I was doing some research on the 3rd battle of Kharkov in WW2 by Von Manstein, which is also known as "Manstein’s miracle", and is said to be a feat that matched the genius of Napoleon. While hunting for info on Kharkov, I stumbled on an Englishman who was ranting about what liars German generals really are, and how Von Manstein in particular was an enormous liar.
I found myself watching some of his videos about Stalingrad, and his claims that Von Manstein lied in his memoirs, etc. I found this troubling since I had read Von Manstein’s take on Stalingrad and why the German army had actually done well there. In short, Von Manstein said that there were only 200,000 German troops at Stalingrade, and that they had held down over 500,000 Soviet troops. I think he said over 500,000. Then when Stalingrad fell, those large number of Soviet troops then hit the German lines in a nasty way. So Von Manstein said that holding Stalingrad had actually helped to save the entire front. This is a fascinating point.
Anyhow the Englishman used various information from Von Manstein’s book to then claim that he is a big liar. Von Manstein claimed that the Germans were outnumbered 4:1 across the entire Eastern front, but that in his area at Kharkov, they were outnumbered 8:1. He indicated that these were all lies.
When I looked at the battle casualties in Kharkov, the Germans were killing the Russians at a rate of 10:1 which is actually exceptional.
But the intense, seething hatred of the Englishman went on from one video to another, with a special focus on Von Manstein.
I will NOT recommend this Englishman’s videos because he seems to lack a lot of understanding of the finer details of WW2 and what the Germans faced.
I found instead, that 2 of his viewers actually wrote nice detailed rebuttal comments below his video, which I will publish here. They have a much finer, and accurate understanding of what Von Manstein and the Germans faced.
I will return to Manstein’s miracle, which apparently saved the total collapse of the German army front in the south later.
What is unquestionably clear, is that Von Manstein was an excellent strategist. Even General Heinz Guderian, the man who is the father of German tank warfare stated in his own memoirs that Von Manstein was their best strategist. Even just Manstein’s "sickel cut" through the Ardennes, which collapsed the powerful French army in only 40 days, alone, qualifies him as a great strategist. Hitler personally chose his plan and Hitler overrode all the other commanders and the HQ in order to make this the primary plan for the invasion of France. The end result was totally brilliant and unexpected. In 40 days, the Wehrmacht achieved what had not been possible in 4 years in WW1. But I have not studied the rest of Von Manstein’s moves, especially Kharkov, which is said to be his greatest feat in all of WW2.
So here goes:-
Comment No 1:
Manstein took command when the encirclement was already done. He just criticized Paulus to hold back the outbreak untill he is in charge…. Manstein also had in mind, that the entire Army group A was still south and a chaotic unorganized break out would leave a huge empty space where dozens of soviet divisions would flood in and cut of the retreat at Rostow. This point is totally ignored here and Manstein clearly states these arguments in his book. So portraying him as an "asshole" is a very one sided affair here and people who only use this as source get a very wrong picture of this situation manstein was in. Just imagine being responsible for the entire heeresgruppe süd – try to find the perfect solution in the fastest manner….. Erich von Manstein was the best commander in ww2. He didnt just portray himself as one, he showed it on the eastern front: Sichelschnitt to beat France, Kharkov rochade to save the army group south and hit the soviets very badly in 1943 and the break out of 1st Panzerarmy in kamenez podolski 1944 – all from mr manstein. You try to sell you personal hatred against german generals and manstein in particular as a correct historical analysis.
Okay, let’s debate. I will defend Manstein. I think our problem in understanding the issue is a misunderstanding of "Winter Tempest" and "Thunderclap." Winter Tempest is a two phased operations order. Phase one is 4th PzArmy attacking towards the pocket. In a day to be determined later Phase 2 would be 6th Army attacking to link up with 4thpzArmy. Phase one of the operations order was implemented on 12 Dec and resulted in the 57PzK reaching the Mishkova river on 19Dec. Winter Tempest envisaged holding Stalingrad. Thunderclap is another operations order that Army Group prepared that evacuated the 6th Army while attacking in the breakout. Because Hitler has forbidden the abandoning of Stalingrad here we have an impasse. 6th Army does not believe it can carry out Winter Tempest (that is, hold Stalingrad too while breaking out. They need the order for Thunderclap although as the days go by even Thunderclap looks too risky. With this in context the message referred to by Manstein in Lost Victories (appendix 4) makes more sense. When he wrote that he issued the order on 19 Dec to break out he meant phase 2 of Winter Tempest. 57th PzK had made a new breakthrough and the timing was right. "Sixth Army will begin Winter Tempest attack earliest possible." That is issuing the operations order. Of course the exact timing will be up to the commander on the scene (Paulus). Manstein also reassured Paulus that the order for Thunderclap would most likely immediately follow. In this he is reassuring Paulus that the problem of holding Stalingrad as part of Winter Tempest will not matter. Thunderclap never was the original order to break out. Thunderclap was the order to break out and abandon Stalingrad at the same time. Hitler would not allow that of course so what we have is Manstein ordering 6th Army to begin Winter Tempest knowing that 6th Army could not hold Stalingrad. Manstein wanted to start the process, and get the 6th Army’s attack going. Once 6th Army began its part in Winter Tempest, followed by clear indications that 6th Army could not continue to hold all of Stalingrad then Hitler would have to approve Thunderclap. That’s why Manstein wrote to Paulus telling him that Thunderclap would inevitably have to follow Winter Tempest. In writing in the 19 Dec message that "It is essential that Operation Thunderclap should immediately follow Winter Tempest" he is is setting Hitler up for having to approve the evacuation of Stalingrad. Manstein is not ordering the evacuation of Stalingrad, nor is he requiring Paulus to order the evacuation of Stalingrad. He is ordering Paulus to attack towards 57th PzK knowing that it would set in motion conditions for Hitler to relent on holding the city. Manstein did not lie about ordering the breakout. He ordered Paulus to begin 6th Army’s part in Winter Tempest. He wanted to set events in motion that could not be turned back. He was smart enough to know after speaking with Hitler on numerous occasions during the crisis that he would never get the order from Hitler to abandon Stalingrad. Manstein did what many Wehrmacht generals did or attempted to do, set events in motion and Hitler would have to relent on his obstruction. But Paulus did not play his part in that. Paulus chose not to begin his phase of Winter Tempest and he had his reasons, but Manstein is not to blame.