Hiya bookies! Sorry for the gaps in this blog, it’s about time to get it going again. Lots of things happening while I’m living the Billthebookguy life and some of them take me away from stuff I’d rather be doing. Like this blog.

Today I’m including a link to a review of a new biography of Erich von Manstein, German Field Marshal, whom I consider perhaps the greatest of all German generals. I know a lot of you aren’t World War Two buffs, but maybe you know someone who is. So that’s below.

I also want to mention the World Book Market, however. That’s one of the changes I spoke of. My website is actually up and running in a prototype way, complete with typo on the home page, and it’s tied to the World Book Market. I’m taking down the ad for Biblio shortly and will be using the link directly to my website. Cool how that works, huh? Hopefully you’ll be seeing your friendly neighborhood bookseller cropping up all over the place. Tell Chelsea Handler you want to see me as a guest on her show.

Now, the review.

New biography of Erich von Manstein

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MANSTEIN: HITLER’S GREATEST GENERAL: MUNGO MELVIN

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Manstein: Hitler’s Greatest General: Mungo Melvin

Friday May 14,2010

By Christopher Silvester

ERICH von Manstein is less famous to us than Rommel because no British troops ever faced an army under his command but his German contemporaries and Soviet rivals regarded him as the most brilliant of Hitler’s generals.

Promoted to the rank of field marshal at the age of 54 after his Eleventh Army won the little known and bitterly contested Crimea campaign in the summer of 1942, he was to play a crucial role in the war in the East until Hitler dismissed him as an army group commander 21 months later.

As Mungo Melvin, himself a former general, observes in this crisp, compelling book, the first full-scale biography of Manstein in English: “No other general served Hitler so well whilst disputing his military decisions so consistently.”

From a typical Prussian aristocratic military background Manstein was Gerd von Rundstedt’s chief of staff in the Polish campaign and was the architect of the Sichelschnitt (sickle-cut) plan for the defeat of Allied forces in Flanders and France, culminating in the encirclement of our troops at Dunkirk.

When it came to Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Manstein saw the strategic priority as the defeat of the Red Army, whereas Hitler thought in terms of political and economic objectives such as Leningrad, the Donets Basin industrial region of the Ukraine and the oilfields of the Caucasus.

Unlike Hitler, Manstein favoured, in his own words, “the conception of a subtle fencer who knows how to make an occasional step backwards in order to lunge for the decisive thrust”.

Following the disaster of Stalingrad Manstein conducted a masterly counter-offensive based on this principle, comprising two sequential battles.

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However at Kursk he disagreed with Hitler over the battle plan, preferring a “backhand” blow, drawing off the enemy in a feint and then smashing them in the flank, to the “forehand” stroke of an attack from existing positions.

Melvin grapples with the Manstein myth and gets the measure of the man.

“He was as bold tactically as Patton or Rommel but always kept the bigger operational picture foremost in his mind,” he says.

Manstein was put on trial for war crimes by a British military court in 1949. Assorted British generals and peers subscribed to pay for his defence with even Churchill donating £25 to the cause.

Out of 17 charges Manstein was convicted of nine. His 18-year sentence was reduced to 12 years but he was released early because Nato’s need for German rearmament during the Cold War required a veteran military figurehead.

Manstein helped plan the new German army and his ideas for battalion formation “became standardised within the German and British Armies by the Seventies”.

While keen to award Manstein recognition for his brilliance, however, Melvin does not let him off the hook.

The British court gave Manstein the benefit of the doubt over the gravest charges he faced but Melvin believes he was disingenuous in asserting that he had no knowledge of extermination operations by Himmler’s security police against suspected partisans, gypsies, commissars and Jews within the area of his command.

Manstein was a devout Christian who never joined the Nazi Party but he was too busy with his dazzling manoeuvres to let his conscience be troubled by the crimes of others in his backyard.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £30

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