This is the third of a series of articles that document some of the names, places, catch words, and other items that are now lodged permanently in our vocabulary, History was made some 68 years ago. We dare not forget.
From July to February, the name of the game is football. It starts with the exhibition season and ends with the Super Bowl extravaganza. Out of World War II has come a term about which which we all know. It is called The Blitz.
The blitz is a team defensive move in which the defense sends more players than the offense can block. When the defense is running the blitz, it sends linebackers or even defensive safeties in order to try to tackle the quarterback or disrupt his pass drop. If it works, the quarterback is sacked behind the line of scrimmage for a huge loss. If the quarterback can “read” the defensive signals and pick up the blitz, it means a touchdown. The defensive team is risking its pass defense in order to get to the quarterback. One commentator picked up a verse from the Bible. You either live by the blitz or else die by the blitz.
By nature, blitzes are risky endeavors for the defense. Since the defense is taking away coverage defenders to rush the QB, there necessarily are holes in pass coverage. The defense does not and cannot cover all offensive players, but rather through the blitz, is proactively involved in rattling the QB, sacking the QB, disrupting QB timing, or forcing him to make an error such as an interception or fumble.
The blitz gets its name from the Blitzkrieg, a German strategy of the “Lightning War” during World War II. In World War One, most of the battles were fought in trenches. Both sides fortified their trenches heavily, and ended up taking heavy casualties while gaining little ground. Ironically after World War One, the British devised a new strategy. The strategy was first put forward by Colonel John Fuller, the chief of staff of the British Tank Corps. Fuller was disappointed with the way tanks were used during the First World War and afterwards produced Plan 1919. This included a call for long-range mass tank attacks with strong air, motorized infantry, and artillery support. These ideas were developed in more detail in his books, Reformation of War (1923) and Foundation of the Science of War (1926).
The British Army ignored Fuller’s ideas. However, leaders of the rebuilding German Army studied Fuller’s ideas in detail. They asked the government to commission the production of new tanks that would enable them to use Blitzkrieg tactics in any future conflicts The Germans called the Fuller plan Blitzkreig or Lightning War.
After Adolf Hitler obtained power in 1933, the German government was open about its tank production. In the spring of 1934 the German Army began developing the Panzer tank. Over the next few years the Panzer I, Panzer II, Panzer III and Panzer IV were produced.
During the invasion of Poland in September, 1939, it became clear that the outstanding performer was the Panzer IV as it had the perfect combination of speed, agility, firepower and reliability. Over the next few years it became the backbone of Blitzkrieg and over 9,000 of these tanks were produced.
The success of the Blitzkreig was overwhelming. The Germans finished off Poland in six weeks. It was now France’s turn. On May 10, the blitzkrieg rolled through the Ardennes. In three weeks, the British had to evacuate their entire army at Dunquerque. By mid-June, France had surrendered. The Germans held a victory parade through the Arc De Triumph, something that the French still remember to this day in 2007.
Sir Winston Churchill made a speech. “The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain has begun.” The German aerial attacks over England would now be simply called, “The Blitz.” Beginning in August 1940, German bombers visited England every day. By September, the Blitz had failed. The Royal Air Force (RAF) proved it could win over the Luftwaffe.
The Blitz went into night attacks. From September until June 1941, the Luftwaffe visited London from sundown to sunup with incendiary bombs and high explosive weapons. By July 1941, the Blitz had ended. The Luftwaffe was needed to go fight the Soviets. It would now be up to the Soviets to stop the Blitzkreig. However, the Blitz did return to England when the momentum of World War II was on the side of the Allies. It came in the form of the buzz bomb.
In June 1944 the first flying bombs fell on London. They were usually called ‘buzz-bombs’ or ‘doodle-bugs’. At first only one or two fell, but soon it became obvious that a regular bombardment was under way.
The most noticeable aspect of the doodlebugs was their sound, which was quite unlike any ordinary plane. It had a strange tearing and rasping sound, more like a two-stroke motor-cycle.. South London was on their regular flight path, and many of them fell nearby, causing damage and loss of life.
The RAF brought the first jet fighters into operation to try to catch them as they were much faster than piston-engined fighters. They would fly alongside them and flip their wing to spill them harmlessly into the open fields below. Some of them failed to explode and one was put on display at a store in Canterbury.
There is no doubt that these things did a great deal of damage in London within the space of a few weeks. The allied armies were advancing on the launching sites in Northern France and Belgium, and there was concern that they would not get there in time to prevent more damage and loss of life.
Soon, however, the buzz bombs were replaced by the far more frightening V2 weapons. These were rockets proper, much larger and more destructive which gave no notice at all of their arrival. They continued to fall on London at intervals during the last winter of the war, 1944-45. The V-2 ballistic missile (known to its designers as the A4) was the world’s first operational liquid fuel rocket. It represented an enormous quantum leap in technology, financed by Nazi Germany in a huge development program that cost at least $ 2 billion in 1944 dollars. Despite the scale of this effort, the inaccurate missile did not change the course of the war and proved to be an enormous waste of resources.
After the war, personnel and technology from the V-2 program formed the starting point for post-war rocketry development in America, Russia, and France. The Allies seized tons of documents, hundreds of experts, and dozens of V-2 missiles. Emerging from World War II was Dr. Wernher Von Braun
Before the Allied capture of the V-2 rocket complex, Dr. von Braun engineered the surrender of 500 of his top rocket scientists, along with plans and test vehicles, to the Americans. For fifteen years after World War II, Dr. von Braun would work with the United States army in the development of ballistic missiles. As part of a military operation called Project Paperclip, he and his “rocket team” were scooped up from defeated Germany and sent to America where they were installed at Fort Bliss, Texas. There they worked on rockets for the United States army, launching them at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. In 1950 von Braun’s team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they built the Army’s Jupiter ballistic missile.
In 1960, his rocket development center transferred from the army to the newly established NASA and received a mandate to build the giant Saturn rockets. Accordingly, von Braun became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that would propel Americans to the Moon.
Dr. Von Braun also became one of the most prominent spokesmen of space exploration in the United States during the 1950s. In 1970, NASA leadership asked von Braun to move to Washington, DC, to head up the strategic planning effort for the agency. He left his home in Huntsville, Alabama, but after about two years he decided to retire from NASA and to go to work for Fairchild Industries of Germantown, Maryland. He died in Alexandria, Virginia, on 16 June 1977.
And so, the Blitz came peacefully to an end. It is probable that while living in the DC Metro Area, Dr. Von Braun could have watched the Dallas Cowboys run the blitz against the Washington Redskins. Quarterbacks such as Jurgensen, Bradshaw, Namath, Elway, and Manning will know the Blitz in the same way as we all do, every Sunday. Let it stay that way, forever more.