Monday, June 29, 2009

Lost Victories

Since my headers includes books, I felt it time to include one. The Book is "Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hitler's Most Brillant General" written by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein. This is a memoir of a rather good German Field Marshal whose claim to (Western) fame is the fact that he was one of main developers and pushers of the famous French Campaign in 1940 (through the Ardennes, over the Meuse at Sedan, on to the Channel, BEF escapes at Dunkrik). While he was pretty good on that one, his Eastern Front exploits put that to shame. But since they were against Russians/Soviets, they are not so well known to most Americans.

Well, Germany lost the war so you guys know how the ending goes. Manstein requested to be relieved of his command in early 1944 and refused to come back later so he really did sit out the last part. He survived Hitler's nuttiness and was captured when Germany was plowed under in 1945.

Since I haven't written a book review before forgive the rambling.

Okay, the book. This book is NOT for the casual war nut. I am not even sure its for a serious war nut. Manstein is proof that just because you are a brillant man in another field, that does not automatically translate into the ability to write well. Compared to Guiderian or Rommel this book is a TOUGH read. Both had a much better writing style that moved on quickly and still gave you some good data. Manstein's book is a serious look at high level warfare and how it works (or not). I am talking strategy and operational levels. Most of this book deals with Army Level Command or higher, and that doesn't make much "fun" reading. This book requires you to work at it and think about what exactly is going on. Not something a causal reader looking for a good "war book" is going to get into. It helps to have a good background about what is happening, and you better be able to figure out a map becuase you will be referring to one a LOT. When you have several Army Groups worth of space (on the EASTERN FRONT mind you), you are talking hundreds of miles of operations.

Now, if you do dare this book it gives some seriously good insights into how Hitler's mind works. Manstein had some seriously interesting comments on this. Some were pretty standard, but he hit on some that make perfect sense but hadn't occurred to me. Such as Hitler's total inability to think long term operationally or strategically (the furthest out Manstein could get him to really think was maybe 2 weeks, tactically ok, but an absolute distaster if you are trying to think operationally, and words are not in existance to describe how bad this is strategically). He also helped to flesh out some more well known "Hitlerisms" such as "no retreating allowed". He had some serious great input as to how the SS and Luffwaffe Field Divisions seriously boned the regular military in terms of replacements and this was made worse by the fact that the new full strength divisions usually had no vets and so got torn up in combat until they learned. I had never thought about that angle other than the old units were short men, but he was absolutely right.

Overall, this book is a work for a scholar to read. If you are one, hit it. If not, I would recommend Guiderian to start. I am thinking this is proof of the B.H. Liddell Hart Rule: If Hart wrote the foreword, its a thinker's book.

(Hart was one of the first theorists of mechanized warfare in history. He was in the British Army, but due to some of the quirks that accompany the "first great thinkers" in any occupation, he never became famous outside of historian circles).


  1. Liddel-Hart is indeed intellectual. I started to read one of his books at VMI but I really couldn't wrap my mind around it with all the other crap I was trying to cram in there. Plus I found out I was never going to be an Armor officer so I quickly lost interest.

  2. Yeah, I have read about him and even some stuff he wrote. Him and Fuller were interesting characters, much Billy Mitchell was an interesting character. I actually prefer Chaffee though as a foward thinking mech warfare guy. He actually was able to make it work for the US. True, his ideas on armored warfare were not exactly the right mix but they were definately heading the right way. It is a damn shame he died from cancer a few months before the US entered WWII. He would have made a very interesting addition to the command team. Like Patton, but argueably smarter and a better operational thinker (at least it appears he would have been).

    The biggest thing I am finding is that I am actually having the intellectual muscle to work through books like this now. 5 or 10 years ago, this one would have gone on the shelf after a couple of chapters.