A German term meaning “lightning war,” blitzkrieg denotes a quick penetration of enemy forces by armored vehicles and mechanized artillery, supported from the air. At its tactical root, the blitzkrieg is a concentrated formula of surprise, speed, and overwhelming firepower, intended to leave an enemy psychologically dazed and disorganized.

First tested by Germany during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in 1938, blitzkrieg stemmed from vast advances in German military technology and theory—in turn, the products of improved internal combustion engines—between World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945). Germany’s successful use of this tactic against Poland in 1939 became the spark that ignited World War II. The following year, the Germans also effectively employed blitzkrieg in its invasions of Belgium, The Netherlands, and France. The potential of a tactic that could paralyze an enemy with minimal loss to the attacking force did not escape Germany’s foes; indeed, United States General George Patton used a form of blitzkrieg in the European operations of 1944. More recent examples of this tactic are the Israeli offensives against Syria (1967) and Egypt (1973).