Erich von Manstein

Erich von Manstein

Erich von Manstein, the son of an artillery officer, was born in Berlin, Germany on 24th November 1887. He was an Imperial court page before spending six years in the cadet corps. He joined the German Army and in 1906 was commissioned in the 3rd Footguards.

After the outbreak of the First World War Manstein served in Belgium before being wounded in Poland on November 1914. After recovering he returned to the Eastern Front before being sent to France in 1917.

Manstein remained in the army and in 1936 was appointed chief of operations. Promoted to the rank of major general he served under General Ludwig Beck as Oberquartermeiser. Considered to be uncooperative by Adolf Hitler he was sent to Silesia as commander of the 18th Division.

In the invasion of Poland Manstein served as chief of staff to the Army Group South under General Gerd von Rundstedt. In 1940 Manstein worked with Guenther Blumentritt and Henning von Tresckow to develop the plan to invade France. Manstein and his colleagues suggested that the German Army should attack through the wooded hills of the Ardennes. Hitler originally rejected the proposal but he eventually approved of a modified version of what became known as the Manstein Plan. Manstein was sent back to Silesia and did not take part in the successful operation until the final stages when he served under General Gunther von Kluge.

In February 1941, Manstein was appointed commander of the 56th Panzer Corps. He was involved in Operation Barbarossa where he served under General Erich Hoepner. Attacking on 22nd June 1941, Manstein advanced more than 100 miles in only two days and was able to seize the importance bridges at Dvinsk. The following month he captured Demyansk and Torzhok.

Manstein was appointed commander of 11th Army in September 1941, and was given the task of conquering the Crimea. The Red Army bravely defended Sevastopol and this important Black Sea naval base was taken until 2nd July 1942.

Promoted to field marshal Manstein was sent to capture Leningrad. This led to a series of bitter battles and over the next few months lost over 60,000 men.

In November 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered Manstein to rescue Fredrich von Paulus and the 6th Army at Stalingrad. He got his three panzer divisions to within 35 miles of the 6th Army but a Red Army counter-attack forced him to retreat to the Ukraine.

Manstein regrouped and the following year inflicted a heavy defeat on the Soviets at Krasnograd. An estimated 23,000 Soviet soldiers were killed and a further 9,000 were captured. Manstein now went on to capture Kharkov (14th March) and Belgorod (18th March). Adolf Hitler now overruled Manstein's desire to push the Soviet troops to the Sea of Azoz. Instead he was ordered to Kursk.

Manstein continued to argue with Hitler about overall strategy and in March 1944 he was dismissed from office. After the war Manstein was charged with war crimes. In court Manstein argued that he was unaware that genocide was taking place in territory under his control. However, evidence was produced that Manstein had ordered that "the Jewish Bolshevik system be wiped out once and for all" although he requested that officers should not be present during the killing of Jews.

Manstein was found guilty and he was sentenced on 24th February 1950 to 18 years imprisonment. However, for medical reasons he was freed on 6th May 1953. His war memoirs, Lost Victories, was published in Germany in 1955. Erich von Manstein died on 11th June 1973.

He was not only the most brilliant strategist of all our generals, but he had a good political sense. A man of that quality was too difficult for Hitler to swallow for long. At conferences Manstein often differed from Hitler, in front of others, and would go so far as to declare that some of the ideas which Hitler put forward were nonsense

I calculated that the French would try to prevent our drive by a counter-offensive with their reserves west of Verdun or between the Meuse and the Oise. Therefore I bad proposed that our strong reserves should forestall any such attempt not only by forming a defensive front along the Aisne and the Somme - the solution which was later adopted by Hitler and the O.K.H. - but by overrunning the deployment of every French counteroffensive I felt that we had to avoid the possibility that the French could build up a new front which might lead to a war of position as in 1914.


Trial of Erich von Manstein

Erich von Manstein (24 November 1887 – 9 June 1973) was a prominent commander of Nazi Germany's World War II army (Heer). In 1949 he was tried for war crimes in Hamburg, was convicted of nine of seventeen charges and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. He served only four years before being released.

Manstein was taken prisoner by the British in August 1945. He testified for the defence of the German General Staff and the Wehrmacht supreme command (the OKW), on trial at the Nuremberg trials of major Nazi war criminals and organisations in August 1946. Under pressure from the Soviet Union, the British cabinet decided in July 1948 to prosecute Manstein and several other senior officers who had been held in custody since the end of the war.

Manstein's trial was held in Hamburg from 23 August to 19 December 1949. He faced seventeen charges covering activities such as authorising or permitting the killing, deportation, and maltreatment of Jews and other civilians maltreating and killing prisoners of war illegally compelling prisoners to do dangerous work and work of a military nature ordering the execution of Soviet political commissars in compliance with Hitler's Commissar Order and issuing scorched earth orders while in retreat in the Crimea.

Manstein was found guilty on nine of the charges and was sentenced to eighteen years in prison. His early release on 7 May 1953 was partly because of recurring health problems, but also the result of pressure by Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, B. H. Liddell Hart, and other supporters. The conduct of the trial was partly responsible for creating the legend of a "clean Wehrmacht" – the belief that members of the German armed forces acted in isolation, and were not involved or culpable for the events of the Holocaust.


History [ edit | edit source ]

Erich von Manstein, a Prussian field marshal obsessed with duty, loyalty, and obedience practically fought his own war against Hitler. General Staff officer of the 1st Panzer Division, Johann von Kielmansegg, said when asked about it:

"There is virtually no other Commander-in-Chief who fought as many battles with Hitler and contributed as much to solutions at the front as Manstein did."

The dispute also became known as "the battle of arguments" inside the German high command, with officers referring to Manstein as: "the strategist" and Hitler: "the power bank". Manstein's close friend and colleague, Hans-Georg Krebs, later said:

"To him, Hitler really was the ignorant lance corporal who fought in World War I, who imagined himself to be skilled and knowledgeable. He considered it a heavy blow that this man was now in charge of Germany's military destiny. He often said [during conferences] after closing the door: "My God, what an idiot".

Manstein believed he was serving Germany by waging Hitler's war, and by prolonging it. He didn't want to see or admit the crimes which happened so often on both sides during the war. Georg Lindemann, from the military resistance later said:

"When he could see, and I believed he could, that the war was lost, that crimes had been committed at behind the front and at home, he knew one had to be prepared to change the situation. If this meant smashing the head, it had to be done."

Manstein's refused to take part in Nazism and politics in general, per the law for all soldiers and officers in the German Army. General Staff officer, Ulrich de Maziere, later said:

"Manstein was not a Nazi. Not at all. There were irreconcilable differences between Hitler and Manstein on both sides, but in the tradition he had been educated he felt he had to do his duty."

Manstein also resisted the expansion and acts of the SA, and was against the so-called "Aryan Law" regarding Jews in the German Army. A friend of Manstein later explained how he intervened on behalf of a friend:

"He intervened on behalf of a young officer, lieutenant von Schmeling, whose supervisor I had been when he was an ensign, I thought highly of him, and Manstein did this determination and went up as high as Beck."

Even though Manstein was highly respected by the high command the protest faded away without any change or consideration.

The bond between Hitler and Manstein was greatly strengthened when Manstein famously came up with the idea or plan that led to fall of France in 1940, known as the "sickle cut" plan. After a few days since the invasion, it became clear the strategy was working, and Manstein soon became famous for it, but later on, Hitler would take credit for the plan, and the dispute became personal. Manstein's son later said:

"At the time, he saw it as his greatest achievement. At home we knew it was his doing. He was therefore not terrible pleased that everyone else, including Hitler, was [now] claiming the plan for themselves. And that Hitler was now selling it as his own brilliant idea."

Manstein played a key role in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and Hitler promoted him to field marshal after his conquest of the Crimea and Sevastopol, the worlds strongest fortress, and saw his field marshal as a miracle maker and troubleshooter for the Eastern Front. Manstein become even more determined to win the war against Russia when one of his sons was killed at the front. After Stalingrad, Hitler expected Manstein to lead an attack that was intended to break the encirclement of the 6th Army. The attack failed with the collapse of an Italian and Romanian army, which guarded the flanks of Mainstein's forces, and he eventually called off the attack. Hitler placed Manstein in command of the Southern flank during the Battle of Kursk, which was the strongest flank, and Hitler once again expected a miracle from his "most able general", but the attack also failed, after which Hitler relieved Manstein of his responsibilities and transferred him to a much less decisive part of the front.

In March 1944, Manstein was present during a meeting at Hitler's private retreat, the Berghof, where he again became involded in a heated argument with Hitler, who claimed that everything depended on "holding out and never retreating". Field Marshal Walther Model's adjutant, Gunther Reichhelm, later described the event:

"Hitler said to Manstein: "I cannot use in the South. Field Marshal Model will take over." To which Manstein replied: "My Führer, please believe me when I say that I will use all strategic means at my disposal to defend the soil in which my son lies buried."

Hitler pretended that he still had full confidence in Manstein, and promised he would see action soon, but a few days later he was ordered to take leave to "recover his health", and Hitler never again saw or deployed Manstein. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels called Manstein: "Marshal Retreat" because of his insistence on retreating from certain points at the front during his command of Army Group A. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel called Manstein: "a man of illusions", because he believed Hitler would pass the command on the Eastern Front to him.

In October 1944, he wrote to the high command in Zossen, hoping to lead at least a battalion, but was refused all requests on Hitler's demand.


Great War Leaders: Erich von Manstein

The future field marshal was born in 1887, destined for the Army because of his Junker background. When World War II started Manstein was Chief of Staff to General von Rundstedt, and it was he who drew up plans for the invasion of France. Hitler accepted them, the armies set out, and the invasion was successful from the start.

The main German assault was planned by Manstein to come through the woods of the Ardennes, including Panzer units to catch the French by surprise, crossing the River Meuse and going hell for leather for the channel coast, slicing up the French army on the way.

Manstein, happy with the success of his plans, was put in charge of the troops prepared to invade England, but for reasons best known to himself, Hitler never gave the necessary order. So Erich moved to East Prussia instead, in command of a Panzer corps. There can be no doubt that had the order come, Manstein’s armies would have invaded Britain and History would have been different. Britain had only the remains of the BEF in arms, plus the home guard, consisting of old men and small boys armed with pick helves. But Hitler hesitated, then changed direction towards the East and Soviet Russia. It was to be Operation Barbarossa after all. When the lunacy of Barbarossa (q.v.) began, Manstein’s soldiers invaded the Soviet Union with whom Germany had signed a non-aggression pact – advancing two hundred miles in 4 days until they reached the River Dvina, where they briefly rested before advancing towards Leningrad. Erich was promoted to command the 11 th Army on the south-eastern Front, and from 1942 to 1944 was Commander-in-Chief in this area.

In the Crimea he defeated superior Soviet forces, captured nearly 500,000 prisoners and took Sebastapol after an exhausting and lengthy siege. The German 6 th Army at Stalingrad badly needed help and he set out to aid it but was held up 30 miles short of his target, and had to organise an orderly withdrawal to the Dnieper. His counter-attack came in 1943, when he drove the Red Army back, and captured General Kharkov in the process. Eager to get on with it, Manstein asked permission of the Fuhrer to cut off the Russian salient at Kursk, but Hitler waited too long before making a decision the Germans lost the initiative, so Manstein conducted yet another masterly withdrawal, this time to Poland.

Erich von Manstein’s chief tactic was controlled, orderly ‘retreats’ designed to bring the Russians nearer in one sector, to be successfully demolished by Panzer divisions in flanking attacks. But Hitler, who after all had only made it to corporal in The Great War, disagreed when Erich wanted to do it again in 1944, he was contemptuously dismissed by the Fuhrer, muttering foolishly about ‘cowardice’. This was too much for von Manstein who retired to his Junkerish estates like Achilles in his tent.

The War ended, and he was arrested and faced a military court in Hamburg. Though it was perfectly obvious he had been a highly professional soldier fighting for his country not even known as a member of the Nazi Party, he was nevertheless sentenced to 18 months prison for ‘war crimes’ in 1949. He was released four years later on health grounds, and died in 1973 when he was eighty-six.

There is little doubt that historians agree that Erich von Manstein was the most able commander in the Second World War, perhaps, given his record of achievements, the best out of all the involved nations, including Montgomery, Marshall, Patton, Rommel, von Rundstedt etc. – the competition for this label is very hot indeed. The German General Staff wanted von Manstein to replace von Brauchitsch as early as 1941 as Commander-in-Chief, but Hitler’s loathing for the upper classes prevented him, luckily for Europe and the world, from putting Manstein in the best job.


World War II Database


ww2dbase Fritz Erich von Manstein was the tenth child of the aristocratic artillery officer General Eduard von Lewinski and Helene von Sperling. Upon his birth, he was given for adoption by his childless uncle Lieutenant General Georg von Manstein "You got a healthy boy today", said the Lewinskis via telegraph. "Mother and child well. Congratulations." The adoption was officially recorded in 1896 upon the death of Eduard von Lewinski. In addition to his biological and adopted father as military men, two of Manstein's grandfathers had also been Prussian generals, as well as his mother's brother. It was expected of him when he joined the cadet corps in 1900, and became an ensign in the Third Foot Guards Regiment's Fusilier battalion in Mar 1906. He attended the War Academy in 1913, and upon the completion the following year he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. During WW1, Manstein served on both fronts. He was wounded on the Russian front in Nov 1914, and became a staff officer after his recovery for the remainder of the war.

ww2dbase During the interwar years, Manstein participated in the creation of the Reichswehr, followed by his promotions to lead army units as large as a corps by the end of the 1920s. In 1936, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow brass with the promotion to the rank of major general, and the assignment of Deputy Chief of Staff to General Fedor von Bock. As WW2 drew near, von Manstein was among the officers who oversaw the annexation of Sudetenland under the command of General von Leeb, although he did not believe Germany had the capability to defeat the Czech army should the Czechs decide to defend her fortifications on the German border "we did not have the means to break through", he said.

ww2dbase During the two world wars, he was instrumental in the backing of developing a self-propelled heavy field gun to support the infantry. The resulting StuG series assault guns was not only one of the most effective infantry support weapons in WW2, but it also freed tanks from this mundane task.

ww2dbase During WW2, Manstein, now a lieutenant general, served as Chiefs of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt in the Poland and France campaigns. In these two campaigns that formally drew Europe into a war, von Manstein was known for his successful coordination of air and ground forces. In Poland, Manstein's plan leveraged the mobile capabilities of Walther von Reichenau's armor to encircle the unprepared Polish forces. In France, his maneuvers through the Ardennes to outflank the Maginot Line were a major reason for the western nation's quick fall. After the surrender of France, he was promoted to a full general and on 19 Jun 1940 awarded the Knight's Cross.

ww2dbase Manstein's attack plan across the Ardennes was developed together with Colonel Günther Blumentritt and Henning von Tresckow, and it was nicknamed Sichelschnitt, or, sickle cut. It was later referred to as the Manstein Plan.

ww2dbase In Feb 1941, Manstein was given command of the newly formed 56th Panzer Corps of Panzer Group 4 of Army Group North, with which corps he participated in Operation Barbarossa. He made a significant 100-mile advance during the first two days of the operation. In Sep, he received command of the 11th Army of Army Group South and participated in the Crimea campaign, taking over 430,000 Russian prisoners as he conquered all of Crimea with the capture of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on 1 Jul 1942. On the same day, he was given the honor of the title Field Marshal. Later that month, Manstein's 11th Army was sent northwards to join Army Group North to capture the city of Leningrad. At Leningrad, the back-and-forth frontlines cost 60,000 casualties on Manstein's army, but it also marked his brilliance in that his smaller units regularly outmaneuvered larger Russian forces. In Nov 1942, he was placed in charge of Army Group Don consisted of a hodgepodge of German and Romanian elements, and placed in charge of rescuing Friedrich Paulus' troops in Stalingrad. This operation to Stalingrad, code named Operation Winter Storm, was launched on 12 Dec. After meeting continuous fierce Russian resistance at Stalingrad, Manstein reached as close as 35 miles to Paulus but was stopped by a series of Russian counterattacks. At this point, he asked Berlin to order Paulus to break out of their encirclement in the city, but Berlin refused to issue such an order, citing Adolf Hitler's wishes that Stalingrad must be occupied at all costs. Manstein was finally driven into a withdraw back to Ukraine, but he was also credited for avoiding the complete collapse of the eastern front for the Germans after the demoralizing loss at Stalingrad. He regrouped and launched a renewed offensive against the Russian forces at Krasnograd, causing 30,000 casualties amongst the Russian troops, of which 23,000 deaths.

ww2dbase Feb 1943 saw Manstein's appointment as the head of Army Group South, which was consisted of the remnants of Army Group B and Army Group Don. On 21 Feb, Manstein launched a renewed attack into Russian lines, with fast-moving armor cutting off Russian troops. By 9 Mar, large quantities of Russian tanks and artillery guns were captured, in addition to causing 23,000 casualties and capturing 9,000 Russian soldiers. On 14 Mar, the city of Kharkov was captured after brutal street fighting for the victory at the Third Battle of Kharkov he was awarded Oak Leafs to his Knight's Cross. On 21 Mar, the 2nd SS Panzer Corps under his command captured Belgorod.

ww2dbase During Operation Citadel which saw some of the biggest tank battles in the war, Manstein launched a pincer attack against the Russian-held city of Kursk, defended by Georgi Zhukov. Manstein's northern pincer, led by Günther von Kluge, failed to achieve its objectives. This slowed down the operation and gave Zhukov an opportunity to launch fierce counterattacks. In Berlin, Hitler decided to call off the German operation at Kursk, despite Manstein's protest, after the successful Allied landing at Italy. Manstein, at the face of Russian counter counteroffensives, retreated west of the River Dnieper, but not before inflicting heavy casualties on the Russian Army with a counteroffensive of his own.

ww2dbase By Jan 1944, Manstein was generally holding ground but he knew there was little chance Germany could maintain the Eastern Front for much longer. He was deeply committed in several strategy disagreements with Hitler, whose belief that every inch of ground must be held conflicted with von Manstein's favor for a mobile war. Von Manstein believed that territorial losses were acceptable if it meant the opportunity for mobile German forces to surround the stretched Russian lines. Hitler was outraged at Manstein's suggestions that the Fuhrer was inadequate as a military professional, but continued to compromise with von Manstein due to the general's proven capabilities. On 30 Mar 1944, the egotistical Hitler was persuaded by Göring and Himmler to dismiss Manstein. "He was not only the most brilliant strategist of all our generals, but he had a good political sense. A man of that quality was too difficult for Hitler to swallow for long", said Blumentritt. To appease the able general, Hitler also approved the award of Swords to Manstein's Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves on the same day as the dismissal. To the inner circle in Berlin, this dismissal did not come as too great of a surprise, for that Hitler feared Manstein to a certain degree because of the very capability that he held in his hands Hitler simply felt threatened by such an able general. Manstein retired from the army and retired to western Germany.

ww2dbase When Germany surrendered, Manstein surrendered to British General Bernard Montgomery and was placed under arrest on 23 Aug 1945. He was housed in a POW camp in Luneberg, and later transferred to Nüremburg where he was called as a witness for the defense to clear the name of fellow military leaders of war criminal accusations. In Aug 1949, he was found guilty of war crimes and was sentenced for 18 years of imprisonment. He was treated with favor by the British this was a result of both the British respect his integrity as well as an open rejection of the Russian demands that the German be sent to Moscow for a separate trial. The trial cleared him of many charges, but was still found guilty of employing scorched earth tactics and failing to protect civilian population. He was released from prison on 6 May 1953, before the scheduled end of his 18-year prison term, for medical reasons (eye problems). He became a senior advisor to the German government on anti-Soviet initiatives during his retirement, and published his memoirs under the titles Lost Victories and From a Soldier's Life 1887-1939 in 1955 and 1958, respectively. In Lost Victories, Manstein expressed his deep belief that had the generals controlled the military matters, instead of Hitler, the eastern front could be won by that Germans.

ww2dbase Erich von Manstein passed away in Irschenhausen, Bavaria. He now rests eternally in Dorfmark. He left behind a legacy of being one of the ablest German generals of WW2, defeating numerically stronger Russians with superior maneuvers. Erich von Manstein and his wife Jutta Sibylle von Loesch had three children his oldest son, Gero, was killed in battle on the Eastern Front in Oct 1942.

ww2dbase Sources: Achtung Panzer, DHM, In the Service of the Reich, Spartacus Educational, Wikipedia.

Last Major Revision: Jun 2006

Erich von Manstein Interactive Map

Erich von Manstein Timeline

24 Nov 1887 Erich von Manstein was born.
21 Oct 1939 General Erich von Manstein, Chief of Staff of Army Group A, obtained a copy of Plan Yellow whilst passing through Berlin, Germany on his way to set up Army Group A Headquarters at Koblenz. He found little to admire in the plan, considering it to be too much like the strategy of 1914, and even predicting that the advance would bog down at the same place – on the Somme River in France.
17 Feb 1940 As it was customary for new corps commanding officers to dine with the Führer, Hitler's aide Colonel Schmundt arranged such a meeting for Hitler and Manstein. Manstein presented his plan for the invasion of France and the Low Countries, which impressed Hitler.
12 Aug 1942 Erich von Manstein was transferred from the Caucasus area of southern Russia to the Leningrad area of northern Russia.
6 Feb 1943 Adolf Hitler met with Erich von Manstein at Rastenberg, East Prussia, Germany. The Field Marshal had been flown 900 miles from Donetsk, Ukraine to the Führer's Wolfsschanze headquarters in Hitler's personal Focke-Wulf Fw200 V3 "Immelmann III". At the four hour conference, only five days after the surrender at Stalingrad, Russia, the Army Group South commander persuaded Hitler to allow him to retreat to the River Mius.
11 Jun 1973 Erich von Manstein passed away.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
19 Mar 2011 07:13:23 AM

I think he was the most genius and brilliant tactician ever, or at least in World War 2.

2. DeRandomPlayer says:
2 Aug 2018 08:48:51 AM

what was von Manstein's rank in 1935 specifically?

3. Anonymous says:
7 Aug 2018 12:24:40 PM

His final rank was that of Field Marshall

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.


Erich von Manstein

Ranks:
Generalfeldmarschall 1 August 1942
Generaloberst 7 March 1942
General der Infanterie 1 June 1940
Generalleutnant 1 April 1938
Generalmajor 1 October 1936
Oberst 1 December 1933
Oberstleutnant 1 April 1931
Major February 1928
Hauptmann 24 July 1915
Oberleutnant 19 June 1914
Leutnant 27 January 1907
Fähnrich 6 March 1906

Other: Personnel
Articles:

He was the initiator and one of the planners of the Ardennes offensive alternative in the invasion of France in 1940. He received acclaim from the German leadership for the victorious battles of Perekop Isthmus, Kerch, Sevastopol and Kharkov. He commanded the failed relief effort at Stalingrad and the Cherkassy pocket evacuation. He was dismissed from service by Adolf Hitler in March 1944, due to his frequent clashes with Adolf Hitler over military strategy. In his memoirs, Verlorene Siege 1955, translated into English as Lost Victories, he is critical of Adolf Hitler above all for denying the Army flexible defensive manoeuverability and for over-reliance on his will, and critical of the attempt by other military officers on Adolf Hitler's life.

In 1949, he was tried in Hamburg for war crimes and was convicted of neglecting to protect civilian lives and using scorched earth tactics which denied vital food supplies to the local population. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, later reduced to 12, but he only served 4 years before being released. After release from a British prison in 1953, he became a military advisor to the West German Government. His self-serving memoirs largely contributed to the myth of clean Wehrmacht, and only years later scholars unveiled Erich von Manstein's full involvement in atrocities and Holocaust in the East during the war.

Erich von Manstein was born Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Lewinski in Berlin, the tenth child of a Prussian aristocrat, artillery general Eduard von Lewinski 1829 to 1906, and Helene von Sperling 1847 to 1910. His father's family was of partial Polish origin - Brochwicz coat of arms (Brochwicz III). Hedwig von Sperling 1852 to 1925, Helene's younger sister, married Lieutenant General Georg Erich von Manstein 1844 to 1913. The couple were not able to have children, thus it was decided that this tenth, unborn child would be adopted by his uncle and aunt. When he was born, the Lewinskis sent a telegram to the Erich von Mansteins which stated: You got a healthy boy today. Mother and child well. Congratulations.

Not only were both Erich von Manstein's biological and adoptive father Prussian generals, but his mother's brother and both his grandfathers had also been Prussian generals (one of them, Gustav, leading a corps in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871. In addition, he was also a nephew of Paul von Hindenburg, the future Generalfeldmarschall and President of Germany, whose wife Gertrud was a sister of Hedwig and Helene. Thus, his career in the Prussian Army was assured from birth. He attended the Imperial Lyzeum, a catholic gymnasium in Strasbourg 1894 to 1899. He spent six years in the cadet corps 1900 to 1906, in Plön and Groß-Lichterfelde and joined the Third Foot Guards Regiment (Garde zu Fuß) in March 1906 as an ensign. He was promoted to Lieutenant in January 1907, and in October 1913, entered the Prussian War Academy.

During World War I, Erich von Manstein served on both the German Western Front 1914 Belgium/France 1916 Attack on Verdun, 1917 to 1918 Champagne and the Eastern Front 1915 North Poland, 1915 to 1916 Serbia, 1917 Estonia. In Poland, he was severely wounded in November 1914. He returned to duty in 1915, was promoted to captain and remained as a staff officer until the end of the war. In 1918, he volunteered for the staff position in the Frontier Defence Force in Breslau (Wroclaw) and served there until 1919.

Erich von Manstein married Jutta Sibylle von Loesch, the daughter of a Silesian landowner in 1920. She died in 1966. They had three children: a daughter named Gisela, and two sons, Gero 31 December 1922 and Rüdiger. Their elder son Gero, serving as a Lieutenant in the Wehrmacht, died on the battlefield in the northern sector of the Eastern Front on 29 October 1942.

Erich von Manstein stayed in the armed forces after World War I. In the 1920s, he participated in the formation of the Reichswehr, the German Army of the Weimar Republic restricted to 100,000 men by the Versailles Treaty. He was appointed company commander in 1920 and later battalion commander in 1922. In 1927 he was promoted to Major and began serving with the General Staff, visiting other countries to learn about their military facilities. In 1933 the National Socialist Party rose to power in Germany thus ending the Weimar period. The new regime renounced the Versailles Treaty and proceeded with large scale rearmament and expansion of the military.

On 1 July 1935, Erich von Manstein was made the Head of Operations Branch of the Army General Staff (Generalstab des Heeres), part of the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres). During his tenure Erich von Manstein was responsible for the development of Germany's first war plan against France or Czechoslovakia, which was titled Fall Rot (Case Red). It was also during this time when Erich von Manstein came in contact with a group of officers around Heinz Guderian and Oswald Lutz, who advocated drastic changes in warfare with utilising the new Panzer as an independent weapon. However officers like Ludwig Beck, Chief of the Army General Staff, were against such drastic changes, and therefore Erich von Manstein proposed the development of Sturmgeschütze, self-propelled assault guns that would provide heavy direct-fire support to infantry, as an alternative to the Panzers. This solution was more preferable for conservative commanders like Ludwig Beck. In World War II, the resulting StuG series proved to be one of the most successful and cost-effective German weapons.

He was promoted on 1 October 1936, becoming the Deputy Chief of Staff (Oberquartiermeister I) to General Ludwig Beck. On 4 February 1938, with the fall of Werner von Fritsch, Erich von Manstein was transferred to the command of the 18th Infantry Division in Liegnitz, Silesia with the rank of Generalleutnant. In late July 1938, Erich von Manstein wrote to Ludwig Beck telling him that he shared Ludwig Beck concerns about a premature war if Germany went ahead with an attack on Czechoslovakia planned for 1 October, but urged Ludwig Beck not to go ahead with his plan to resign in protest, instead urging his him to place his faith in the Führer. On April 20, 1939 to celebrate Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday, Erich von Manstein delivered a speech, in which he praised Adolf Hitler as a leader sent by God to save Germany, and warned the hostile world that if it kept erecting ramparts around Germany to block the way of the German people towards their future, then he would be quite happy to see the world plunged into another world war. Giving speeches on the birthday of the head of state was not in the German Army tradition, and for Adolf Hitler's birthdays, no officer was required to give one with 42% of officers choosing to stick with tradition during the lavish celebrations of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday. The rise of officers such as Erich von Manstein was a part of broader tendency of technocratic officers who were usually ardent National Socialists to come to the fore. The Israeli historian Omer Bartov wrote about the Army's technocratic officers and their relationship to National Socialism that:

The combined gratification of personal ambitions, technological obsessions and nationalist aspirations greatly enhanced their identification with Adolf Hitler's regime as individuals, professionals, representatives of a caste and leaders of a vast conscript army. Men such as Ludwig Beck and Heinz Guderian, Erich von Manstein and Erwin Rommel, Karl Dönitz and Albert Kesserlring, Erhard Milch and Ernst Udet cannot be described as mere soldiers strictly devoted to their profession, rearmament and the autonomy of the military establishment while remaining indifferent to and detached from Nazi rule and ideology. The many points of contact between Adolf Hitler and his young generals were thus important elements in the integration of the Wehrmacht into the Third Reich, in stark contradiction of its image as a haven from Nazism

On 18 August 1939, in preparation for Fall Weiss, the German invasion of Poland, Erich von Manstein was appointed Chief of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South. Here he worked along with Gerd von Rundstedt's Chief of Operations, Colonel Günther Blumentritt in the development of the operational plan. Gerd von Rundstedt's accepted Erich von Manstein's plan calling for the concentration of the majority of the army group's armoured units into Walther von Reichenau's 10th Army, with the objective of a decisive breakthrough which would lead to the encirclement of Polish forces west of the Vistula River. In Erich von Manstein's plan, two other armies comprising Army Group South, Wilhelm List's 14th Army and Johannes Blaskowitz's 8th Army, were to provide the flank support for Walther von Reichenau's armoured thrust towards Warsaw, the Polish capital. Privately, Erich von Manstein was lukewarm about the Polish campaign, thinking that it would be better to keep Poland as a buffer between Germany and the Soviet Union. He also worried about an Allied attack on the West Wall once the Polish campaign started, thus drawing Germany into a two-front war.

Erich von Manstein took part in conference on 22 August 1939 where Adolf Hitler underlined to his commanders the need for the physical destruction of Poland as a nation. After the war he would claim in his memoirs that he didn't recognise this as policy of extermination against the Poles. Benoît Lemay and Pierce Heyward in their book Erich von Manstein, Adolf Hitler's Master Strategist write that contrary to Erich von Manstein's claims he was perfectly aware of the policy of extermination towards Poles.

Launched on 1 September 1939, the invasion began successfully. In Army Group South's area of responsibility, armoured units of the 10th Army pursued the retreating Poles, giving them no time to set up a defence. The 8th Army prevented the isolated Polish troop concentrations in Lódz, Radom and Poznan from merging into a cohesive force. Deviating from the original plan that called for heading straight for the Vistula and then proceeding to Warsaw, Erich von Manstein persuaded Gerd von Rundstedt to encircle the Polish units in the Radom area. The plan succeeded, clearing the bulk of Polish resistance from the southern approach to Warsaw.

On 27 September 1939, Warsaw formally surrendered, although isolated pockets of resistance remained. That same day, Adolf Hitler ordered the Army High Command, led by General Franz Halder, to develop a plan for action in the west against France and the Low Countries. The different plans that the General Staff suggested were given to Erich von Manstein and his staff, who, with Gerd von Rundstedt's approval, formalised an alternative plan for Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). This plan received Adolf Hitler's attention in February 1940 and finally his agreement.

By late October, the bulk of the German Army was redeployed to the west. Erich von Manstein was made Chief of Staff of Gerd von Rundstedt's Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A) in western Germany. Like many of the army's younger officers, Erich von Manstein opposed the initial plan for Fall Gelb, criticising it for its lack of ability to deliver strategic results and the uninspired use of the armoured forces, which may have come from OKH's inability to influence Adolf Hitler's planning. Erich von Manstein pointed out that a repeat of the Schlieffen Plan, with the attack directed through Belgium, was something the Allies expected, as they were already moving strong forces into the area. Bad weather in the area caused the attack to be cancelled several times and eventually delayed into the spring.

During the autumn, Erich von Manstein, with the informal cooperation of Heinz Guderian, developed his own plan he suggested that the panzer divisions attack through the wooded hills of the Ardennes where no one would expect them, then establish bridgeheads on the Meuse River and rapidly drive to the English Channel. The Germans would thus cut off the French and Allied armies in Belgium and Flanders. Erich von Manstein's proposal also contained a second thrust, outflanking the Maginot Line, which would have allowed the Germans to force any future defensive line much further south. This second thrust would perhaps have avoided the need for the Fall Rot (Case Red) second stage of the Battle of France. The plan was after the event nicknamed Sichelschnitt (sickle cut).

Oberkommando der Wehrmacht originally rejected the proposal. Franz Halder had Erich von Manstein removed from Gerd von Rundstedt's headquarters and sent to the east to command the 38th Army Corps. But Adolf Hitler, looking for a more aggressive plan, approved a modified version of Erich von Manstein's ideas, after details of the plan had been leaked to him. This plan is today known as the Erich von Manstein Plan. This modified version, formulated by Franz Halder, did not contain the second thrust. Erich von Manstein and his corps played a minor role during the operations in France, serving under Günther von Kluge's 4th Army. However, it was his corps which helped to achieve the first breakthrough during Fall Rot, east of Amiens, and was the first to reach and cross the River Seine. The invasion of France was an outstanding military success and Erich von Manstein was promoted to full general and awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross for suggesting the plan.

Erich von Manstein was a proponent of the German invasion Great Britain, named Operation Seelöwe. He considered the operation risky but necessary. It was planned that his corps was to be shipped from Boulogne to Bexhill over the English Channel. However, since the Luftwaffe failed to decisively beat the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, Operation Seelöwe was cancelled. For the rest of 1940, Erich von Manstein, with little to do, spent most of the time in Paris or at home.

In early 1941, the German High Command commenced with the planning for the invasion of the Soviet Union, codenamed Operation Barbarossa. In February 1941, Erich von Manstein was appointed commander of the 56th Panzer Corps and one of the 250 commanders to be briefed for the upcoming major offensive. His corps was under the command of General Erich Hoepner in Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb's Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North). The Army Group was tasked with approaching through the Baltic States and then advancing on Leningrad. Erich von Manstein arrived only 6 days prior to the launch of the offensive at the front. Operation Barbarossa then commenced on 22 June 1941 with a massive German attack along the whole front-line Erich von Manstein's corps was tasked to advance to the Dvina River together with the Georg-Hans Reinhardt's XXXXI Panzerkorps (XLI Panzer Corps), securing the vital bridges over the river there. Erich von Manstein's corps was able to advance rapidly. The Soviets mounted a number of counterattacks, but those were aimed against Georg-Hans Reinhardt's Corps, leading to the Battle of Raseiniai. After an advance of 315 km, Erich von Manstein reached the Dvina River in just 100 hours. Being ahead of the rest of the Army Group, he was subject to a number of determined Soviet counterattacks, which he was able to fend off. After Georg-Hans Reinhardt's corps closed in, they were now tasked to encircle the Soviet formations around Luga in a pincer movement. Again having penetrated deep into the Soviet lines with unprotected flanks, his corps was the target of a Soviet counteroffensive at Soltsy by the Soviet 11th Army, commanded by Nikolai Vatutin. During this attack from 15 July on, Erich von Manstein's spearhead unit, the 8th Panzer Division, was cut off. Although it was able to fight its way free, it was badly mauled and the Soviets succeeded in halting Erich von Manstein's advance at Luga.

Erich von Manstein then received 2 more infantry divisions as reinforcement under his disposal, while Georg-Hans Reinhardt was closing the encirclement on his own. On 12 August the Soviets launched a large counteroffensive with the 11th and 34th Army against Heeresgruppe Nord (Army Group North), cutting off 3 whole divisions at Staraya Russa. Erich von Manstein was tasked to relieve them. His offensive led to a major Soviet defeat when he was able to encircle 5 Soviet divisions on his relief mission. His opponent, General Kuzma M. Kachanov of the 34th Army, was subsequently executed. Erich von Manstein then was tasked to advance to the east on Demyansk. On 12 September, when he was near the city, he was informed that he will take over 11th Army of Army Group South in the Ukraine.

Crimea and the Battle of Sevastopol

In September 1941, Erich von Manstein was appointed commander of the 11th Army. Its previous commander, Colonel-General Eugen Ritter von Schobert, had perished when his plane landed in a Russian minefield. The 11th Army was tasked with invading the Crimea, capturing Sevastopol and pursuing enemy forces on the flank of Army Group South during its advance into Russia.

His forces were able to achieve a fast breakthrough during the first days, although against heavy Soviet resistance. After most of the neck of the Perekop Isthmus was taken, Erich von Manstein's forces were substantially reduced, leaving him only with 6 German divisions and the Romanians. He now had to take the rest of the Perekop Isthmus. After accomplishing this task, his forces were ably to spread out on the Crimea peninsula quickly. Simferopol was entered on 1 November and Kerch was taken by 16 November. Only the city of Sevastopol was now still in Soviet hands.

Erich von Manstein's probing attack on the city failed, and with insufficient forces to storm the city left, he ordered an investment of the city. By 17 December he launched another offensive into the city, which failed. Just over a week later, on 26 December 1941, the Soviets landed on the Kerch Straits, and on 30 December executed another landing near Feodosiya. Only a hurried withdrawal from the Kerch Straits, in contravention of Erich von Manstein's orders, by 46 Infantry Division under General Hans Graf von Sponecks command prevented a collapse of the eastern part of the Crimea, although the division lost most of its heavy equipment. This situation forced Erich von Manstein to cancel a resumption of the attack on Sevastopol and send most of his forces east to destroy the Soviet bridgehead. The Soviets were in an superior position regarding men and material, and were therefore pushed by Stalin to conduct further offensives, which were thwarted by the 11th Army in heavy fighting. The situation was stabilised by late April 1942.

Operation Trappenjagd, launched on 8 May 1942, aimed at expelling the Russian forces from the Kerch Peninsula. After feinting against the north, the 11th army attacked south, and the Soviets were soon reduced to fleeing for the Kerch Straits. Three Soviet armies (44th, 47th and 51st), 21 divisions, 176,000 men, 347 tanks and nearly 3,500 guns were lost. The remains of the force were evacuated and Trappenjagd was completed successfully on 18 May. German losses were only 3,397 men while the Soviets were able to save only 37,000 out of 212,000 men through evacuation.

With months delay Erich von Manstein turned his attention once more towards the capture of Sevastopol, a battle in which Germany used some of the largest guns ever built. Along with large numbers of regular artillery pieces, super-heavy 600 mm mortars and the 800 mm Dora railway gun were brought in for the assault. The furious barrage began on the morning of 7 June 1942, and all of the resources of the Luftwaffe's Luftflotte 4, commanded by Wolfram von Richthofen, descended on their targets, continuing for five days before the main assault began.

11th Army was able to gain ground during mid-June, although its forces suffered considerable attrition. To keep the momentum and before the German summer offensive of 1942 would hamper Erich von Manstein's reinforcements and supply situation he ordered a surprise attack for 29 June. This attack, supported by amphibious landings, was a success and the Soviet lines crumbled. On 1 July German forces entered the city while the Soviets conducted a costly evacuation, and by 4 July the city was in German hands. Adolf Hitler promoted Erich von Manstein subsequently to Generalfeldmarschall.

During the Crimea Campaign, Erich von Manstein was involved atrocities against the Soviet Union, especially with the killing squads of Einsatzgruppe D. On September 8, 1941, Otto Ohlendorf of Einsatzgruppe D, which travelled in the wake of Erich von Manstein's 11th Army reported that relations with the 11th Army were excellent. Erich von Manstein's command provided Einsatzgruppe D with the vehicles, gas, and drivers that allowed Einsatzgruppe D to move around plus military police to cordon off areas where Einsatzgruppe D planned to shoot Jews in order to prevent anyone from escaping. This way Erich von Manstein helped Einsatzgruppe D to exterminate the Jewish population of the Crimea. A Captain Ulrich Gunzert, after watching Einsatzgruppe D massacre a group of Jewish women and children, was shocked by what he had seen and went to Erich von Manstein to ask him to do something to stop the massacres. Erich von Manstein told Captain Gunzert to forget what he had seen, and to focus on fighting the Red Army instead. Gunzert later wrote about Erich von Manstein's actions that It was a flight from responsibility, a moral failure.

After the capture of Sevastopol the German high command felt Erich von Manstein was the right man to command the forces at Leningrad, which had been under siege from autumn the previous year and the front had been settled into some kind of trench warfare reminiscent of World War I. Erich von Manstein, with elements of the 11th Army, was transferred to the Leningrad front where he arrived at 27 August 1942. Erich von Manstein again lacked proper forces to storm the city directly, therefore he planned an operation called Operation Nordlicht, a bold plan for a thrust to cut off Leningrad's supply line at Lake Ladoga.

However, on the same day as Erich von Manstein's arrival, the Soviet launched an offensive of their own. Originally planned as spoiling attack against Georg Lindemann's 18th Army in the narrow German salient west of Lake Ladoga, the offensive suddenly appeared to be able to breakthrough the German lines, lifting the siege. The superior Soviet forces were able to push a deep bulge into the German lines. Erich von Manstein was forced to divert his forces in order to avoid catastrophe. Erich von Manstein was given control of all German forces nearby. After a series of heavy battles, Erich von Manstein launched his own counterattack on 21 September and was able to cut off the two Soviet armies in the salient. The next month he was busy clearing the perimeter. Although the Soviet offensive had been fended off, the resulting attrition meant that the Germans were no longer able to execute a decisive assault on Leningrad, and Nordlicht was put on ice. As result, the siege continued into 1943.

To resolve the always present shortage of oil, the Germans had launched a massive offensive aimed against the Caucasian oilfields in the summer of 1942. To protect the flanks of the offensive, the Wehrmacht planned to occupy the city of Stalingrad at the Volga. While the 6th Army, led by Friedrich Paulus, still struggled with the Soviet defenders inside the town, the Soviets launched a counteroffensive against the flanks of the German forces on 19 November, codenamed Operation Uranus. As result 6th Army and parts of 4th Panzer Army were trapped inside the city. 2 days later Adolf Hitler appointed Erich von Manstein as commander of the newly created Heeresgruppe Don (Army Group Don), consisting of a hastily assembled group of tired men and machines. Erich von Manstein advised Adolf Hitler not to order the 6th Army to break out, stating that he could successfully break through the Soviet lines and relief the besieged 6th Army. The American historians' Williamson Murray and Allan Millet wrote that it was Erich von Manstein's message to Adolf Hitler on November 24th advising him that the 6th Army should not break out, along with Hermann Göring statements that the Luftwaffe could supply Stalingrad that . Sealed the fate of Sixth Army. After 1945, Erich von Manstein falsified the record and claimed that he told Adolf Hitler that the 6th Army must break out. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote that Because of the sensitivity of the Stalingrad question in post-war Germany, Erich von Manstein worked as hard to distort the record on this matter as on his massive involvement in the murder of Jews. Erich von Manstein was tasked to conduct a relieve operation, named Operation Winter Storm (Unternehmen Wintergewitter) against Stalingrad, which he thought was feasible if the 6th Army was adequately supplied through the air.

Wintergewitter, launched on 12 December, achieved some initial success and Erich von Manstein got his three panzer divisions and supporting units of the 57th Panzer Corps (comprising the 23rd Panzer Grenadier Division, and the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions) within 30 miles of Stalingrad by 20 December at the Myshkova River. Only in mid December 1942 did Erich von Manstein changed his stance about the wisdom of keeping the 6th Army in Stalingrad, and Erich von Manstein began to urge Adolf Hitler that the 6th Army should break out.. Since Adolf Hitler was against a breakout of the 6th Army and Erich von Manstein was reluctant to openly disobey Adolf Hitler's orders, he sent his intelligence officer into the perimeter to persuade Friedrich Paulus to order the breakout attempt on his own. However, Friedrich Paulus never ordered the breakout, insisting that he has not enough fuel and ammunition to do so. After the Soviet resistance grew stronger, Erich von Manstein finally had to withdraw from his forward positions, leaving the 6th Army to its fate.

While Erich von Manstein was executing Operation Winterstorm, the Soviets had launched an offensive by their own, Operation Saturn. This offensive aimed at capturing Rostov and thus cutting off the German Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A). However, after the launch of Winterstorm, the Soviets had to reallocate forces and the operation was subsequently scaled down and redubbed Little Saturn. The offensive forced Erich von Manstein to divert his forces thus avoiding the collapse of the entire front. The attack also prevented the 48th Panzer Corps (comprising the 336th Infantry Division, the 3rd Luftwaffe Field Division, and the 11th Panzer Division), under the command of General Otto von Knobelsdorff, from joining up with the 57th Panzer Corps as planned to aid the relief effort. Instead, the 48th Panzer Corps held a line along the River Chir, beating off successive Russian attacks. General Hermann Balck used the 11th Panzer Division to counterattack Soviet salients At the verge of collapse, the German units were able to hold the line, but the Italian 8th army on the flanks was overwhelmed and subsequently destroyed.

Spurred by this success the Soviets planned a series of follow-up offensives in January/February 1943 intended to decisively beat the Germans in southern Russia. After the destruction of the remaining Hungarian and Italian forces during the Ostrogozhsk Rossosh Offensive Operation Star and Operation Gallop were launched to recapture Kharkov, Kursk and to cut off all German forces east of Donetsk. Those operations succeeded in breaking through the German lines and threatened the whole southern part of the German front. To deal with this threat, Heeresgruppe Don (Army Group Don), Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B) and parts of Heeresgruppe A (Army Group A) were reunited as Army Group South (Heeresgruppe Süd) under Erich von Manstein's command in early February.

During their offensives in February 1943 the Soviets have succeeded in breaking through the German lines, retaking Kursk and Kharkov. Despite the Soviet advance, Erich von Manstein launched a counteroffensive into the overextended Soviet flank on 21 February 1943. The assault proved a major success Erich von Manstein's troops advanced rapidly, isolating Soviet forward units and forcing the Red Army to halt most of its offensive operations. By 2 March tank spearheads from Hermann Hoth's 4th Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf met, cutting off large portions of the Soviet Southwest Front, and by 9 March the Wehrmacht had inflicted a heavy defeat on the Soviets at Krasnograd and Barvenkovo.

Erich von Manstein then pushed forward, with his effort being spearheaded by Paul Hausser's 2nd SS Panzer Corps, recapturing Kharkov on 14 March, after bloody street fighting in what is known as the Third Battle of Kharkov. In recognition for this accomplishment, Erich von Manstein received the Oak Leaves for the Knight's Cross. The 2nd SS Panzer Corps then captured Belgorod on 21 March. When the offensive finally came to a halt, the Wehrmacht had dealt heavy damage to the Soviet troops and blunted their offensives. The successful counterattack at Kharkov allowed the Wehrmacht to prepare for one last strategic offensive, named Operation Zitadelle, which would mount into the Battle of Kursk.

During Operation Citadel, Erich von Manstein led the southern pincer, and despite losses, he managed to achieve most of his initial goals, inflicting far more casualties than he sustained. In his memoirs, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who led the Soviet defence at Kursk, praised Erich von Manstein. But due to the almost complete failure of the northern sector's pincer led by Günther von Kluge's and Walther Model, chronic lack of infantry support and an operational reserve, as well as Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, Adolf Hitler called off the offensive. Erich von Manstein protested, asserting that the victory was almost at hand as he felt he had achieved local superiority, and that with a little more effort, he could crack the Soviet defence before they could bring up their reserves. The American historians' Williamson Murray and Allan Millet wrote that By 12 July, only Erich von Manstein wished to continue the battle. With two relatively fresh panzer divisions in hand, he argued he could break through to Kursk. However, Erich von Manstein's claim was wishful thinking in the face of the depth of Soviet reserves. After the failure of Citadel, the Soviets launched a massive counterattack against the exhausted German forces.

A German victory in the sense of annihilating the surrounded Soviet forces required both the completion of the encirclement (that is the linking of the northern and southern German pincers) and holding the encirclement long enough to overcome the encircled Soviet forces. Even if the first had been accomplished it does not follow that the second would automatically follow. The German forces post-Stalingrad were never able to force the Soviets into significant retreats, except for temporary reversals like Kharkov. After halting the German offensive at Kursk, the Soviets had enough strength to launch immediate counterattacks.

From Kursk to the Dnieper

Erich von Manstein regarded the Battle of Kursk as something of a German victory as he believed that he had destroyed most of the Red Army's offensive capacity for the rest of 1943 during the course of that battle. As such, expecting little in the way of new Soviet offensives in the summer of 1943, Erich von Manstein moved his panzer reserves to the lower banks of the Dnieper river to stop a Soviet diversionary offensive there. It was only in late July 1943 that Erich von Manstein informed the OKW that his forces as placed on the Donets river area were holding a too wide area on the flat plains of the Ukraine and southern Russia with insufficient numbers, and given this, that he needed to withdrew either to the Dnieper river or be provided with massive reinforcements to hold the line on the Donets river, should he be faced with a major Soviet offensive. On the night of August 3, 1943 a Soviet offensive struck and placed Erich von Manstein's Army Group South under heavy pressure at once. This was made worse as Erich von Manstein's overconfidence about the supposed inability of the Soviets to mount major offensive operations after Kursk had led him to place his troops in exposed forward positions instead of their old defensive positions they had held prior to Kursk. After two days of heavy fighting, on August 5, 1943 the Soviets broke though Erich von Manstein's lines and reached a point 60 kilometres behind the German lines and took Belgorod in the process. In response to Erich von Manstein's pleas for help, Adolf Hitler sent the Grossdeutschland, 7th Panzer, SS 2nd Das Reich and SS 4th Totenkopf divisions to Army Group South. However, Adolf Hitler refused Erich von Manstein's request to pull back to the Dnieper, despite the 35-mile hole that the Soviets had torn into Erich von Manstein's Donets Line, through which a Soviet front began to move through. As such, Erich von Manstein waged a series of desperate counter-attacks with his reinforcements committed in a piecemeal way against the advancing Soviet forces. Between August 13-17, 1943 a series of armoured battles took place between the Soviet tank forces and the two SS panzer divisions outside of Bohodukhiv, which ended in a bloody draw with both sides equally battered. Erich von Manstein was only saved when the Soviets threw their main reserves behind a drive by General Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin who took Kharkov on the night of August 21-22, 1943. Erich von Manstein took advantage of this to use the 8th and 4th Panzer Armies to finally stop the Soviet offensive. Erich von Manstein's triumph proved to be brief as an offensive by General Konstantin Rokossovsky's Central Front in September 1943 had severed Heeresgruppe Mitte (Army Group Centre) from Erich von Manstein's Army Group South, and severely threatened Erich von Manstein's northern flank. In light of this threat, Adolf Hitler finally allowed Erich von Manstein to withdraw back to the Dnieper.

In September 1943, Erich von Manstein withdrew to the west bank of the river Dnieper in an operation that for the most part was well-ordered, but at times degenerated into a disorganised rout as Erich von Manstein's exhausted and defeated soldiers became unglued. At times, during the retreat, Erich von Manstein was able inflict heavy casualties on the pursuing Red Army as such when he smashed two corps of Rodion Malinovsky's army, which had advanced too far from their supporting units. From October 1943 to mid-January 1944, Erich von Manstein stabilised the situation on the Southern Front.

A major factor in the Dnieper campaign was the Soviet use of maskirovka (deception) which they often used successfully to fool Erich von Manstein and the other German officers about their intentions. Murray and Millet wrote that Erich von Manstein and other German generals' fanatical belief in Nazi racial theories about the Germans as the herrnvolk (master race) . Made the idea that Slavs could manipulate German intelligence with such consistency utterly inconceivable. The Soviets established a salient from Kiev, and were within reach of the crucial town of Zhitomir. In late December 1943, Erich von Manstein started a counteroffensive in the Korosten-Kiev area, in which he totally destroyed the opposing Soviet forces. Erich von Manstein counteroffensive saw 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler and 2nd SS Division Das Reich, together with 1st, 7th, 19th, and 25th Panzer Divisions and 68th Infantry Division (part of 4th Panzer Army), wheeled around the flank of the Russians in front of Zhitomir. Several notable victories were won at Brussilov, Radomyshl, and Meleni, under the guidance of General Hermann Balck. Balck and his chief of staff had wanted to attack the base of the salient and go for Kiev, but General Raus favoured a more prudent approach. This period marked the beginning of the Erich von Manstein legend as Erich von Manstein's actions received extensive and very favourable coverage in the German press, where he was idolised as an Aryan Übermensch (Superman), a general of superhuman skill who was effortlessly holding back the Asiatic hordes of the Red Army. This was the start of the Erich von Manstein legend that was to reach its full flowering after the war. Such was the degree of Erich von Manstein's fame that on 10 January 1944 he appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which was unusual as German generals who fought exclusively on the Eastern Front rarely received much media interest in the United States.

The forces that Erich von Manstein destroyed in his counteroffensive had been placed there as a bait, and were intended to draw Erich von Manstein's troops out into a trap in a successful example of maskirovka (through they were not intended to be destroyed). On December 25, 1943 Vatutin's First Ukrainian Front sprang the trap when it started in its turn an offensive that broke through Erich von Manstein's overextended lines on the Dnieper in a drive towards the cities of Koziatyn and Berdychiv, thereby threatening to turn Erich von Manstein's left flank. In the face of the Vatutin's offensive, Erich von Manstein requested permission to pull back, which was granted, but Adolf Hitler so interfered with the conduct of operations that Erich von Manstein lacked the necessary operational control to carry out the withdrawal successfully. On December 28, 1943 Vatutin's troops entered Koziatyn, which was one of Army Group South's most important supply bases, and during a armoured battle on the same day knocked out hundreds of German panzers outside of Koziatyn. On December 31, Valutin's forces entered Zhytomyr, an important supply hub used by Army Group South. Valutin's drive ended shortly thereafter at the old Soviet Polish border. On January 4, 1944 Erich von Manstein met with Adolf Hitler to tell him at the Dnieper line was untenable, and that he needed to retreat in order to save his forces.

In late January 1944, Erich von Manstein was forced to retreat further westwards by the Soviet offensive. In mid-February 1944, he disobeyed Adolf Hitler's order to hold his ground at all costs and ordered 11th and 42nd Corps (consisting of 56,000 men in six divisions) of Army Group South to break out of the Korsun Pocket, which occurred on 16-17 February 1944. Eventually, Adolf Hitler accepted this action and ordered the breakout after it had already taken place.

Erich von Manstein continued to argue with Adolf Hitler about overall strategy on the Eastern Front. Erich von Manstein advocated an elastic, mobile defence. He was prepared to cede territory, attempting to make the Soviet forces either stretch out too thinly or to make them advance so fast so that their armoured spearheads could be counter-attacked on the flanks with the goal of encircling and destroying them. Adolf Hitler ignored Erich von Manstein's advice and continued to insist on static warfare all positions held by the Germans were to be defended to the last man. Because of these frequent disagreements, Erich von Manstein publicly advocated that Adolf Hitler relinquish control over the army and leave the management of the war to professionals, starting with the establishment of the position of commander-in-chief in the East (Oberbefehlshaber Ost). Adolf Hitler, however, rejected this idea numerous times, fearing that it would weaken his hold on power in Germany.

This argument also alarmed some of Adolf Hitler's closest associates, such as Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels and the SS chief Heinrich Himmler, who were not prepared to give up any of their powers. Heinrich Himmler started to openly question Erich von Manstein's loyalty and he insinuated to Adolf Hitler that Erich von Manstein was an idealist and a defeatist unsuitable to command troops. Erich von Manstein's frequent arguing, combined with these allegations, resulted in Adolf Hitler relieving Erich von Manstein of his command on 31 March 1944. On 2 April 1944, Adolf Hitler appointed Walther Model, a firm supporter, as commander of Army Group South as Erich von Manstein's replacement. Nevertheless, Erich von Manstein received the Swords for his Knight's Cross, the third highest German military honour for his military service to the Wehrmacht. The American historians Allan Millet and Williamson Murray wrote, After Erich von Manstein became convinced the Führer would not recall him to save the Reich, he displayed his grasp of strategy and politics by taking the substantial honorarium he had received from Adolf Hitler as well as the family savings and buying an estate in East Prussia in October 1944. Later in October 1944 Soviet forces entered East Prussia, and Erich von Manstein was forced to abandon his newly purchased estate and flee west.

After his dismissal, Erich von Manstein entered an eye clinic in Breslau for cataract surgery. He recuperated near Dresden and then retired from military service all together. Although he did not take part in the attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in July 1944, he had been contacted by Henning von Tresckow and others in 1943 about the plot. While Erich von Manstein did agree that change was necessary, he refused to join them as he still considered himself bound by duty. He rejected the approaches with the statement: Preussische Feldmarschälle meutern nicht Prussian Field Marshals do not mutiny. He also feared that a civil war would ensue. Though he did not join the plotters, he did not betray them either. In late January 1945, he collected his family from their homes in Liegnitz and evacuated them to western Germany. He surrendered to British Field Marshal Montgomery and was arrested by British troops on 23 August 1945.

During the Nuremberg Trials in 1946, Erich von Manstein was only called as a witness for the defence. Erich von Manstein was subsequently interned by the British as a prisoner of war in Special Camp 11 in Bridgend, Wales. Later, because of pressure from the Soviets, who wanted him extradited to stand trial in the USSR, the British accepted their indictments and charged him with war crimes, putting him on trial before a British Military Tribunal in Hamburg in August 1949. In part, because of the Soviet demands in the Cold War environment and respect for his military exploits, many in the British military establishment, such as Field Marshal Montgomery and the military strategist Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, openly expressed sympathy for Erich von Manstein's plight and, along with the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, donated money for the defence. Liddell Hart, who was one of Erich von Manstein's leading admirers portrayed Erich von Manstein as the world's greatest operational genius in his best-selling 1947 book On the Other Side of the Hill, which helped to add to the lustre of Erich von Manstein's name. Erich von Manstein's trial would led to popularisation of the Wehrmacht myth

In court, Erich von Manstein's defence, led by the prominent lawyer Reginald Thomas Paget, argued that he had been unaware that genocide was taking place in the territory under his control. It was argued that Erich von Manstein did not enforce the Commissar order, which called for the immediate execution of Red Army Communist Party commissars. According to his testimony at the Nuremberg Trials, he received it, but refused to carry it out. He claimed that his superior at the time, Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, tolerated and tacitly approved of his choice, and he also claimed that the order was not carried out in practice. Erich von Manstein had perjured himself when he claimed that he did not enforce the Commissar Order: documents from 1941 showed that he passed the Commissar Order to his subordinates, and that he had suspected commissars shot Erich von Manstein's lawyer Paget claimed that the only commissars Erich von Manstein had shot were in the rear area in the Crimea by police units, likely because of partisan activities.

Erich von Manstein issued an order on 20 November 1941: his version of Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau's infamous Severity Order of 10 October 1941, which equated partisans with Jews and called for their extermination. Following complaints by some of his officers about the massacres being committed by Einsatzgruppen, Reicheanu issued the Severity Order to explain to his men why in his view the massacres were necessary. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt's, the commander of Army Group South and Reicheanu's superior, upon hearing of the Severity Order expressed his complete agreement with it, and send out a circular to all of his generals suggesting that they issue their own versions of the Severity Order. Erich von Manstein's lawyer Paget claimed that he had a subordinate write a more moderate version of the order and he wrote a part himself in which he recommended lenient treatment of non-Communists in order to secure their cooperation. This did not apply to the Jewish population, whom Erich von Manstein equated with Communism, and wanted to see exterminated. The order stated that::

This struggle is not being carried on against the Soviet Armed Forces alone in the established form laid down by European rules of warfare.
Behind the front too, the fighting continues. Partisan snipers dressed as civilians attack single soldiers and small units and try to disrupt our supplies by sabotage with mines and infernal machines. Bolshevist left behind keep the population freed from Bolshevism in a state of unrest by means of terror and attempt thereby to sabotage the political and economic pacification of the country. Harvests and factories are destroyed and the city population in particular is thereby ruthlessly delivered to starvation.
Jewry is the middleman between the enemy in the rear and the remains of the Red Army and the Red leadership still fighting. More strongly than in Europe they hold all key positions of political leadership and administration, of trade and crafts and constitutes a cell for all unrest and possible uprisings.
The Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space.
The German soldier has therefore not only the task of crushing the military potential of this system. He comes also as the bearer of a racial concept and as the avenger of all the cruelties which have been perpetrated on him and on the German people.
The soldier must appreciate the necessity for the harsh punishment of Jewry, the spiritual bearer of the Bolshevik terror. This is also necessary in order to nip in the bud all uprisings which are mostly plotted by Jews.
The order also stated: The food situation at home makes it essential that the troops should as far as possible be fed off the land and that furthermore the largest possible stocks should be placed at the disposal of the homeland. Particularly in enemy cities a large part of the population will have to go hungry. This also was one of the indictments against Erich von Manstein in Hamburg not only neglect of civilians, but also exploitation of invaded countries for the sole benefit of the homeland, something considered illegal by the then current laws of war.

The order additionally stated that severe steps will be taken against arbitrary action and self interest, against savagery and indiscipline, against any violation of the honour of the soldier and that respect for religious customs, particularly those of Muslim Tartars, must be demanded. The German Army always disapproved of so-called wild shootings where troops would engage in sessions of indiscriminately shooting people on their own initiative, and it was normal when issuing orders calling for violence against civilians to warn against arbitrary actions. The evidence for this order was first presented by prosecutor Telford Taylor on 10 August 1946, in Nuremberg. Erich von Manstein acknowledged that he had signed this order of 20 November 1941, but claimed that he did not remember it. The American historians Ronald Smelser and Edward Davies wrote in 2008 that Erich von Manstein was a vicious anti-Semitic of the first order who whole-heartily agreed with Adolf Hitler's idea that the war against the Soviet Union was a war to exterminate Judeo-Bolshevism and that was simply committing perjury when he claimed he could not remember his version of the to Severity Order. This order was a major piece of evidence for the prosecution at his Hamburg trial. At this trial, Paget argued that the order was justified because he claimed that many partisans were Jews, and so Erich von Manstein's order calling for every Jewish men, women and child to be executed was justified by his desire to protect his men from partisan attacks. In the same way, Paget called the Russians savages, and argued that Erich von Manstein showed much restraint as a decent German soldier in allegedly upholding the laws of war when fighting against the Russians who at all times displayed the most appalling savagery.

While Paget got Erich von Manstein acquitted of many of the seventeen charges, he was still found guilty of two charges and accountable for seven others, mainly for employing scorched earth tactics and for failing to protect the civilian population, and was sentenced on 19 December 1949, to 18 years imprisonment which was near the maximum for the charges that were retained. This caused a massive uproar among Erich von Manstein's supporters and the sentence was subsequently reduced to 12 years. As part of his work championing his client, Paget published a best-selling book in 1951 about Erich von Manstein's career and his trial which portrayed Erich von Manstein as an honourable soldier fighting heroically despite overwhelming odds on the Eastern Front, who had been convicted of crimes that he did not commit. Paget's book helped to contribute to the growing cult around Erich von Manstein's name. However, he was released on 6 May 1953 for what were officially described as medical reasons, but was in fact due to strong pressure from the West German government, who saw Erich von Manstein as a hero.

Erich von Manstein, one of the highest ranking generals in the Wehrmacht, claimed ignorance of what was happening in the concentration camps. In the Nuremberg Trials, he was asked Did you at that time know anything about conditions in the concentration camps? to which he replied No. I heard as little about that as the German people, or possibly even less, because when one was fighting 1,000 kilometres away from Germany, one naturally did not hear about such things. I knew from pre-war days that there were two concentration camps, Oranienburg and Dachau, and an officer who at the invitation of the SS had visited such a camp told me that it was simply a typical collection of criminals, besides some political prisoners who, according to what he had seen, were being treated severely but correctly. However, Erich von Manstein ignored the massacres committed in the occupied areas of the Soviet Union by the Einsatzgruppen who travelled in the wake of the German Army, including Erich von Manstein's own 11th Army. That Erich von Manstein was well aware of the Einsatzgruppen massacres is proven by a 1941 letter he sent to Otto Ohlendorf, where Erich von Manstein demands Ohlendorf hand over the wrist watches of murdered Jews, which Erich von Manstein wrote was unfair since his men were doing so much to help Ohlendorf's men with their work. Smelser and Davies note that Erich von Manstein's letter complaining that the SS were keeping all of the wrist watches of murdered Jews to themselves was the only time that Erich von Manstein ever complained about the actions of the Einsatzgruppen in the entire Second World War.

Called on by the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Erich von Manstein served as his senior defence advisory and chaired a military subcommitee appointed to advise the parliament on military organisation and doctrine for the new German Army, the Bundeswehr and its incorporation into NATO. He later moved with his family to Bavaria. His war memoirs, Verlorene Siege (Lost Victories), were published in Germany in 1955, and translated into English in 1958. In them, he presented the thesis that if only he had been in charge of strategy instead of Adolf Hitler, the war on the Eastern Front could have been won. For the most part, Erich von Manstein was disparaging of other German generals, whom Erich von Manstein portrayed as incompetent. Erich von Manstein took all credit for German victories for himself, while blaming Adolf Hitler and other generals for every defeat. Above all, Erich von Manstein singled out for abuse his arch enemy, General Franz Halder, whom Erich von Manstein argued understood that Adolf Hitler's leadership was defective while lacking the courage to do anything about it. As for the Red Army, Erich von Manstein portrayed the average Russian soldier as brave but badly led. Erich von Manstein depicted the entire Soviet officer corps as hopelessly incompetent, and portrayed the war on the Eastern Front as a battle between a German Army that was vastly superior in fighting ability being steadily ground down by an opponent that was superior only in numbers. Smelser and Davies wrote that this aspect of Verlorene Siege was very self-serving as it allowed Erich von Manstein to ignore several occasions such as the fall of Kiev in November 1943, where the Stavka not only tricked him, but defeated him as well. A noteworthy aspect of Verlorene Siege was Erich von Manstein's avoidance of political issues, instead treating the entire war as an operational matter. Erich von Manstein refused to express any regret for fighting under a genocidal regime, and nowhere in Verlorene Siege did Erich von Manstein issue any sort of moral condemnation of National Socialism. Instead, Adolf Hitler was only criticised for faulty strategic decisions. Smelser and Davies wrote that Erich von Manstein's criticism of Adolf Hitler was extremely self-serving as Erich von Manstein made the false claim that he wanted the 6th Army to be pulled out of Stalingrad after it was encircled, only to be overruled by Adolf Hitler, and Erich von Manstein attacked Adolf Hitler for launching Operation Citadel, a plan that Erich von Manstein himself had developed, although he had urged it to be executed months earlier before Soviet defences were built up. Erich von Manstein's lament about Germany's lost victories in the Second World War seemed to imply that the world would have been a much better place if Nazi Germany had won the war. The German historian Volker Berghahn wrote about Verlorene Siege that: It title gave the story away: it had been Adolf Hitler's dogmatism and constant interference with the strategic plans and operational decisions of the professionals that had cost Germany its victory against Stalin. Erich von Manstein made the entirely false claim that he did not enforce the Commissar Order, and made no mention of his own considerable role in the Holocaust, such as sending 2,000 of his soldiers to help the SS massacre 11,000 Jews in Simferopol in November 1941. Verlorene Siege was much acclaimed and a best-seller when it was published in the 1950s. The favourable portrait Erich von Manstein drew of himself in Verlorene Siege continues to influence the popular picture of him to this day. In 1998, Jürgen Förster, a German historian, wrote that for too long most people have accepted at face value the self-serving claims made by generals like Erich von Manstein and Siegfried Westphal who promoted the idea of the Wehrmacht in their memoirs as a highly professional, apolitical force who were victims of Adolf Hitler rather than his followers, which served to distort the subject of Wehrmacht war crimes. Berghahn wrote in 2004 that Erich von Manstein's memoirs were totally unreliable, and if more had been known about Erich von Manstein's war crimes in the 1940s, he might had been hanged. Berghahn wrote that by By the time Christian Streit published his book Keine Kamaden about the mass murder of Red Army prisoners of war at the hands of the Wehrmacht, professional historians firmly accepted what Erich von Manstein and his comrades had denied and covered up, i.e., that the Wehrmacht had been deeply involved in the criminal and genocidal policies of the National Socialist Regime. Smelser and Davies note that nowhere in his post-war writings nor memoirs did Erich von Manstein condemn explicitly National Socialism

Because of his influence, for the first few years of the Bundeswehr he was seen as the unofficial chief of staff. Even later, his birthday parties were regularly attended by official delegations of Bundeswehr and NATO top leaders such as General Hans Speidel who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied ground forces in Central Europe from 1957 to 1963. This was not the case with other Field Marshals such as Erhard Milch, Ferdinand Schörner, Georg von Küchler and others, who were disregarded and forgotten after the war. By the mid-19 50s, Erich von Manstein had become the object of a vast cult centred around him, which portrayed him as not only as one of Germany's greatest generals, but also one of the world's greatest generals ever. Erich von Manstein was described as a militärische Kult- und Leitfigur (military cult legend), a general of legendary, almost mythical ability and superhuman skill, much honoured by both the public and historians.

Erich von Manstein suffered a stroke and died in Munich on the night of 9 June 1973. He was buried with full military honours. His obituary in The Times on 13 June 1973, stated that His influence and effect came from powers of mind and depth of knowledge rather than by generating an electrifying current among the troops or 'putting over' his personality.


The Limits of Genius: Erich von Manstein

War, the poet Virgil once wrote, is a tale of “arms and the man.” The outcome of battle hinges on numbers, technology, training, and other impersonal factors, not to mention weather and terrain (“arms”). No matter how dire the odds, however, the genius of an individual commander (“the man”) can still triumph.

If ever the German army needed a genius, it was during the winter of 1942–43. The German invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, had begun in June 1941 as a staggering success, with one Soviet army after another encircled and destroyed. But by December a number of factors— heavy German losses, weather, and stiff Soviet resistance—conspired to halt the German drive outside Moscow. A vast counterattack, spearheaded by winter-hardened troops of the Siberian Reserve, soon had the remnants of Hitler’s armies in full flight from the Soviet capital.

The Germans tried again in June 1942 with Operation Blue, another great offensive on the southern front, heading toward Stalingrad and the oil fields in the Caucasus Mountains. This, too, came to grief. The Soviets made a gritty stand in the ruins of Stalingrad, then counterattacked north and south of that city, encircling the German 6th Army. By the end of 1942 the entire German front in the south was on the verge of collapse, and Adolf Hitler and his chief of staff, General Kurt Zeitzler, were flailing. At the start of Operation Blue, Hitler had reassured his jittery staff that “the Russian is finished,” but those words now sounded hollow. Far from finished, “the Russian” was on a rampage. A call went out from the Führer’s headquarters to the man fellow officers regarded as the most gifted commander in the entire Wehrmacht. In the east, it was do or die time. It was time for Manstein.

FIELD MARSHAL ERICH VON MANSTEIN was a genius, and happily said so himself. It is not bragging if one can back it up, however, and Manstein could. Born as Erich von Lewinski in 1887, he was adopted as a boy by a childless aunt and uncle. Both his biological and adoptive fathers were Prussian generals, making Manstein the scion of two aristocratic families. During World War I, he served in a variety of staff and field positions, and was wounded. Despite an acerbic manner—the prerogative of many brilliant and ambitious young men—he gained a reputation as one of the army’s sharpest young officers in the years after the war. The opening of World War II expanded that reputation, bringing him fame at home and abroad. Manstein was the brains behind the unorthodox operational plan that destroyed the French army in 1940. He led the lightning drive on Leningrad in 1941. He fought a brilliant campaign in the Crimea in 1942, encircling three Soviet armies at Kerch in May and in June smashing Soviet defenses in front of the great fortress of Sevastopol.

Manstein understood modern mobile operations— particularly the employment of tanks—as well as anyone in the business. He could out-think and outmaneuver opponents with the focus of a chess player, and indeed chess was one of his obsessions. Fellow officers recognized him as a master operator. General Alfred Heusinger of the Operations Section thought that Manstein “could accomplish in a single night what other military leaders would take weeks to do.”

In late 1942, as Hitler and Zeitzler pondered the looming disaster, Manstein seemed their only hope. On November 20, they summoned the general from the Leningrad front and put him in charge of a new formation, Army Group Don. The campaign Manstein would fight would be a lesson in how a genius can impose his will on a battlefield. In the course of this most difficult conflict, Manstein’s improvisation would overcome seemingly impossible obstacles and prove that in war one man really can make a difference. But he would also find himself a prisoner of his strategic situation, reminded that even a brilliant commander has limits.

MANSTEIN AND HIS NEW ARMY group faced a daunting situation. As 1942 was ending, German forces were scattered across the southern front. One major unit, Army Group B, was strung out on a flat plain along the Don, one of the Soviet Union’s many large rivers. Army Group A stood in the Caucasus mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas, 500 miles to the south. In the immense steppe between the two armies stood…not much. The German 6th Army had been deployed there, but as the new year dawned, the 6th was trapped inside Stalingrad. Furthermore, contact between Army Groups B and A was nil, and a mass of Soviet armies was now pouring into this vacuum. Manstein’s mission was simple to describe, but less simple to accomplish. He needed to break the Soviet ring around Stalingrad and rescue 6th Army. Then he had to plug the gap between Army Groups B and A, and re-knit the defensive front.

On the map, Army Group Don seemed to fill the hole, but reality fell far short of that. The units in Manstein’s force were wretched, mostly ad hoc Gruppen—groups of varied size, hastily tossed together and named for whichever officer happened to be available to take command. Rather than divisions and corps, Manstein’s order of battle included Group Stahel, Group Stumpffeld, and Group Spang among many others. Their ranks consisted of rear-area supply troops, stragglers, remnants of destroyed formations, and a new breed: Luftwaffe field divisions made up of air force personnel pulled from bases at the rear, given rudimentary infantry training, and hustled to the front to fight on foot. While some of these units bravely defended their positions, too many melted away at their first contact with Soviet tanks.

Given these difficulties, Manstein’s attempt to relieve Stalingrad—Operation Winter Storm—was a long shot from the start. The army was so threadbare that Manstein could assemble only a single corps, the 57th Panzer, for the relief offensive. The corps had two divisions: the 6th Panzer, just transferred from France, and the battered 23rd Panzer, which had seen a great deal of hard fighting and badly needed a refit. Together these two groups, which probably added up to a division and a half, were to launch a 90-mile drive to Stalingrad in the teeth of strong Soviet opposition.

The offensive opened on December 12. Assembling southwest of Stalingrad at the railway town of Kotelnikovo, the two divisions drove straight up the rail line, with 6th Panzer to the left of the tracks and 23rd to the right. Although the assault lacked real surprise and any attempt to maneuver, it penetrated the Soviet defenses on day one. Under the command of one of the army’s most aggressive tankers, General Eberhard Raus, 6th Panzer led the attack and made its presence felt. Its partner, 23rd Panzer, had only 30 tanks to its name and barely kept pace.

The German tempo slowed. By day two, Soviet reinforcements were hammering the attackers’ flanks. The adversaries were locked in tough fighting for individual ridges and villages, with heavy losses all around—the very type of engagement the brittle German force had to avoid. The weather went from good to terrible, German tanks ran out of fuel, and the Soviets resisted fiercely. General Raus and his panzers ground forward, but never came close to penetration and slowed to a halt 35 miles from Stalingrad. On December 23, Manstein canceled Winter Storm and left 6th Army to its fate.

Manstein had failed at Stalingrad. Or had he? Even a genius has needs—men, supplies, and vehicles—and Manstein came up short. He made no obvious mistake in Winter Storm, but in that context an error-free effort hardly mattered. His task was to reopen a supply line, perhaps in concert with a breakout by 6th Army from inside the city, and that did not happen.

Manstein rationalized his failure in a postwar memoir, Lost Victories. The pertinent chapter, “Tragedy of Stalingrad,” likens 6th Army to the legendary 300 Spartans who sacrificed themselves at Thermopylae to give Greece time to organize defenses against the Persians. He justified the sacrifice of 6th Army as a necessary diversion to draw Soviet strength from Army Group Don, buying time while he scrambled to rebuild the shattered front. “The officers and soldiers of this army have built a monument to valor and duty for the German soldier,” Manstein wrote. “It is not made of earth or rock, but it will live for the ages.”

Neither argument—the operational or the poetic— made sense. In the language of Manstein’s beloved chess, 6th Army was not a pawn to be thrown away to gain position. As one German staff officer put it, “An army of 300,000 men is not a machine gun nest or a bunker whose defenders may, under certain circumstances, be sacrificed for the whole.” The loss of 6th Army was a catastrophe, pure and simple. These passages reveal an inglorious side of Manstein, as do his repeated attempts in Lost Victories to cast blame on others—whether Hitler or 6th Army’s commander, General Friedrich Paulus. Convinced of his own genius, however, perhaps Manstein could not have done otherwise.

With Winter Storm’s failure, the campaign entered its second stage. For the moment, the Red Army was ascendant, launching a series of huge offensives west of Stalingrad: In December, Operation Little Saturn smashed the Italian 8th Army. January’s Ostrogozhsk-Rossosh Offensive (named for the towns that were the initial objectives) targeted the Hungarian 2nd Army. Operation Gallop saw Soviet armies hurtling full bore across the Donets River to the south and southwest. And Operation Star, in early February, came close to destroying the German 2nd Army. This collective strategic offensive sought nothing less than to smash all of Germany’s armies on the southern front.

Manstein had minimal ability to resist the Russian onslaught. Essentially managing chaos, he shifted units hither and yon as emergencies arose, and inserted meager reinforcements as they arrived. In his few spare moments, he tried to talk sense into the high command—i.e. Hitler—urging the evacuation of the Caucasus and consolidation of Germany’s weak forces. He met only frustration, as did most officers who tried to get the Führer to approve a retreat. Only after a month of browbeating by the persuasive General Zeitzler did Hitler agree to withdraw Army Group A from the Caucasus.

The late January evacuation of the Caucasus led this sprawling campaign into its third stage. The Soviet offensives were reaching what the great philosopher of war Karl von Clausewitz called a “culmination point,” at which energy flags, friction rises, and the machine stops. Soviet supplies—especially fuel—were running low, Russian tank corps were losing their cutting edge, and men were near exhaustion. It had been an amazing ride for the Red Army: starting at Stalingrad, it had crossed two major rivers and driven 500 miles into the vast open spaces of the southern Soviet Union. In all, it was one of the most successful military campaigns ever. But the ravages were starting to show, and Soviet fighting strength was half what it had been at the offensive’s start.

WHILE THE SOVIETS WERE wearing down, Manstein’s forces were strengthening. His small groups were coalescing into provisional armies—multi-corps formations commanded, as before, by whoever was available. Provisional Army Hollidt now stood in place of 6th Army, Provisional Army Fretter-Pico occupied the ground where the Italian 8th Army had been, and Provisional Army Lanz was forming a mobile command around Kharkov, the fourth-largest Soviet city. These formations were still short on administrative personnel, artillery, and transport, but months of working together had bred confidence among the ranks. Adding to the German renewal was the arrival of reinforcements from the home front: the II SS Panzer Corps, comprised of three new divisions bursting with fresh manpower, equipment, and self-confidence.

Soviet overstretch, German revival: it was Manstein’s moment, the instant when “arms” yield to “the man.” Sitting on the defensive had eaten at Manstein. (“For me,” he said with considerable understatement,“it went right against the grain.”) He knew the Soviets were not supermen and that his time would come. He welcomed the arrival of II SS Panzer Corps to his army group, but even so, Soviet numbers dwarfed his own.

Manstein had a solution, however. Although German armies had withdrawn from the Caucasus, they were on a line that stretched east toward the city of Rostov. Manstein called that position a balcony because it jutted at right angles from the main defensive position. He drew up a plan to pull back from this forward location and shorten the line—the only way to free troops for a decisive counterattack.

But what sort of counterattack? Ever the chess player, Manstein envisioned a Rochade—the castling move in which a king and a rook exchange places. A player typically uses the maneuver to improve his overall defensive position and protect his king, but also to free his rook, one of the most powerful pieces on the board and one of the few able to carry out deep, mobile strikes. Manstein wanted to transfer the armies from the portion of the balcony on his extreme right—the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies—to his left, wielding them like a massive armored rook. Once redeployed, the two armies would launch a counter blow against Soviet forces driving to the west. It was a typically bold stroke, one Manstein called a backhand blow—a well-timed strike against a committed enemy far from its base and low on supplies.

After Manstein sold Hitler on the idea during a face-to-face meeting on February 6, the pullback from the eastern balcony began, followed by the change in position. In the next few days, 1st Panzer, under General Eberhard von Mackensen, came up into the line on Manstein’s left wing. A week later, 4th Panzer, under General Hermann Hoth, fell in on 1st Panzer’s left. The entire German array, consolidated under Manstein and renamed Army Group South, now faced north—at the Soviet armies hurtling west for the Dnepr river crossings. The stakes were enormous. If the Soviets were the first to reach the Dnepr bridges, they could trap Manstein’s entire force east of the great river. The Germans had lost an army at Stalingrad. Now they were threatened with a super-Stalingrad of the entire German southern wing, and perhaps the end of the war.

The campaign had boiled down into a race. The Soviets were driving west and the Germans were desperately trying to keep pace. For weeks in late February, the situation hung in the balance. Manstein had an advantage, since his forces were falling back onto their supply bases while the Soviets were leaving theirs behind. The Soviets had their own advantage, however. They were far enough north that the ground was still frozen hard. The Germans, over a hundred miles to the south, were motoring on terrain that had started to thaw, and the muddy roads seriously hindered their movement.

The Soviets hit their high-water mark on February 19, when a column of T-34 tanks seized the town of Sinelnikovo, only 30 miles from German headquarters on the Dnepr. Making matters worse for the Germans, Hitler himself had just flown in to consult with Manstein. The news that enemy tanks were an hour away, “without a single formation between us and the enemy,” as Manstein put it, led to a scramble. By noon, Manstein’s staff officers had trundled the Führer onto a plane back to Germany.

The Soviets had no idea how close they had come to Hitler, but their intelligence was reporting massive German troops movements to the west that were choking roads with men, vehicles, and guns, as well as the abandonment of heavy equipment and forward air bases. Soviet commanders, reading these signs to mean that the Germans were making a wild run for the Dnepr crossings, urged their men on with redoubled urgency. The Wehrmacht was in flight, and this was no time to ease up.

Two days later, the Soviets realized how wrong they had been. On February 21, Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army erupted in a counterattack. Two convergent thrusts— one from the south, with 57th Panzer Corps on the left and 47th on the right, and one from the northwest by II SS Panzer Corps—caught the Soviets by surprise from all directions and vaporized them. German casualties in these opening days were minimal. The Soviets, however, lost nearly all their tanks, and many men. And no wonder: at the very moment of the German counterattack, unit after Soviet unit was running out of fuel.

Manstein knew he had drawn blood. After the tensions of the last month, it was his moment of liberation. With two German armies driving north and the Soviets melting away, the time had come to drive the blade in deeper. It must have seemed like 1941, or even 1940. The campaign climaxed when the II SS Panzer Corps slammed into Kharkov and, after three days of gritty street fighting from March 12–14, cleared the city. From Kharkov, German forces hopped less than 50 miles north to Belgorod, taking that city on March 23. By then the entire front had thawed, the muddy season had arrived with a vengeance, and no one was going anywhere.

MANSTEIN WAS JUSTIFIABLY ECSTATIC over what he had achieved. “No cold, no snow, no ice, no mud could break your will to win,” he told his troops. Hitler echoed the sentiment, calling Kharkov “a turning point in the fortunes of battle,” and granted extra leave to formations that had fought there.

But there were two sides to the Kharkov campaign. Manstein proved he was a master of war, but at many moments war had clearly mastered him. In the first phase, the attempt to relieve Stalingrad, he had been helpless. He had a single panzer division, a 90-mile drive, and a front that was leaking everywhere. Likewise, in the middle phase—the Soviet lunge west from Stalingrad—Manstein’s makeshift battle groups and hapless Luftwaffe divisions had minimal impact. He had to be patient, biding his time and plugging whatever hole the Soviets had blown in the dike.

As with most campaigns, the time came when an individual could make a difference, and Manstein picked his with skill. He devised a simple but elegant plan, timed his blow perfectly, and executed it ruthlessly. In the end, he achieved the seemingly impossible: he re-established the German front in the south where it had been torn open by the debacle at Stalingrad. Even more remarkable, he restored that front to nearly where it had stood at the start of the 1942 campaign, before Stalingrad. The achievement was almost surreal compared to the disastrous situation that had existed only a few weeks earlier.

It was Manstein’s greatest victory—but it was tragically incomplete. In driving to Kharkov, Manstein rode his armies hard, propelling them to a long, meandering line along the Donets River—approximately midpoint between the Don, where the Soviet offensive had begun, and the Dnepr, where it had ended. This left the Germans at a forward position of great breadth that they would not be able to hold in the coming year. Manstein recognized this so did Hitler and the staff. The end of the winter campaign found them all deep in thought, mulling ways to keep the initiative for the rest of 1943.

So Manstein’s great victory ended nothing. A mere four months later, in July 1943, the Wehrmacht would launch an outnumbered and ill-advised offensive, Operation Citadel, aimed at a large bulge in the Soviet line around the city of Kursk. For all of Manstein’s genius, he had only delayed disaster, and the victory at Kharkov led inexorably to defeat at Kursk.

The German dominance at Kharkov was a display of personal genius—a virtuoso performance. For a few weeks “the man” made an entire front dance to his tune. But as the war showed repeatedly, even the greatest general must bow to strategic limitations, and the realities of the battlefield always reassert themselves.

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.


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He was born Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Lewinski in Berlin, the tenth son of a Prussian aristocrat and artillery general, Eduard von Lewinski (1829–1906), and Helene von Sperling (1847–1910). His father's family had Polish ancestry, and was entitled to use the Brochwicz coat of arms (Brochwicz III). Ώ] Hedwig von Sperling (1852–1925), Helene's younger sister, was married to Lieutenant General Georg von Manstein (1844–1913) the couple was unable to have children, so they adopted Erich. They had previously adopted Erich's cousin Martha, the daughter of Helene and Hedwig's deceased brother. ΐ]

Manstein's biological and adoptive fathers were both Prussian generals, as were his mother's brother and both his grandfathers (one of them, Albrecht Gustav von Manstein, had led a corps in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71). Sixteen relatives on each side of his family were military officers, many of whom rose to the rank of general. Paul von Hindenburg, the future Generalfeldmarschall and President of Germany, was his uncle Hindenburg's wife, Gertrud, was Hedwig and Helene's sister. Α]

He attended the Imperial Lyzeum, a Catholic Gymnasium in Strasbourg (1894–99). Β] After six years in the cadet corps (1900–1906) in Plön and Groß-Lichterfelde, he joined the Third Foot Guards Regiment (Garde zu Fuß) in March 1906 as an ensign. He was promoted to lieutenant in January 1907 and entered the three-year officer's training programme at the Prussian War Academy in October 1913. Manstein only completed his first year of studies all academy students were ordered to report for active duty when World War I began in August 1914. Γ] He never completed the balance of his general staff officer's training. Δ]


Erich von Manstein

Erich von Manstein was born into an aristocratic Prussian family and joined the military at a young age. He saw combat in both World War I and World War II.

Considered by both Allied and Axis powers as one of Germany's best military strategists and field commanders in World War II, von Manstein played a role in many key battles during World War II. However, his ongoing disagreements with Hitler over the way the war was progressing led to his dismissal in March, 1944. He was taken prisoner by the British in August, 1945 and later gave testimony in the Nuremberg Trials in 1946.

In 1949 he was tried for war crimes and convicted on nine of seventeen counts. He was sentenced to eighteen years in prison, a sentence that was first reduced to twelve years, and ultimatley he served only four years before he was released in 1953.

After his release from prison, von Manstein served as an advisor to the West German government and penned a memoir in 1955 entitled Verlorene Siege (Lost Victories). In it he critized Hitler's leadership and focused strictly on the military aspects of the war while ignoring the politcal and ethical aspects. This, and his testimony at the Nuremberg Trials helped to perpetuate the myth of the "clean Wehrmacht" the belief that German armed forces were not culpable for the atrocities of the Holocaust.

At the time of his death in 1973, he was one of only two surviving German field marshals and was buried with full military honors.


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