Google Groups

von Manstein: the greatest general in WW2?

funkraum May 12, 2000 12:00 AM
Posted in group:
Here is the obituary of von Manstein from the London Times of June
13th 1973.

'####' indicates that my copy was unreadable.


'Obituary: Field Marshal non Manstein - An outstanding German soldier'

     Field-Marshal Erich von Manstein, one of the outstanding soldiers
of the Second World War, died on Sunday at the age of 85.

     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. Ice-cold in manner although
with strong emotions underneath, he exersized command more in the
style of Moltke than of Napoleon and those who cultivate the
Napoleonic touch. The range and versatility of Manstein's ability was
shown in the way that, after being trained as an infantryman, and then
becoming pre-eminent as a staff planner, he proved a brilliant and
thrusting armoured corps-commander in his first test run with
mechanised troops. In his next big test he proved equally successful
in directing the seige-attack on a fortress. By the variety of his
experience and qualities he was exceptionally well equipped for high

     Erich von Manstein was born on November 24, 1887, the tenth child
of his parents. His original surname was von Lewinski, but his parents
agreed to his adoption by a childless aunt who had married a von
Manstein. Both families had long-standing military traditions and 16
of the boy's immediate forebears had been generals, in Prussian or
Russian service. After leaving a cadet school in 1906, he was
commissioned into the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. Badly wounded in
the autumn of 1914, he was given a staff post on recovery, and made
his mark in a series of such appointments on the Eastern, Western and
Balkan fronts.

     After the war he was taken into Reichswehr, and by 1935 he had
risen to be head of the operations section of the General Staff, while
the next year he was advanced to Oberquartiermeister I - the deputy to
the Chief of the General Staff, then General Beck.

     Early in 1938, when Fritsch was dismissed from the post of Army
Commander-in-Chief, Manstein was sent away to command a division,
having come to be regarded in Nazi circles as an obstacle to the
extension of their influence in the Army. But on mobilisation in 1939
he was made Chief of Staff of Rundstedt's Army Group, which played a
decisive role in the Polish Campaign. He then moved with Rundstedt to
the Western Front, and there soon began to advocate a change in the
plan for the coming offensive. He urged that the main thrust, with the
bulk of the armoured forces, should be shifted from the right wing in
the Belgian plain to the hilly and wooded Ardennes - as the line of
least expectation. His persistence in pressing for the change of plan
deprived him of a hand in directing it, for he was honourably pushed
out of the way by promotion to command a reserve corps, of infantry,
just before the new plan was adopted under Hitler's pressure - after
hearing Manstein's arguments.

     In the crucial opening stage of the offensive, which cut off the
Allies' left wing and trapped it on the Channel coast. Manstein's
corps merely had a follow-on part. But in the second and final stage
it played a bigger role. Under his dynamic leadership, his infantry
pushed on so fast on foot that they raced the armoured corps in the
drive southward across the Somme and the Seine to the Loire.

     When the German plan of invading England was discarded in favour
of an attack on Russia, Manstein was given the command of an armoured
corps. With it he made one of the quickest deepest thrusts of the
opening stage, from East Prussia to the Dvina, nearly 200 miles,
within four days. Promoted to command the Eleventh Army in the South,
he forced an entry into the Crimean peninsula by breaking through the
fortified Perekop Isthmus, and in the summer of 1942 further proved
his mastery of siege warfare technique by capturing the famous
fortress of Sebastapol, the key centre of the Crimea - being Russia's
main naval base   on the Black Sea.

     He was  then sent north again to command the intended attack on
Leningrad, but called away by an emergency summons to conduct the
efforts to relieve Paulus's Sixth Army, trapped that winter at
Stalingrad, after the failure of the main German Offensive  of 1942.
The effort failed because Hitler, forbidding any withdrawal, refused
to agree to Manstein's insistence that Paulus should be told to break
out westward and meet the relieving forces. Following Paulus'
surrender, a widespread collapse developed on the German's southern
front under pressure of advancing Russian armies, but Manstein saved
the situation by a brilliant flank counterstroke which recaptured
Karkov and rolled back the Russians in confusion.

     Then in the German's last great offensive of the war in the East,
"Operation Citadel" launched in July 1943 against the Kursk salient,
Manstein's "Southern Army Group" formed the right pincer. It achieved
a considerable measure of success, but the effect was nullified by the
failure of the left pincer, provided by the "Central Army Group".
Having checked the German offensive, the Russians now launched their
own on a larger scale along a wider front, with growing strength.

     From that time onwards the Germans were thrown on the defensive,
strategically, and with the turn of the tide Manstein was henceforth
called on to meet, repeatedly. what has always been judged the hardest
task generalship - that of conducting a fighting withdrawal in the
face of much superior forces. His concept of the strategic defensive
gave strong emphasis to offensive action in fulfilling it, and he
constantly looked for opportunities of delivering a riposte, while
often ably exploiting those which arose. But when the urged that a
longer step back should be made - a strategic withdrawal - in order to
develop the full recoil-spring effect of a counter-offensive against
an over-stretched enemy advance, Hitler would not heed his arguments.

     Unlike many of his fellows, Manstein maintained the old Prussian
tradition of speaking frankly, and expressed his criticism forcibly
both to Hilter in private and at conferences, in a way that staggered
others who were present. That Hitler bore it so long is remarkable
evidence of the profound respect he had for Manstein's ability, and to
the General Staff as a body. In March 1944, Hitler removed Manstein
from command and thereby removed from the path of the Russians and
their allies the most formidable individual obstacle in their advance
to victory.

     Manstein moved westward when the Russian tide of advance swept
over Eastern Germany, and surrendered himself to the British in May
1945. The Russians demanded that he along with other generals who had
served on the Eastern Front should be handed over to them as war
criminals. The British and Americans refused, but agreed to put him on
trial in special military courts. Many questions were raised in
England about the legality or justice of the procedure adopted, while
a long delay occurred, during which most of the other British
prisoners of war were released. But Manstein was eventually put on
trial at Hamburg, in August, 1949 - four years after the end of the
war. A subscription list was opened in England, on the initiative of
Lord d'Isle, VC, and Major-General Lord Bridgeman, to provide the
funds necessary for an adequate defence, and Mr Winston Churchill was
one of the first subscribers. Mr R.T. Paget, QC, offered to lead the
defence without fee. The trial continued with intervals, until the
week before  Christmas. In the end Manstein was acquitted on the eight
most serious charges and convicted only on a number of lessor or
modified charges. The decision of the court followed Nuremberg Trial
precedents, and he was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, but this
was later reduced, and in 1953 he was released. In a deeper sense,
however, that period of imprisonment was penalty and retribution for
his failure, in common with most of his fellow generals, to make a
firm and timely stand against the Nazi regime and its abuses, despite
the disapproval he early and often showed.

     In 1955-56 he was chairman of a Military Sub-Committee appointed
to advise the Bundestag Defence Committee on the organisation, service
basis, and operational doctrine of the new German forces of the
Federal Republic.

     In 1920 Manstein married Jutta Sibylle von Loesch, daughter of a
Silesian landowner, and had two sons, the elder of whom was killed in
the war.