Erich von Manstein

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Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein

Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Lewinski genannt von Manstein (b. 24 November 1887 in Berlin, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire; d. 10 June 1973 in Irschenhausen, Bavaria, West Germany) was a German officer of the Prussian Army, the Imperial German Army, the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht. He served the German military as a lifelong professional soldier and became one of the most prominent commanders of Germany's armed forces (Wehrmacht). During World War II he attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall and was held in high esteem by his fellow officers as one of the Wehrmacht's best military minds.

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 Hitler over military strategy.

After the war, he gave evidence for the defense at the Nuremberg trials, supporting the Clean Wehrmacht view. In 1949, possibly as a punishment for this, he was brought on trial in Hamburg for alleged war crimes, which convicted him of "Neglecting to protect civilian lives" and for using scorched earth tactics denying vital food supplies to the local population. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, which was later reduced to 12 There was increasing public and other support for the view that he had been convicted of crimes that he did not commit, and he was released in 1953. As a military advisor to the West German government in the mid-1950s, he helped re-establish the German armed forces (→ Bundeswehr).

Early Life

Erich von Manstein with wife and son
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H01758, Erich v. Manstein.jpg
Walther Wenck (de), Theodor Busse (de) and Erich von Manstein during a post-war meeting

Von Manstein was born Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Lewinski in Berlin, the tenth child of a Prussian aristocrat, artillery general Eduard von Lewinski (1829–1906), and Helene von Sperling (1847–1910). Hedwig von Sperling (1852–1925), Helene's younger sister, married Lieutenant General Georg von Manstein (1844–1913). The couple were not able to have children, so 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 von Mansteins which stated: You got a healthy boy today. Mother and child well. Congratulations.

Not only were both Erich von Manstein's real and adopted father Prussian Generals, but his mother's brother and both his grandfathers had also been Generals of the Prussian Army (one of them leading a corps in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71). In addition, he was closely related to Paul von Hindenburg, the future Generalfeldmarschall and President of Germany. Thus, his career in the Prussian army was assured from birth. He attended the Lycée in Strasbourg (1894–99), a territory which had become part of the German Empire after the war of 1870–71. He spent six years in the cadet corps (1900–1906), in Plön and Groß-Lichterfelde and joined the Third Foot Guards Regiment (Garde zu Fuß) in March 1906 as an ensign (Fähnrich). He was promoted to Lieutenant in January 1907, and in October 1913, he entered the War Academy (Kriegsakademie).

During World War I, von Manstein served on both the German Western Front (Belgium/France 1916: Attack on Verdun, 1917–18: Champagne) and the Eastern Front (1915: North Poland, 1915–16: 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 Defense Force in Breslau (Wroclaw) and served there until 1919.

World War II

Poland campaign

On August 18, 1939, in preparation for Operation Fall Weiß, the German Poland campaign, von Manstein was appointed Chief of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group South. Here he worked along with von Rundstedt’s Chief of Operations, Colonel Günther Blumentritt in the development of the operational plan. Von Rundstedt accepted von Manstein’s plan calling for the concentration of the majority of the army group’s armored 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 River Vistula. In 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 Reichenau’s armored thrust towards Warsaw, the Polish capital.

Privately, 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.

Launched on September 1, 1939, the invasion began successfully. In Army Group South’s area of responsibility, armored units of the 10th Army pursued the retreating Poles, giving them no time to set up a defense. The 8th Army prevented the isolated Polish troop concentrations in Łódź, Radom and Poznań from merging into a cohesive force. Deviating from the original plan that called for heading straight for the Vistula and then proceeding to Warsaw, von Manstein persuaded 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, 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 von Manstein and Gerd von Rundstedt and together they formalised an alternative plan for Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). This plan received Hitler's attention in February 1940 and finally his agreement.

The Western Front

By late October, the bulk of the German Army was redeployed to the west. Von Manstein was made Chief of Staff of von Rundstedt’s Army Group A in western Germany. Like many of the army's younger officers, von Manstein opposed Fall Gelb, criticizing it for its lack of ability to deliver strategic results and the uninspired utilization of the armored forces, which may have come from OKH's inability to influence Hitler's planning. 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, 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. 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 second stage of the Battle of France.

Oberkommando der Wehrmacht originally rejected the proposal. Halder had von Manstein removed from von Rundstedt's headquarters and sent to the east to command the 38th Army Corps. But Hitler, looking for a more aggressive plan, approved a modified version of von Manstein's ideas, which today is known as the Manstein Plan. This modified version, formulated by Halder, did not contain the second thrust. 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 was an outstanding military success and von Manstein was promoted to full general and awarded the Knight's Cross for suggesting the plan.

Operation Barbarossa

In February 1941, von Manstein was appointed commander of the 56th Panzer Corps. He became involved in Operation Barbarossa, serving under General Erich Hoepner. Attacking on June 22, 1941, von Manstein advanced more than 100 miles in only two days and seized two vital bridges over the Dvina River at Dvinsk.

In September 1941, 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. Hitler also intended to use the Kerch Peninsula to land forces in the Caucasus. This, however, would turn out to be tougher than anticipated.

The initial objective was to force a crossing over the Isthmus of Perekop, which connects the Crimean peninsula to the mainland. The area was defended by about 50,000 Soviet troops, out of a total of 230,600 Soviet troops on the whole of the Crimea peninsula, while the Germans attacked with six Infantry, one panzergrenadier and two mountain divisions, supported by six Romanian brigades. The assault began on 24 September 1941. Shortly before it began, a Soviet counterattack ordered by Stalin both cost the Soviets men and interrupted work on fortifications.

After the initial German breakthrough, the rest of the Perekop area had to be secured. Von Manstein, deprived of three divisions needed elsewhere, launched the assault on 16 October 1941 against eight rifle and four cavalry divisions, most of whom had been evacuated from Odessa and were thus under-strength. The assault on Perekop was frontal in nature, the axis of advance was on three narrow strips of land, defended by troops with prepared defensive positions. Though numerically inferior, the Soviets had local numerical tank and air superiority. After ten days of bitter fighting, the defensive line was overrun on 28 October, with the German forces eagerly pursuing the retreating Soviet forces into Crimea. The Germans quickly seized control over the whole peninsula, and by 17 November, only the city of Sevastopol held out. Manstein claimed that these operations resulted in over 100,000 Soviet troops taken prisoner, and many killed. Actual Soviet losses of all kind totaled 63,860.

The first attack on Sevastopol was launched on October 30, 1941. Von Manstein, overly impressed by its weaker fortifications, attacked the southern flank, only to discover the terrain in this area prohibitively difficult. On December 4, the local Soviet command reported that the attack had been checked. A renewed attempt was launched from the north on December 17. By then, winter had set in and the Luftwaffe was fogged out. On December 21, just as the Germans were preparing for their last push, the Soviets launched a spoiling attack, forcing them back. Shortly thereafter the Soviet winter offensive began, producing the Wehrmacht's so-called "Winter Crisis."

Just over a week later, on December 26, 1941, the Soviets landed on the Kerch straits, and on December 30, executed another landing near Theodosia, where 41,930 troops were initially committed. These landings were soon reinforced. Only a hurried withdrawal from the Kerch straits, in contravention of 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 von Manstein to cancel a resumption of the attack on Sevastopol and send most of his forces east to destroy the Soviet bridgehead. In that sense, it may have been a blessing in disguise for the Germans as conditions for a continued attack were impossible. The situation was stabilized by late April 1942.

Operation Trappenjagd, launched on 8 May 1942, aimed at expelling the Russian forces from the Kerch peninsula. Opposing the German forces were 17 rifle (infantry) divisions, along with several independent brigades. The Germans had 7 infantry divisions and a panzer division. Approximately one third of the German forces were Romanian. After feinting against the north, the 11th army attacked in the south, and the Soviets were soon reduced to fleeing for the Kerch straits. The operation was completed successfully on 18 May. Manstein claimed that next to no Soviet troops were evacuated across the straits, leading to 170,000 Soviet troops taken prisoners and some 100,000 killed, while Soviet sources claim that some 140,000 were evacuated, though many of these were infirm. Krivosheev puts total Soviet losses at 176,566.

Wehrmachtbericht references

Date Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording Direct English translation
Saturday, 11 October 1941 (extra) Die Schlacht am Asowschen Meer ist abgeschlossen. Im Zusammenwirken mit der Luftflotte des Generaloberst Löhr hat die Armee des Generals der Infanterie von Manstein, die rumänische Armee des Korpsgenerals Dumitrescu und die Panzerarmee des Generaloberst von Kleist die Masse der 9. und 18. sowjetischen Armee geschlagen und vernichtet.[1] The battle at the Sea of Azov has finished. The Army of General der Infantery von Manstein, the Romanian Army of Corps General Dumitrescu and the Panzer-Army of von Kleist in combination with the Air Fleet of Generaloberst Löhr, defeated and annihilated the bulk of the Soviet 9th and 18th Army.
Sunday, 12 October 1941 Wie die gestrige Sondermeldung bekanntgab, ist die Schlacht am Asowschen Meer abgeschlossen. Im Zusammenwirken mit der Luftflotte des Generaloberst Löhr hat die Armee des Generals der Infanterie von Manstein, die rumänische Armee des Korpsgenerals Dumitrescu und die Panzerarmee des Generaloberst von Kleist die Masse der 9. und 18. sowjetischen Armee geschlagen und vernichtet.[1] As reported in yesterdays special report, the battle at the Sea of Azov has finished. The Army of General der Infantery von Manstein, the Romanian Army of Corps General Dumitrescu and the Panzer-Army of von Kleist in combination with the Air Fleet of Generaloberst Löhr, defeated and annihilated the bulk of the Soviet 9th and 18th Army.
Friday, 31 October 1941 Von deutschen und rumänischen Truppen scharf verfolgt, ist der Feind auf der Krim in voller Flucht. Damit haben die langen und schweren Durchbruchskämpfe ihre Krönung gefunden, mit denen die Infanteriedivisionen der Armee des Generals der Infanterie von Manstein im Verein mit dem Fliegerkorps des Generalleutnants Pflugbeil die schmale Landengen bezwungen haben, die zur Halbinsel führen.[2] Sharply pursued by German and Romanian troops, the enemy in the Crimea is in full retreat. With this, the long and heavy breakthrough battles have found their coronation. The infantry divisions of the army of General of Infantry von Manstein in conjunction with the Air Corps of Lieutenant General Pflugbeil have concurred the narrow isthmus leading to the peninsula.
Tuesday, 19 May 1942 (extra) Auf der Krim haben deutsche und rumänische Truppen unter dem Oberbefehl des Generalobersten von Manstein in der Verfolgung des geschlagenen Feindes die Meerenge von Kertsch in ganzer Breite erreicht. [3] In the Crimea, German and Romanian troops, under the overall command of Colonel General von Manstein, in pursuit of the defeated enemy, have reached the entire width of the Kerch Strait.
Wednesday, 20 May 1942 Wie durch Sondermeldung bekanntgegeben, haben deutsche und rumänische Truppen unter dem Oberbefehl des Generalobersten von Manstein, unterstützt von starken Luftwaffenverbänden unter Führung der Generalobersten Löhr und Freiherr von Richthofen, in der Verfolgung des geschlagenen Feindes die Meerenge von Kertsch in ganzer Breite erreicht und die letzten stark befestigten Brückenköpfe beiderseits der Stadt nach erbittertem Widerstand genommen.[4] As announced by special message, German and Romanian troops under the command of General von Manstein, supported by strong air forces under the command of Generoberst Löhr, and Freiherr von Richthofen, in pursuit of the defeated enemy, reached the Strait of Kerch in full-width and took the remaining strong fortified bridgeheads after fierce resistance on both sides of the city.
Thursday, 2 July 1942 Wie bereits durch Sondermeldung bekanntgegeben, haben deutsche und rumänische Truppen unter Führung des Generalfeldmarschalls von Manstein, hervorragend unterstützt von den bewährten Nahkampffliegerkorps des Generalobersten Freiherrn von Richthofen, nach fünfundzwanzigtägigem erbitterten Ringen am Mittag des 1. Juli 1942 die bisher stärkste Land- und Seefestung Sewastopol, bezwungen.[5] As announced by special message, German and Romanian troops under the command of Field Marshal von Manstein, superbly supported by the proven close air support Corps of Colonel General Freiherr von Richthofen, defeated after twenty-five days of bitter struggle at noon on 1 July 1942 the strongest land and naval fortress of Sevastopol.
20 March 1943 Die unter dem Oberbefehl des Generalfeldmarschalls von Manstein stehenden Truppen des Heeres und der Waffen-SS haben in hervorragendem Zusammenwirken mit Verbänden der Luftwaffe unter dem Oberbefehls des Generalfeldmarschall von Richthofen im Verlaufe der deutschen Gegenoffensive zwischen Donez und Dnjepr, die zur Wiedereroberung der Städte Charkow und Bjelgorod führte, dem Feind schwerste Verluste an Menschen und Material zugefügt.[6] The troops of the Army and the Waffen-SS, under the command of Field Marshal von Manstein, in excellent cooperation with units of the Luftwaffe under the supreme command of Field Marshal von Richthofen, during the German counter-offensive between the Donets and the Dnieper, which led to the re-conquest of the city Kharkov and Bielgorod, inflicted heavy losses in men and material to the enemy.
4 August 1943 In der Schlacht am Mius haben Infanterie- und Panzerverbände des Heeres und der Waffen-SS unter Führung des Generalfeldmarschalls von Manstein und des Generals der Infanterie Hollidt mit vorbildlicher Unterstützung der von General der Flieger Deßloch geführten Luftwaffenverbände wiederholt Durchbruchsversuche starker feindlicher Kräfte vereitelt und im schwungvollen Gegenangriff den nördlich Kuibyschewo eingebrochenen Feind geschlagen.[7] In the Battle at the Mius, infantry and tank units of the Army and Waffen-SS under the command of Field Marshal von Manstein and General of Infantry Hollidt with exemplary support of Luftwaffe units led by General of the Flyers Deßloch, have repeatedly thwarted attempts of strong enemy forces to break through, and in a bold counter-attack struck the north Kuibyschewo broken through enemy.

Family

Von Manstein with son Gero
Grave in Dorfmark near Fallingbostel
Son Rüdiger died 2019

Von Manstein married Jutta-Sibylle Viktoria Elisabeth von Loesch (1900–1966), the daughter of a Silesian landowner, in 1920. He proposed marriage after having known her for only three days. They had three children: a daughter, Gisela (1921–2013), and two sons, Gero (born 31 December 1922) and Rüdiger (b. 19 November 1929; d. 23 August 2019). Gero fell on the battlefield in the northern sector of the Eastern Front on 29 October 1942 while serving as a lieutenant in the Wehrmacht. Gisela was married to Major Edel-Heinrich Zachariae-Lingenthal, a highly decorated officer who commanded II. Panzer-Regiment 15 during the Second World War.

Promotions

  • 6 March 1906 Fähnrich (joined 3. Garde-Regiment zu Fuß of the Garde-Korps)
  • 27 January 1907 Leutnant (commission/patent with effect from 14 June 1905)
  • 19 June 1914 Oberleutnant
  • 24 July 1915 Hauptmann
  • February 1928 Major
  • 1 April 1931 Oberstleutnant
  • 1 December 1933 Oberst
  • 1 October 1936 Generalmajor
  • 1 April 1938 Generalleutnant
  • 1 June 1940 General der Infanterie
  • 7 March 1942 Generaloberst
  • 1 July 1942 Generalfeldmarschall

Awards and decorations

Writings

  • Verlorene Siege. Athenäum, Bonn 1955 (zuletzt in 18. Auflage: Bernard und Graefe, München 2009, ISBN 3-7637-5253-6) (PDF-Datei)
  • Aus einem Soldatenleben. 1887–1939. Athenäum, Bonn 1958
  • Werner Buxa (de) / Erich von Manstein / Harry Hoppe (de): Die Deutsche Infanterie 1939–1945, Podzun Verlag (1967)
  • Soldat im 20. Jahrhundert. Bernard & Graefe, München 1981 (zuletzt in 5. Auflage, 2002, ISBN 3-7637-5214-5)

See also

Further reading

  • Gerhard von Seemen:Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 – Die Ritterkreuzträger sämtlicher Wehrmachtteile, Brillanten-, Schwerter- und Eichenlaubträger in der Reihenfolge der Verleihung (in German), Podzun-Verlag, Friedberg 1976 ISBN 978-3-7909-0051-4
  • Franz Thomas: Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945, Band 1: A–K (in German), Biblio-Verlag, Osnabrück 1998, ISBN 978-3-7648-2299-6
  • Walther-Peer Fellgiebel: Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile (in German), Podzun-Pallas, Wölfersheim 2000, ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6
    • English: The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches, expanded edition, 2000
  • Klaus D. Patzwall/ Veit Scherzer: Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941–1945 Geschichte und Inhaber, Band II (in German), Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall, Norderstedt 2001, ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8
  • Veit Scherzer: Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives (in German), Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag, Jena 2007, ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2

References