Introduction of My Review of Lost Victories:
After reading The German Army on the Eastern Front, I was left wanting to learn more about the war between the Germans and the Soviets. The rapidly advancing equipment, gargantuan battles, and heroic actions on both sides sounded incredibly interesting. After reading around on the internet for awhile, I realized that I needed to read and then do a review of Lost Victories.
Lost Victories is the war memoirs of one of the most effective and brilliant generals (and ultimately Field Marshals) in the WWII German Army, Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. If you are at all interested in World War II, or military history in general, then you need to order and read a copy immediately after reading this review of Lost Victories. Doing so will change how you understand World War II and the armies that fought in it. Especially the German military.
Buy Lost Victories here: https://amzn.to/2XWBiHM
Summary of Lost Victories:
Throughout Lost Victories, it seems like Manstein’s goal is to make the reader understand that he was a professional soldier, not a political crony of the Nazi Party. I’ll get to that more in my analysis of Lost Victories, but it is something that is definitely helpful to keep in mind while reading the summary. It helps you understand von Manstein describes what he does.
The Beginning of WWII:
Manstein begins Lost Victories with the beginning of WWII; the invasion of Poland. Instead of spending time describing extraneous subjects such as his earlier career or the German military buildup throughout the 1930’s, he jumps right into the action as German tanks and units prepared to roll across the border.
And then the action begins. Manstein describes the Poland campaign in precise detail and points out that why it was brilliantly executed by the Germans, they were bound to win. Their advantages in geography, manpower, and equipment were far to great for the Poles to handle. Additionally, Manstein states that the Polish war strategy was flawed from the start because of where they placed and how they used their troops. I hadn’t heard that before, so I found it particularly interesting.
Like the German invasion of Poland, Manstein’s section on the Polish campaign ends relatively quickly. He describes battle plans, the battles themselves, and casualties, but doesn’t dwell too much on the political or economic significance of Poland’s fall. Only the military aspects of the campaign. Additionally, he describes how the term “blitzkrieg” was not a creation of the German Army. It was a creation of the Allies or media. To the Germans who were using the “blitzkrieg” strategy, it just seemed like mobile warfare. I found that very interesting because it was something new that I learned; I hadn’t heard that before. Then, like Germany, he jumps the French campaign.
The German Invasion of France:
Despite showing his brilliance for years on the Eastern Front, Manstein is best known for creating the German battle plan that was used do defeat France. Before he pushed Hitler to accept his far more aggressive plan, the German High Command had decided on repeating the Schlieffen Plan from World War I. The plan that failed.
Manstein was unwilling to accept that defeatism. So, he came up with a new plan. The famous “Fall Rot” and “Fall Gelb” plan that involved sending armored units through Luxembourg. But the High Command thought it was too risky. Hitler, however, saw it and liked it. He recognized the brilliance of Manstein’s plan, so it was accepted. And it won the war against France.
German units were able to quickly punch through French lines and race to the coast, surrounding hundreds of thousands of Allied troops at Dunkirk. Manstein does a wonderful job of using maps and battle details to paint a scene in the readers mind of what that lightning-fast advance across Germany was like. French units fell. The Maginot Line was surrounded and irrelevant. German troops were streaming across France and a huge number of the Allied forces were stuck at Dunkirk. All of that was in large part thanks to Manstein’s brilliance and the German Army’s tactical excellence.
But then Hitler and Goring took control. Previously, they had mostly left the war to the generals. But at Dunkirk, Goring told Hitler the Luftwaffe could defeat the trapped Allies and Hitler believed him. The Panzer divisions were forced to halt, and the Allies were able to evacuate the majority of their trapped troops.
It was a humongous lost opportunity for the Germans, and it saved the British. Although the Germans defeated the remaining troops in France and won that part of the war, they were still a long way from victory and Hitler’s control of the military, paired with Goring’s over-promises, boded ominously in Manstein’s mind.
Operation Sea Lion and the Battle of Britain:
Like with the Polish campaign, Manstein spends little time in Lost Victories describing the political situation of the French Campaign wrapped up. However, he does take a few pages to describe how Hitler’s involvement and lack of planning made the situation difficult for the German Army.
Hitler hadn’t planned what to do after the Polish Campaign until it was almost over. Similarly, he hadn’t planned what to do after the French Campaign until the British troops had escaped from Dunkirk. So an invasion force wasn’t ready, the Luftwaffe didn’t have planes that could establish air superiority, and the British had escaped so they could mount and effective defense.
Manstein notes that had the Army been in full control of events, then first they would have crushed the British at Dunkirk. Then, they would have sent over an invasion force to land on Britain’s mostly undefended shores while the Luftwaffe fought for air superiority over a small stretch of the channel. It would have been risky. But if very well could have worked. Like later in the book, Manstein describes the Fall of France as a lost victory. Had they planned what to do afterwards, perhaps they could have won the war. Thank goodness they didn’t.
Manstein on the Eastern Front:
After the Fall of France and Battle of Britain, Hitler turned his eyes to the East. He couldn’t beat Britain, but perhaps he could be the Soviet Union. So, millions of Germans and allied troops streamed into the Soviet Union and fought a four year war of annihilation with the Soviet troops. The battles would be too many to go into. But Manstein had a storied career on the Eastern Front and was a hugely successful Field Marshal until he was fired for disagreeing with Hitler.
Manstein was one of the Panzer Corps commanders that blitzed through Russia in the opening days of the war, travelling hundreds of miles and helping overrun tens of thousands of Soviet troops. But his advance was prematurely halted by Hitler and High Command. Then, he was sent to command 11th Army in its fight for the Crimean Peninsula. Despite overwhelming odds, it succeeded. Manstein’s brilliance and the bravery of the German troops allowed the 11th Army to overcome Soviet numbers, fortifications, and amphibious landings and seize the peninsula.
Then, for the remainder of the war, Manstein was a commander of Army Group South. His troops fought bravely, but Soviet numbers and Hitler’s increasingly erratic and harmful involvement meant that the Germans were steadily pushed back. The Sixth Army was lost at Stalingrad, for example, because Hitler prevented it from breaking out to link up with Manstein’s counterattack. In Lost Victories, Manstein provides countless other examples of how Hitler’s involvement cost German lives and ultimately led to the German defeat.
Lost Victories ends with Manstein being fired for disagreeing too strongly with Hitler. Unlike many of the other German generals, he was willing to stand up to Hitler and demand control over his troops. His obstinacy eventually cost him his command.
Analysis of Lost Victories:
No true review of Lost Victories would be complete without at least a short analysis of what Manstein says in it.
Like I said earlier, Manstein spends much of Lost Victories very obviously trying to convince the reader that he was a professional soldier. Nothing more and nothing less. He provided detailed maps and battle plans. Letters to front commanders. Casualty and strength statistics from the significant battles. Detailed accounts of what the battles were like and why he made the decisions he did. And most off all, he makes sure to denigrate Hitler and the German High Command (although he is fair when describing Hitler’s involvement in military affairs and does show when the decisions Hitler made were the right ones.
After reading it, I was convinced that he was a great general and potentially could have made decisions that would have won the war for Germany. However, I think some of it was too much of his very subjective point of view. Few times did he extract his narrative from his relatively limited theater of operations and discuss why sacrifices needed to be made in it to help deal with crises in other areas. Had he done that, his narrative might have been a bit more convincing.
The Lost Victories that Manstein mentions are Dunkirk, the time period right after the Fall of France, and the first year of the invasion of Russia. He describes those as the times when Germany definitely could have won the war, but only if the Generals had had a free hand to fight how and where they pleased. And I think that that is the problem with his argument. Yes, the events he lists as “lost victories” were lost victories. But, I don’t think that reason for Germany’s ultimate failure lays solely at Hitler’s feet. While he was surely one of the main problems, there were certainly problems with how the generals ran the war that lost it for Germany. Manstein often glances over those when describing why certain battles were defeats or why Germany wasn’t able to capitalize on victories. In his quest to show himself and his fellow officers as professional soldiers, he seems to forget about the problems that Germany faced other than Goring’s incompetence and Hitler’s interference. Read Lost Victories to see if you think that I am right!
Hopefully my review of Lost Victories showed that I think it is an excellent book about the Eastern Front and the German Army. If you are interested in military history, then you will certainly like it. While I don’t agree with all of Manstein’s conclusions in Lost Victories, I do think he makes some very insightful points about the WWII German war machine and why it was defeated, similarly to how MacArthur provides lots of insights into the American military machine in Reminiscences. I would certainly suggest that after you finish this review of Lost Victories, you buy copy on Amazon and read it for yourself!
By: Gen Z Conservative
Buy Lost Victories here, on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XWBiHM
Check my review of out another great book about the WWII Eastern Front, The German Army on the Eastern Front: https://genzconservative.com/the-german-army-on-the-eastern-front/
Buy The German Army on the Eastern Front here: https://amzn.to/2UC7r5S
Read more about Manstein here: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Erich-von-Manstein