Hasso von Manteuffel was born in Potsdam on January 14, 1897. He and his three sisters were raised primarily by his mother, for his father died when Hasso was seven years old. The family was well off and lived on a well-groomed estate in a villa that was exquisitely furnished. Young Manteuffel received an excellent education in an expensive preparatory school operated by his cousin. (Young Manteuffel was an exemplary student who always put his studies first.) Continuing in the family tradition, he entered the Prussian cadet school at Naumburg/Saale in 1908. This school was one of the most modern in Germany, and its curriculum centered on the classical model, with heavy emphasis on sports and military instruction.
Upon leaving the school in Naumburg/Saale, Manteuffel entered the main cadet school in Berlin-Lichterfelde. One of a thousand cadets, he lived in a plainly furnished apartment with seven others. In January 1916, Manteuffel passed his finals and received his Certificate of Maturity and the next month he was promoted to officer candidate (Faehnrich). At the request of Manteuffel’s stepfather, Crown Prince Wilhelm intervened on his behalf and Manteuffel was transferred to the replacement squadron of the Hussar Regiment von Zieten (Brandenburger) Number 3. Later that year, Manteuffel was promoted to second lieutenant and was transferred to the 5th Squadron of the 6th Prussian Infantry Division, stationed on the Western Front.
While carrying out a reconnaissance mission near Bapaume, France, in October 1916, Baron von Manteuffel was wounded when a piece of shrapnel struck him in the leg. He was sent to a rearward hospital for medical attention and to recover; however, he desperately wanted to return to his unit and, in January 1917, left the hospital without authorization and returned to the front. Although he was later sentenced to three days arrest in his quarters, he never served the sentence. Manteuffel was transferred to the 6th Infantry’s divisional staff in February and remained with the division as it fought the Russians in East Galicia in July 1917 and when it returned to the Western Front in March 1918.
After the war ended, Manteuffel joined Freikorps von Oven as second adjutant and fought the Spartacists in Berlin, as well as other Communist revolutionaries in Munich and Leipzig. He was selected to remain in the 100,000-man army and, in May 1919, was assigned to the 25A Cavalry Regiment at Rathenow. In 1921, he married a beautiful, blue-eyed blonde named Armgard von Kleist, whose uncle was future Field Marshal Ewald von Kleist. The von Manteuffels were to have two children. From 1925 to 1930, Hasso served as the regimental adjutant of the 25A Cavalry and then became commander of the experimental mechanical squadron—a position normally reserved for a captain. In 1932, he became a squadron leader in the 17th Cavalry Regiment at Bamberg and in October 1934 was promoted to Rittmeister (captain of cavalry). Later that same year he was transferred to the 2nd Motorcycle Battalion, along with two squadrons of the 17th Cavalry. Although Manteuffel was an excellent horseman, he was literally drafted into the motorized battalion by Major General Viktor von Schwedler, the chief of the Army Personnel Office. In 1935, Colonel Heinz Guderian of the panzer branch convinced Manteuffel to transfer to one of the newly created tank divisions. Manteuffel responded by joining Guderian’s own 2nd Panzer Division as a squadron leader in the 3rd Motorcycle Battalion. Guderian developed such confidence in Manteuffel that he put him in charge of all cadet training for the division in 1936, shortly after Manteuffel received his promotion to major.
The close relationship between the two men continued, and, as Guderian’s fortunes rose, so did Manteuffel’s. Early in 1937 Manteuffel served as official adviser to the Inspectorate of Panzer Troops (part of OKH), directly under Guderian. On February 1, 1939, Manteuffel was named commandant of Officer Training School Number 2, located at Potsdam-Krampnitz, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel two months later. “Manteuffel somehow left the stamp of his own personality on his trainees, and he taught them independent action within the framework of an integrated team effort,” General Frederick Wilhelm von Mellenthin wrote later. He believed that tank crews needed to be very much aware of battlefield tactics, so that if necessary each crew could make independent decisions during the heat of battle to positively affect the outcome. He stressed the concepts of mobility and maneuverability and the use of ground cover, all of which may give a particular panzer force a decisive advantage. He remained at the school during both the Polish and French campaigns. Upon hearing of the impending invasion of the Soviet Union, Manteuffel asked for a field command and, as a result, was named commander of the I Battalion of the 7th Rifle Regiment of the 7th Panzer Division in June 1941. During that same month his battalion saw heavy fighting on the Russian Front; among other things it spearheaded a bridgehead across the Memel River in Lithuania. The 7th Panzer Division continued to engage in intensive combat as it penetrated deep into Soviet lines, becoming the first German force to reach the highway between Minsk, Smolensk, and Moscow.
In August 1941, Colonel Erich von Unger, commander of the 6th Rifle Regiment, was killed in action and Manteuffel was named as his replacement. The baron’s energy and indomitable will filtered throughout his new command as the 6th Rifle Regiment became the first unit to breach the Stalin Line as the spearhead of General Hermann Hoth’s 3rd Panzer Group; indeed, Manteuffel’s troops were always out in front, in the “thick of the action,” and were constantly carrying out daring, bold maneuvers. Clearly Manteuffel put into practice what he had taught at the academy. In October he was promoted to colonel, and his regiment participated in the assault on Moscow, crossing the Moscow-Volga Canal at Jakhroma, on the outskirts of the Soviet capital, under extremely heavy enemy fire. Once again, his forces acted as the spearhead for the panzer group. For his courage and leadership, Manteuffel was awarded the Knight’s Cross in December 1941.
Meanwhile, the German juggernaut stalled due to the onset of a severe Russian winter and stiffer Russian resistance. On December 6, 1941, Stalin launched a major winter counteroffensive all along the front, but Army Group Center in the Moscow sector was especially hard hit. In temperatures hovering around 40–42 degrees below zero, Manteuffel’s regiment fell back to defensive positions between Vyazma and Rzhev and held its line despite repeated Soviet attacks. General of Panzer Troops Walter Model, the commander of the 9th Army, ordered Manteuffel’s regiment, which was already under heavy attack, to launch a major counterattack. Manteuffel refused, pointing out the lack of food, fuel, supplies, and camouflage uniforms (without which the German soldiers would be easy targets for Soviet snipers). In response, Model demanded that Manteuffel’s troops attack on skis, noting that the division was from Thuringia, where all children learn to ski at an early age. Once again Manteuffel refused, and this time Model threatened a court-martial. The confrontation ended when the 7th Panzer Division was transferred to France for reorganization, and the divisional commander saw to it that Manteuffel left early, with the advance party, perhaps thereby saving him from a court-martial. Later, on the Western Front, Manteuffel and Model forgot their differences and worked well together. After the war, Manteuffel told the famous British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart that “Model was a very good tactician, and better in defense than in attack. He had a knack of gauging, what troops could do, and what they could not do.”
Back in France, Manteuffel supervised the rebuilding of his regiment and in July 1942 was named commander of the 7th Panzer Grenadier Brigade (of the 7th Panzer Division). His next combat assignment, however, was in North Africa, where he arrived in early 1943. Assigned the task of holding the right (coastal) flank of the 5th Panzer Army in Tunisia, Baron von Manteuffel in effect created his own division from an assortment of units, including the Italian 10th Bersaglieri Regiment, the 11th (Witzig) Parachute Engineer Battalion, and the Barenthin Parachute Regiment, among others. With this odd mixture (labeled the Manteuffel Division), he once again achieved stunning successes over his vastly superior opponents and held his thin line in the Tunisian hills for weeks against repeated attacks by French and Anglo-American forces. These battles took their toll, and on April 28, 1943, an exhausted Manteuffel collapsed on the front line. He was rushed to a military hospital in Bizerta and, while under medical attention, was promoted to major general on May 1, 1943. A few days later he was placed on the last Italian ship heading for Sicily and safety, as the Tunisian Bridgehead collapsed.
From Sicily, Manteuffel traveled to Rome and then to Berlin, where his family lived. Shortly before Manteuffel was to be discharged from the hospital, Adolf Hitler ordered him to appear at Fuehrer Headquarters in East Prussia. A surprised Manteuffel responded and appeared before his Fuehrer, who asked the general what were his wishes. Manteuffel replied that he would like to command the 7th Panzer Division, to which Hitler agreed. In August 1943, Manteuffel joined the 7th Panzer and, within three days of his return to the front, incurred shrapnel wounds from a grenade. Although in great pain, he refused to return to the hospital and, temporarily bandaged at the front, remained in command of the division and led it through some brilliant defensive fighting over the next four weeks. Manteuffel also participated in Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s offensive against Kiev in November 1943, during which his 7th Panzer Division led the attack that overpowered Zhitomir and recaptured an important German supply depot. For this accomplishment, Manteuffel was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. He succeeded at Zhitomir by dividing his forces into small mobile units that were self-contained and that penetrated between Russian columns, striking them from the rear. Such tactics completely confused the enemy. Hitler heard of Manteuffel’s exploits and invited him to Fuehrer Headquarters for Christmas. Hitler congratulated the general and gave him a present of 50 tanks. Hitler further rewarded Manteuffel with command of the Grossdeutschland, an elite, all-volunteer, specially reinforced panzer grenadier division. To complete the accolades, Manteuffel was promoted to lieutenant general in February 1944 and was awarded the Swords to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves that same month.
Manteuffel saw Hitler several times throughout 1944, as the Fuehrer was obviously taken with the small Prussian general’s uncanny successes. The general was impressed by Hitler’s magnetic personality and, as Albert Speer also told this writer, by Hitler’s ability to disarm one with his eyes and fluid discourse. Although Manteuffel was impressed with Hitler’s grasp of combat from the field soldier’s point of view, as well as the Fuehrer’s knowledge of military literature, he recognized Hitler’s weaknesses concerning grand strategy and tactical awareness, even though the Fuehrer had a flair for originality and daring. Although he was always respectful, Manteuffel always expressed his own views, regardless of how they might be received by Hitler.
The Grossdeutschland put forth a heroic effort in the Rumanian theater of the Eastern Front in early 1944, escaping from a Russian encirclement in March without losing a single tank. The Red Army kept coming, however, and in April the division halted a major Soviet advance in the Jassy area of Rumania and annihilated the enemy spearhead. Farther to the north, however, the Soviets were successfully advancing into East Prussia, and consequently the Grossdeutschland was hurriedly transferred and assembled near Trakehnen, approximately 25 miles behind the front lines. Berlin ordered the division to attack immediately, forsaking artillery support and adequate reconnaissance reports. Manteuffel’s attack took the Soviets completely by surprise, and his success managed to stabilize the German front. Still, the Grossdeutschland lost more than 80 tanks, and a furious Hitler called Manteuffel to Fuehrer Headquarters to explain the horrible losses. Momentarily taken aback, Manteuffel blurted out that he was ordered to attack and that the order—which he showed Hitler—compelled him to attack prematurely. After reading the order, Hitler called for Keitel and demanded that the field marshal tell him where the order had come from. Apparently Keitel had issued the order on his own, carrying out what he believed to be the Fuehrer’s will when Hitler had mentioned that the Grossdeutschland could stop the Soviet advance by taking the offensive. Consequently, Hitler turned his wrath on his despondent chief of OKW berating him for improperly issuing an order based simply on Hitler’s offhand remark. According to Manteuffel, there were other occasions when Keitel and Jodl, the chief of operations at OKW, issued orders on their own.
In September 1944, the baron was again summoned to Fuehrer Headquarters. This time, however, Hitler greeted him with open arms, promoted him to general of panzer troops, and gave him command of the 5th Panzer Army. Moved to the Western Front, Manteuffel had a new mission: counterattack and halt the drive by General George Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army. He halted Patton’s attack on Metz and recaptured Luneville on September 17. He was then ordered to attack Patton’s forces north of the Marne-Rhine Canal, which Manteuffel did under protest, realizing the hopelessness of such an attack. As usual, the panzer general proved correct: he lost 50 tanks and gained very little.
Manteuffel attended an important briefing conference in November, along with Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Field Marshal Model, and Colonel General Jodl. Jodl presented Hitler’s plan for an Ardennes offensive to the other officers. This offensive, which had as its principal objective the rapid seizure of the port of Antwerp, is now popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. The operation aimed at splitting the British and American forces and possibly forcing a second Dunkirk and potential British withdrawal from the war. If successful, Hitler reasoned, it would allow him time to recoup his defenses to better withstand the continued Soviet offensive toward Germany. The officers, however, were very skeptical and suggested a modified plan, to which Jodl curtly replied that there would be no changes to Hitler’s orders. Consequently, the attack would take place in December, with Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army and SS General Sepp Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army making the major German thrusts toward Antwerp. Manteuffel agreed with B. H. Liddell Hart in an interview immediately after the war that airborne troops would have been very useful to the attack; however, following the Crete invasion of 1941, during which the German paratroopers suffered tremendous losses in taking the island, Manteuffel told the British historian that there was a great reluctance on the part of Hitler to use parachute troops.
Although Hitler’s plan remained intact, Manteuffel did at least convince the Fuehrer to allow him to begin the attack during nighttime hours, thus foregoing an artillery barrage that Hitler had originally planned and allowing the general additional daylight hours once his tanks reached clearings in the Ardennes. Although Dietrich’s army was supposed to be the main assault force, it was 5th Panzer Army that enjoyed the most success. Once again, Manteuffel’s strategy of creating self-sustaining mobile fighting units proved successful, as they penetrated deep into the American lines, racing toward Bastogne. At the same time, Dietrich, who opted to advance on a narrow front, bogged down and, rather than assisting Manteuffel’s rapidly advancing spearheads, stuck to the Fuehrer’s order and vainly attempted to drive his stalled regiments forward. Ultimately, mud, lack of fuel, the lifting of the foggy weather (allowing Allied air power to inflict tremendous damage on the panzer armies), and a rapid American recovery doomed the Ardennes offensive. Manteuffel was particularly accusatory toward General Jodl, who had assured both Manteuffel and Dietrich that adequate fuel reserves were available for the offensive. Manteuffel argued that Jodl had no idea of the amount of fuel necessary for such an operation. Even though the offensive failed, Hitler summoned his brilliant panzer commander to Fuehrer Headquarters in February 1945 and awarded Baron von Manteuffel the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross and offered him an endowment of 200,000 marks. Manteuffel refused the cash, because he felt it was not fitting for a soldier to accept a “reward” for doing what was expected of him.
In March 1945, Manteuffel was given command of the 3rd Panzer Army, which was stationed on the Eastern Front. He tenaciously held his positions on the Oder River, although toward the end of April he ordered a retreat; recognizing that the end was near and again thinking of his men, he moved westward to surrender to the British. On May 3, General Hasso von Manteuffel surrendered his panzer army to the representatives of Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery at Hagenow. Manteuffel’s retreat was another noteworthy accomplishment, as he kept his units together during those hectic days when millions of refugees (along with soldiers from disbanded units) were streaming westward to escape the Soviets.
Manteuffel was placed under arrest and initially taken to an internment camp with other generals, where he was interviewed by Liddell Hart. When the historian remarked about the unpleasantness of the camp, Manteuffel replied “with a smile, ‘Oh, it might be worse. I expect we shall be spending next winter on a barren island, or else in a ship anchored in the mid-Atlantic.’” It was this marvelous sense of humor that aided Manteuffel in difficult situations and endeared him to the men who served under him. Indeed, those who served with the highly decorated baron did so with loyal admiration for the general who, in turn, treated everyone with respect and courtesy. Above all, he kept his calm demeanor in the most difficult situations and consistently carried out what he believed to be an officer’s obligation: duty to the welfare of the men under his command. Such characteristics were clearly displayed during an event that occurred during Manteuffel’s retreat, as part of Colonel General Gotthard Heinrici’s Army Group Vistula, to British lines. Having heard of the unauthorized retreat, an angry Field Marshal Keitel drove to the front and confronted Manteuffel and Heinrici. Both Manteuffel and his chief of staff, Major General Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand, related the following to this writer: Manteuffel, aware of Keitel’s desire for attack, prepared for the worst. Before meeting the chief of OKW, the panzer general made certain his pistol was loaded and kept his hand near the revolver. Further, Mueller-Hillebrand ordered several officers armed with machine-pistols to hide behind some trees at the crossroads. Keitel arrived and, pounding his baton into his gloved hand, angrily reproached Manteuffel and Heinrici. The generals explained the folly of holding fast and emphasized the desperate need for reinforcements. Keitel exploded and shot back, “There are no reserves left!” Hitting his hand with the baton, he ordered them to turn the army around immediately. Both Heinrici and Manteuffel refused.
Having lost control, Keitel shouted, “You will have to take responsibility of this action before history!”
Manteuffel angrily replied, “The von Manteuffels have worked for Prussia for two hundred years and have always taken the responsibility for their actions. I, Hasso von Manteuffel, gladly accept this responsibility.”
Keitel was unable to face down Manteuffel and turned his wrath on Heinrici, relieved him of his command, and then drove away in his staff car. Manteuffel and Heinrici merely shrugged their shoulders and continued the retreat westward. Once again, Manteuffel demonstrated that he was a man of convictions who would not yield.
General von Manteuffel remained in British custody at various sites in England throughout 1945 and into 1946. In March, 1946, he returned to Germany to testify before the Nuremberg tribunal in the trial against OKW. Finally, shortly before Christmas 1946, he was released and went to work for the Oppenheim Bank in Cologne. He was soon rejoined by his wife, who had been in a refugee camp near Hamburg.
Respect and admiration followed Manteuffel into civilian life. He was elected to the town council of Neuss-on-the-Rhine in 1947 (he was working for a manufacturing firm at the time), and from 1953 to 1957 he served in the West German Bundestag (Parliament). He was also a guest of several foreign military commands, including the Pentagon in Washington, and lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He passed away at home, Diessen-on-the-Ammersee, on September 24, 1978.
During the Battle of Berlin, six Soviet soldiers entered his headquarters and began shooting the place apart. Four of Manteuffel’s staff were killed, and four more were wounded, including Manteuffel himself. However, Manteuffel was unfazed and was able to shoot and kill one Soviet soldier and stab another to death.
Manteuffel advised on the rebuilding of a post-war German military
He could speak fluent English
Was a frequent guest in the United States
Was invited by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower to visit the White House
Lectured at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point about deep snow operations
Worked as a military adviser on war films
Was featured in the book The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan
Was featured in the acclaimed documentary, The World at War