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The Blitzkrieg Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West Hardcover – November 10, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Karl-Heinz Frieser's thorough research and first-rate analysis have demolished the myth of blitzkrieg and explained how the Germans achieved their miraculous success in May-June 1940. His important book adds considerably to our understanding of modern warfare."

--BRIG. GEN. ROBERT A. DOUGHTY, U.S. ARMY (RET.) Head of the Department of History, West Point, from 1985-2005 author of Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940

"The 1940 blitzkrieg in Western Europe was a key doctrinal turning point in modern warfare. But it was, as Colonel Frieser points out, neither seamless in execution nor widely agreed upon at various levels of command. This book, sure to be a classic of operational history, should also be a 'must-read' for those concerned with military innovation in time of war--such as the U.S. Army has experienced during the initial stages of Global War on Terrorism and particularly in the 2003 invasion of Iraq."

--GENERAL GORDON R. SULLIVAN, U.S. ARMY (RET.), 32d Chief of Staff

"Well written and grounded in extensive archival research, Karl-Heinz Frieser's book provides the best explanation so far of the German victory in 1940. This English translation has been carefully checked not only in factual details but also in the nuances of complex explanations. The numerous detailed maps, found nowhere else in the extensive literature of the 1940 campaign, will be especially valuable to those visiting the battlefields."

--COL. WILLIAM T. BOWERS, USA (RET.) formerly on the staff of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (NATO) in Germany --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Karl-Heinz Frieser is a lieutenant colonel in the German Army and a trained military historian who has served for many years at the Militaergeschichtliches Forschungsamt (Military History Research Office) in Freiburg and Potsdam.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 507 pages
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press; 1st edition (November 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591142946
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591142942
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Oberst Karl-Heinz Frieser, an officer in the Bundeswehr and military historian, delivers a detailed and thought-provoking analysis of the Wehrmacht's 1940 campaign in the west in The Blitzkrieg Legend. Frieser sets out to strip away the hype and wartime-era propaganda about Blitzkrieg in order to establish what the Wehrmacht intended to accomplish and how it achieved one of the greatest operational-level victories in military history. The book's main focus is on Panzer Group Kleist and Guderian's corps during the crossing of the Meuse; German operations in Belgium and Holland, as well as the follow-up "Case Red" offensive into the French heartland are addressed in passing. Overall, Colonel Frieser's analysis of the decisive elements of the German campaign is first-rate, as well as his discussion of the related military theory behind the German success.

The author's main thesis is strategic in nature, namely that the Wehrmacht did not plan Case Yellow as a Blitzkrieg, but expected a long, drawn-out attritional struggle against the Anglo-French powers. While the author cites Hitler's directives before May 1940 to suggest that the campaign merely sought to achieve "a favorable position" in northeast France and Belgium, this is less than convincing. Since the author makes little effort to examine German industrial mobilization other than eschewing the notion of a "Blitzkrieg economy", he does not really examine whether Germany was in fact, preparing for a long war. Based upon German production of tanks, artillery, aircraft and U-Boats, it does not appear that the Third Reich was preparing for an attritional war with the Allies.
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First, I have read the French edition so there may be some differences with the English language edition (which I don't yet have).

The Battle of France is one of my favourite battles of study, and one of the most pivotal battles in modern history. From every aspect of technology, doctrine, balance of power, etc. this battle decided what would come for the next half a century. As is well known, the German victory resulted in the defeat of one great power and the marginalization of another in just seven weeks with relatively few casualties on either side (compared to World War 1). The Germans accomplished an operational and strategic breakthrough in three days, when neither side did so over four years of combat in WW1.

A lot of the book is devoted to the tactical battle of the Sedan area, where the Germans concentrated their Panzer and mechanized infantry divisions to break out through the Ardennes. This book goes into detail of bunkers, strong point, bridges, and villages. It recounts the battle of Stonne, a small village that changed hands at least a dozen times in one day. There are also excellent accounts of other battles, such as the Hoth area, Arras, and in Belgium/Holland.

The book starts with a good strategic overview of strategy, organization, and planning without going into too much detail. It emphasizes that Blitzkrieg was first a name given by the British; and second, a concept understood by only a few mid-level Generals. Indeed, the Panzers greatest threat was not the French as much as their own infantry; at the first signs of slowing down, the Panzers were to be reorganized back into infantry armies, corps, and commanders.

In many ways, the German plan was flawed (but no military plan is perfect).
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At last this important work on the 1940 German conquest of France is available in English!! (I got so tired of waiting that I actually bought the French edition.)

This book is revisionism at its best. The author has an impressive command of the huge literature on Case Yellow, and has done considerable original research in the archives. He systematically destroys many myths and illuminates some obscure aspects of this pivotal campaign. For instance:

-- Germany was actually preparing (badly) for a long war of attrition and did not have a "Blitzkreig Economy".

-- German tanks were inferior in numbers, armor, and gun power to French tanks.

-- Most German infantry divisions were composed of overaged WWI veterans or "reservists" with no prewar training.

-- Most German generals opposed the whole campaign and expected it to fail. Even Hitler was shocked by his victory.

Most of these points have been made before by other authors, but nobody else has assembled all of them in a single short and readable book.

But the best part of the book is the maps. They aren't translated into English and they have been shrunk down a little too much for easy reading, but they are still the best maps available for the key battles of 1940. Keep a magnifier handy and study them frequently.

I can't give this book five stars because Freiser is sometimes a little careless with the facts. For instance, he treats all of the French light tanks as effective anti-Panzer vehicles because they had 37mm guns. In fact there were two very different models of French 37s, and the most common one was a short gun salvaged from scrapped WWI tanks. This weapon was far less effective at piercing armor than the long 37s mounted in German and Czech tanks. I also think he exaggerates the performance of most French aircraft.
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