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Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (November 15, 1891 – October 14, 1944) was one of the most distinguished German Field Marshals and commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps in World War II. He is also known by his nickname The Desert Fox (Wüstenfuchs).
Early life and career
Rommel was born in Heidenheim, approximately 50 km from Ulm, in the state of Württemberg. The second son of a Protestant Headmaster of the secondary school at Aalen, Erwin Rommel the elder and Helene von Luz, a daughter of a prominent local dignitary. The couple also had three more children, two sons, Karl and Gerhard, and a daughter, Helene. Later recalling his childhood, Rommel wrote that "my early years passed very happily". At the age of 14 Rommel, with a friend, built a full-scale glider that flew, although not far. Young Erwin considered becoming an engineer, but on his fathers insistence joined the local 124th Württemberg Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in 1910, and was soon sent to the Officer Cadet School in Danzig.
In 1911, at Danzig, Rommel met his future wife, Lucie Mollin, whom he married in 1916. In 1928, they had a son, Manfred, later the mayor of Stuttgart. Scholars Bierman and Smith argue that Rommel also had an affair with Walburga Stemmer in 1912 and that relationship produced a daughter named Gertrud (1 p. 56). Graduating from school in November 1911, Rommel was commissioned as a Lieutenant January 1912.
World War I
During World War I, Rommel served in France, as well as on the Romanian and Italian fronts, during which time he was wounded three times and awarded the Iron Cross - First and Second Class. He also became the youngest recipient of Prussia's highest medal, the Pour le Mérite, which he received after fighting in the mountains of north-east Italy, specifically at the Battle of Longarone , and the capture of Mount Matajur and its defenders, numbering 150 Italian officers, 7000 men and 81 artillery guns.
After the war Rommel held battalion commands, and was instructor at the Dresden Infantry School (1929-1933) and the Potsdam War Academy (1935-1938). His war diaries, Infanterie greift an (Infantry Attacks), published in 1937, became a major textbook, which also attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler. In 1938, Rommel, now a colonel, was appointed commandant of the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt. He was removed after a short time, however, and placed in command of Adolf Hitler's personal protection battalion (Führer-Begleitbattalion). He was promoted again to Major General just prior to the invasion of Poland.
World War II
In 1940 he was given command of the 7th Panzer Division , later nicknamed the "Ghost Division" (for the speed and surprise it was consistently able to achieve), for Fall Gelb, the invasion of the west. He showed considerable skill in this operation, and in reward was appointed commander of the German troops, the 5th Light and later the 15th Panzer Division , which were sent to Libya in early 1941 to aid the defeated Italian troops, forming the Deutsches Afrika Korps. It was in Africa that Rommel achieved his greatest fame as a commander.
Rommel spent most of 1941 building his organization and re-forming the shattered Italian units, who had suffered a string of defeats at the hands of British Commonwealth forces under Major General Richard O'Connor. An offensive pushed the Allied forces back out of Libya, but it stalled a relatively short way into Egypt, and the important port of Tobruk, although surrounded, was still held by Allied forces under an Australian General, Leslie Morshead. The Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Archibald Wavell swapped commands with the British Commander-in-Chief India, General Claude Auchinleck. Auchinleck launched a major offensive to relieve Tobruk which eventually succeeded. However, when this offensive ran out of steam, Rommel struck.
In a classic blitzkrieg, Allied forces were comprehensively beaten. Within weeks they had been pushed back into Egypt. Rommel's offensive was eventually stopped at the small railway halt of El Alamein, just 60 miles from Cairo. The First Battle of El Alamein was lost by Rommel through a combination of supply problems and improved Allied tactics. The Allies, with their backs against the wall, were very close to their supplies and had fresh troops on hand. Auchinleck's tactics of continually attacking the weaker Italian forces during the battle forced Rommel to use the Deutsches Afrika Korps in a "Fire Brigade" role and placed the initiative in Allied hands. Rommel tried again to break through the Allied lines during the Battle of Alam Halfa. He was decisively stopped by the newly arrived Allied commander, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery; mainly due to the fact that the allies had devised a machine capable of deciphering German communications, thus alerting them to Rommel's battle plan prior to the battle. This was known as the "Ultra".
With Allied forces from Malta interdicting his supplies at sea, and the massive distances they had to cover in the desert, Rommel could not hold the El Alamein position forever. Still, it took a large set piece battle, the Second Battle of El Alamein to force his troops back. After the defeat at El Alamein, despite urgings from Hitler and Mussolini, Rommel's forces did not again stand and fight until they had entered Tunisia. Even then, their first battle was not against the British Eighth Army, but against the US II Corps. Rommel inflicted a sharp reversal on the American forces at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass.
Turning once again to face the British Commonwealth forces in the old French border defences of the Mareth Line , Rommel could only delay the inevitable. He left Africa after falling sick, and the men of his former command eventually became prisoners of war. The main factor leading to Rommel's failure to achieve total victory in Africa, was that the Allies had developed a machine which deciphered German communications, alerting them to Rommel's battle plans.
Some say that Rommel's withdrawal of his army back to Tunisia against Hitler's dreams was a much greater success than his capture of Tobruk (in sharp contrast to the fate suffered by the German 6th Army at the Battle of Stalingrad under the command of Friedrich Paulus).
Back in Germany, Rommel was for some time virtually "unemployed". However, when the tide of war shifted against Germany, Hitler made Rommel the commander of Army Group B , responsible for defending the French coast against a possible Allied invasion. After his battles in Africa, Rommel concluded that any offensive movements would be impossible due to the overwhelming Allied air superiority. He argued that the tank forces should be kept in small units as close to the front as possible, so they wouldn't have to move far and enmasse when the invasion started. He wanted the invasion stopped right on the beaches.
However his commander, Gerd von Rundstedt, felt that there was no way to stop the invasion near the beaches due to the equally overwhelming firepower of the Royal Navy. He felt the tanks should be formed into large units well inland near Paris, where they could allow the Allies to extend into France and then be cut off. When asked to pick a plan, Hitler then vacillated and placed them in the middle, far enough to be useless to Rommel, not far enough to watch the fight for von Rundstedt. Rommel's plan nearly came to fruition anyway.
During D-Day several tank units, notably the 12th SS Panzer Division (the elite Hitler Jugend) were near enough to the beaches and created serious havoc. The overwhelming Allied numbers and Hitler's refusal to unleash the tank forces in time, made any success unlikely however, and soon the beachhead was secure.
The plot against Hitler
On July 17, 1944 his staff car was strafed by an RCAF Spitfire, and Rommel was hospitalized with major head injuries. In the meantime, after the failed July 20 Plot against Adolf Hitler, Rommel was suspected of connections with the conspiracy. Bormann was certain of Rommel's involvement, Goebbels was not. The true extent of Rommel's knowledge of, or involvement with, the plot is still unclear. After the war, however, his wife maintained that Rommel had been against the plot as it was carried out. It has been stated that Rommel wanted to avoid giving future generations of Germans the perception that the war was lost because of a backstab, the infamous Dolchstoßlegende, as it was commonly believed by some Germans following WWI. Instead, he favored a coup where Hitler would be taken alive and made to stand trial before the public. Due to Rommel's popularity with the German people, Hitler gave him an option to commit suicide with cyanide or face dishonour and retaliation against his family and staff. Rommel ended his own life on October 14, 1944, and was buried with full military honours.
After the war his diary was published as The Rommel Papers. He is often remembered not only for being a great tactician, but also for his chivalry towards his enemies.
Battles of Erwin Rommel
- Battle of Bir Hakeim (1942)
- First Battle of El Alamein
- Second Battle of El Alamein
- Battle of the Kasserine Pass
- Battle of Normandy
- The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II, by Bierman and Smith (2002). ISBN 0670030406
- Rommel's Greatest Victory, by Samuel W. Mitcham, Samuel Mitcham. ISBN 0891417303
- Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, from Operation Torch to Kasserine Pass to Victory in Tunisia, by Orr Kelly. ISBN 0471414298
- INSIDE THE AFRIKA KORPS: The Crusader Battles, 1941-1942. ISBN 1853673226
- Alamein, by Jon Latimer. ISBN 0674010167
- Tank Combat in North Africa: The Opening Rounds : Operations Sonnenblume, Brevity, Skorpion and Battleaxe February 1941-June 1941 (Schiffer Military History), by Thomas L. Jentz. ISBN 0764302264
- Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940 - November 1942, by Jack Greene. ISBN 1580970184
- Tobruk 1941: Rommel's Opening Move (Campaign, 80) by Jon Latimer. ISBN 1841760927
- 21st Panzer Division: Rommel's Africa Korps Spearhead (Spearhead Series), by Chris Ellis. ISBN 0711028532
- Afrikakorps, 1941-1943: The Libya Egypt Campaign, by Francois De Lannoy. ISBN 2840481529
- With Rommel's Army in Libya by Almasy, Gabriel Francis Horchler, Janos Kubassek. ISBN 0759616086
- Generalfeldmarschall Rommel : opperbevelhebber van Heeresgruppe B bij de voorbereiding van de verdediging van West-Europa, 5 november 1943 tot 6 juni 1944 by Hans Sakkers (1993). ISBN 90-800900-2-6 [text/photobook in Dutch about Rommel at the Atlantic Wall 1943/44]
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