Feldmarschall Eric von Manstein is considered by many in todays Bundeswehr as Germany’s greatest general of World War Two. A proponent and practitioner of Germany’s theory of Bewegungskrieg
(maneuver warfare) and encirclement, he was involved in formulating most of the Wehrmacht war plans that won the Blitzkrieg. He won incredible victories at Sevastopol, the Kerch Peninsula, and in the recapture of Kharkov. He also set himself up for embarrassing defeats. His increasing defiance of Hitler (although Manstein always knuckled under to him) lead to his removal from the Nazi war effort in early 1944. Imprisoned for war crimes, Von Manstein was released early, and served as a de facto head of the Bundeswehr. In his memoirs and book Verlorene Siege
(Lost Victories), and Aus Einem Soldatenleben
(From a Soldiers Life), he laid out the case that Germany would have defeated the Soviets had Hitler not meddled in the conduct of the war. These he also used to promote himself as ‘Hitler’s most brilliant General’, a master tactician, a cerebral chess player. In his books Von Manstein failed to credit many peers and subordinates with their roles in his successes, while shouldering them with his failures.
Opinions vary about Von Manstein from his contemporaries, both German and Allies. Basil Liddell Hart praised Von Manstein. His former mentor Beck broke contact with him, stating, “He was not a man of bad character, but of no character at all.”
Wolfram von Richthoffen considered him ‘the best tactician and combat commander we have.’
Author Robert Forczyk examines the life of this complex man in this second of the Osprey
series COMMAND. Mr. Forczyk brings Von Manstein’s background, strategies, tactics and battlefield experience to light in 64 pages. Many black and white photographs and a color photograph reinforce the informative text. Artist Adam Hook returns to Osprey with several color maps and illustrations that enrich the author’s writing. The book layout forgoes the informational sidebars of many Osprey titles. Maps and illustrations do have explanatory panels.
The book is organized into 10 sections and chapters:
- The Early Years, 1887-1913
- The Military Life, 1914-1943
- The Hour of Destiny
- Opposing Commanders
- When War is Done
- Inside the Mind
- A Life in Words
- Further Reading
In these, author Forczyk reveals the triumphs and failures of the Feldmarschall
. The book is generally easy to read, although examining a situation as complex as The Crisis of Heeresgruppe
Don, in a book of 64 pages, leaves something to be desired. But this book is not meant to chronicle events day-by-day, nor even month-by-month.
His lineage included many esteemed Prussian officers. In World War I, he was wounded early on, and upon recovery served with the General Staff. This was curious as he did not hold a field command in WW I. After the war he was one of the select few to remain in the Reichwehr. He was one of the few to be schooled in the covert substitute for the Kriegsakademie
, forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. During this time he refined his knowledge, integrated new technologies into the traditional Bewegungskrieg
, and held field commands.
Manstein was involved in resurrecting, reequipping, and reorienting the Wehrmacht. Writing many of the operational cases that Hitler used to gradually “correct” Germany’s boundaries, he probably saved his career; Manstein was closely associated with Nazi critics Generals Beck, Blomberg, and Fritcsh, who were forced out by the Nazis. Initially, he did not hold General Guderian nor tanks in high regards, favoring assault guns.
In the initial plan for the invasion of western Europe, Fall Gelb, Manstein found flaws that did not allow for Bewegungskrieg
. He began an underground campaign that redirected the invasion as we now know it.
It was Operation Barbarossa that Manstein won his greatest feats, and made his worst mistakes. Manstein did not understand Panzer warfare. In the drive to Leningrad, his forces missed most of the heavy Soviet armor. Manstein allowed his tanks to run far ahead of everyone else, until they ran out of fuel. His corps may only have been spared destruction because the Soviet counterattacking forces were in worse shape. In the subsequent pursuit, Manstein was sluggish. He suffered his first defeat at the battle of Soltsy in July, 1941, when he was surprised and encircled by Soviet forces. This he would suffer in the future.
Manstein won acclaim conquering the Crimea. But his attack on Sevastopol showed his weakness in combined arms attacks, and lost many panzers in unsupported attacks. He learned, and won resounding successes. However, during this time, Manstein allowed what came to haunt him after the war–war crimes. He also gained a reputation for disloyalty to subordinates, to deflect criticism of himself.
Manstein was innovative. Impressed by Soviet practice, he created the artillery division. His hand helped in creating the heavy tank division.
Mr. Forczyk challenges the image of ‘Hitler’s greatest general.’ Manstein believed Germany could win the Kursk offensive when it was called off. Though he won several impressive victories and campaigns, he lost 3 of 4 battles he fought against Soviet General Nikolai Vatutin. This Russian showed himself to equal and surpass the Feldmarschall
. Had partisans not killed Vatutin, von Manstein would have continued to face him.
Von Manstein was also found guilty of war crimes–the infamous “Commissar Order”, allowing the murder of civilians, and scorched earth policies.
Mr. Forczyk concludes his book with questions and suppositions that, to me, neither support nor ruin the view that Feldmarschall
Eric von Manstein was Germany’s greatest general of World War Two.
This is a fine introduction to those not familiar with Erich von Manstein. Recommended.