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on 14 February 2011
Field Marshal Von Manstein called his war-time memoirs- "Lost Victories".Unlike them this book by Major General Melvin is a most definite victory!Manstein,(unlike the much inferior Rommel) is little known in the west, because apart from the latter part of the French campaign, he spent the entire war on the Eastern Front.Major General Melvin makes a convincing and highly readable case that he was probably the greatest general and strategist on either side in the second world war.Inevitably, the book concentrates on Mansteins military career.His personal life is not omitted- but it was farly conventional for a man of his time and class.Born into an East Prussian land-owning family- Manstein marries married a woman of similar background, was happily married to her for 46 years and had 2 sons and a daughter- the eldest son being killed in action on the Eastern Front.Mansteins liking for Motzart, fine cognac, and cigars as well as his skill at chess are all covered.We also see ,in a letter to his wife, his almost childish delight , when ,during a visit by Hitler to his HQ- his small pet dachshund chases off Hitlers alsatian, "Blondi" not once but twice.
However, as you would expect, the bulk of the book is devoted to Mansteins campaigns- a subject General Melvin is well qualified to write on.Mansteins military greatness is based on 3 things,
1. His devising of the "Sichelschnitt" plan ,which defeated the French in the summer of 1940.
2.His 1942 campaign in the Crimea- culminating in his capture of Sevastopol.
3. The 3rd "Battle of Kharkov" -Feb.1943.This campaign is deservedly studied at military academies around the world as an example of how to retrieve a disate
rous situation and shore up a collopsing front.After the defeat of Stalingrad Manstein was able to lure the Red Army on and then ,when they advanced too far ,slice them off with his famous "back-handed stroke"- an action which stabilised the Eastern Front for 6 months.
Of course, Manstein was only able to do this because Hitler had been so numbed by the defeat of Stalingrad that he gave up ,for several months, his normal interference with his commanders.
Manstein was not always victorious- he failed to relieve Stalingrad in December 1942- but -given the situation and the time of year-it is unlikely anyone else could have done better.
General Melvin also uses Stalingrad to make 2 points of contemporary relevance.
1.Hitler was not the only politician given to making claims of premature victory- against the advice of his professional advisers.
2.Hitler was not the only politician who tried to get his soldiers to hold isolated outposts ,where whatever, the troops on the ground manage to achieve, success is just not possible due to overwhelming strategic and operational odds.(Hitler believed such odds could be overcome by superior will and courage-he was wrong!-what Bush and Blair believed -we do not know.
Manstein spent the last year of his command- arguing with Hitler about wether to manouevre in the East or stand fast- before Hitler finally sacked him in 1944.Manstein always believed that if Hitler had given him a free hand in the East- he could have forced the Soviets to a stalemate in the East.Given the overwhelming Soviet superiority in manpower -it seems unlikely he could have done more than delay the inevitable for a few months.
The July plotters approached Manstein to get him to join them but he refused -saying-"A Prussian Field Marshal does not mutiny".However, he did not betray those who approached him to the Gestapo.
After the war -Manstein was convicted by a British court of war crimes and served a shrt term of imprisonment until being released in 1953.General Melvin points out that what he was convicted of were sins of omission -not commission.That he did not want to know too much about what was happening to the Jews behinnd his lines.He also did not worry unduly about the fate of the Russian peasants whose crops he burned during the retreats of 1943-44.
Manstein always denied serving Hitler."I did not serve under Hitler- I served my country" -he said .
On release from prison, he advised the post-was West German government on setting up a new army- wrote his memoirs and finally retired-he died in 1973 -aged 87.You will not find a better- written book on Manstein and the Eastern Front than this. As for Manstein- let Adolf Hitler have the last word- "This man is not to my liking- but he knows how to get things done"
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on 11 August 2010
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.
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on 3 September 2014
Too much about his life and not enough about his campaigns
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on 2 April 2011
This is an impressive book, primarily because Mungo Melvin has here perfected the art of demonstrating that the principles of successful operational art can be smuggled into a fast-paced, interesting narrative, without the general reader being aware of it. Accordingly, there is as much here for the campaign planner as there is for the man on the Clapham omnibus. Both will walk away with a satisfying surfeit of rich things. The book provides a fascinating reminder that genius in the application of operational art is ultimately futile if the grand strategy is wrong, as it surely was in Hitler's plans for the subjugation of the East. The Soviets feared Manstein as their greatest opponent, but in the end his genius could not build more tanks, recruit more soldiers or replace the battle casualties (both human and mechanical) that constant warfighting in the East was to consume in the face of the long term Soviet superiority in this area.

The clarity of Melvin's explanation of the principles of operational manoeuvre, and of Manstein's mastery of it, is superb, but the author carefully avoids the pitfall of hagiography, presenting the man 'warts and all', not shying away for instance from issues around the systemic abuse of the rules of war by the Wehrmacht.

This book is an impressive achievement and is highly recommended.
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on 24 July 2011
i truly was amazing by this book. it is not just the story of an incredible man but also of the second world war from the point of view of the german generals. the book covers manstein all through his life and describes his campaigns in wonderful detail. i most enjoyed the part on the battle for the crimea and siege of sevastopol, truly an epic battle that tested the man to his limits as a leader. this book would make recommended reading for any one in the military as it offers great insight into what it takes to be an operational leader. Manstein truly was the greatest operational mind of the second world war, calm and confident in crises, clear minded and never allowed himself to become ego minded
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on 4 December 2012
When ploughing through this massive book, once you get past the formative years process, and into the 'meat' which of course was the Second World War, you realise how much the world would have changed if Adolf Hitler hadn't been both a brilliant politician and a psychopath; although some would argue that both sides are both necessary and present in most of our present clutch of pedestrian politicians.

Although General Manstein didn't invent the idea of 'Blitzkrieg' he polished the raw gem until it became the 'jewel' which enhanced the 'Esprit-de-Corps' of the German military, and enabled it to destroy opponents without seeming effort. Manstein's division's marching south through Belgium and France, using air power as an 'aperitif' for semi-mechanised warfare proved that his ideas, if properly used, would deliver victory, and Hitler revelled in the glory which was Germany's as his legions marched.

No-one really knows why Hitler paused, for over a week, the armoured advance of his Panzers towards the beaches and buildings of Dunkirk. Some say that he was advised by an astrologer on Himmler's staff against the move of his disciplined soldiers which would have decimated the bulk of the nearly defenceless British Army as it trailed back from its badly-led and disorganised actions in France and Belgium. If Hitler had listened to the professionals, such as Kleist and more importantly Manstein; the B.E.F would have either been buried where they fell, or marched towards the ever-swelling P.O.W. camps of Germany. Bereft of even the base of a professional Army, and with the R.A.F struggling to staff its fighter squadrons, but aided only by the the best-equipped Navy in the world, the British government would have had to consider either a 'Cease-fire' or a surrender without the gift of 'Dunkirk' which steadied the British people.

If the B.E.F.'s destruction and capture had taken Britain out of the war, Hitler could have forwarded his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union without the cancerous sore of that small island's armed forces as a constant irritation at his rear, Hitler's forward planning could have advanced his invasion dates by at least eight months, and all the advances which Manstein and his fellow Wermacht generals made for Hitler's dream could have been consolidated.

In the real world, of which this book is such a good guide, we see how Manstein tried to carry out his orders, but when the tides of War turned against him, he failed to convince his leader that the word 'retreat' was a necessary part of a good soldier's lexicon, and so the needless sacrifice of thousands of Germany's best was set in concrete.

The one area of General Manstein's life and occupation as a soldiers' leader which the biographer, Mungo Melvin seems to give him the benefit of the doubt is of course in the area covered by the German's responses to the attacks by the Soviet 'Partisan' forces. These irregulars, themselves governed only very loosely from Moscow, and therefore free from supervision or scrutiny, tended towards the idea of 'the only good German is a dead German' and there was an even looser scrutiny of the tactics employed by those same 'Partisans'. The ferocity of the reprisals against the civilians by the German Army, as documented by other writers, gives witness to the gap in credulity from what Manstein ordered, and what he claimed to be aware of. As for the other charge, namely knowledge of, and participation in, the grotesquely named 'Final Solution', I for one, find it almost impossible to believe that such an industrialised human slaughter was not well-known or even tacitly even encouraged by both the corps of Germany's generals, and the German public at large.

A book to be read, and then read again. A credit to the author, whose desire to remain in the shades of his subject allow him to give his name, but not his rank.
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on 31 January 2014
Too much of the book dwells on the postwar trial and ramblings on generals' mindsets. Good for background of Wehrmacht.
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on 17 September 2011
The level of detail in this book is such that I really feel I can picture and imagine Manstein's mannerisms and how he walked and talked, as well as being educated on his life and achievements. Enjoyed it a lot. I find it a fascinating 'what if' to think what might have happened as regards the outcome of the entire war(or at least the eastern front) if Manstein had been allowed total command in the east.
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on 8 June 2013
This is an excellent biography of a man rightly regarded as one of the great generals of history. The book is no hagiography however and offers a very balanced picture, and is a valuable counter to his own memoirs. Whilst well known to those with a keen interest in the second world war the name Manstein may not be familiar to many outside of Germany and the former USSR (although it is also true most British and American readers will have a very limited knowledge of the commanders who led their own armies in that war) and he has never had the recognition of lesser generals such as Rommel in the English speaking world. Manstein is revered by many as a military genius, an almost infallible titan who could have defeated the red army if only Hitler had given him a free hand. This school of though was encouraged by Manstein's own memoirs and supporters such as Liddell Hart after the war. These memoirs (Lost Victories) are one of the three essential memoirs to be published by a German participant after the war (the others being those of Speer and Guderian) and are quite simply required reading for anybody with an interest in that terrible war, however as with many memoirs of great leaders they are also self serving, selective with memory and far from balanced. There is another view of Manstein which is that he was a war criminal with hands drenched in blood and that he failed in his moral duties by co-operating with the ghastly crimes committed by the German regime. This view gained support many years after the war when research established that the idea of the good German army fighting a clean war unsullied by involvement with the crimes of the SS, SD and Nazi Party was a myth and that the German army was deeply implicated in the crimes of the Nazi regime. This book navigates a way through Manstein's career and neither falls into hagiography nor revisionist character assasination and does it in a very engaging way with a narrative drive. The book is a quite normal chronological biography and there is a large section on Manstein's performance at Nuremburg and his own trial for war crimes, both of which tend to be ignored in most histories of his military career. The book pays due attention to his military campaigns and paints a picture of a supremely gifted soldier. Manstein's plan for the defeat of France alone would merit a golden reputation as a military commander, however his performance in the Crimea and the military recovery following the Stalingrad disaster show he was most definitely not a one hit wonder. The book also shows that his performance during the Stalingrad relief efforts was certainly not beyond criticism and his views of the Kursk operation displayed a very real error of judgement. In his fighting retreat across the Ukraine it is hard to imagine any other commander matching his attempts to hold his front together and hold off the red army. Manstein's relationships with both Hitler and other German commanders is given good attention and the picture is of a commander loved by his subordinates but an awkward and irritating subordinate. With regard to the other side of things, the book raises questions over what Manstein did and did not know, where the picture blackens for Manstein is not so much in the review of his wartime career but rather the sections on the post war trials where the picture is of a man already re-writing history, being extremely selective with memory and pursuing a blind defence of the honour of the German army for the sake of posterity in the face of evidence that now shows that the myth of the good German army clean of any involvement in crimes was just that, a myth. Throughout his career this book demonstrates how Manstein fought with Hitler and other superiors on questions of military policy and command yet he never objected or questioned the ghastly crimes happening around him in the former USSR. His memoirs were a key part of rehabilitating the German army and constructing a myth in which every blunder and crime was laid at Hitler's door and of infallible generals. At a military level Manstein along with some (though by no means all) other German generals held on to the idea that the red army won the war thanks to a combination of Hitlers incompetence and sheer numbers and never accepted that far from just being a formless mass that after the initial disasters of 1941 the red army learned quickly and ended up as an extremely well led, well equipped and courageous army that defeated the German army in the field by both numbers and military merit. Perhaps the most telling verdict of this book was that Manstein was an operational genius but no strategist, a verdict which is well argued and persuasive.
Overall the impression I took from this book was of a brilliant but far from infallible military commander, of a decent and honorable man corrupted by his environment and of a man who never accepted his own role and responsibility for the crimes of the Hitler regime. The book is fair and balanced, and before being judgemental about those like Manstein we should all take a pause to consider our own likely behaviour if we were living in a totalitarian and morally corrosive society such as the Germany of Hitler. Very highly recommended indeed, a 5* book.
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on 9 July 2015
I came to this book as someone with a strong interest in Germany generally, intrigued with what led to the country's horrendous fall from grace in the 1930s and 1940s. I found Mungo Melvin's biography of Manstein - whom I confess I had never before heard of - to be a compulsive read. This is an almighty feat of research, shedding light on an individual and related events which deserve more attention than they hitherto seem to have attracted. I was very impressed by his exploration of the tensions inherent in the role of senior Wehrmacht officers, as epitomised by Manstein's experience and the evidently blind eye which he must have turned (the truth inevitably seems to remain elusive) to the worst of what was going on under the Nazi regime, despite his apparently strong Christian and 'honourable' principles. The reported descriptions by Manstein of his face-to-face encounters with Hitler are fascinating. A small criticism is that for a non-military reader such as myself a glossary explaining the size and nature of different army units, eg battalion, regiment etc would have made it easier to understand the scale of individual battles as described in much detail by Melvin. However, the author leaves the reader in no doubt about the overall magnitude of the conflict on the Eastern Front, in terms of men, materials and casualties - albeit that trying to come to terms with the scale of suffering (both military and civilian) is surely beyond the capability of anyone who was not there.
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