Vernichtungsgedanke

Vernichtungsgedanke, literally meaning "concept of annihilation" in German and generally taken to mean "the concept of fast annihilation of enemy forces" is a tactical doctrine dating back to Frederick the Great. It emphasizes rapid, fluid movement to unbalance an enemy, allowing the attacker to impose his will upon the defender and avoid stalemate. It relies on uncommonly rigorous training and discipline and thoroughly professional leadership. Much of Vernichtungsgedanke can be seen in Clausewitz’ classic treatise Vom Kriege (On War).

This doctrine was used in the War of Austrian Succession, the Seven Years' War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871). The military success of the Kingdom of Prussia and then Germany was the catalyst of the alliance systems of 19th century Europe.

The arms races of this period produced the military equipment which eroded the attacker’s advantage during Europe's "Long Peace". It gave an advantage to the defender and set the stage for the stalemate of the First World War. Vernichtungsgedanke’s long reign as the prime tactical doctrine of modern warfare ended on the Western Front.

When the antebellum concluded and Europe went again to war, many of the officers in high command in Germany (chief among them General Heinz Guderian) were all too aware of this doctrinal failure and had specific ideas for its replacement. They had, however, to fight to overcome bureaucratic inertia. They mostly won those battles, bringing forth a doctrinal evolution during the Second World War which included the methodology now known as Blitzkrieg. Early enthusiasm for the opportunities provided by armoured mobile units was referred to in the 1930s as the armored idea.

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