He didn’t want to give up his summer conquests, ephemeral as they were

Thursday, September 7th, 2023

As the Stalingrad campaign came to an ignominious end, Bevin Alexander explains (in How Hitler Could Have Won World War II), Manstein presented to Hitler and the OKH a plan that would “convert a large-scale withdrawal into an envelopment operation” that would push the Russians against the Sea of Azov and destroy them:

Manstein’s idea would have thrown the enemy on the defensive and transformed the situation in the south. But Hitler refused. He didn’t want to give up his summer conquests, ephemeral as they were. He wanted to keep his troops not only at Stalingrad but in the Caucasus.

Manstein came to have wide personal experience with Hitler’s thinking about war and concluded that he “actually recoiled from risks in the military field.” Hitler refused to allow temporary surrender of territory. He could not see that, in the wide reaches of Russia, the enemy could always mass forces at one point and break through. Only in mobile operations could the superiority of German staffs and fighting troops be exploited. The brilliant holding action of the 48th Panzer Corps along the Chir River demonstrated how superior German leadership and flexible responses, if applied by the whole German army, almost certainly could have stopped Soviet advances and brought about a stalemate. But such a policy was beyond Hitler’s grasp.

Manstein also found that Hitler feared to denude secondary fronts to gain superiority at the point where a decision had to fall. For example, the failure to assemble a large army to relieve Stalingrad had proved disastrous. Hitler could not make rapid decisions. In most cases he finally released too few troops, and sent them too late.

“Obstinate defense of every foot of ground gradually became the be all and end all” of Hitler’s leadership, Manstein wrote. “Hitler thought the arcanum of success lay in clinging at all costs to what he already possessed.” He could never be brought to renounce this notion.


  1. Jim says:


  2. Lu An Li says:

    The best Hitler could have come up with after he invaded the Soviet Union was a negotiated settlement. Nothing more than that. Soviet manpower and industrial capacity geared up for was was too great.

  3. Dan Kurt says:

    RE: “The best Hitler could have come up with after he invaded the Soviet Union was a negotiated settlement.” Lu An Li

    The war should have ended in 1941 with The Soviet Union collapsing. Hitler threw away the victory that was within his grasp at the end of July, 1941. Read: Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted by Stolfi, R. H. S.Read for free at Archive.org or buy used from Amazon, etc. https://archive.org/details/hitlerspanzersea00stol/page/n5/mode/2up

    Stolfi is dead but while alive but was a mechanical engineer and a Stanford Ph.D. (Modern History) and was fluent in German so he could read primary sources. Stolfi taught for decades at the Naval Post Graduate School. I believe he obtained the rank of Col. in the Marine Corps.

    Hitler’s Panzers East is an amazing book as it is succinct, well organized, clearly written without jargon or equivocation, and is data driven to back up his assertions.

  4. Cassander says:

    Putting aside that Manstein’s memoirs aren’t reliable, what armies could have been used to do this? There simply weren’t any. The zgermans advanced more than 1000 km at the start of the campaign, and Stalingrad was almost 1000 km further. The Germans simply did not have the ability to maintain armies that far away, nor did they they have spare mobile troops that they could use to encircle the huge Soviet forces that were in the region. Hell, they tried and failed to even penetrate, after much rest and recuperation, at Kursk only a few months later. Operation Uranus was launched on November 19th, and had encircled the 6th Army in less than a week. There was no tie to assemble massive armies to relive the 6th Army, even had Hitler decided to do so instantly and the armies had been available.

    As for Soviet industrial capacity, that wasn’t the deciding factor; western Allied support was. The Soviet Union almost certainly would have collapsed without it, just from shortages of food, if nothing else. And even if they hadn’t, the West supplied the USSR with basically all of its trucks, rolling stock, high-test aviation fuel, a huge share of its explosives and aluminum, and countless other essential types of war material. All the T-34s in the world are useless if you don’t have trucks to supply them.

  5. Bomag says:

    The suggestion here is that a mobile, opportunistic defense could have been maintained much longer against the Red army.

    Manstein had success at Kharkov. Kursk was an attack against a well prepared defense.

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