Von Manstein vs. Napoleon as operational strategist

Nov 2014
Who was the better battlefield strategist of the two? Or had had better skills at commanding and manuevering entire army groups? Would von Manstein have made the decision to invade Russia, would he have handled the 1812 campaign better? How does the Third Battle of Kharkov or the Sickle Cut compare with Austerlitz or the Battle of Friedland, if Napoleon was teleported into 1942 and asked by Hitler to relieve Stalingrad, would he have been successful where von Manstein failed?
Jan 2015
Ontario, Canada
Manstein has almost nothing as an operational strategist. In field command he has Crimea, failed attempt to relieve Stalingrad (although helped Army Group A withdraw) and temporary victory at Kharkov.

The 1940 campaign can't be used in Manstein's favor as he neither held a field command above a Corps and he didn't take part in any of the actual planning either.
Sep 2018
in terms of operations napoleon far exceeds the amount Manstein had and I don't think any of the operations Manstein did have anything that rival Napoleons best since most of Napoleons errors seem to come from flaws in grand strategy instead of operational. Also I may be wrong but i heard that Manstein proposed a plan similar to Hitler's group which was found later and got him promoted, but I'm not really sure as some people say he influenced Guderian and other German officers.
Jan 2015
Ontario, Canada
in terms of operations napoleon far exceeds the amount Manstein had and I don't think any of the operations Manstein did have anything that rival Napoleons best since most of Napoleons errors seem to come from flaws in grand strategy instead of operational. Also I may be wrong but i heard that Manstein proposed a plan similar to Hitler's group which was found later and got him promoted, but I'm not really sure as some people say he influenced Guderian and other German officers.
This is generally the problem with modern warfare in generals and the campaign of 1940. Everyone took claim for the success of 1940. Hitler and OKW took credit, Halder and OKH took credit, Manstein and Guderian took credit.

In reality the 1940 campaign was carried out by operational commanders on Corps, Army and Army Group levels. The actual planning and strategizing was carried out by multiple staff officers many of which have gone unnamed. In modern warfare there isn't one general in an HQ which comes up with all of the plans. The actual work is divided among multiple staff officers.

The truth about Manstein's involvement is that he drew up a plan, supposedly with Guderian's help. Although one wonders if this narrative isn't just Wehrmacht officers making their own narrative post-war. Interesting how they refer to one another, the same as how Liddel-Hart often referred to Guderian. Manstein's plan was rejected by OKH leaders Brauchitsch and Halder. Manstein being a minor staff officer and was not in either OKH or OKW had no say in the plans. Plans 1 (included an invasion of Holland) with a main thrust through Belgium and 2 (no invasion of Holland), made by OKH were similar similar to the Schlieffen Plan and only wanted to outmaneuver the enemy and push on to the rivers north of Paris. Hitler had advocated for a major thrust south of Liege in order to break out into France. Plan 2 incorporated these major attacks through Liege and through Belgium. Hitler rejected both as being too predictable and lacking in decisiveness.

Plan 3 also made by OKH and redrawn at Hitler's insistence, incorporated a surprise attack into Sedan in order to completely outmaneuver the French armies to the north. However Brauchitsch and Halder tried to minimize these parts of his plan. A major central thrust which was not considered logistically feasible by OKH and so was included as a support role. Around this time Manstein gave Hitler a memorandum and on February 17 he ordered Case Yellow to be redrawn. This was Plan 4 which used SOME of Manstein's suggestions. In particular a large amount of Panzers to be sent through the Ardennes forest and a major thrust to the north towards the coast. A lot of the details of Manstein's plan had to be watered down in order to be feasible, for example a smaller Panzer force than what Manstein called for. As such the only part that was really accepted was the part about the central thrust. So the general idea became one of encircling the Allies in Belgium and north-east France, with the central thrust then turning east and attacking the Allies from behind. But where as Manstein emphasized the capture of the coastal cities this part of the plan was dropped. Hitler ordered war games to be carried out to determine the feasibility of a central thrust. It was determined independent of Manstein, that the central thrust was not only feasible but that it also would completely bypass the weaker French defenses in the center. This and Hitler's insistence were above all what led to the OKH changing their mindset and drawing Plan 4 in accordance to what we know about the 1940 campaign.

In practice the plan was changed as well. For example Guderian and other Divisional and Corps commanders of their own initiative (disobeying orders really) decided to keep pushing as far as the coast. They would have continued with their Panzers as far as Calais but Rundstedt, who commanded Army Group A, ordered them to halt. The other problem was a fear that the French would attempt to carry out a counter attack and so Hitler had Army Group A hold the position along those rivers (Somme, Oise, Aisne). So the rear attack from the south-west into the Allied forces was called off and instead Army Group B carried out the main attack through Belgium and into Northern France. Either way the Allies were encircled so it did not really matter at this point. Halder and OKH protested strongly and in his memoires Halder claimed credit for the German strategy. Ironic since Halder was actually strongly opposed to anything which deviated from his WW1 style mentality.
Likes: Olleus
Feb 2019
How do you compare them really? They have lived 130 years apart and the nature of warfare has changed completely in that time. In my opinion very few come close to Napoleon and only about 2 or 3 others can be said to have been better, Manstein is not one of them in my opinion.

Manstein was a great commander but I find him overrated or over-credited, particularly for the French campaign, which has been commented on here. I don't think Manstein ever pulled something so brilliant like Austerlitz or operationally genius to compare with the 6 Days' Campaign or even Ulm.

I don't know how Napoleon would fair in relieving Stalingrad but Manstein could not win the Invasion of Russia if he did it the same way Napoleon did. He could've stopped at Smolensk, but then what? It wouldn't really automatically force Russia to capitulate. He could take Moscow, but then what? We saw in history that it was not enough to make the Russians surrender, where could he go next and what could he do in such a situation? There is much to be said about Napoleon's actual strategic ability, in which he was not-the-greatest-ever but I think that in this case, when compared to Manstein he was better.

I ask again, how do you compare them? I would understand a comparison between someone like Wellington and Napoleon or even Frederick the Great and Napoleon as they didn't live so far apart and didn't have such drastically different armies, in the case of Wellington they lived in the same time period and were active at the same time. But between people who lived in such different times what is the norm for comparing them.
Jan 2015
Ontario, Canada
what do you guys think is Manstein's greatest achievement and since many people view him as the best german leader of the war who do you think is better on the German side? Thanks
Manstein's popularity is largely the result of post-war historiography. Manstein and his friends wrote it specifically to make Manstein seem amazing. For his crowning achievement they gave him the 1940 campaign, which is absurd since Manstein wasn't even that important in 1940 (or 1941 when he was promoted to army command at the end). Independently of Manstein the OKH and OKW would have figured out how to best conduct the campaign. They pretty much did that when they staged their war games in February. It was also the case that Alfred Jodl and Rudolph Schmundt had a say in what would be the "Manstein Plan" which was submitted on February 17.

Anyway Manstein's best achievements were the Crimea campaign of 1941/42 and the Kharkov counter offensive in 1943. While Crimea was a good campaign with a minor setback at Kerch, it was also painfully prolonged. Where as 3rd Kharkov was just a temporary victory, largely on the fly, which could not be repeated. His performance at Kursk (specifically Prokhorovka) and then the Ukraine operation of 1944 were downright terrible. That is because his mentality was always one of offensives using a weighted flank and giving ground and maneuvering to try and catch the enemy at a disadvantage. Which generally didn't work on the Soviets since they were more likely to just pound through regardless and had better maneuverability by 1943/44, as well as intel concerning German plans. I would rate Manstein as being above average, somewhere in the middle. Better than the earlier marshals like Rundstedt, Bock and Leeb but not as good as some of the later marshals.

Now best generals...
Albrecht Kesselring as a strategist, good at operations. His command of the Mediterranean Theater added a good amount of professionalism to the horribly mismanaged way that Rommel did things, also to the relatively inept Italian Commando Supremo. He was possibly the finest strategist on the German side, to the point where Hitler wanted to move him up to OKW High Command in 1943 but his service as a field commander was indispensable. Defending Italy from overwhelming odds in a campaign of static defense. He was also notable for being a Luftwaffe commander from 1939 to 1941.

Walther Model as a tactician, for his defensive operations and overall just a very capable commander. He was one of the few that were promoted to higher ranks who had actually spent formative years on the Eastern Front. Which means that he had experience fighting the Soviets in Division, Corps, Army and then eventually Army Group command (and a Panzer Division in France and Russia). Despite being a very hands on commander he was not lacking in intellect as he was an avid researcher of Prussian history and actually came out WW1 and the interwar years as known a staff officer, also 1939 and some of 1940. As an Army commander he served under Kluge and took part in the bloody defensive campaigns of Army Group Center in 1941/42. Then in 1943 he led a brilliant defensive of Orel and fighting withdrawal, while the rest of the German forces were being pushed back at Kursk. He would do the same at Smolensk later that year. In 1944 he was promoted to Army Group command, first in defense of the Baltic and then in defense of western Ukraine. Ernst Busch having suffered a significant defeat in Operation Bagration, Model was sent as his replacement and halted the Soviet advance at the Vistula River in Poland. At the end of 1944 Model took command of the Western Front and carried out a withdrawal from France in the face of the Allied landings at Normandy. He simultaneously defended the Rhine from Montgomery and Bradley. Then commanded the 1944 Ardennes Offensive along with Rundstedt. Finally being encircled in the Ruhr during 1945 and the war being at an end he shot himself.

Another great general was Gunther von Kluge. Much the same as Model however since he too had experience in Army (Poland, France and Russia in 1941) and then finally Army Group command during the war. Largely he had commanded the bloody defensive operations of Army Group Center from the very end of 1941 until 1944. He was also in command of one the Army Groups in Operation Citadel, along the northern sector of the Kursk salient which included Orel. After Rundstedt had failed to defend Normandy, he was replaced with Gunther von Kluge. Generally being more competent he was nonetheless unable to hold the line, no counter offensive succeeded, and was forced to withdraw towards the Seine and Loire rivers. On 19 August he drank cyanide either for fear of implication in the Bomb Plot or for fear of defeat.

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