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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 that 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. The long reign of Vernichtungsgedanke as the prime tactical doctrine of modern warfare ended on the Western Front because of the huge concentrations of men and materiel on this front that made getting on the flank or rear of the enemy impossible. On the Eastern Front the idea was, however, redeemed and flourished in such battles as Tannenberg mainly due to the much lower density of men and machines on this front that left more space to maneuver.

During the 1930s, British Army officers such as Vivian Loyd proposed the widespread use of light tracked vehicles, to provide speed and agility in support of tank units. Loyd's theory, known as the "armoured idea" or "all-tank idea", was not widely accepted amongst his superiors.

When World War II began, many German officers (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.

See also[edit]


  • Cooper, M. (1978). The German Army 1933–1945, its Political and Military Failure. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein and Day. ISBN 0-8128-2468-7.