Verlorene Siege

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Photograph on Manstein in uniform
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 its English translation was published in 1958 for distribution in the UK and the US.

Certain historians have called Verlorene Siege unreliable and apologetic. German historian Volker Berghahn wrote about the book, "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".[1]

Manstein's claims[edit]

In the book, Manstein presented his own experiences, ideas and decisions as they appeared to him during the 1930s and 1940s. He wrote not as a historical investigator, but as one who played an active part in the story he was relating. Discussing the 1939 invasion of Poland, Manstein alleged Poland's lack of military leadership: "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 ... On the other hand the newly founded Polish Army was French-taught".[2]

Discussing the abortive plan to invade Britain in 1940, Manstein wrote: "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."[3] Manstein, who commanded the south German sector forces in 1943, complained that Operation Citadel (the offensive against Kursk) was delayed too long for the German force to break through. He also wrote that Hitler halted the attack prematurely, a decision he called "tantamount to throwing away a victory".[4] According to Manstein, Hitler (whom he praises and criticizes, occasionally referring to him as "that dictator") did not allow the detailed planning of large-scale military operations.[5] Manstein wrote that in 1943, a draw could have been achieved on the Eastern Front by bleeding the Red Army dry if the generals had been allowed to operate properly.[6]

Analysis of themes[edit]

On the Red Army[edit]

Manstein portrayed the average Russian soldier as courageous but poorly led.[7] Depicting the Soviet officer corps as hopelessly incompetent, he portrayed the war on the Eastern Front as a German army vastly superior in fighting ability being steadily ground down by an opponent superior only in numbers.[7] According to Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies, this aspect of Verlorene Siege was self-serving; it allowed Manstein to ignore several occasions, such as the fall of Kiev in November 1943, in which he was deceived and defeated by the Stavka.[7]

On German generals[edit]

He disparaged other German generals, portraying them as incompetent. Manstein took the credit for German victories and blamed Hitler and his fellow generals for every defeat.[8] His arch-enemy was General Franz Halder; according to Manstein, although Halder understood that Hitler's leadership was defective he lacked the courage to do anything about it.[8] Smelser and Davies also called Manstein's criticism of Hitler self-serving. The general falsely claimed that he wanted the 6th Army to be pulled out of Stalingrad after it was encircled only to be overruled by Hitler, and attacked Hitler for launching Operation Citadel (a plan developed by Manstein for execution months earlier, before the buildup of Soviet defenses).[7] German historian Volker Berghahn wrote about Verlorene Siege, "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".[1]

Absence of politics and war crimes[edit]

Manstein avoided political issues, treating the war as an operational matter.[8] He expressed no regret for serving a genocidal regime, and nowhere in Verlorene Siege did Manstein condemn National Socialism on moral grounds; Hitler was criticized only for faulty strategic decisions.[9] Manstein's lament for Germany's "lost victories" in the Second World War implied that the world would have benefited from a Nazi victory.[9] Manstein, falsely claiming that he did not enforce the Commissar Order, omitted any mention of his 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).[10]

Reception[edit]

Moral perspective[edit]

After Verlorene Siege was published, the West German newspaper Die Zeit asked about Manstein's account: "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?"[11] German historian Jürgen Förster (de) wrote in 1998 that for too long, most Germans accepted at face value self-serving claims by generals such as Manstein and Siegfried Westphal in their memoirs that the Wehrmacht was a professional, apolitical force who were victims (not followers) of Adolf Hitler; these evaded the issue of Wehrmacht war crimes.[12]

In 2004, Volker Berghahn called Manstein's memoirs "totally unreliable"; if more had been known about his war crimes during the 1940s, he might have been hanged.[1] According to Berghahn, "By the time Christian Streit published his book Keine Kameraden 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".[13] Smelser and Davies noted that nowhere in his memoirs or other post-war writings did Manstein explicitly condemn National Socialism.[9] Max Egremont called the memoir "arrogant" and "self-serving" in Literary Review, Andrew Roberts wrote in "The Storm of War" that it has "rightly been condemned".[14]

Operational perspective[edit]

In the preface to Lost Victories, military historian and officer Martin Blumenson wrote that Verlorene Siege was "the best book of memoirs on the German side and it is indispensable for understanding the conditions and circumstances of Hitler’s war."[15] Military historian Robert M. Citino found its operational details useful, but criticized Manstein for "defending his generalship and reputation, hiding his participation in war crimes, and blaming others for everything that went wrong":[16] Citino wrote, "Lost Victories should come with a warning label: Use with Caution."[17]

See also[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Preface" by Volker Berghahn from War of Extermination edited by Klaus Naumann & Hannes Heer, New York: Berghahn Books, 2004 page xiv.
  2. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 41
  3. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 156
  4. ^ Lost Victories..., p. 449
  5. ^ Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General, p. 273 ff
  6. ^ Verlorene Siege, Manstein, Bernard & Graefe, 1983 p. 474
  7. ^ a b c d Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 95.
  8. ^ a b c Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 96.
  9. ^ a b c Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 97.
  10. ^ Smelser & Davies 2008, p. 97-98.
  11. ^ Marianne Regensburger, Mansteins-verlorene-Siege, Zeit Online 07.07.1955 Nr. 27
  12. ^ Förster 1998, p. 266.
  13. ^ "Preface" by Volker Berghahn from War of Extermination edited by Klaus Naumann & Hannes Heer, New York: Berghahn Books, 2004 page xvi.
  14. ^ The Storm of War: a New History of the Second World War 2009 HarperCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-122859-9
  15. ^ Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General (Zenith Press, 2004), p. 11
  16. ^ 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." Weider History Group, Forgotten Army, Lost Victories, retrieved on Mar 17 2014
  17. ^ Weider History Group, Forgotten Army, Lost Victories, retrieved on Mar 17 2014

References[edit]

  • Förster, Jürgen (1998). "Complicity or Entanglement? The Wehrmacht, the War and the Holocaust (pages 266–283)". In Michael Berenbaum & Abraham Peck. The Holocaust and History The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed and the Reexamined. Bloomington: Indian University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-33374-2. 
  • Smelser, Ronald; Davies, Edward J. (2008). The Myth of the Eastern Front: the Nazi-Soviet war in American popular culture. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521833653. 

External links[edit]