Long overshadowed by Guderian, Rommel, Rundstedt and others, Manstein deserves attention not only for his battlefield prowess but for questions regarding his ideology and beliefs. He plied his trade largely on the Eastern Front in a "conflict so large in scale and desperate in nature that it continues to defy modern imagination". Other battles and leaders of the Second World War have gained greater public attention and even adulation so history has made Manstein a supporting player.
Author Melvin's attempts to illuminate the man and his record. Born into a military dynasty and groomed to be an officer, Manstein was the essence of forward command and demonstrated an active style of leadership that is most often attributed to Rommel. But Manstein's style was premised on operational effectiveness made up of clear organization, detailed preparation, and realistic training.
The book covers his battles in detail and provides a balanced view on his performance. Manstein fought aggressively when advancing or retreating as evidenced at the invasion of Poland, the Blitzkrieg of France, Leningrad, and the battles of Kharkov and Kursk. He is singled out for his leadership at the sieges of Sevastopol but his "decision-making over Stalingrad remains highly contentious". Melvin proves that Manstein had shortcomings but was first to recognize that the Soviets were quickly learning how to respond to German tactics while quickly rearming themselves and making good on all troop losses. Among the General's greatest skill was that of operational level manoeuvre which not only surprised his opposition but the German General Staff.Read more ›
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
Field Marshal MansteinSept. 9 2010
B. S. Condell
- Published on Amazon.com
Manstein: Hitler's Greatest General.
This new biography by Major General Melvin is long overdue and it is likely that it will remain the definitive work on Manstein for a considerable time to come. Significantly, although the book is clearly written with the military specialist in mind, there is a great deal which will be of serious interest to a wide general readership.
Until now, Manstein's reputation as a military genius has been based on his own memoir `Lost Victories' which described his role in designing and planning Fall Gelb (case yellow) the Ardennes campaign in 1940 and on the Eastern Front until his dismissal by Hitler in 1944. Now, for the first time, a General Staff Officer is providing an in-depth appraisal of Manstein's overall career, his campaigns, his subsequent trial before a British military court in 1948 and his later contributions to the present-day Heer, the modern German Federal Armed Forces.
General Melvin's research and analysis is of a high order. The more so, as a War College graduate he has extensive experience of the military operational environment and is the first historian to be granted unlimited access to the Manstein family archives. As a German linguist, he was able to use such access to full advantage. Additionally, (having walked the ground) he provides a General Staff Officer's skilled appraisal of Manstein's major campaign successes such as the Crimea, where he was able to identify and visit the site of the German 11th Army headquarters. There are also rare insights into the Field Marshal's later brilliant defensive operations in the Donets River Basin, both on forehand and backhand maneuvers, at Army Group level.
Such historically vexed questions as Hitler's disastrous policy regarding the 6th Army at Stalingrad receive welcome clarification and the planning for the last, much delayed, German offensive operation `Citadel' at Kursk are covered with good attention to detail.
Manstein's turbulent relations with Hitler are described (with various sources being employed) as is Hitler's intellectual weakness in the Strategic Art where he had difficulty in deciding between Economic and Military priorities. The clash of wills in the War Room at Berchtesgarten in early 1944, made Hitler acutely aware that his abilities in the areas of Strategy and the Operational Art were overshadowed and he would not accept such a rival. Soon afterwards, Manstein was sent into retirement.
General Melvin's significant success with this book is that he has placed Manstein in the historical context of the period. All the major questions regarding his genius as a planner, his relevance as a strategist, his profound and intuitive expertise in the Operational Art as an Army and later as an Army Group commander, the accusations of war crimes, his attitude to the Jews, together with his later trial and subsequent sentencing are all dealt with both in detail and with a refreshing objectivity. This is supported by a wealth of quoted source material, extensive notations and an impressive and fascinating bibliography of published and unpublished material. Also well worthy of note are the re-designed situation maps.
As a person, Manstein is shown to be a product of the traditional Prussian aristocracy, a dedicated career officer presenting the traditional values of his social class such as loyalty, professionalism, decency, courage and moral rectitude; all of which were by no means exceptional in his time. Perhaps ironically, it is these same values which earned him the venomous distrust of Hitler and the Nazi party. Manstein's early service in the First World War, and later in the Reichswehr was much above average and it was clear that the TruppenAmt was, even then, considering him for an important career. The author assigns an important section of the book to this period which also covers the murderous in-fighting between the SA and the Nazi party machine.
General Melvin has created a highly researched and well balanced account of the life of, perhaps, the most skilled commander of any of the armed forces involved in the Second World War and I highly recommend the book to serving military personnel and to the general reader who has an interest in the military history of the period.
Editor/Co-Author: `On the German Art of War, Truppenfuhrung'
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant work that is long overdue!Aug. 11 2010
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When I first read that biography of General-Field Marshal Erich von Manstein was about to be published I was elated. When I learnt the said work was to be written by a senior British military analyst and historian I literally couldnt wait to get the book.
I was not to be disappointed.
This book is an indepth and articulate historical study of the man who in the humble opinion of this reviewer was the last great tactical genius of conventional warfare, and was long overdue for a serious study and biography.
Western historians and military figures have traditionally swallowed German wartime propoganda(mostly Goebbels work) and assumed that the likes of Rommel and Model were german military geniuses, while the standout German military leader was in fact Erich von Manstein. Hitler admired Manstein ability but loathed his attitude and aristocratic background, and saw von Manstein as a threat. Hence his promotion of individuals such as Rommel.
Although von Mansteins name is well known to serious students of military history it is less known to historians and the public at large. This book quite rightly seeks to address that lack of knowledge about this talented and complicated individual.
From the conception of the successful invasion of France to the capture of the Crimea, and holding the Red Army at bay - as much as was possible - as the German Army retreated after Stalingrad, Manstein was the man behind all these successful military ventures, in both the planning or operational levels.
The author has not attempted to gloss either the good or bad parts of the Field Marshals character or experiences. This is not a journalistic piece with an 'axe to grind' or an ideology to expound. Rather it is a study of man whose profession was war, and one in which he excelled at a level that few of his contemporaries - Allied or Axis - could match.
Issues such as his lack of support for the German Military Resistance to Hitler, and why he never resigned in the face of National Socialisms destructive effect on Germany(and Europe) are explored by the author, and he successfully and clearly explains von Mansteins thinking.
One of the pleasures is the ease with which one can read the military maps, which is something civilians such as myself often have trouble understanding the intricacies of. Obvious attention to details and patience was taken to provide maps of great clarity which can be understood easily.
The author writes with ease, and draws the reader very effectively into Manstein and his world. And whilst the grand military and tactical skills of the man are made clear so are the details of his life: domestic, political and cultural.
If history - especially of controversial and bloody periods - is to be studied objectively, correctly and most important of all truthfully, then it needs more books of this calibre.
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Excellent biography of a Excellent CommanderJuly 22 2010
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Erich von Manstein, a name most Americans will probably have a hard time picturing have finally got a biography worthy of his place as one of the 20th century's greatest military field commanders. The author, Mungo Melvin, a retired British Major General had access to von Manstein's personal papers and he wrote a biography that combined both military as well as personal history of this German field marshal. (Probably helped that the author can read and speak German as well. It should be noted that most of von Manstein's personal papers have never been release before this.)
Now the subtitled "Hitler's Greatest General" may sound like this book may be very pro-von Manstein however the book maintained a very even kneel throughout the pages and the author when called for, have put von Manstein on the carpet for his selective memories on war crimes, his lack of moral courage during his campaigns and even his shortcomings as a commander. For Example: In the Crimea, army commander not knowing about the exterminations of civilians around his area of operation must be deaf on purpose. His refusal to outright order von Paulus to break out of Stalingrad and instead, hiding behind Hitler to avoid the responsibility reflects his lack of moral courage at times. His over confidences have led to minor setback at Stolsty or his inability to understand how much the Soviets are getting better in war-craft that led to his continual retreats as commander of Army Group South after Kursk. These are just examples shown from the book that reflects that the author was not taken in by the von Manstein's legendary mystique
Still, for all of von Manstein's weaknesses, the author made it plain and clear that his greatness as a premier operational commander of World War II was second to none. Manstein remains, as the subtitled called it, "Hitler's Greatest General". The book made sure that the reader understand that Manstein's forte lies in operational warfare, not strategy or tactics although he was competent in both. The book covers his military career quite completely. The book also does his personal life from childhood, World War I, marriage, children and into his years in the Reichwehr quite well since that is one part of von Manstein's life, not too many people knows much about. From the book, von Manstein appears to be genial, highly intelligence, shy and down to earth person who seem to enjoyed playing bridge and chess. He loves logic and uses it well but with no effect on Hitler. He appears to be quite popular with his staff, subordinates and his troops. The author make it clear (mentioning it three times in the book) that von Manstein was NOT a "chateau" general as some of the modern historians would like to paint him. Another interesting reading portion comes after the war has ended and book goes into von Manstein's Nuremberg experiences, trial and his life after prison until his death. I thought the author was hardest on von Manstein during this Nuremberg period. This might have to do with the author's own involvement in the Yugoslavian war crimes trials.
My only real problem were the maps. I thought the maps should have been place in the chapters instead of bunch up in one part of the book like von Manstein's photographs. Talking about photographs, there are many photos I haven't seen that are presented in this book. But some are missing from other books. Maybe the author should have asked Robert Forczyk to use some of his photos as well on von Manstein to complete a better coverage.
The book is well written, superbly researched and easy to read. I thought it read fast and it was never boring. Obviously the author put a lot effort in writing with clarity and with a certain amount of flair. It is written with fairness and with strong understanding of command responsibility and what it takes to excelled in that environment (the author was a British general). The book clearly make it clear that although von Manstein fought with Hitler over just about everything under the sun, no one fought better for him as well. While noting von Manstein's errors and oversights from time to time, it is clear that whatever shortcomings von Manstein had done or should have done, it doesn't distract from his overall accomplishments during the war. It should be noted that this book doesn't go into the details of war. There is no nitty gritty information on ground level. As a biography, it is strictly an analytical and personal approach to von Manstein.
Written with a strong understanding of his subject and fairly portraying a man with many contradictions, this book must be a mandatory reading material for anyone who got a passing interest in World War II history. In some way a very tragic figure who never understood that his uniform represented Hitler and Nazism and all they stood for, even if he did not. But I don't think that should mar his place among the "Great Captains" of World War II or in military history.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Manstein: the good, the bad, and the grayDec 10 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a major contribution to World War II historiography. It is fair minded, heavily researched and lucidly written. It will be of interest to students of World War II and the history of the German Army, as well as serving military officers. Melvin, a British major general who is fluent in German and has received German staff training, proves to be a capable scholar, producing a fascinating narrative of Manstein's life, his military career, his campaigns, his struggles with Hitler, and his post-imprisonment career as an author and consultant to the new West German Bundeswehr. Melvin also devotes considerable attention to Manstein's war crimes - both proved and unproved - about which there is still great controversy today.
Melvin does his best to present his subject as an integrated whole: Manstein's family background, childhood, education, personality, early army career, marriage and children are addressed in some detail, with useful comments by the author to explain to the English speaking reader several unfamiliar Prussian traditions which shaped Manstein's character and outlook.
While no phase of his career is short-changed, the meat of the book is, of course, Manstein's service to the Third Reich. Melvin gives careful attention to Manstein's famous "big idea" to win the campaign against France, the "sichelschnitt" attack through the Ardennes forest to the channel coast. The story of how this idea developed, the challenges within the German high command it faced, how Manstein's version differed from Hitler's, how Manstein sold it to both Hitler and Halder (chief of the German general staff) and even how Manstein took too much credit for it in his memoirs, is told with skill and verve.
So too is Melvin's account of Manstein's exploits as a corps commander in France and Russia. But he really hits his stride in describing Manstein's command of the 11th Army, its up and down battle for the Crimea, followed by his emergency appointment as commander of Army Group Don (later re-named, South) and his role in the incredibly bloody and dramatic battles beginning with Stalingrad in November, 1942 and ending with the encirclement of the 1st Panzer Army in March of 1944 (when he was sacked by Hitler). It was during the period immediately after the Stalingrad disaster that Manstein reached the pinnacle of military achievement, conceiving and orchestrating the brilliant counter-offensive that defeated the Soviet attempt to annihilate the entire German army in southern Russia, and restored the German front to roughly where it had been prior to the ill-fated summer campaign of 1942.
While Melvin clearly admires Manstein in many ways - especially his generalship and in some respects as a man - this is no hagiography. Though accepting Guderian's judgement that Manstein was Germany's "finest operational brain," the author criticizes him for mistakes which helped to seal the fate of the 6th Army inside Stalingrad as well as his handling of the Kursk offensive months later. He also faults Manstein in particular and German generals in general for failing to understand or acknowledge that the Red Army defeated the Wehrmacht not through numbers alone, and not only because Hitler was an incompetent generalissimo, but also (and perhaps largely) because - as the war went on - Red Army leaders like Zhukov, Rokossovsky, Vatutin, and others came to match and then outclass the Germans in their own strong suit, operational expertise. Melvin also believes that Manstein and his admirers are mistaken in claiming that Manstein could have stopped the Russians and achieved a stalemate in 1943 or '44 if only he had been appointed commander and chief of the entire Eastern Front or become Hitler's sole military advisor. The tide of war - in Melvin's view - had turned too strongly against Germany by this time for Manstein to do more than slow the Red juggernaut down.
Earlier I said Melvin admires Manstein. At the same time, he doesn't gloss over the damming evidence that Manstein was guilty of war crimes. Melvin strongly endorses modern scholarship proving that the German Army (and not just the Nazi SS & SD, as Wehrmacht apologists claimed for years) was guilty of countless atrocities, especially on the Eastern Front, including the murder of thousands of Jews and the savage treatment of millions of other Russian civilians which led to untold suffering and death. Nevertheless, Melvin takes a nuanced approach to Manstein's culpability in these events. After a detailed review of the charges against him and the evidence, pro and con, it's clear Melvin believes Manstein obfuscated and possibly lied outright to escape punishment. He seems to agree with the verdict of the British war crimes court which found Manstein guilty of some charges but not others (including the worst, such as ordering the murder of Jews in the Crimea). In essence, Manstein was convicted of failing to prevent atrocities, but not of causing or directing them himself. Even so, he was probably lucky to escape with an 18 year sentence, quickly reduced to 12, and finally to 8 to give the British (anxious, as the Cold War intensified, to conciliate West German opinion and gain support for a new German army) an excuse to release him in 1953, since he had been in some form of custody since 1945. (Of course, Manstein was even luckier not to be extradited to the Soviet Union, where he would have been executed or spent the rest of his life in prison.) In the end, though highly critical of Manstein's involvement in war crimes, Melvin simply tells what happened, eschewing a long, strident condemnation of his subject, and leaves it to the reader to decide the extent of Manstein's guilt and the appropriateness of his punishment. (A decision which, in this age of politcally correct posturing and moralizing about these crimes, terrible though they were, this reader appreciates.)
Again, this is a fine book, a valuable contribution to our understanding of a man who - no matter what we think about his crimes and punishment - was one of the greatest generals of World War II.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Von Manstein: Hitler's Greatest GeneralJune 27 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Major General Mungo Melvin's biography of Field Marshal Erich von Manstein is a triumph on a number of levels. It is as readable for the generalist as it is for military professionals wanting to develop their understanding of the operational level in war by studying a master in operational art. This excellent work, which has been researched meticulously, proves the author's bold assertion that Manstein was indeed Hitler's `Greatest General'.
The book also offers a fascinating insight into Germany's journey from monarchy to dictatorship via the flawed Weimar Republic, and how a Prussian officer from the Kaiser's Army navigated a highly successful career through these fast changing times, as Hitler's Nazis gripped Germany and as the Reichswehr developed into the Wehrmacht. It becomes evident that this aristocratic Prussian officer, who was steeped in the values of honour, loyalty, obedience and patriotism, found much of the new regime in the 1930s distasteful and unappealing; however, Manstein did not feel it distasteful or unappealing enough to resign on moral or ethical grounds. Consequently on 2 August 1934 Manstein, together with the rest of the Reichswehr, swore an oath of allegiance to Hitler, which stated that he would `yield unconditional obedience to the Fuhrer of the German Reich and Volk, Adolf Hitler, the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht, and, as a brave soldier, will be ready at any time to lay down my life for this oath'. Throughout the book Mungo Melvin is skilful in reminding the reader of the fundamental contradiction in Manstein's career - reconciling the noble virtues of the Prussian officer with loyal service to a brutal, intolerant and evil regime. Despite von Manstein's vigorous defence of the honour of the Wehrmacht at Nuremberg after the war, it was this fundamental contradiction that was reflected in him being found guilty of some of the charges leveled against him at his own war crimes trial in Hamburg. However, he was found not guilty of the most damning crimes such as mass murder, committed primarily by the Nazi SD Security Service, of Jews, gypsies and communists. In Melvin's view, the Court's verdict `changed the character of Manstein's conviction from crimes of commission to those of omission'.
Mungo Melvin has succeeded in raising the historical profile of von Manstein compared with other, better known German generals such as Rommel, Guderian or von Rundstedt. Through the careful analysis of von Manstein's role in many of the key campaigns or operations during the WW2 - Poland, the Sichelschnitt offensive into France and the Low Countries, Operation Barbarossa and the key battles for the Crimea, Kursk, Kharkov, and others - Melvin illustrates how von Manstein outshone his highly capable peer group and proved himself `a genius at the operational level'. Although the author has great respect for von Manstein's ability as an Army and Army Group commander at the operational level on the Eastern Front he also highlights his subject's errors and shortcomings. At times Manstein underestimated the growing operational competency of senior Russian commanders, and, despite his great efforts, Manstein generally failed to persuade Hitler to provide him with the freedom of action that he deemed necessary to generate operational manoeuvre to defeat the Russian Armies that he faced.
Mungo Melvin's work illustrates how Germany generated a number of very high calibre operational level commanders whilst at the same time failing to generate highly effective strategic thinkers. Churchill's strategic analysis was proved right - once the Americans had entered the war and the `Germany first' allied strategy had been agreed the long-term outcome of the war with Hitler was not in serious doubt. Germany would not be able to compete with the combined industrial might of the USA, the British Empire and the Soviet Union; the Red Army would bleed the Wehrmacht to exhaustion on the Eastern Front. Hitler's strategic ambition far outstripped the ability of the German military-industrial complex to sustain operations on multiple fronts; this reality was exacerbated by his stubbornness in denying his army commanders the authority to withdraw when necessary, with catastrophic results such as the loss of von Paulus' Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Mungo Melvin analyses Manstein's frustrating relationship with Hitler in considerable detail, and examines why he did not join the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler; the reasons appear to reflect again upon the fundamental contradiction in von Manstein's career. He did not believe that Prussian Generals should mutiny and he had made a solemn oath of allegiance to Hitler. Von Manstein did not appear to consider himself relieved of this oath of allegiance even after the evil nature of Hitler's Nazi regime became apparent, and when it had become abundantly clear that Hitler was leading Germany to almost certain destruction.
Mungo Melvin's `Manstein' is a work of scholarship, but is very readable and will be enjoyed by many. The map illustrations are really excellent - very clear and beautifully presented. Highly recommended.