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Erich von Manstein

Erich von Manstein (November 24, 1887 - June 11, 1973) was a general, and later a Field Marshal, in the German Army during World War II. He was famous for repeatedly standing up to Hitler on various issues, often with the rest of the General Staff watching. Although this would normally lead to his swift removal, Manstein was one of a very few generals who had repeatedly proved themselves in Hitler's eyes. Eventually even Hitler had enough of him, and he was dismissed in 1944.

Manstein was born Erich von Lewinski in Berlin, the tenth child of Prussian aristocrat and artillery general Eduard von Lewinski. His parents died and he was adopted by his uncle, General Georg von Manstein. His career in the military was assured from birth. As a child he spent six years in the cadet corps, and then joined the 3rd Footguards in 1906 as ensign. In 1913 he entered the War Academy and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1914.

When World War I started he served briefly on the Western Front in Belgium, but was soon sent to the Eastern Front in Poland. There he was wounded in 1914 and returned to duty in 1915, promoted to Captain and remained as staff officer until the end of the war in 1918. In 1918, he volunteered for the staff position in Frontier Defence Force in Breslau (Wroclaw) and served there until 1919.

He then took part in the process of creating the Reichswehr. He was promoted Company commander in 1920, and Corps Commander in 1922. In 1927 he was promoted again to Major, and started serving with the General Staff, visiting other countries to learn about their military. In 1933 the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, and von Manstein was promoted to Colonel in 1935, was posted to the General Staff. Considered to be uncooperative by Hitler, he was later sent to Silesia as commander of the 18th Division. During the invasion of Poland he served as chief of staff to the Army Group South under Gerd von Rundstedt.

In 1940 Manstein worked with Blumentritt and von Tresckow to develop the plan to invade France. They suggested that the army should attack through the wooded hills of the Ardennes, where no one would expect it. Hitler originally rejected the proposal, but he eventually approved of a modified version, Fall Gelb, that later became known as the Manstein Plan. Manstein was then sent back to Silesia and did not take part in the operation until the final stages when he served under Gunther von Kluge. The plan was so successful that he was awarded the Knight's Cross for planning it.

In February 1941, Manstein was appointed commander of the 56th Panzer Corps. He was involved in Operation Barbarossa where he served under General Erich Hoepner. Attacking on 22nd June 1941, Manstein advanced more than 100 miles in only two days and was able to seize the importance bridges at Dvinsk. The following month he captured Demyansk and Torzhok.

Manstein was appointed commander of 11th Army in September 1941, and was given the task of conquering the Crimea. The Red Army defended Sevastopol and this important Black Sea naval base wasn't taken until July 1942. Promoted to field marshal, Manstein was sent to capture Leningrad. This led to a series of bitter battles and lost over 60,000 men over the next few months.

In November 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered Manstein to rescue Fredrich Paulus's 6th Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. Placed in charge of a hastily assembled group of tired men and machines, he got his three panzer divisions to within 35 miles of the city. A massive Red Army attack at another point on the line forced him to retreat to the Ukraine.

Manstein regrouped and the following year inflicted a heavy defeat on the Soviets at Krasnograd. An estimated 23,000 Soviet soldiers were killed and a further 9,000 were captured. Manstein now went on to capture Kharkov and Belgorod. In recognition for this action, he received the Oak Leafs for his Knight's Cross in March 1943. von Manstein then proposed an action for the summer to push the Red Army into the Sea of Azov at Rostov, but Hitler instead chose to back Operation Citadel and he was ordered to Kursk.

After the failure of Citadel the Soviets counterattacked. In September he withdrew to the west bank of the Dnieper River, while inflicting heavy casualties on the Red Army. From October to mid January of 1944,von Manstein "stabilized" the situation but in late January was forced to retreat further westwards by the a Soviet offensive. In mid-February of 1944, von Manstein disobeyed Hitler's order and ordered 11th and 42nd Corps (consisting of 56,000 men in six divisions) of Army Group South to breakout from the "Cherkassy Pocket", which occurred on February 16/17th. Eventually, Hitler accepted this action and ordered the breakout after it already took place.

Manstein continued to argue with Hitler about overall strategy and in March 1944 he was dismissed from office. Nevertheless that same day he received the Swords for his Oak Leaves, the highest German military honour. After his dismissal he entered an eye clinic in Breslau, recuperated near Dresden, and then retired. Although he did not take part in the attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944, he was aware of it. In late January of 1945 he collected his family from their homes in Liegnitz and evacuated them to West Germany.

After the war Manstein was charged with war crimes. In court Manstein argued that he was unaware that genocide was taking place in territory under his control. However, evidence was produced that Manstein had ordered that the Jewish Bolshevik system be wiped out once and for all although he requested that officers should not be present during the killing of Jews.

Manstein was found guilty and he was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. However, for medical reasons he was freed on 6th May 1953. He then became an advisor to the re-forming German Army, the Bundeswehr, and later moved with his family to Bavaria. His war memoirs, Vereloren Siege (Lost Victories), were published in Germany in 1955, and translated into English in 1958. Erich von Manstein died in June 1973.