Erich von Manstein was one of the most important generals in the Second World War for the German army. Erich von Manstein started his military career at young age, well before the Great War started. He was Oberleutnant (senior lieutenant) at the start of World War One and was Generalfeldmarschall when the Second World War ended.
Erich von Manstein was born Fritz Erich Georg Eduard von Lewinski on the 24th of November 1887 in Berlin. Born in Prussian aristocrat He was the tenth child of Eduard von Lewinski – a General of the Artillery and Helene von Sperling. Helene’s sister Hedwig and husband Generalleutnant Georg von Manstein, also Prussian, were unable to have children. Erich was adopted in this family like his cousin Martha and got the surname of lieutenant general Georg.
Erich von Manstein was born in a Prussian officer’s family, including granddads 16 of them and many of them grew to the rank of general. Generalfeldmarschall Paul from Hindenburg, the future president of Germany was his uncle.
Military career, the early years.
After the Imperial Gymnasium he attended Cadet school in Plön and the Royal Prussian Main Cadet Institute in Gross Lichterfelde. Reported intelligent and capable he served in the Third Foot Regiment at this time and promoted to lieutenant in January 1907. In 1913 he started a highly regarded education at the Prussian War Academy. Het could only complete the first year for on 28 June Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot and Germany vowed to help Austria in this conflict; World War One had started.
World War One
All cadets attending the War Academy had to report for front duties. Erich von Manstein became adjutant with the 2nd Guard Reserve Infantry Regiment which entered the Neutral Belgium and took part in the taking of the Belgium city of Namur. At the battle of Namur, 20 – 25 August 1914, Erich von Manstein had his baptism of fire.
In September his unit was transferred to the Eastern front in support of the 8th Army commanded by General von Hindenburg (Hindenburg became Generalfeldmarschall on 27 November 1914).
Manstein participated in the battle of the Mausurian Lakes against the Russian army. Transferred with his unit to the 9th army after the battle which was forced to withdraw during a counterattack. On 16 November, while storming a Russian entrenchment, Erich von Manstein was wounded in battle, shot in the knee and left shoulder and had to recover for six months in a hospital.
on 17 June he was reassigned to the general staff as an assistant of operations for the tenth army and was promoted to captain. He learned first-hand how to plan offensive operations with the tenth army fighting in Poland, Lithuania, Montenegro and Albania.
He was stationed with operations at Verdun on the West front in 1916 and near the river Somme. In 1917 he was transferred as chief of staff to the 4th Cavalry Division in Riga on the East front. Due to the Treaty of Best-Litovsk the hostilities between Russia and Germany ceased and Erich von Manstein’s units was transferred ban the West front near Reims. The Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918.
In between the First and Second World War Erich von Manstein Met and Married his wife Jutta von Loesch in 1920. They had three children, daughter Gisela and two sons Gero and Rüdiger.
Von Manstein stayed with the army in his staff position. He participated in restructuring the Imperial German army into the downsized Reichswehr restricted to 100.000 men according to the treaty of Versailles. He was appointed as company commander of the 5th Prussian infantry regiment and teacher of military history and tactics. He was promoted to Lieutenant colonel before the Nazi Party seized power and ending the Weimar period. In 1934 Manstein was back in Berlin as full colonel and head of the Generalstab des Heeres (Army High Command Staff). He was responsible for the defense of Germany against France named Fall Rot (Case Red). He met Heinz Guderian and Oswald Lutz both wanted drastic changes in warfare. Panzerunits using their speed spearheading up from with support of planes, infantry would slow them down as was seen during World War One. They were proposing Blitzkrieg tactics. Erich von Manstein suggested a Sturmgeschütz (StuG), a self-propelled assault gun. A heavy fire support fort the infantry units. This resulted in the most successful panzer during the war.
Manstein was promoted to Generalmajor in October 1936 and Generalleutnant in 1938.
World War Two
As Chief of Staff to Gerd von Rundstedt’s Army Group South Erich von Manstein developed an operational plan for Fall Weis (case White), the invasion of Poland. Von Manstein’s plan was accepted. Erich did not like the idea very much of invading Poland, he’d rather keep the buffer between Germany and Russia. If the Western countries would attack if Germany invaded Poland another war on two fronts had to be fought. On 1 September 1939 Fall White was Launched and it was successful. New tactics worked out as suspected and the Poles surrendered on 6 October 1939.
Fall Gelb was under development, this Case Yellow was the invasion of the low countries, Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. The second phase of the plan was Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), the attack on France.
The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) for the Western Offensive which reminded a lot like the World War One Schlieffen-plan.
Manstein remarked that the Schlieffen-Plan had a high risk of getting into a trench warfare, no one was waiting on another stalemate. Together with Heinz Guderian he came up with a plan which was presented to Adolf Hitler. They suggested to take the panzer units through the hilly and dense wooded Ardennes where they would not be expected. To establish bridgehead on the Meuse river and spearhead towards the English Channel followed by the infantry. They would cut off the French and Allied Armies and the whole operation would bypass the Maginot line instead of engaging it. This type of operation would later become known as the Sichelschnitt – the Sickle Cut.
The OKH rejected the plan at first, but Hitler wished a more daring plan, and in the end, a modified Manstein plan was carried out. The plan worked perfectly and was an outstanding military success. Erich von Manstein was promoted to full General and was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.
Manstein considered Operation Seelöwe (Sealion) – the invasion of England – risky but necessary. But the Luftwaffe failed to get air superiority which was needed for an invasion crossing the British channel.
War in Russia and the Ukraine
Operation Barbarossa commenced on 22 June 1941. Named after Frederick Barbarossa a Holy Roman Emperor and later king of Germany in 1152. Erich von Manstein commanded the LVI Panzer corps of Army Group North. The made good progress, 315 km into Russia in four days. The assault on the city of Luga was still underway when new orders came in to advance on Leningrad. But when he arrived in his new headquarters, he was ordered to send men to assist the X Corps. Successfully assisting the X Corps, capturing 12.000 troops and 141 tanks before they were ordered to Demajnsk. He got notice on the 12th of September 1941, nearing the city, to take over the 11th Army of Army Group South in the Ukraine.
With the 11th Army he captured the Crimean Peninsula and the city of Sevastopol, the city was hard defended and took from November until July the next year to conquer.
He had to fend of Soviet forces in the north, successfully won the battle losing 8.000 men but capturing 170.000 Soviet soldiers, over 1100 artillery pieces and more than 250 tanks. With help of super heavy guns like the 600 mm (24 inch) mortar Karl-Gerät and the 800 mm (31 inch) railway gun Dora he could stop resistance inside the city. They resistance crumbled on the 1st of July and on this same day Hitler promoted Erich von Manstein to Generalfeldmarschall.
Von Manstein was ordered back to Army Group North for the Siege of Leningrad. But the Soviet forces fought themselves out of the German fangs and defended the city successfully. The siege was lifted in 1944.
During Fall Blau – Case Blue, the offensive against the Caucasian Oilfields Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus was ordered to take Stalingrad. We know now he failed. On 29 October 1942 during this Battle. Erich von Manstein’s son Gero von Manstein died during this battle. The sixth Army at Stalingrad was surrendered and von Manstein was ordered back to the south and help Paulus and his troops.
Von Manstein advanced until heavy resistance of Russian tanks stopped them at 48 km from the surrounded Army. 18 October 1942; Manstein requested Hitler to order Paulus to break out and together they would attack the Russians from both sides. Hitler refused to give the order. Goering assured him the Sixth Army would be supplied by air but could not keep his promise. 24 January 1943; Manstein urged Hitler to Allow Paulus to surrender, Hitler refused. Paulus did surrender on 31 January, 91.000 soldier were captured and send to Gulags, Soviet concentration camps in Siberia. Only 5.000 returned after 10 to 15 years after wars end.
Kharkov, Kursk, Dnieper and Dismissal
After Stalingrad the German Army was on the retreat, not at once but they never were on the assault as in 1941. Three Battles at Kharkov followed, from tank Battles to street fighting. Adolf Hitler visited von Manstein near the front on more than one occasion. Adolf Hitler was frustrated and gave the “defend on all costs” order more and more, disintegrating the power of the German army to move fast and strike were needed.
At the Battle of Kursk, Unternehmen Zitadelle, one of the largest battles in history, were more than four million men involved. The Germans were outnumbered three to one, after five days of fighting Walter Models Ninth Army advance was stopped. Von Manstein’s forces broke through the Russian lines and inflicted heavy casualties. Against von Manstein’s will the attack was stopped by Adolf Hitler, the Allied had landed in Normandy.
From this point in history the German army in the east was really on the defensive, from Kursk von Manstein forces pulled back to the Dnieper were a battle was fought and without permission from Hitler Manstein pulled back his forces from Russian opposition. From the beginning of March 1944 Soviet forces driven the Wehrmacht well back of the river. When Adolf Hitler ordered to defend until the last man on the 19th and the panzer became encircled on the 21st of March von Manstein decided to have and audience with Hitler and flew to him on the 30th of March 1944.
After a long discussion von Manstein was allowed to pull back but was relieved of his command at the same time. He was ordered to hand over his command to Generalfeldmarschall Walter model. Von Manstein retreated to his family and never commanded a German unit during the War.
Rommel, Kluge and Manstein
On 12 June 1943 Von Manstein was ordered to the Wolfsschanze for an audition with Adolf Hitler. They had to be there on 13 June, Generalfeldmarschall Kluge would visit as well, and the Eastern Front would the discussed. Erich von Manstein and his orderly officer Alexander Stahlberg had to wait a long time, so they decided to go for a swim. Nobody lived near the Wolfsschanze and there were beautiful lakes. They did not bring swimsuits, so they decided to skinny dip in one of the lakes.
After a while they returned but saw from a distance that there were people standing on the wooden pier. They could not see who it was until they came very close. That is Field Marshal Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, Alexander said out loud. A clear voice from above stated; “You are right, my dear fellow, this is Field Marshal Rommel! “. Then there was a big hello from below and above, and Manstein shouted: “So we meet at last!” It was true; Manstein and Rommel had never met until that moment and now two well-known Generalfeldmarschalls stood on top of a wooden pier together, one butt naked.
After meeting Hitler, the three Generalfeldmarschalls shared a few bottles of wine in a private room, Erwin Rommel and Erich von Manstein had met up with Günther von Kluge. The alcohol loosening up tongs while they discussed the developments in the war and leadership capabilities of Adolf Hitler. Just before leaving the informal meeting von Kluge said the Manstein that the end will be bad, and I am ready to submit myself to you. Von Manstein thanked him as one would thank a friend for a gracious compliment. Rommel and Manstein stayed a little longer. Rommel stood up to make his leave and stated, “I too am willing to submit to you” and left the room.
With courtesy of “Die verdammte Pflicht – Erinnerungen 1932-1945” by Alexander Stahl.
At wars end Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Manstein was arrested and brought to justice at the Nuremberg Trails. Von Manstein was asked about the Einsatzgruppen, special death squad that came in behind the front and killed Jews, POW’s and other who stood in their way, but they were not under his command. He was asked about the Commissar Order given by Hitler in 1942 – to shoot all Soviet political commissars without trail. Manstein admitted he received the order but did not carry it out. He faced 17 charges and was eventually found guilty of nine and was convicted in 1949 to 18 years imprisonment. This was reduced to 12 in 1950. His release in 1953 was partly a medical issue with a reoccurring eye problem and the result of pressure from Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Liddell Hart and others. Konrad Adenauer needed expertise in a re-armament program for Germany.
Civilian Life and Death
After his release he was asked to help re-form the German army in 1955. In this same year his book came out, Verlorene Siege – Lost Victories a highly acclaimed best seller. His second book was released in 1958 named “A Soldiers Life” – Aus einem Soldatenleben. His wife Jutta died in 1966. Erich von Manstein died of a stroke on 9 June 1973 at the age of 85.
Erich von Manstein was buried with full military honors attended by hundreds of soldiers of all ranks. Erich von Manstein is buried with his wife and son Gero on Friedhof Dorfmark, Am Friedhof 9, in the town of Bad Fallingbostel in Germany.