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'