Citino: Death of the Wehrmacht—Noted
Robert Citino: Death of the Wehrmacht: 'Tobruk was just the latest example, but all the German campaigns of this [early 1942] period were essentially similar. In Kerch, Kharkov, Gazala, Tobruk, and Sevastopol, the Wehrmacht had won five of the most decisive victories in its entire history. It was an amazing run that represented a climax for the German way of war as it had developed since the 1600s. It had taken nearly 600,000 prisoners in that stretch, its own casualties had been low—almost nonexistent if we exclude Sevastopol. It had fought each of these battles from a position of numerical inferiority. If the highest military accomplishment is the ability to "fight outnumbered and win," the Wehrmacht seemed to have the market cornered by 1942...
...It achieved this enviable record of triumph by conducting its operations in the time-honored Prusso-German tradition. All were carefully prepared, highly aggressive, and centered around an operational-level maneuver designed to get onto the opponent's flank and rear with a significant portion of the available force. From that point on, the intent was always the same: to kessel most or all of the enemy's main body, subject it to concentric attack in the classic style, and destroy it. The breakthrough against the carefully chosen left wing of the Soviet line at Kerch; the maneuver at Kharkov, finding the deep left flank of the Soviet position and driving it in relentlessly; Rommel's drive into the British rear at Gazala, landing a first-round blow from which the enemy never recovered; the Afrika Korps's drive far to the east of Tobruk, followed by the sudden turnabout; Manstein's nighttime crossing of Severnaya Bay, bypassing the still unbroken Soviet defensive line in front of Sevastopol: again and again in this period, it was the surprising operational-level maneuver that delivered a shock to the adversary and brought victory even against unfavorable numerical odds.
None of this was new. Tanks and aircraft had given it a more modern sheen, but the essence was historical. It was an operational approach that had been burned into the German officer corps since Frederick the Great. As one German officer wrote in July 1942:
When we think of the decisive sources of strength that make up the concept of German soldiering, not the last among them is tradition. The military fabric of our day is not the result of a single deed. It has formed it- self organically by a difficult, centuries-long process.
Here is the authentic voice of the German officer corps, one that had emerged from an old and traditional historical matrix:
Tradition is bound up with memory of all the warlike events that have played themselves out on all the battlefields of the centuries. Leuthen and Kunersdorf, Jena and Auerstadt, Leipzig and Waterloo, Koniggratz and Sedan, Tannenberg and Gorlice-Tarnow: all the victories and battles that German soldiers have sealed with their blood arise before our eyes...
In other words, the great victories at Kerch and Kharkov, Gazala and Tobruk did not emerge from nowhere. They were instead part of a tradition, and they owed as much to the legacy of Frederick the Great and Moltke as they did to the genius of a Manstein, Kleist, or Rommel.
The decisive nature of these triumphs notwithstanding, they had been mere preliminaries to the upcoming main event. As spring yielded to the high summer of 1942, the Wehrmacht would return once again to the grand offensive. Operation Blue would take the army to many places that it had never dreamed of before: to the industrial city of Stalingrad on the Volga River, to the oil fields of Maikop in the Caucasus Mountain region, to forbiddingly remote places like the Kuban and the Taman and the Kalmuk—and, for the first time, to a place that was truly terra incognita to officers and men of the Wehrmacht alike: an annihilating defeat in a campaign of maneuver...