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Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein Edition: Paperback

Jan Paczkis|Friday, October 30, 2009

Rather than repeating other reviewers, I focus mostly on previously-unmentioned content. Owing to the volume of information available, I largely limit my review to the 1939 war.

      Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brilliant General  

  5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into the 1939 German Aggression against Poland, and the West's Betrayal
In his discussion of pre-WWII events, von Manstein comes across as a typical German chauvinist when he makes revisionist complaints about Poland having received German territories "to which neither historical justice nor the right of self-determination gave her any claim." (p. 24). He conveniently forgets that these "German" territories had gotten that way as a result of centuries of German conquests and Germanization policies, the latter of which had become especially intense in only the last several decades before WWII. If only recent events count, then Manstein's "self-determination" complaints ring hollow in the light of the fact that, after the 1918-era plebiscites, certain border areas whose inhabitants had majority-voted to be part of the newly-resurrected Polish state nevertheless had remained part of Germany.

Several reviewers have mentioned Manstein's denials of German WWII atrocities. Indeed! Manstein would have us believe that Hitler's annihilate-Poles order had been misrepresented at Nuremberg, and that the Fuhrer had only been referring to the annihilation of the Polish Army. (p. 29). What a ridiculous apologetic! Hitler had plainly ordered his forces to: "Kill without mercy every man, woman, and child of Polish extraction." So, unless the Fuehrer had been imbued with the notion that the Polish Army was full of women and children, he had to be referring to the deliberate genocide of Polish civilians.

Unlike the case in later battles, Hitler didn't interfere in the actual military policies of the 1939 war. (p. 273). The German tanks moved so rapidly that the German infantry had difficulty keeping up with them. (p. 54). The Polish Bzura counteroffensive, though later dwarfed by Soviet battles, was the largest of its kind up to that time. (p. 58). Summarizing the 1939 campaign, the Field Marshall commented: "The enemy's losses in blood were undoubtedly very high indeed, for he had fought with great gallantry and had shown a grim determination to hold out in even the most hopeless situations." (p. 61).

In common with many other analysts, Manstein contended that the rapidity of Poland's military defeat stemmed primarily from her strategy of "defending everything"--a mistake later made by Hitler himself. (p. 40, 43, 495, 522). Poland should have defended only her core territories, thereby shrinking the defensive perimeter from 1,125 miles to 375 miles. (p. 42). (However, Manstein doesn't mention the fact that, among other things, Polish leaders feared that the ceding of Poland's peripheral regions without a fight would be interpreted by the French and British as a lack of seriousness in Polish military efforts.)

Over and over again, Manstein repeated how gravely he and other German planners took the British and French military guarantees to Poland. (p. 23, 34-35, 46, 58). Contrary to revisionists who assert that France was unprepared for action, Manstein cited a study by von Tippelskirch, which noted how France had raised 108 divisions in only three weeks in the autumn of 1939, including many that consisted of well-armed, well-trained reservists. He concluded: "There can be no doubt, then, that the French Army far outnumbered Germany's forces in the west from the very first day." (p. 35). (For more on this, see the Peczkis review of Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal: 14 November 1945 - 1 October 1946 Volume 15.) Even as the last Polish resistance was collapsing, German troops were hurriedly being moved westward out of fear of a belated French-British offensive, which, to the German leaders' admitted surprise, had not materialized long before then. (p. 58).

Pointedly, Manstein believed that, had the French intervened, and had the Polish forces been defending the smaller perimeter, Poland actually stood a chance: "The bravery with which the Polish troops fought right up to the end would have been an adequate guarantee of their ability to hold on until the Allies reached the Rhine and forced the German command seriously to consider calling off the campaign in Poland." (p. 62).

The German enemy, as embodied by Manstein, showed more respect for Poland than did the Allies when he asked: "Who could have guessed that the Western Powers would let Poland down so ignominiously after giving her a guarantee?" (p. 81).

Fast forward to 1944, and Manstein's stay near Lwow (Lviv), shortly before he was recalled. He characterized the local guerilla forces as follows: "The Soviet variety fought against the Germans and terrorized the local population. The Ukrainians fought the Soviet partisans, but usually released any Germans after first disarming them. Finally, there were bands of Polish partisans who fought both Germans and Ukrainians." (p. 532). Obviously, the OUN-UPA, when not collaborating with the Germans, had less enmity against them than against the Soviets (and Poles).
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