Branch: Kaiserliche Heer / Reichsheer / Heer
Born: 24 November 1887 in Berlin, Germany.
Died: 9 June 1973 in Irschenhausen, Germany.
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
Erich von Manstein was born on 24 November 1887 and became a field marshal in World War II. He became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's World War II armed forces (Wehrmacht). During World War II he attained the rank of Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) and was held in high esteem by his fellow officers as one of the Wehrmacht's best military strategists.
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.
World War I
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
World War II
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.
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