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Manstein: Hitler's Greatest General, by Mungo Melvin

New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2011. Pp. ix, 647. Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $37.50. ISBN: 0312563124.

Erich von Manstein’s spectacular military accomplishments are certainly widely known, perhaps primarily as a result of his carefully crafted memoir, Lost Victories (which one historian has remarked could more aptly have been titled Boy Was I Brilliant!).  But the moral and political aspects of his life are much less familiar, a matter addresses in this work by Mungo Melvin, a retired British major general.  

Based on extensive research during many years of military service in Germany, in this account of the marshal’s life, Melvin gives us a good look at Manstein’s roots in the military nobility and the life of a German officer in the waning days of the Empire and during the Weimar Republic.  He also does a superior job of examining the man’s prodigious battlefield prowess.  But Melvin also delves into the darker side of Manstein’s life.  While Manstein held some reservations about the Nazi regime, like almost all German officers, he carried out orders willingly and efficiently, and in his post-war writings, interviews, and speeches, denied knowledge of the criminal aspects of the Hitler, sheltering behind his battlefield record.  Melvin argues that while Manstein’s social background and professional detachment influence his amoral attitude toward Nazism, he also suggests that Manstein’s behavior during the “July Plot” was certainly “naïve”, and even opportunistic, while the man’s position on the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes was at best mendacious. 

An essential read for anyone interested in German political-military relations, the Second World War in Europe, combined arms operations, and the Holocaust. 

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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