Verlorene Siege

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Erich von Manstein

Verlorene Siege (German: Lost Victories; full title of English edition: Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General) is the personal narrative of Erich von Manstein, a German Field Marshal during World War II. The book was first published in West Germany in 1955 and the translated English edition was released in 1958 for UK and USA distribution.

In the book, Manstein presented his own experiences, ideas and decisions as they appeared to him at the time during the 1930s and 1940s. He wrote his book not as a historical investigator, but as one who played an active part in the story he was relating. The book ends with Manstein’s dismissal from military service by Hitler in March 1944.

Situation on the eve of war[edit]

Manstein writes that on the eve of World War II, Hitler's unprecedented successes in the pre-war period, which included the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss of Austria, and the peaceful conquest of the Czech Republic, meant that the generals of the general staff had begun to trust him, believing that he would never lead the country into a war on two fronts, as the German leaders of 1914 had done.[1]

Successful campaigns in Poland and France[edit]

Manstein started the war as Rundstedt's Chief of Staff during the 1939 invasion of Poland.[2] According to Manstein, Rundstedt was "[a brilliant] exponent of grand tactics ... a talented soldier who grasped the essentials of any problem in an instant ... a type of old-guard soldier ... a man from the past."[3] From the very first day Poland could only fight for time.[4] He alleged lack of a clear military doctrine:

The Polish General Staff did not possess its own tradition of generalship shaped by long experience. On the one hand the Polish temperament was more disposed towards attack than defence. It is fair to assume that the mind of the Polish soldier was still coloured, at least subconsciously, by romantic notions from bygone days. I am reminded here of a portrait I once saw of Marshal Rydz–Śmigły painted against a background of charging Polish cavalry squadrons. On the other hand the newly founded Polish Army was French-taught.[5]

Manstein prepared the plan to invade France (Operation Order Yellow, or Fall Gelb) through the Ardennes. This plan was rejected by the German High Command (OKH),[6] but Manstein brought it to the personal attention of Hitler, who enthusiastically adopted it as his own plan. Operation Order Yellow according to Manstein was – after it had conducted – "one of the most brilliant campaigns in German history".[7] Manstein's 38 Army corps was involved in the second phase of the Battle for France, and conducted an exhausting but successful drive into southern France.[8] Manstein did not always follow Hitler's orders[citation needed].

Operation Sea Lion[edit]

After the collapse of France in June 1940, Hitler had hoped that Britain would make peace,[9] but when he became disappointed that the British refused to negotiate any cease fire, he began to make preparations for a cross-channel invasion.[10] 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 (Operation Sea Lion).[11] British policy was the traditional striving for a European balance of power, the restoration of which was one of Britain's motives for entering the war, since it demanded the defeat of a Germany which had become too powerful on the continent. "British eyes were blind to the fact that the big need in a changed world would be to create a world balance of power in view of the might which the Soviet Union had attained and the dangers inherent in its dedication to the idea of world revolution. (...) In addition to all this, Churchill was probably too much of a fighter."[12]

While the aerial Battle of Britain raged, Manstein's XXXVIII Corps was prepared on the French Channel coast for the invasion of Britain,[13] which never came. According to von Manstein, Hitler had two reasons for dropping the Sea Lion plan. One was the fact that the preparations took so long that the first wave could not have crossed until 24 September at the earliest. The second was the fact that even by this date the Luftwaffe had not attained the requisite air supremacy over British territory.[14] The Luftwaffe had to operate under unfavourable conditions.[15]

At the end of September, the XXXVIII Corps went back to Germany for normal training.[16] At the end of February 1941, Manstein handed over command of XXXVIII Corps in order to take over XLVI Panzer Corps.[16]

Eastern Front[edit]

After the invasion of Russia Manstein, with his XLVI Panzer Corps, made one of the quickest and deepest thrusts of the opening stage, from East Prussia to the Dvina river, over 320 km, within four days.[17] In 26 July he suggested to Paulus that he use the entire Panzer Group in offensive against Moscow, but not use it in an offensive against Leningrad because of wooded area. The armoured forces would reach Leningrad after the infantry. Paulus initially agreed with Manstein but things turned out quite differently.[18] He nearly captured Leningrad, but was instead sent to the south. In July 1942 he captured Sevastopol. In December 1942 he almost succeeded in relieving the encircled 6th Army in and around Stalingrad. Manstein suggested to Paulus that he make a breakout, but Paulus followed Hitler's orders to hold Stalingrad under all circumstances. Manstein was stopped 48 km before Stalingrad.[19] In February 1943 his forces succeeded in recapturing Kharkov.

According to Manstein, who was commander of the forces in the south German sector at that time, the Operation Citadel (the offensive against Kursk) was left too late, and German forces were unable to break through. He also stated that Hitler had stopped the attack too soon, a decision he described as "tantamount to throwing away a victory".[20] From then until his relief in March 1944, Manstein conducted a fighting retreat behind the various river lines in southern Russia such as the (Dnieper[21] and the Dniester).[22] Hitler had forbidden his armed forces to fortify river lines.

Manstein portrayed the average Russian soldier as brave but badly led.[23] Manstein depicted the entire Soviet officer corps as hopelessly incompetent, and portrayed the war on the Eastern Front as a battle between a German Army that was vastly superior in fighting ability being steadily ground down by an opponent that was superior only in numbers.[23] Smelser and Davies wrote that this aspect of Verlorene Siege was very self-serving as it allowed Manstein to ignore several occasions such as the fall of Kiev in November 1943, where the Stavka not only tricked him, but defeated him as well.[23]

In March 1944, Manstein was dismissed from the military when he asked for permission for the retreat of Army Group South (immediate withdrawal behind the Dniester), which he commanded.[24]

Hitler as supreme commander[edit]

Manstein's conception of the war differed from Hitler's. When the tide of the war on the Eastern Front turned against Germany, Manstein wanted to retreat from a seemingly linear front defence. Hitler did not want to accept this, however, because any retreat would associate him with defeatism.[25] Manstein was one of the very few high-ranking German field commanders who had the courage to confront Hitler about military strategy by putting his views into perspective, spoke objectively, and refused to be browbeaten. According to Manstein, any low or high ranking Wehrmacht field commander or Nazi party member who dared to openly argue or criticize Hitler right to his face resulted in an immediate dismissal and probably a court martial for insubordination or treason. The reason why Manstein was able to get away with arguing with Hitler, as well as talking back to him, for so long remains ambiguous, but Manstein speculated that Hitler held him in high regard as a brilliant, but troublesome, field commander who was a valuable asset to the Wehrmacht.

The book covers the lack of a war plan in detail. Manstein argues in the book that Hitler, whom he both praises and criticizes and occasionally refers to as "that dictator", did not allow detailed planning of large-scale military operations.[26]

According to Manstein, in 1943 a draw could have been achieved on the Eastern Front by bleeding the Red Army if the generals had been allowed to operate properly.[27]

Other German Generals[edit]

For the most part, Manstein was disparaging of other German generals, whom Manstein portrayed as incompetent. Manstein took all credit for German victories for himself, while blaming Hitler and other generals for every defeat.[28] Above all, Manstein singled out for abuse his arch-enemy, General Franz Halder, whom Manstein argued understood that Hitler's leadership was defective while lacking the courage to do anything about it.[28] Smelser and Davies wrote that Manstein's criticism of Hitler was extremely self-serving as Manstein made the false claim that he wanted the 6th Army to be pulled out of Stalingrad after it was encircled, only to be overruled by Hitler; and Manstein attacked Hitler for launching Operation Citadel, a plan that Manstein himself had developed, although he had urged it to be executed months earlier before Soviet defenses were built up.[23] The German historian Volker Berghahn wrote about Verlorene Siege that: "Its title gave the story away: it had been Hitler's dogmatism and constant interference with the strategic plans and operational decisions of the professionals that had cost Germany its victory against Stalin".[29]

Politics and war crimes[edit]

A noteworthy aspect of Verlorene Siege was Manstein's avoidance of political issues, instead treating the entire war as an operational matter.[28] Manstein refused to express any regret for fighting under a genocidal regime, and nowhere in Verlorene Siege did Manstein issue any sort of moral condemnation of National Socialism - instead, Hitler was only criticized for faulty strategic decisions.[30] Manstein's lament about Germany's "lost victories" in the Second World War seemed to imply that the world would have been a much better place if Nazi Germany had won the war.[30] Manstein made the entirely false claim that he did not enforce the "Commissar Order", and made no mention of his own considerable role in the Holocaust, such as sending 2,000 of his soldiers to help the SS massacre 11,000 Jews in Simferopol in November 1941.[31]

Reception[edit]

From a moral perspective[edit]

After Verlorene Siege was published, the West German newspaper Die Zeit commented on the book and asked the question: "What would it have signified for the world and for Germany, what would it have signified for a Christian and gentleman like Manstein if these victories had not been lost?"[32]

In 1998, Jürgen Förster, a German historian, wrote that for too long most people have accepted at face value the self-serving claims made by generals like Manstein and Siegfried Westphal who promoted the idea of the Wehrmacht in their memoirs as a highly professional, apolitical force who were victims of Adolf Hitler rather than his followers, which served to distort the subject of Wehrmacht war crimes.[33] Berghahn wrote in 2004 that Manstein's memoirs were "totally unreliable", and if more had been known about Manstein's war crimes in the 1940s, he might have been hanged.[29] Berghahn wrote that by "By the time Christian Streit published his book Keine Kamaden about the mass murder of Red Army prisoners of war at the hands of the Wehrmacht, professional historians firmly accepted what Manstein and his comrades had denied and covered up, i.e., that the Wehrmacht had been deeply involved in the criminal and genocidal policies of the Nazi regime".[34] Smelser and Davies note that nowhere in his post-war writings nor memoirs did Manstein condemn explicitly National Socialism.[30]

Max Egremont wrote in Literary Review that the memoir was "arrogant" and "self-serving"; Andrew Roberts in "The Storm of War" says the work has "rightly been condemned".[35]

From an operational perspective[edit]

According to military historian and officer, Martin Blumenson (1981), Verlorene Siege is “the best book of memoirs on the German side and it is indispensable for understanding the conditions and circumstances of Hitler’s war.”[36] Similarly, military historian, Robert M. Citino, praised the book's operational details also (but criticized its ethical aspects as well).[37]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Erich v. Manstein, Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General, p. 24; Erich v. Manstein, Verlorene Siege (Frankfurt am Main 1969), S. 14
  2. ^ Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General, p. 22 ff
  3. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 23; Verlorene Siege, S. 13
  4. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 45
  5. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 41
  6. ^ Lost Victories..., pp. 108-109
  7. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 72
  8. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 127-147
  9. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 154
  10. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 157
  11. ^ Lost Victories..., pp. 152-162
  12. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 156
  13. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 166 ff; Verlorene Siege, S. 166
  14. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 166
  15. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 167
  16. ^ a b Lost Victories..., p. 175; Verlorene Siege, S. 171
  17. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 182-183; Verlorene Siege, S. 182-183
  18. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 198; Verlorene Siege, S. 198
  19. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 337 ff
  20. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 449
  21. ^ Lost Victories..., pp. 472-475; Verlorene Siege, SS. 541-544
  22. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 450
  23. ^ a b c d Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 95.
  24. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 533
  25. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 455 ff
  26. ^ Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General, p. 273 ff
  27. ^ Verlorene Siege, Manstein, Bernard & Graefe, 1983 p. 474
  28. ^ a b c Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 96.
  29. ^ a b "Preface" by Volker Berghahn from War of Extermination edited by Klaus Naumann & Hannes Heer, New York: Berghahn Books, 2004 page xiv.
  30. ^ a b c Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 97.
  31. ^ Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 97-98.
  32. ^ Marianne Regensburger, Mansteins-verlorene-Siege, Zeit Online 07.07.1955 Nr. 27
  33. ^ Förster 1998, p. 266.
  34. ^ "Preface" by Volker Berghahn from War of Extermination edited by Klaus Naumann & Hannes Heer, New York: Berghahn Books, 2004 page xvi.
  35. ^ The Storm of War: a New History of the Second World War 2009 HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-122859-9
  36. ^ Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General (Zenith Press, 2004), p. 11
  37. ^ Robert M. Citino: "Lost Victories is still a crucial account of the war, and so are the other memoirs. On operational matters–deployment and maneuver of divisions, corps, and armies–they are as good a source as you can find. But Manstein has an agenda, actually several of them: defending his generalship and reputation, hiding his participation in war crimes, and blaming others for everything that went wrong. Lost Victories should come with a warning label: Use with Caution." Weider History Group, Forgotten Army, Lost Victories, retrieved on Mar 17 2014

Further reading[edit]

  • Erich Von Manstein, Verlorene Siege. Erinnerungen 1939 - 1944 (Bonn 1955)
  • Erich Von Manstein, Verlorene Siege (Frankfurt am Main 1969)
  • Erich Von Manstein, Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General, translated by Anthony G. Powell with a foreword by B. H. Liddel Hart, (London 1958)

External links[edit]