Erwin Rommel (1891-1944)

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Rommel was without doubt the most famous of Hitlerís generals which is surprising since although his skill as a General and tactical ability was impressive his main victories were in what was a secondary theatre of war during World War 2. He commanded relatively small forces (a total of 14 Divisions at the battle of El Alamein) whereas his contemporaries on the Russian front commanded 130 divisions. Despite this his glamour, charisma and sense of honour earned him the respect of all sides in the conflict and the nickname the ĎDesert FoxĒ and he was picked to head Germany if the assassination of Hitler had been successful.

Rommel was a professional soldier born in 1891 near Ulm in Wurttemburg he joined an infantry regiment as an officer cadet at the age of 19, and attended the Danzig officer academy. He saw active service in World War I in Rumania and Italy and earned the Pour le Merite one of Germanys top honours for valour in a night operation. He rose to command his own regiment between the wars. In 1939 Colonel Rommel was posted to command the Fuhrer bodyguard battalion and this has been used in the past to accuse Rommel of being a Nazi, but this unit was a headquarters unit not a Nazi one. Rommel was impressed with the new Panzers during the Polish campaign and requested command of a Panzer division. He quickly showed a flare for this mobile warfare, with bold and sometimes personally risky tactics, he distinguished himself during the campaign in France with his 7th Panzer Division. He often led from the front and disregarded procedure but he was greatly respected by his men. In February 1941 he was posted to North Africa, where he was to earn his fame.

The fast open mechanised warfare of the Desert suited Rommel. He had better equipment than the allies but never had enough of it and at times his Italian allies were of dubious value. He also took great risks but was normally lucky. Eventually superior allied resources forced the Germans to withdraw from the Desert war in 1943 with Rommel conducting a skilful withdrawal. The harsh desert campaign had taken a toll of Rommelís health and he was sent on sick leave on his return to Europe.

Rommel was later placed in command of the German coastal defences in France preparing for the Allied invasion, he under took this task with great energy visiting all his sectors in person and starting a huge building program despite arguments with his superiors. Rommel knew that any allied invasion had to be hurled back into the sea to be stopped. He was away from the front when the allied landings on D-Day began but rushed back to the front, on 17th July he was badly wounded when his staff car was machine gunned by a British fighter. Rommel had been approached by a group of German officers planning to assassinate Hitler and negotiate a separate peace with the allies. Rommel certainly had sympathy with their cause, he was loyal to his country and could Hitlerís unrealistic attitude leading to its utter destruction, but there is no evidence that he was involved with the failed bomb plot on 20th July. On the 14th October two generals visited Rommel at home. He was given a choice - take a short car ride during which he would take poison safe in the knowledge his family name and the lives of his wife and children would be spared, or face public trial and be executed along with his family. He chose poison and the Nazi announced he had died after a relapse of his old wounds. A sad end to a chivalrous man who was loyal to his country and a great leader of men, as well as a great loss to Germany which needed such men in the aftermath of the war.
Rommel & Caporetto, John Wilks and Eileen Wilks. Two interesting books in one - first a general history of the battle of Caporetto, where the Germans and Austrians nearly broke the Italian army and second an examination of the young Rommel's role in the battle where he first made his name. [read full review] cover cover cover

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How to cite this article:Dugdale-Pointon, T (23 November 2005) Erwin Rommel (1891-1944), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_rommel.html

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