At Rommel's Side: The Lost Letters of Hans-Joachim Schraepler

At Rommel's Side: The Lost Letters of Hans-Joachim Schraepler

These letters were written by Hans-Joachim Schraepler, Rommel's adjutant in North Africa for much of 1941, to his wife, and provide an unusual viewpoint on the fighting in the desert and on Rommel's style of command.

Schraepler's position allowed him to bypass the military censors, and so his letters contain a more honest view of the war than most of his colleagues would have been willing to risk putting on paper. As a result we learn of serious German losses, the intense stress on Rommel and the damage it did to his health, and Schraepler's accurate forebodings about the fighting in the Soviet Union.

The letters were edited by Hans-Albrecht Schraepler, the writer's son. As a result we are given a rare insight into the impact of the letters when they reached Germany. Particularly poignant is the section describing the arrival of the last few letters, delivered after the news of his death had reached home.

The letters themselves provide some interesting insights in the desert war and to the wider conflict. Although the fighting in North Africa was soon to be overshadowed by the invasion of the Soviet Union, during the first half of the period covered in this book the desert campaign was the longest yet to the fought by the German army in what until then had been a war dominated by rapid German victories.

Schraepler is even more scathing about his Italian allies than most British sources, and was frequently frustrated by the poor performance of Italian infantry battalions, although he does tend to shift the blame for their poor performance from the officers to the men (and back), and his views of the Italian air force and artillery are much more positive.

In contrast the British get a generally positive write-up, with constant mention of air raids and naval bombardments, and the appearance of large number of tanks in unexpected places. The defence of Tobruk is also a major feature of the book.

These letters provide a very valuable view of the early fighting in North Africa from a position very close to Rommel, and add an interesting new layer of information to our knowledge of these campaigns.

1 The Beginning
2 The Background Career
3 Dusk
4 The Context of the Letters
5 The Adjutant's Letters (20 February-19 April 1941)
6 Outside Tobruk (19 April-11 July 1941)
7 Clouds (5 August-4 October 1941)
8 General Erwin Rommel
9 The Message (5 October-7 December 1941)

Editor: Hans-Albrecht Schraepler
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 192
Publisher: Frontline Books
Year: 2009

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