The purpose of this paper is to examine German military strategy during the campaigns of World War Two. The focus will be on how strategic considerations led, first, to the overwhelming early victories of the Wehrmacht, as well as to its later destruction. The major campaigns from September 1, 1939 to May 8, 1945 will be discussed. However, a brief introduction to the causes of the war and the genesis of the Third Reich will be necessary for context.
The causes of World War Two have long been the focus of debate. Most commentators point to the aftermath of World War One as containing the seeds of the next conflict, which seems to be at least partially true. What is ironic, and rarely commented upon, is that the failure of German strategy in World War Two probably does have its seeds in the former conflict.
Following its crushing defeats at the hands of Napoleon, the Prussian Army began a top-down reassessment of its entire structure. The most important development of this review was the creation of the General Staff system for the army, in which the study of military was professionalized and turned into a science (Dupuy, 1977). German officers drew on the theoretical lessons of Jomini, who attempted to distill a set of rules of combat, and Clausewitz (1984), who discussed the natural "fog of war" and the consequent need for flexibility in both planning and operations. By the end of the Nineteenth century, the German Army had become the envy of the world.
At that time, the officers of the General Staff felt that the greatest danger to the nation would be the advent of a two front war with Russia and France. The head of the General Staff at the time was Alfred von Schlieffen who created a plan to deal with such an eventuality. The Schlieffen Plan called for Germany to sacrifice ground for time against the Russians while delivering a hammer blow and quick defeat to the French, then shifting east to deal with the Ru...