Herr Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein in Russian with German and Romanian troops, 1942.
(photo credit: Kirsche/Associated Press courtesy of the New York Times.
Posted by Charles McCain on http://charlesmccain.com/blog/
Von Manstein shouted: “So we meet at last!”
‘…mother naked’ Field Marshal von Manstein shook hands for the first time with Field Marshal Rommel.
While waiting to meet with the Fuhrer on July 13th, 1943, von Manstein suggested to his ADC, Alexander Stahlberg, that they take a swim in one of the many beautiful lakes close by FHQ in East Prussia. Neither had their swim trunks. However, no one was around so into the lake they went stark naked and had a most enjoyable swim.
When they begin to swim back toward the ladder of the small footbridge they had used to enter the lake, young Stahlberg spotted a half a dozen men on the footbridge. Von Manstein asked if any of them were women and Stahlberg said he did not think so.
When they got to the base of the ladder Stahlberg got a better look (von Manstein was virtually blind without his glasses) and said, “I believe, sir, that it is Field Marshal Rommel.”
“You’re right. my dear fellow, this is Field Marshal Rommel!”
“Then there was a big hello from below and above, and Manstein shouted, ‘so we meet at last!’ It was true: Manstein and Rommel had never met until that moment…
Rommel spoke again from above: ‘Well gentlemen, why don’t you come up?’ And Manstein called back: ‘Yes, why not?’ And so, mother naked, we climbed the rungs until we were standing before the well-dressed officers.”
From: Bounded Duty: the Memoirs of A German Officer 1932–1945 by Alexander Stahlberg
I highly recommend this book. It is out of print and hard to find but is the only first- hand account we have of von Manstein in the last years of the war from November 1942 until the end. Stahlberg, a strong anti-Nazi from a family of anti-Nazis, many of whom were executed by the Nazis, was in a position to know everything and see everything. He was from an aristocratic Prussian family with roots going back centuries in East Prussia. He was related to everyone.
He is a sympathetic figure and his anti-Nazi credentials are impeccable. When he made contact with the British on Manstein’s behalf and began to tell their intelligence officers who he was and how many members of his family had been killed by the Nazis, one of the British intelligence officers stopped his recitation by politely saying, “we know who you are.” And they invited him to breakfast.
Stahlberg had great admiration for von Manstein and waited to publish his own memoirs until after von Manstein died in 1973. In spite of his admiration and respect for von Manstein, Stahlberg saw him as a tragic hero and deeply flawed man. While less known in the US and the UK than other German commanders, von Manstein was unquestionably Germany’s best field commander in World War Two and the best field commander of any country during the war.
Unlike most historical figures, von Manstein was recognized in his own time as Germany’s greatest Field Marshal. It was thought by key anti-Hitler plotters in the German Army, that only von Manstein had the prestige to lead an army revolt against the Nazi Party. Except for the thoroughly Nazified Field Marshals such as Model, all the others would have followed his orders.
At the time of his brief meeting with the Fuhrer mentioned in the beginning of the post, Field Marshal Kluge was also present. Later in the evening, after their usual meeting with Hitler where he refused their advice, the three Field Marshals retired to their common quarters and sat up over several bottles of red wine. Stahlberg was present as he always was at every meeting or social gathering at von Manstein’s insistence.
In front of Rommel, Kluge said to von Manstein, “Manstein, the end will be bad, and I repeat what I told you earlier: I am prepared to serve under you.” With that, Kluge retired. Over a few more glasses of wine, Rommel also told Manstein that the war would end in a total catastrophe and further should the Allies land in Europe, the entire German state and military would quickly reach a point where it would collapse like a house of cards.
Then Rommel stood to take his leave and von Manstein stood to shake his hand. Said Rommel, “I, too, am prepared to serve under you.”
Yet von Manstein who alone among the German Field Marshal’s had the opportunity to be one of the great men of the 20th Century could not bring himself to assassinate of Hitler (which he easily could have done on the several occasions Hitler visited his forward HQ). Nor, could he envision himself as leading the German Army against the Nazi Party and any military formations which would have remained loyal to the Party.
“What tragedy governed his life!” Stahlberg wrote of von Manstein in his memoirs. Von Manstein was a great general. But he could have been a great man. That he chose not to is a classic form of Greek tragedy.
Source: author’s research and Bounded Duty: the Memoirs of A German Officer 1932–1945 by Alexander Stahlberg