Rank: Field Marshal
Fate: Died Munich 1973, aged 85
Bio: Von Manstein came from a well-connected Prussian family with a long tradition of military service. He was commissioned into a German guards regiment in 1906, but was seriously wounded in the first weeks of the First World War. After his recovery he became a staff officer, and remained in the army following Germany’s defeat. In 1935 he joined the Army General Staff, where he was credited with inventing the concept of the assault gun, which led to the development of the StuG III.
Von Manstein helped to plan Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, before devising the bold Ardennes offensive (‘The Manstein Plan’) that led to France’s rapid defeat in 1940. During Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of the Soviet Union – von Manstein commanded a panzer corps in the push towards Leningrad. That winter he was promoted to command of 11th Army in the Crimea, where he oversaw the long and bloody siege of Sevastopol. He eventually captured the city in July 1942. In reward, Hitler promoted him to Field Marshal.
Von Manstein and 11th Army were then sent to reinforce the siege ofLeningrad, where they were involved in furious fighting as the Red Army attempted to break the blockade of the city. In November 1942 von Manstein was put in charge of Operation Winter Storm - the attempt to break through to the encircled 6th Army at Stalingrad. But the relief attempt was defeated by fierce winter weather and stubborn Soviet resistance.
In 1943 von Manstein was given command of German Army Group South, one of the three senior field commands on the Eastern Front. He won a decisive victory in the Third Battle of Kharkov before commanding the southern pincer of the massive Kursk Offensive. After a brutal slogging match involving heavy casualties on both sides, Hitler called off the attack, to the fury of von Manstein who believed he was on the verge of a breakthrough.
The numerical superiority of Soviet forces, combined with the Red Army’s growing mastery of modern warfare, meant the tide of war had now turned irrevocably on the Eastern Front. Von Manstein clashed with Hitler again over defensive strategy – the Field Marshal wanted a mobile defence, giving up ground to allow the formation of reserves which could be used in counterattacks. But Hitler insisted that no territory be given up. Infuriated by Hitler’s constant meddling, von Manstein became more outspoken in his criticism of the conduct of the war, and was dismissed from active service in March 1944.
After the war von Manstein served 4 years of a 12-year sentence for war crimes, before becoming an advisor to the West German army. In later years an aura of celebrity and genius surrounded von Manstein, fed not least by his self-serving memoirs. This was also possible because he had distanced himself from Hitler and his crimes, despite evidence that he lied about knowledge of atrocities committed by men under his own command on the Eastern Front.
Rank: Field Marshal