BLITZKRIEG" or lightning war is not a German term for just any kind of quickly waged and violent war. It is a name for a special kind of quickly waged and violent war which has a technique of its own. The ideas which lie back of this technique began taking shape in Germany in the period after the failure of either the Allies or the Germans to break through on the Western Front during 1915 and 1916, and they matured after the outbreak of the civil war in Spain.
While some of the guiding conceptions of the Blitzkrieg were tried out in Ethiopia, the results were not considered conclusive. The Ethiopians were a semi-savage people, and they lacked the modern armament and equipment necessary to offer the Italian invaders the kind of resistance essential if Blitzkrieg were to receive a real and complete battlefield test. But Spain furnished a fine proving ground. Then Albania was a dress rehearsal. And in Poland the system was put to the final proof.
The technique of Blitzkrieg is based on the principle of surprise as opposed to an effort to crush an enemy by bringing an overwhelming superiority in numbers and armament to bear against him. It can be likened to the swift and deadly thrust of a rapier as opposed to the crushing blow of a battle-axe or a war club. The objective is not the enemy civilian population but the enemy armed forces, both ground and air.
From the days of earliest military history, surprise has played a prominent part in winning victory. When coupled with better tactics -- that is, superior methods of combat on the battlefield -- surprise has always given victory against an enemy that relies on superior numbers and courage.
The Christians talked of "Mongol hordes" in an effort to explain their own quick and bloody defeats at Mongol hands. There were no military Mongol hordes in superior numbers. Probably the Christians outnumbered the Mongols in all the battles fought. But the Mongols used their ability to make long, hard marches on their tough Asiatic horses to take by surprise the slow-moving, ponderous masses of knights, men-at-arms and foot soldiers composing the Christian armies. In battle the Mongols had a definite tactical scheme. First their mounted archers, keeping out of reach of the Christians, shot holes in their ranks. When in consequence a certain amount of confusion had been created, then -- and only then -- did they charge. The Christians had no tactics in the proper sense of the word. They simply moved forward en masse, trusting to courage and numbers.