General Erich Von Manstein, Part 2.
During the battles around southern Leningrad, in October and November 1941, in temperatures reaching -40 degrees, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Regiment, FJR3, 7th Flieger Division, commanded by General Student, was dispatched to defend parts of the River Neva and repulse any Russian attempts at creating a bridgehead. They were used in battalion-sized units in a fire-fighting role and consequently some elements suffered up to 75% casualties. The setting for my third novel, Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun
This unit was just a small piece of the jigsaw of Army Group North’s push through the Balkans during Operation Barbarossa, launched by Hitler on Sunday, 22nd June 1941.
General Manstein’s WW2 career started as the Chief of Staff of Heeresgruppe Süd, Army Group South, coordinating the three subordinate armies during the initial invasion of the West, the infamous Blitzkrieg, and rapidly defeating Poland in its wake.
After only a matter of weeks after the fall of Poland, the General was given the operations order, Fall Gelb, Case Yellow, the plan for the attack on the Anglo-French Allies. The initial plan was for the focal point, using Heeresgruppe B, to be on the right flank in Belgium and Heeresgruppe A, with two armies and a single panzer division, making a supporting attack through the Ardennes.
Manstein quickly identified weaknesses in this approach, advocating that the allies would expect an attack through Belgium and the German Army would be unable to fulfil the new concept of encirclement. With Rundstedt behind him, Manstein wrote to the German High Command, OKH, suggesting that the main push, with Heeresgruppe A, should be through the Ardennes, with four panzer divisions, pushing across the River Meuse, followed by a ‘Sickle-cut’ deep into the allied lines to reach the Channel coast.
His preferences were not welcomed however, and many of his memos were blocked and did not reach Hitler. However, some of Manstein’s supporters managed to leak his ideas to Hitler and on the 17th February 1940, along with other senior commanders, he was invited to breakfast with the Führer himself. Taken aside and asked for his opinion, Hitler adopted this new approach and Heeresgruppe A was increased from 24 to 44 divisions, including the newly formed Panzergruppe Kleist, consisting of five panzer divisions, totalling some 1,200 tanks.
Manstein, although the father of the attack plan, had little involvement in the early stages. Eventually his XXXVIII Armeekorps was involved and was part of a multi-corps assault across the River Somme on the 5th June, eventually pushing the French forces back to the River Loire.
The rest is history, with the invasion of the west being launched on the 10th May 1940, the main allied force being quickly defeated and the remaining French forces defeated by a second Blitzkrieg, ending with the signing of the armistice on the 22 June.
Manstein’s involvement in the Campaign, although short, was successful and he was awarded the Ritterkreuz der Eisernen Kreuzes, Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, and made General of the Infantry. Although there were a number of contributors to the final plan, it was Manstein’s model that ensured German’s greatest military victory.
With Operation Sea lion, the Invasion of Britain cancelled, Hitler’s eyes were already turning east. Manstein was to prove his worth yet again in one of the largest battles ever…