Manstein continued in the German army after the war, and in 1919, he was chief of staff of the Berlin Military District, helping to draw up plans for the 100,000-man German army. In October 1920, he commanded a company of the 5th Infantry Regiment in Pomerania. Promoted to major in 1927, he held staff positions; in September 1929, he was in the Operations Branch of the Truppenamt (the secret General Staff). Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he commanded a battalion of the 4th Infantry Regiment in October 1932. In December of the next year, he was promoted to colonel. In July 1935, he was made head of the Operations Branch of the General Staff, and in October 1936, he was promoted to Generalmajor (U.S. equiv. brigadier general). In February 1938, Manstein became deputy to the chief of staff of the army, General Ludwig Beck, but his opposition to Adolf Hitler's rearmament program led to his reassignment as commander of the 18th Division in Silesia. That August, he was recalled to serve as chief of staff to General Wilhelm von Leeb's Army Group South. Promoted to Generalleutnant (U.S. equiv. major general) in April 1939, Manstein was named chief of staff of Arbeitsstab Rundstedt (Working Staff Rundstedt) and helped plan the invasion of southern Poland and the capture of Warsaw. In August, he was named chief of staff to General Karl Gerd von Rundstedt's Army Group South, a post he held through the Polish Campaign. In October 1939, Manstein was appointed chief of staff to Army Group A under Rundstedt in the west and helped develop an alternative to the strategy for the invasion of France (the Ardennes approach), which Hitler adopted.
In February 1940, Manstein took command of XXXVIII Corps, which he led in the invasion of France. Promoted to General der Infanterie (U.S. equiv. lieutenant general) in June 1940, he received command of the LVI Panzer Corps in East Prussia assigned to Colonel General (U.S. equiv. full general) Erich Hoepner's Panzer Group, Army Group North in May 1941. Manstein advanced over 100 miles in the first two days of Operation barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and seized the key bridges at Dvinsk. When the commander of the Eleventh Army, Colonel General Eugen Ritter von Schobert, was killed, Manstein was transferred to Army Group South in September to take command and began the conquest of the Crimea. After hard fighting, his forces managed to secure the prize of Sevastopol on 2 July 1942, the day after his promotion to field marshal.
In August 1942, Manstein was ordered to take a stripped-down Eleventh Army to rescue Eighteenth Army south of Leningrad. He fought a series of costly battles with some success, suffering 60,000 casualties in the process. He urged Hitler to concentrate in the center part of the Eastern Front, without success. Briefly moved into Central Army Group's sector, Manstein was ordered by Hitler, in November 1942, to assume command of the newly formed Army Group Don on both sides of Stalingrad, between Army Group A in the Caucasus and Army Group B. Assigned the mission of rescuing Sixth Army in Stalingrad and working with only three panzer divisions, Manstein fought his way to within 35 miles of the German perimeter before being halted. He did succeed in preventing the Soviets from taking Rostov and trapping German Army Group A.
In February 1943, the Soviets drove to the Donets River and recaptured Kursk, Rostov, and Kharkov to the west, leading Hitler to approve a counterattack. Manstein exploited Soviet fuel shortages with a panzer attack from the south that resulted in the recapture of Kharkov and Belgorod in March 1943. He sought to entice the Soviet army's South and Southwest Fronts into a similar indiscretion near Odessa, but Hitler insisted instead on Operation citadel to reduce the Kursk Salient. Although the Germans made some headway in the Battle of Kursk that July, their offensive soon ground to a halt in what was the largest tank battle of the war.
Hitler's policy of refusing to allow withdrawals frustrated Manstein's approach based on an elastic defense, and Manstein's frankness did not ingratiate him with the German dictator. Manstein fought to prevent a Soviet encirclement after being forced to cross the Dnieper. The Soviets finally succeeded in encircling Manstein's forces in the Cherkassy pocket, but he managed to extract the bulk of two corps. He never could convince Hitler to allow the appointment of a chief of staff for the Eastern Front. A March 1944 conference with the Führer at Berchtesgaden led to a heated exchange and Manstein's relief as commander of Army Group South in April. British military historian Basil Liddell Hart has called Manstein the ablest German general of the war.
Manstein declined to participate in the July 1944 putsch against Hitler. He was arrested in May 1945 at the end of the war and held in Great Britain. Tried and convicted in 1949, largely on Soviet insistence, for war crimes involving the executions of Jews, Gypsies, and Crimean Tartars in his rear areas, he was sentenced to 18 years of imprisonment in February 1950. He was freed in May 1953 for medical reasons. Between 1955 and 1956, Manstein headed a committee created by the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, to advise the government on the creation of a new German army. Manstein died at Irschenhausen, Bavaria, on 11 June 1973.
Claude R. Sasso
Carver, Field-Marshal Lord. "Field-Marshal Erich von Manstein." In Correlli Barnett, ed., Hitler's Generals, 221–246. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1989.; Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941–1945. New York: Quill, 1965.; Cooper, Matthew. The German Army, 1933–1945. New York: Bonanza Books, 1984.; Manstein, Eric. Lost Victories. Ed. and trans. Anthony G. Powell. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1982.