Erich von Manstein. ( 1887- 1973 )

Field Marshal Erich von MansteinHe was born Fritz Erich von Lewinski on November 24th. in 1887 in Berlin. His father was General of Artillery, Eduard von Lewinski, and the family roots went way back to the Teutonic Knights. The new son was the 10th. child, and Frau Lewinski's sister remained childless, so arrangements were made for her to adopt Erich, his step father, Lieutenant General Manstein, a Divisional Commander in the Kaiser's Army.

Erich took his name, to become Fritz Erich von Lewinski gennant von Manstein, which was shortened to Erich von Manstein. Given that both his natural and step father were Generals it may well have been expected that young Erich would walk in their footsteps to serve in the Army.

The German Army calls.
Erich's early education was in Strasbourg, and in a number of Cadet schools, then he entered the Army as an Officer Cadet in the elite 3rd. Prussian Foot Guards Regiment on July 1st. 1906, to be commissioned the next year.

To earn his General Staff credentials he attended the War Academy over 1913-1914, and when WW1 erupted was a First Lieutenant and Adjutant with the 2nd. Guards Reserve Regiment.

Erich von Manstein served in Belgium and East Prussia, then Poland, but was badly wounded in November 1914. It was May of 1915 before he returned to duty again, first as Adjutant at HQ 12th. Army, then as a General Staff Officer with the 11th. and 1st. Armies on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. He fought at Verdun and served in Estonia and Courland, then he went back to the Western Front as GSO of the 213th. Assault Infantry Division. He finished the war as a Captain with an Iron Cross 1st. Class, and the Hohenzollern House Order.

Post WW1.
Manstein had a naturally brilliant aptitude for military staff work, now strengthened by his operational experiences of WW1.

He held down a number of staff appointments broken up by three years as an infantry company commander over 1921-1924, and a year in command of an infantry battalion in 1931-1932. His full Colonency came in 1933, and in early 1934 he became Chief of Staff of Wehrkreis 111 in Berlin. The next year he was appointed Chief of the Operations Branch of the General Staff, Erich was certainly on his way UP.

On October 1st. 1936 he made Major General, and General Beck appointed him Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

Trouble with the Nazis.
In early 1934, Manstein had run into trouble with the Nazis, as Minister of War, General Blomberg laid down his infamous racial restrictions order, and Manstein put on paper his protests to Reichenau, indicating it was cowardace for the Army to surrender to the Nazi Party and to descriminate against Jewish soldiers.

The furious Reichenau showed this letter to Blomberg, whereby Manstein was calling Blomberg a coward. In turn, Blomberg called the C-in -C of the Army General Fritsch, demanding he discipline Manstein, Fritsch was unimpressed, telling Blomberg that Army disciplinary affairs were none of his business, and he did nothing to Manstein. Perhaps the doughty Fritsch privately agreed with Manstein.

In 1938 Hitler and Brauchitsch met, and the latter took over from Fritsch, and Manstein was relieved of his staff appointment and virtually sent into exile as the Commander of the 18th. Infantry Division at Leipzig.

But no doubt his brilliance could not be ignored for too long, and he became Chief of Staff of Leeb's 12th. Army for the invasion of Czechoslovakia in September of 1938.

On April 1st. 1939, Manstein, apparently forgiven, was made a Lieutenant General. Named as Chief of Staff of Arbeitsstab Rundstedt ( Working Staff Rundstedt ) with Colonel Guenther Blumentritt he planned the invasion of Southern Poland and the seizure of Warsaw. For the invasion of Poland, Manstein was Chief of Staff, Army Group South.

The Fall of France 1940.
It was Manstein's brilliant plan that Hitler adopted that led to the fall of France, his boss von Brauchitsch, was the one most damaged by the Manstein plan being adopted over his own feeble effort. He now transferred Manstein to command XXXVIII Corps forming up in Stettin, they became attached to Army Group A and played but a minor role in mopping up after Dunkirk, spending some eight months on occupation duty along the Channel Coast.

Promoted General of Infantry.
Erich von Manstein now reached the rank of General of Infantry on June 1st. 1940. At the end of February in 1941, Manstein was made Commander of LVI Panzer Corps, being formed in Germany, it initially included 8th. Panzer, 3rd. Motorized, 3rd. SS Motorized, and the 290th. Infantry Divisions, to become a part of Hoepner's 4th. Panzer Group, Army Group North, destined for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

German Panzers on the Eastern Front
German Panzers on the Eastern Front

Into Russia.
Manstein did well, by the 5th. day of entering Russia his forces had moved 200 miles, and captured the Dvina River bridge intact.

He rescued the German X Corps, then brilliantly destroyed the Soviet 34th. Army near Demyansk.

Now a 1,000 miles to the south, on September 12th, Colonel General Ritter Eugen von Schobert was aloft in a Storch reconnaissance plane, directing his 11th. Army thrust on the Perekop Isthmus, at the northern approach to the Crimea, the engine cut out, on trying an emergency landing, the pilot put down into a Russian minefield, both the General and his pilot died.

Command of 11th. Army.
Manstein was given command of 11th. Army that day. On taking command he learned that his Army had two missions: ( a ) to overrun the Crimea, and ( b ) to capture Rostov.

He quickly assessed that he did not have the strength to achieve both objectives, so decided that he would attack the Crimea first up, from here Stalin could bomb the Rumanian oil fields and also threaten the deep right flank of Army Group South.

On September 24th. 1941, Manstein attacked south into the Perekop using General Eric Hansen's LIV Corps, and General Ludwig Kuebler and his XLIX Mountain Corps held in reserve, so that if a breakthrough happened they could drive to the Red Naval fortress of Sevastopol on the south west corner of the Peninsula.

To guard his eastern flank, Manstein had to depend on General Hans von Salmuth's XXX Corps, and six not too reliable brigades from Roumania. Some bitter fighting took place against six Soviet Divisions, but Hansen's forces pushed ahead to storm the Perekop on September 28th. 10,000 prisoners, 112 tanks and 135 guns were the booty. However this victory was unable to be exploited, as the Russians now attacked Manstein's eastern flank with two armies on September 26th.

Although XXX Corps held firm, the Roumanians collapsed, and Manstein was forced to plug the gap by rushing Kuebler's Corps to the Nogay Steppe.

The Russians had saved the Crimea, but were vulnerable on their right flank to Kleist's 1st. Panzers in the north, combining with Manstein's forces, they closed the ring of encirclement on the Sea of Azov, and over October 5-10 destroyed the Soviet 18th. Army, its commander dead. The Soviet 9th. Army defeated, 65,000 prisoners captured together with a large number of both tanks and guns.

A notable victory, but it came at a price, the Russians granted three weeks grace to reinforce Sevastopol plus the Crimea area.

Battle for Sevastopol.
The Russians had eight infantry divisions and four cavalry divisions across the Sevastopol road, meantime Manstein was left with but six divisions and no room to maneuver.

The fight waged over ten days, then the Russians retreated, to be chased by the German troops, who took 100,000 prisoners, 700 guns and 160 tanks, but the prize of Sevastopol held out and was not taken.

For 247 days the city resisted the invaders, although the Balaklava Hills were taken on October 30th. On December 17th. Manstein launched an assault that he thought would carry the day, but the Russians now mounted an assault on the Kerch peninsula from seawards, forcing Manstein to respond there and call off the move on Sevastopol. A stalemate ensued now until the end of that Russian winter.

Manstein now made a Colonel General.
On New Year's day 1942, Erich Manstein was promoted to Colonel General.

Attack by Manstein against the Soviet line between the Kersh bridgehead and Sevastopol.
In May of 1942, Manstein suprised the Russian forces by falling on their Kerch bridgehead with five German infantry divisions, plus the 22nd. Panzers and a Rumanian Corps. Stuka dive bombers added to the terror, and in only ten days two Soviet armies were no more, an astonishing 170,000 prisoners taken, 1,133 guns and some 258 tanks captured. The German forces took 7,500 casualities, it was a stunning victory.

Having secured his rear, Manstein could at last turn to the task of grabbing Sevastopol.

Attack on Sevastopol.
On June 3rd 1942, Manstein unleashed his assault on the city of Sevastopol, he commenced with an all out bombardment by artillery and mortars, again Stuka dive bombers were added to the mix, as the artillery moved against the fanatical Russian defenders.

It took a month before the city fell on July 3rd. another two Soviet armies virtually liquidated, 90,000 prisoners and a massive number of guns, tanks, mortars and aircraft take. The number of Russian prisoners now in German hands must have posed huge logistic problems for Manstein.

To the top of the Army promotion tree.
Hitler at last recognised the brilliance of his Colonel General Erich Manstein, on July 1st. 1942 he conferred on him the highest Army rank of Field Marshal.

Hitler diverts 11th. Army to the Leningrad fight.
Having just about eliminated the Soviet forces in the south, one might think that Hitler would add the weight of Manstein's 11th. Army to either Army Group A or B, so that the major push on a summer offensive could be reinforced.

But no! the Fuehrer was intent on the capture of Leningrad, and the 11th. Army was sent off to join up with Army Group North, Manstein however was not so sure that the city would capitulate.

Scheduling the attack for September 14th. it was forestalled by the Soviets moving against the southern flank of Colonel General Georg Lindemann's 18th. Army, and Manstein's forces were sent off to assist the threatened sector.

Once again our new Field Marshal was up to the task, and he decimated Russian forces to take prisoners and a quantity of hardware.

On February 17, 1943, under heavy security, Hitler flew in to Army Group South's headquarters at Zaporozh'ye, Ukraine; just 30 miles away from the front-line. Seen here, Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein is greeting Hitler on the local airfield; on the right is Hans Baur and the Luftwaffe eneralfeldmarschall Wolfram von Richthofen
On February 17, 1943, under heavy security, Hitler flew in to Army Group South's headquarters at Zaporozh'ye, Ukraine; just 30 miles away from the front-line.
Seen here, Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein is greeting Hitler on the local airfield

Loss of Manstein's son.
Any victory celebrations by the Field Marshal were marred by the death of his 20 year old son, Lieutenant Gero Erich von Manstein, serving with the 51st. Panzer Grenadier Regiment, cut down by a Russian shell in the dying days of the battle. He buried his son on the shore of Lake Ilmen, and took off home to Leipzig to be with his wife.

Back at the front.
Not long back at the front, Manstein was confronted with the Russians pushing aside the Rumanian 3rd. and 4th. armies, and surrounding the 6th. Army at Stalingrad on November 22nd.

His HQ designated Army Don Group was given the unenviable job of rescuing 6th. Army, and on the Eastern front restoring its southern sector.

The Field Marshal was about to face a very demanding and critical area of his whole career. He believed that the 6th. Army should be allowed to break out , but as usual Hitler would not agree, his tasks were threefold:

a. Restore the front line, then in tatters.

b. Stop the Russians from reaching Rostov and thereby cutting off Army Group A in the Caucasus.

c. Relieve the 6th. Army.

Each of these individual tasks were in themselves a big project, and he faced some ten Soviet combined arms armies, a large Russian air command, tanks, and other assorted regiments, in all, a huge enemy build up.

Manstein did a great job, stopping the Russians at Rostov, holding his front intact, but Paulus refused to break out at Stalingrad, Hitler did not give him orders to try and break through the Soviet encirclement, and the 6th. Army ceased to exist.

Holding at Rostov became the key, had Stalin's forces reached that city they would have cut off some 900,000 German troops, but Manstein stopped the Russians only 20 miles away from the city.

Manstein believed the Russian rush towards Kharkov would leave their supply line and thus their troops vulnerable, nor would they expect a German offensive, he was right, and by his counter offensive he ended the Soviet winter campaign, and recaptured Kharkov. His forces destroyed the Soviet 3rd. Tank Army and either destroyed or captured large quantities of Russian hardware between the Donets and the Dnieper.

Awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross.
Hitler flew in to Manstein's HQ on March 10, 1943 to decorate his FM with the Oak Leaves to his already held Knight's Cross.

A huge bulge.
The German offensive had left a huge bulge in the Kursk area, and Hitler wanted this removed, Manstein favoured a move to retake the Donets, and agreed to an attack on Kursk if it could be undertaken in May, before Stalin might reinforce the bulge.

As so often happened, Hitler vacillated and delayed the offensive for two months to July. The result was a German defeat after the greatest tank battle in history, the Russians broke through the southern flank of Army Group Centre and headed West, the end result, it was the final German major offensive in the East.

For Manstein all roads now led back West towards Germany, he was totally outnumbered, in the order of six to one. He was forced to fall back, firstly to the Mius, the Donets and finally to the Dnieper.

Loss of Kharkov.
The Russians retook Kharkov, and Manstein made General Franz Werner Kempf the scapegoat, sacking him although he must have known it was virtually impossible to hold that city with the troops Kempf had available.

Attitude to Jews.
Earlier we had noted that in 1934 Manstein was in trouble with the Nzis for his defence of German Jews in the Army, but by 1941 he seems to have changed his attitude, it may have been political for him, but on November 20th. in 1941 he issued an order to his soldiers indicating that the German soldier in the East was "The bearer of a ruthless national ideology ...... therefore the soldier must have understanding of the necessity of a severe but just revenge on sub-human Jewry."

Dnieper Line.
By October in 1943 Manstein with his reduced force could not hope to hold the Dnieper Line, he fell back, then suddenly launched a counterattack, tearing the Soviet 5th. Guards Army to shreds at Krivoy Rog. He had again stabilised the Eastern Front.

On January 4th. 1944, Manstein flew off to petition Hitler at Rastenburg, that he be allowed to pull back his entire Southern wing, but Hitler always impossible when asked permission to withdraw, refused. He also demanded a C-in-C East, ie., himself be appointed, but that also was brushed aside by Hitler.

Now XLII and XI corps of the 8th. Army were surrounded near Cherassy, their commander ordered by Hitler to hold, rather than try to break out.

All the Eastern Command generals were brought to Posen on January 27th. for a two day talk fest by Goebbels, Rosenberg and others, then off to Rastenburg for a gee up by Hitler on the duties of Officers. In the midst of this performance Manstein interupted with : And so it shall be Mien Fuehrer! "

After it was all over, Hitler told Manstein never to interupt him in the middle of a speech again.

In an attempt to relieve segments of the 8th. Army, Manstein got as close as 5 miles, then he told their commander General Stemmermann his force would have to make these last 5 miles on their own, on the night of February 16/17 they broke through, but lost all their tanks, artillery and heavy equipment, and General Stemmermann was killed.

Of the original force of 54,000 men, 30,000 escaped.

Manstein again petitions Hitler.
On March 19th. Manstein went off to gain face Hitler at Obersalzberg, to seek freedom of maneuver, but again met with a sharp refusal.

Within four days 1st. Panzer Army was surrounded on the Bug, once more Hitler uttered the usual refrain " No retreat." Manstein protested with vigour, without result.

On March 25th, after a series of heated phone calls, the Field Marshal was summoned to the Berghof, where he threatened to resign, Hitler at long last backed down and agreed to a breakout. Hube saved 10 Divisions, breaking out to reach the German lines on April 6th. but Manstein was gone.

Manstein and Kleist relieved of commands.
On March 30th. Hitler had summoned both Manstein and Kleist to Obersalzberg, presentening them with the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, and then relieved them both of their commands.

Field Marshal Walter Model was Manstein's replacement.

It is reported that Hitler gave a large estate to FM Manstein that autumn.

Manstein captured by the British.
At the end of WW2, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was captured by the British, and brought before a British Military Court at Hamburg in 1949, after spending four years in prison. He was cleared of two charges concerning the massacre of Jews, but convicted of neglecting to protect civilian life, and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, later reduced to twelve years.

von Manstein in the mid 1950s
von Manstein in the mid 1950s

In August 1952 he was released on Medical parole, then finally released in May of 1953, to be a Military advisor for the Western German Army.

He wrote the book " Verlorene Siege ( Lost Victories ) and died at Irschenhausen, Bavaria on June 12th. 1973, he was aged 85.

Cover of Field Marshal von Manstein's book Lost Victories
Cover of Field Marshal von Manstein's book Lost Victories

There can be little doubt that of all Hitler's Field Marshals, Erich Manstein was the best and most brilliant. At times he was self seeking, and did not always support his Generals, sacking two as scapegoats. He was always ready to take a stand against Hitler's meddling in tactics or in the midst of battles. Probably could have led a military revolt against the Fuehrer, but chose not to do so. A most able Commander.


See the Index to "Adolf Hitler and his WW2 Field Marshals"


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