastern France.