Erich von Lewinski, called von Manstein
His Life, Character and Operations – A Reappraisal
by Jörg Muth
Firstly I'd like to say I don't have a PhD in WW2 history, and secondly I don't have a single source book in front of me, nor would I care to get one.
Jorg, you have a way with words, so much so you could almost put yourself on whatever side of the fence you like.
Erich Von Manstein is and probably will forever remain as one of the best military commanders in modern history.
It is true he did not win every battle he fought, but his plan for the attack on France, an enemy that had the best and perhaps most modern army in the world, an enemy that knew the Germans were coming, and an enemy that had a variety of contingencies in place except for the strategy that hit them; deserves credit as one of the best military victories of any modern conflict.
Although in hindsight a useless victory, Manstein's role in the 3rd battle or Karkov was sheer brilliance. Manstein's forces were overwhelmed, understrength and exhausted. Few Commanders could have achieved a victory in such conditions of prolonged atack.
Manstein was also one of the few commanders who achieved most of their objectives in Operation Citadel, but unfortunatley 1/2 a pincer is not a pincer (whether he could have achieved a complete encirclement himself will never be known).
Manstein had the respect of his men. The men had faith in Manstein's ability.
Despite Manstein's arrogance, lack of tact (with Hitler), exaggerations of Russian casualties in the Crimea, and failures at Stalingrad and Leningrad to achieve his objectives, this shouldn't lessen his standing to a mere capable or better than average general.
The direct contact to the Einsatzgruppe was the Chief of Staff of the 11. Army, the operations officer pro-vided them with transport and supply and the intelligence officer with "targets". Though Manstein of course denied having known what his staff knew, this is hardly possible. Otto Ohlendorf - leader of the Einsatzgruppe - confirmed during the war crime trials that the commanders of the armies and army groups where he operated were fully briefed on his actions and no one ever complained. The leader of the Ein-satzgruppe was in regular contact with von Manstein's staff. Today we know not only that Ohlendorf spoke the truth but there are numerous orders and documents that link the staff and CG of Eleventh Army directly and indirectly to the mass murder of Jews and other people. "
Manstein although serving time in jail, was never found guilty of any crime of genocide or associated crime. Manstein was charged but found innocent.
During the Nuremberg Trails von Manstein together with the lawyers devised a strat-egy that the officers would volunteer no information and only admit actions that were clearly proven, declare evident crimes as misdeeds of single persons, and in general display very poor memories. They got away with that strategy which laid the founda-tion for the myth of the clean General Staff that persists until to the present.
Such is the action of almost any court defence. It is wrong for you to criticise this.
Erich von Manstein was so often hailed a military genius and his operations are usu-ally portrayed in awe. An unbiased reappraisal, however, sheds a different light on his abilities as commander, strategist and leader of men.
I find your opinion very severe.
There was no strategic brilliancy involved in the capture of Sevastopol. The main work was done meticulously by engineers and gunners, who had at their disposal the heaviest weapons in the German armory.
When a real leadership situation arose, von Manstein failed miserably.
Those big guns had little impact on the result due to their inaccurate nature. Quality of equipment, training, discipline and command combined achieved that victory.
During the discussion of operations the situation be-came critical with Russian spearheads cutting important lines of supply and advanc-ing to only 60 km from von Manstein's HQ. Apparently Hitler got frightened and gave the CG of Army Group South a free hand in handling his units. This should have be-come von Manstein's finest hour.
On a tactical battle level it was Manstein's finest hour.
The extreme opportunism von Manstein showed was explained by a psychologist with the fact that Erich von Manstein, was born a von Lewinski (old Polish nobility), and thus wanted to show everyone that he was true to his foster parents and a real Prussian.
Although you make an immediate effort to retract this statement, you and I both know this statement was not necessary.
He knew, like the great majority of his comrades in high command and staff posi-tions, about the Holocaust, at least to the extent of the actions of the Einsatzgruppen which killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and other innocent people. On some oc-casions, the Einsatzgruppen were directed by him or his staff. During the trials he revealed himself to be an intense Anti-Semite.
Manstein was found not guilty of any holocaust related role. You know it, I know it, and innocence should be the status quo until otherwise proven in a court.
There can be no question that Erich von Manstein was one of the better strategists of the Wehrmacht's high command which was not exactly rich in that species. The Wehrmacht excelled in battle because of the flexibility and professionalism of the front line unit commanders and its long-time trained soldiers and not because of stra-tegic "geniuses".
The praise which made Erich von Manstein "the best strategist" or "the deadliest en-emy" comes from former enemies who have of course a reason to expand their own opponent to a master of warfare as they defeated him and thus are even greater than he.
Only by careful wording is this difficult to criticise. Manstein was one of the best tacticians AND strategists of WW2, and one of the best from the modern military era.
You do of course need to beat the best to gloat about your own military genius.
My conclusion to Manstein would be this. It took 2.5 emerging world powers (US, Soviet and partial England), a mad dictator, and Manstein's own mouth to have kept Manstein at bay.