- The German Army  1657-1945

Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General

by Captain B. H. Liddell Hart
THE  general verdict among the  German generals I interrogated in 1945 was that Field-Marshal von Manstein had proved the ablest commander in their Army, and the man they had most desired to become its Commander-in-Chief. It is very clear that he had a superb sense of operational possibilities and an equal mastery in the conduct of operations, together with a greater grasp of the potentialities of mechanised forces than any of the other commanders who had not been trained in the tank arm. In sum, he had military genius.
In the earlier stages of the war he exerted a great influence behind the scenes as a staff officer. Later he became an outstanding commander, and played a key part from 1941 to 1944 in the titanic struggle on the Russian front. His detailed account of the campaigns, pungent comments, and very significant revelations combine to make his book one of the most important and illuminating contributions to the history of World War II. 
An extraordinary aspect of Erich von Manstein's career is that he is best known, outside Germany at any rate, in connexion with operations that took place when he was a relatively junior general, and in which he took no part. For his fame primarily arose from his influence on the design - or, rather, on the recasting — of the plan for the German offensive of 1940 which broke through the Western Front, and led to the fall of France, with all its far-reaching results. The new plan, for making the decisive thrust through the hilly and wooded Ardennes - the line of least expectation - has come to be called the 'Manstein Plan'. That is tribute to what he did in evolving it and striving to win acceptance for it in place of the old plan, for a more direct attack through Belgium — which would in all probability have resulted in a repulse. 
At that time Manstein was Chief of Staff to Rundstedt's Army Group, and when his arguments for changing the plan became irritating to his superiors 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. The book provides much fresh information on the course of this operational controversy and the evolution of the plan that led to victory.
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.
After the collapse of France, Hitler hoped that Britain would make peace, but when disappointed he began, belatedly and half-heartedly, to make "preparations for a cross-Channel invasion. Manstein was entrusted with the task of leading the initial landing with his corps, which was moved to the Boulogne-Calais area for the purpose. His book has some striking comments on the problem, on the strategic alternatives, and on Hitler's turn away to deal with Russia.
For the invasion of Russia in 1941 Manstein was given his heart's desire - the command of an armoured corps, the 56th. With it he made one of the quickest and 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 Sevastopol, 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. The long chapter on 'The Tragedy of Stalingrad" is full of striking revelations, and the more illuminating because of the penetrating analysis of 'Hitler as Supreme Commander' in the preceding chapter.
Following Paulus's surrender, a widespread collapse developed on the Germans' southern front under pressure of advancing Russian armies, but Manstein saved the situation by a brilliant flank counter-stroke which recaptured Kharkov and rolled back the Russians in confusion. That counterstroke was the most brilliant operational performance of Manstein's career, and one of the most masterly in the whole course of military history. His detailed account of the operation is likely to be studied, for its instructional value, so long as military studies continue.
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. Moreover, at this crucial moment the Anglo-American landing in Sicily led Hitler to direct several divisions to the Italian theatre. I laving checked the German offensive, the Russians now launched i heir own on a larger scale along a wider front, and with growing strength.
From that time onwards the Germans were thrown on the defensive, slrategically, and with the turn of the tide Manstein was henceforth railed on to meet, repeatedly, what has always been judged the hardest I ask of generalship - that of conducting a fighting withdrawal in face of much superior forces.
He showed great skill, against heavy odds, in checking successive Russian thrusts and imposing delays on the westward advance of the Itussian armies. 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 unlike which arose. But when he 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 overstretched enemy advance Hitler would not heed his arguments.
Hitler's unwillingness to sanction any withdrawal forfeited each in icssive chance of stabilizing the front, and repeatedly clashed with Manstein's sense of strategy. Unlike many of his fellows, Manstein maintained the old Prussian tradition of speaking frankly, and expressed his criticism forcibly both to Hitler 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 a contrast with his attitude to most of his generals, and to the General Staff as a body. But the cumulative effect became in the end more than Hitler could stand - and all the more because the course of events continued to confirm Manstein's warnings. So in March 1944 Hitler reached the limit of his endurance, and put Manstein on the shelf, although with far more politeness than he normally showed in making changes of command.
That ended the active career of the Allies' most formidable military opponent - a man who combined modern ideas of mobility with a classical sense of manoeuvre, a mastery of technical detail and great driving power.
January  1958
Author Preface
This book is the personal narrative of a soldier, in which I ave deliberately refrained from discussing political problems r matters with no direct bearing on events in the military field. In the same connexion it is perhaps worth recalling a statement of Captain B. H. Liddell Hart's:
'The German generals of this war were the best-finished product of their profession—anywhere. They could have been better if their outlook had been wider and their understanding deeper. But if they had become philosophers they would have ceased to be soldiers'
I have made every effort not to view things in a retrospective light, but to present my experiences, ideas and decisions as they appeared to me at the time. In other words, I write not as a historical investigator, but as one who played an active part in what I have to relate. But even though I have tried to give an objective account of all that happened, of the people involved and of the decisions they took, my opinion, as that of a participant, is bound to be subjective. I still hope, nevertheless, that the account I give will be of some use to historians, for even they cannot get the truth from files and documents alone. The essential thing to know is how the main personalities thought and reacted to events, and the answer to this will seldom be found - certainly not in a complete form - in files or war diaries.
In describing how the plan for Germany's 1940 offensive in the west came about, I have departed from Colonel-General v. Seeckt's precept that General Staff officers should be nameless. I feel I am at liberty to do this now that- through no action of my own- the subject has so long been open to general discussion. It was actually my former Commander-in-Chief, Field-Marshal v. Rundstedt, and our Chief of Operations, General Blumentritt, who told Liddell Hart the story of the plan. (At that time I had not had the pleasure of meeting him.) 
In this account of military problems and events I have occasionally included items of a personal nature in the belief that there must be a place for the human element even in war. The reason for the absence of such personal reminiscences from the later chapters of the book is that worry and the burden of my responsibilities overshadowed everything else during that period.
My activities in World War II have led me to deal with events largely from the viewpoint of leadership at a higher level. I hope, nonetheless, to have made it consistently clear that the decisive factor throughout was the self-sacrifice, valour and devotion to duty of the German fighting soldier, combined with the ability of commanders at all levels and their readiness to assume responsibility. These were the qualities which won us our victories. These alone enabled us to face the overwhelming superiority of our opponents.
By this book I should at the same time like to express gratitude to my Commander-in-Chief in the initial phase of the war, Field-Marshal v. Rundstedt, for the trust he always placed in me; to the commanders and soldiers of all ranks who served under my command; and to the men who served at my various headquarters, in particular my chiefs-of-staff and General Staff officers, who constantly supported and advised me.
Finally I must also thank those who have assisted me in preparing these memoirs: my former Chief-of-Staff, General Busse, and our staff officers v. Blumroder, Eismann and Annus; Herr Gerhard Giinther, who encouraged me to commit my memoirs to paper; Herr Fred Hildenbrandt, who gave me valuable assistance in composing them; and Herr Dipl. Ing. Materne, who showed great understanding in his work on the sketch-maps.
von manstein 

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