Manstein, Field Marshal Erich von, 1887-1973

Generally regarded as the most successful and certainly most brilliant field commander of the German Army in World War II, Manstein’s reputation rests on two pillars: his ability to frame excellent plans and his skill at executing difficult orders in the teeth of the enemy’s opposition. He first made his name in World War II when, as Chief of Staff to RUNDSTEDT of Army Group A in 1939, he proposed an alternative to the High Command’s plans for invading France and the Low Countries. This was for a drive to the Channel through the wooded hills of the Ardennes, aimed at separating the British and French field armies from their static supporting armies. Already notorious for his arrogance and tactlessness to superiors, his temerity in challenging the High Command view brought him demotion to a less influential post but en route he was called to visit Hitler, to whom he outlined his scheme and who thenceforth supported it. As a reward, he was given command first of LVI Panzer Corps and then of the Eleventh Army, which he handled brilliantly in the capture of the Crimea. In July 1942 he was promoted to command Army Group Don and in December very nearly succeeded in relieving Stalingrad in an operation known as Winter Storm. In February 1943 he achieved the greatest German success in counteroffensive operations of the whole war by recapturing Kharkov. Thereafter, like all German generals, he was driven steadily into retreat, with the difference that he constantly asked Hitler for permission to ‘maneuver,’ by which the Fuhrer understood him to mean give up ground when not under pressure to do so. In fact, his idea was to force the Soviets off balance and then counterattack, but Hitler’s suspicions always overcame the logic of his arguments. He was eventually dismissed in March 1944 and spent the rest of the war on his estate. Friends and enemies continued to regard him as a master of modern warfare.

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