Heinz Wilhelm Guderian (born June 17, 1888) was a military theorist and innovative General of the German Army during the Second World War. Germany's panzer forces were raised and fought according to his works, best-known among them Achtung — Panzer! He never became a field marshal, but he is recognized as one of the most prominent generals of the Second World War. He commanded during the Invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Guderian was born in Kulm (Chełmno-now Poland), West Prussia. From 1901 to 1907 Guderian attended various military schools. He entered the Army in 1907 as an ensign-cadet in the (Hanoverian) Jäger Bataillon No. 10, commanded at that point by his father. After attending the war academy in Metz he was made a Leutnant (full lieutenant) in 1908. In 1911 Guderian joined the 3rd Telegraphen-Battalion (Wireless-Battalion), Prussian Army Signal Corps. In October of 1913 he married Margarete Goerne with whom he had two sons, Heinz Günter (born 1914) and Kurt (born 1918) who would both become highly decorated Wehrmacht officers during World War II (and in the case of his older son, a Panzer general in the German Bundeswehr after the war).
During the First World War he served as a Signals and General Staff officer. This allowed him to get an overall view of battlefield conditions. He often disagreed with his superiors and ended up being transferred to the army intelligence department where he remained until the end of the war. This second assignment, while removed from the battlefield, sharpened his strategic skills.
After the war, Guderian stayed in the reduced 100,000-man German Army (Reichswehr), where he was made company commander of the 10th Jäger-Bataillon after which he joined the 'General Staff'-in-waiting, the Truppenamt (a German General Staff being explicitly forbidden by the Versailles Treaty). In 1927 Guderian was promoted to major and transferred to the Truppenamt group for Army transport and Overseer of motorised tactics based in Berlin. This key role put him at the centre of the development of the resources that would later come to dominate what became known as blitzkrieg. Fluent in both English and French, he gathered ideas by the British maneuver warfare theorists J.F.C. Fuller and, debatably, B.H. Liddell Hart, as well as the writings, interestingly enough, of the then-unknown Charles de Gaulle. Their works were translated into German by Guderian. In 1931 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and became chief of staff to the Inspectorate of Motorised Troops and in 1933 to full colonel. In this time he had written many papers on motorised warfare which were seen as authoritative and moving the development of this area significantly. These papers were based on extensive wargaming without troops, with paper tanks and finally with armoured vehicles. In October 1935 he was posted to the newly created 2nd Panzer Division (one of three) as commander. On 1 August 1936 he was promoted to major-general, and on 4 February 1938 he was promoted to lieutenant-general and given command of the XVI Army Corps.
Achtung - Panzer! was written in 1936-37 as an explanation of Guderian's theories on the role of tanks and aircraft in modern warfare. It was actually a compilation of not only of Guderian's own theories but also the ideas of other proponents of armored and combined-arms warfare within the general staff, though the bulk of the credit rightly is Guderian's. The panzer force he created would become the core of the German Army's power during the Second World War and would deliver the core of the fighting style known as blitzkrieg. To this day, his contributions to combined arms tactics are studied throughout military schools.
The concepts of blitzkrieg were not fully developed in other countries, although initially promoted and partially implemented by the British Army, but the German army of the First World War had worked out the complexities of breaking through a front with highly concentrated resources. This technique failed the Germans in their Michael offensives of March 1918, largely because the breakthrough elements were on foot and could not sustain the impetus of the initial attack. Motorized infantry was the key to sustaining a breakthrough, and this would have to wait until the 1930s to have a chance at being realized. Tukhachevskii, in Russia, can be said to have already grasped this potential, but his influence diminished after he was executed by Stalin. Guderian probably was the first who fully developed and advocated the principle of Blitzkrieg and put into the final shape. He summarized the tactics of blitzkrieg as the way to get the mobile and motorized armored divisions to work together and support each other in order to achieve decisive success. In his book Panzer Leader he wrote:
In this year (1929) I became convinced that tanks working on their own or in conjunction with infantry could never achieve decisive importance. My historical studies; the exercises carried out in England and our own experience with mock-ups had persuaded me that the tanks would never be able to produce their full effect until weapons on whose support they must inevitably rely were brought up to their standard of speed and of cross country performance. In such formation of all arms, the tanks must play primary role, the other weapons being subordinated to the requirements of the armor. It would be wrong to include tanks in infantry divisions: what was needed were armored divisions which would include all the supporting arms needed to fight with full effect.
Guderian believed that certain developments in technology needed to take place in conjunction with blitzkrieg in order to support the entire theory, especially in communication and special visual equipment with which the armored divisions in general, and tanks specifically, should be equipped. Guderian insisted in 1933, within the high command, that every tank in the German armored force must be equipped with radio and visual equipment in order to enable the tank commander to communicate and perform a decisive role in blitzkrieg.