Erich von Manstein

Regarded by many as the greatest German field commander of the war, Manstein had been commissioned into Hindenburg’s old regiment, the Third Foot Guards, and served with distinction as an infantry officer during World War I.  He first attracted attention with his unorthodox proposal in 1940 to attack on a very narrow front in the Ardennes to sever the Anglo-French field army from its less mobile supports in the interior by a drive to the Channel coast. His plan was favored by Hitler, to whom Manstein had personally delivered it, and, despite the opposition of the Army High Command, to whom Manstein was persona non grata, formed the basis of the 1940 strategy. Recovering from obloquy, he was appointed to command the 11th Army in the capture of the Crimea in 1941 and subsequently in the advance into the Caucasus.  But it was in 1943, however, that his great reputation was made. Having conceived and almost carried off the relief of Stalingrad in December 1942 (Operation Winter Storm), he achieved in February 1943 the most brilliant German counteroffensive of the Russian campaign, the recapture of Kharkov.  He was then acting as Commander of Army Group Don to which he had been appointed in November 1942, and continued to direct it until March 1944, when he at last lost Hitler’s favor for his ceaseless advocacy of ‘fluid’ tactics. That policy, to Hitler, meant surrendering ground without the guarantee that is could be subsequently recaptured. His fears might have been well-founded in the case of other commanders, but Manstein stood alone in possessing the skill to wage that dangerous form of warfare. His removal aided Russia rather than Germany.

 

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