Manstein had many talents that made these successes possible, but one stood out above the rest: an unmatched capacity to fuse traditional Prussian strategy with the new armored tactics. He had broken step with many of his fellow military aristocrats by recognizing that General Guderian's new panzer divisions must not be slowed or hampered by the actions of infantry and artillery. (In fact, one of Manstein's most significant interwar achievements had been the development of mobile and self-propelled support artillery, which freed more tanks for the job of penetration and exploitation.) Faced with the task of planning the movements of Army Group South in the Polish campaign, Manstein quickly decided to concentrate most of the available armor in one of the group's three armies - the Tenth, under General Walther von Reichenau - in order to achieve a decisive breakthrough and the earliest possible encirclement of Polish forces west of the Vistula. The other two armies - the Fourteenth on the right flank, commanded by General Wilhelm List; and the Eighth, forming the group's left wing and commanded by General Johannes Blaskowitz - would play roles in this hoped-for envelopment, but the spearhead assignment went to Reichenau's panzers.
In this effort to blend the Prussian strategy of envelopment with modern armored tactics, Manstein was assisted by Army Group South's chief of operations, Colonel Günther von Blumentritt. The two men shared the same intellectual style, and during the months before the invasion they put in many extra hours attending to every detail of the operation. Manstein later recalled: "As often as not, the things that attract us to another person are quite trivial, and what always delighted me about Blumentritt was his fanatical attachment to the telephone. The speed at which he worked was in any case incredibly high, but whenever he had a receiver in his hand he could deal with whole avalanches of queries, always with the same imperturbable good humor."
Army Group North was given to General Fedor von Bock, a forceful and sometimes difficult commander, and comprised the Third and Fourth armies. The Third Army troops were transported to their launching area in East Prussia by sea, under the guise of participating in a huge celebration of the German victory over the Russians at Tannenberg in August 1914. The Fourth Army, under General Günther von Kluge, was positioned in east Pomerania, opposite the Corridor.
General Guderian's Nineteenth Panzer Corps - the first unit that came close to embodying the panzer leader's ideas concerning armored operations - was placed under von Kluge. There was initially some resistance to the idea of including such a heavy armored force in the Fourth Army's operations, but Guderian's careful cultivation of Hitler soon had its desired effect, and the führer personally intervened to secure Guderian's role as the spearhead of the forces that would cut the Polish Corridor.
By August 20, the German army was ready. Yet despite the immense effort they had devoted to marshaling their forces, the German generals remained unenthusiastic. Throughout the summer, Chief of Staff Halder had secretly contacted the governments of both France and Great Britain, trying to relay the message that the army high command was powerless to stop Nazi designs because of Hitler's immense popularity with the German people. Only firm commitment on the part of the Western Allies, Halder said, could take the wind out of Hitler's sails. Halder's urgings fell on deaf ears.
On August 22, Hitler called his senior commanders to Obersalzberg for a "conference," which, as was often the case, degenerated into a long diatribe by the führer. The tone was set by Hermann Göring, who arrived wearing a comical jerkin, shorts, and long silk socks. "Up till now," Manstein later wrote, "I had assumed that we were here for a serious purpose, but Göring appeared to have taken it for a masked ball....I could not resist whispering to my neighbor, General von Salmuth: 'I suppose the Fat Boy's here as a strong-arm man?'"
Reprinted from No End Save Victory Edited by Robert Cowley by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Edited by Robert Cowley. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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