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A most definite victory.
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"