Erwin Rommel Jr. was born a Swabian. The duchy of Swabia had long
been absorbed by the Kingdom of Wurttemberg, and Schwaben was a territorial
rather than political expression. Erwin Rommel Jr. is the Erwin Rommel
that we have all heard of. He never smoked and drank wine sparingly.
He was extremely chivalrous and treated captives with respect and candour.
He always lived and ate exactly as his subordinates and soldiers did.
He was one of the most respected German Generals throughout the war,
and even his suicide after the attempted assassination of Hitler commands
respect from those who knew who Hitler really was.
father Erwin Rommel Sr. was a schoolmaster in Heidenheim
in Wurttemberg. His mother, Helene von Luz (lived until 1940) was
a daughter of the local Regierungs-Prasident. Erwin Sr. had been an
Baby Empire: Germany
people do not realized that, before WWI, Germany had only begun to
be a country 43 years earlier. The German Empire was declared in 1871
in the victorious aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. All kings,
dukes, etc. combined in allegiance to the king of Prussia, now the
German Emperor. The troops of the kingdom of Wurttemberg formed the
XIII Army Corps of the Imperial German Army regulated by an Imperial
General Staff whose ancestors were the great Prussians of the war
for independence, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and whose most distinguished
chief-the Moltke-, all recognized the Kaiser as Supreme Commander.
Nobility was not gauranteed, but it could definitely help one's status
in getting a commission or better treatment and privileges. In this
day and age, German civilians were expected to give way on the pavements
to German military officers in uniform. The army was central in German
life especially because of hostilities between Germany its neighbors:
Russia and France. The army was the only thing protecting Germany
from these invaders, and the people respected, admired, and loved
their army. Every one stood behind the army before, during, and after
attacks by and against these nations, and the Army stood behind the Schleiffen
Plan, a coordinated, well-thought out plan proposed by brilliant strategist
Rommel: The early years
Rommel Jr. was born on November 15, 1891. As a child, he was even
tempered and was unremarkable academically and athletically. During
adolescence, he became very adept at mathematics (His father and grandfather
were both distinguished mathematicians.) Jr. always preferred practical
books to works of imagination. When the airplane was first built,
Rommel's imagination went wild and he spent many days studying the
airplane. After high school, Rommel Jr. was thinking of applying to
the Zeppelin works at Friederichshafen, but his father, the ex-artillery
officer, advised him to go to the army. In July, 1910, Rommel became
a cadet with the 124th Wurttemberg Infantry Regiment in the 26th Infantry
Division of the German Imperial Infantry. He was going to go in March,
but a hernia operation set him back four months.
Rommel: The cadet
as cadet in the Army until March 1911. Then he attended the prestigous
military academy Konigliche Kriegsschule in Danzig. The course lasted
eight months, until the end of November, 1911. During that course
he rose to Leiutenant: Corporal in October and Sergeant at the end
of the year. That is not all he acquired during his stay. He also
met the love of his life, Lucy Mollin whom he would write to everyday
during both World Wars. His final reports showed him competent in
all subjects, but not overimpressive, the report was actually quite
brief. In Jan. 1912, the dapper young Lieutenant Erwin Rommel rejoined
the 124th. In summer 1914, he served as artillery attachment in drilling
practices near Ulm. On July 28, 1914, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand
occured. One month later, Rommel would have his first combat tests; WWI was underway.
War I: Declarations and Plans
30th, Russia mobilized, and Germany, consequently, declared war on
them August 1st. On August 1st, because of a treaty between
Russia and France, France mobilized, and Germany declared war on them
on August 3rd. Germany began marching against France through neutral
Belgium on August 4th, and consequently, Britain declared war on Germany
that day. The Britain entrance could not have been avoided by the
Schleiffen plan, but because of negligence to the plan, Germany was
stopped almost as soon as it started. The French 1st and 2nd armies
were repulsed by the German 6th army at Sarrebourg and Morhange. This
successful defensive prompted Prince Rupprecht to counterattack and
also forced the dilution of the powerful right wing in order to help
the Crown Prince. This spelled disaster for Germany for it weakened
the one thing that Germany's plan counted on: the right wing. In fact,
Schleiffen's last words were "Keep the right wing strong." Ironic,
but those were his last words. The encirclement could now never be
acheived because none of the German forces were strong enough to deliver
a crippling blow.
Rommel: First Actions of World War I
first engagement was at Longwy after he had been marching and riding
for 24 hours. Rommel always had to be at the front, because he knew
that in order to successfully deploy his troops, he needed to view the
terrain and the enemy. So on August 21, the rest day for his regiment,
he and his aides went on reconnaissance. Thus during the engagement,
Rommel had been marching or riding for 24 hours straight. On August
22, in the town of Bleid, Rommel first showed his courage and intellect.
A group of 15 to 20 French soldiers were spotted by he and his reconnaissance
of three other men. Rommel opened fire and dropped 10 of the group
with regular rifles. His second encounter was 800 yards northeast
of Bleid, at freshly dug French trenches. He charged and repulsed
all French with only parts of his regiment (Rommel was never one to
wait for his whole regiment.) Then Rommel with two other men drove
off a whole French column. After this, Rommel passed out from lack
of sleep. When he awakened, a confused firefight had begun. He immediately
rallied his men and repulsed the French attack. The battle of Longwy
resulted in a loss of 15% of Rommel's men and 25% of his officers.
After the battle, medical doctors informed Rommel that he was suffering
from food poisoning, but Rommel would not leave the field.
a brilliant and devestating French bombardment, Rommel and 12 men
from his regiment were displaced from the rest. He and his men found
themselved in a German-French crossfire, and Rommel was reported dead
that day. After returning, alive and well, Rommel was appointed Battalion
first action as Battalion Adjutant, Rommel and a group of 13 men repulsed
a charge of 2 French companies and dropped 30 French, capturing 12.
Then on September 9, his outfit was ordered to begin digging trenches.
On September 10, they were ordered to charge. Rommel lost 4 officers
and 40 men dead, 4 officers and 160 men wounded, and 8 missing. On
September 22, Rommel was again ordered to attack, but this time he
consulted his commander with better plans. The result was 50 Frenchmen,
7 machine guns, 10 ammunition limbers, and a full kitchen captured,
with only 4 killed and 11 wounded. Then Rommel reorganized another
confused company, and started to return to his own unit. On the way,
5 French soldiers appeared ahead of him. Rommel opened fire and dropped
two of them, only to run out of ammunition. Rommel quickly fixed his
bayonet and charged only to be wounded with a fist sized exit wound
and to be rewarded with an Iron Cross, Second Class for bravery.
he returned to the field, prematurely from completely healing the
wound, the stalemate had set in. However, on the 29th of January,
1915, two other companies were ordered to charge and Rommel was requested
to join them. Rommel grinningly agreed. Rommel's company advanced
two miles, half a mile more than his compatriots into a formidable
breastwork: hundreds of yards of wire, a five foot wide frozen moat,
and overlooked by blockhouses every 60 yards. Rommel crawled through
the wire alone, and screamed for assistance. He then told his inferior
officers to come or be shot. The company soon followed. After penetrating
the defenses, Rommel captured 4 blockhouses. He was then surrounded
on three sides, and troops were massing to his right for an attack.
His rightmost blockhouse fell, and Rommel made up his mind to concentrically
attack this blockhouse and hope to overwhelm this larger force by
surprise. It worked wonderfully, making the French actually run from
this minute force. He then withdrew his men through the breastwork
to a defensive position half a mile in the rear. After the bold action,
Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross, Class 1. He was the first lieutenant
to be honored with this. In September, he was appointed Overleutenant,
and sadly recommissioned (Rommel was sad to leave the only comrades
he had known since commission) to a new organization, the Konigliche
Wurttemberg Gebirgsbatallion: a mountain battalion due to move to
the Arlberg in Austria for ski training.
Rommel: The Gebirgsbatallion
battalion was composed of 6 rifle companies, and six machine gun platoons.
On December 30, 1915, the battalion left for a southern sector of
the Western Front. It was responsible for 6 miles of front, and the
warfare was completely different. No trenches, only all-round defense
strong points, the kind of conditions ripe for raids. On October 4,
Rommel raided the enemy and captured 11 prisoners with only himself
and a sergeant. On October 16, the battalion moved to a town called
Uricani in Rumania. In November, Rommel attacked, and Bucharest fell
easily in December. Actually, the hardest part was the climbing and
maneuvering. On January 4, 1917, Rommel stormed the village of Gagesti
and captured 330 Rumanians with 0 casualties. Then, they were shipped
to the trench-ridden Western Front, and on August 7, shipped back
to Rumania- this time to take Mount Cosna.
Rommel: Mt. Cosna
was very lucky during the first part of the attack. A reconnaisance
party came across 75 sleeping Rumanians and 5 heavy machine guns with
no fight. The attack was fast and furious from here on. Rommel probed
and maneuvered all the way to a front position known to his company
as "Headquarters Knoll", the scene of a huge Rommel victory later.
Under Rommel's brilliant leadership they captured Mount Cosna, only
to receive a great shock; the Russians had counterattacked North of
Rommel and were surrounding Rommel. Rommel took up defense at "Headquarters
Knoll", which gave impressive sight distance to Rommel and was shielded
from Rumanian artillery fire by Mount Cosna itself. On August 13,
the Russian/Rumanian attack commenced. By August 19, Rommel had not
only repulsed the massive attack, but he had switched to the offensive.
On that same day, he recaptured Mount Cosna.
ever truly shined during World War I, it was in Italy. After a short
leave, Rommels battalion moved to the Italian front in October, 1917.
On Octover 24, 1000 artillery guns opened up on the Italians. After
a huge advance, Rommel was stopped by a Bavarian superior and told
to stay behind him and join the Bavarians. Rommel exchanged a few
words and left him. On October 25, Rommel decided to deviate the attack
plan and outflank his opponent. He did so, and in effect, captured
Mt. Matajur, and Kolovrat Ridge. Rommel took several hundred prisoners
at Kolovrat Ridge with no shots fired. Then Rommel surprised an Italian
offensive from behind and captured 12 officers and 500 men, bringing
the total to 1200 prisoners. He was now facing troops in front and
rear. In face of this, he embarked on the boldest feat in his career.
He rushed his battalion 2 miles behind the enemy front lines and cut
off their supply line. Then Rommel confronted an entire brigade- 50
officers and 2000 men, with only 150 men. The brigade surrendered
thinking this was a much larger force. Then Rommel doubled back and
captured the town of Jevszek and was rewarded with 1000 more prisoners-5000
now. Then Rommel approached the crown of the Mrzli Mountain. After
some thinking Rommel decided to do something very bold. He walked
up to the Italians with a white hankerchief in his hand and shouted
for their surrender. At 150 yards away the 1500 defenders layed down
their weapons, lifted Rommel to their shoulders and cried "Evviva
Germania!" 6,500 prisoners were now captured by Rommel's 2000 soldier
Rommel: Mount Matajur and the missed Pour le Merite
with his major objective, Mount Matajur, still ahead, Rommel's commanding
officer, Major Sprosser, ordered Rommel to withdraw, thinking that
his major objective had already been taken. This came to Rommel's
men before it came to Rommel, and Rommel was left with 100 men and
6 machine guns. He decided that, because of Major Sprosser's ignorance
of the correct orders, he would disobey these orders and go to the
summit. He ordered the 6 machine guns to fire at the Italian positions
at the base of the mountain, and shortly thereafter, Rommel approached
with a white hankerchief. 1200 men immediately dropped their weapons
and Rommel continued to the summit. At the summit position, Rommel
again fired his machine guns, and once again approached with a white
hankerchief. The remaining 120 Italians surrendered and at 11:40 a.m.,
October 26, Rommel signaled the Commanders that he had captured Mount
Matajur. Rommel's campaign resulted in 9,000 prisoners to Rommel's
6 dead and 30 wounded. Rommel later learned that another officer,
Schorner, was credited with the capture of Matajur, and consequently,
Schorner received the highest military award for bravery, the Pour
le Merite. Rommel was extremely displeased. He could be lenient with
prisoners, and even to enemy soldiers who weren't captive, but he
was a proud man, and he was reasonably mad about this award being
given to someone else.
did not always win. On November 7th, Rommel was ordered to clear the
enemy from mountain passes on the Axis road to Belluno. His machine
guns and infantry were not well coordinated because of the infantry's
belief that Rommel was going to lead their charge. The result was
a charge into a machinegun forwarned enemy and a loss. Rommel took
full credit and his superiors took no heed to this blemish in an extraordinary
career. This was not going to be a sign of his last loss, but it was
definitely not the start of a failing career.
Rommel: The road to the Pour le Merite
formed the hammer on what was "The German Schwerpunkt" to the Allies.
Italy was on the run, and Rommel was right on their heels. The Italians
were chased throughout northern Italy, all the way across the Piave
River to the city of Longarone. Rommel crossed the River and captured
thousands of prisoners immediately, but thousands more were inside
of the city. Rommel decided to attack with only 1 rifle company and
3 machine guns but was broken up by bad coordination. Then, Rommel
was almost captured by a spirited group of one thousand Italian soldiers
that he thought were surrendering. However, he jumped over a hedge
and avoided capture. This group of 1000 was stopped by a firm Rommel
and his thin line of soldiers at the town of Fae, one mile from Longarone.
After reinforcements of Rommel's own men arrived, Rommel pushed this
group of under 300 back to Longarone. There were still at least 1000
other soldiers in Longarone. Then, Rommel was surprised to see a captured
German Lieutenant on a donkey riding towards him. Behind the captured
Lieutenant, a long procession of civilians bearing white hankerchiefs
signalled the towns surrender on November 10, 1917. The German "Schwerpunkt"
would soon be halted by the arrival of 5 British and French Divisions
that landed shortly after Longarone capitulated. The attackers were
soon the attacked, but not until Rommel had went on leave in January
after he received the Pour le Merite on December 18, 1917. Before
the war ended, Rommel was sent back to his native 124th Wurttemberg
Regiment. He would not go back to battle for another 20 years.
Rommel: The Reichswehr: post war Germany
The Reichswehr, the new army of post war Germany was restricted to
100,000 men and only 4,000 officers. Out of 46,000 commissioned officers
at the outbreak of the war, 34,500 remained alive. The new army was
to be headed by Hans von Seeckt, a very intelligent and patriotic
officer. Because of the inferior size of the German Reichswehr, Seeckt
sought out to find the most qualified of all the former Imperial Army
to be in his professional army. He only accepted the best, and he
usually only accepted those born on the farms of the Fatherland. He
did this because he reasoned, like most of Europe, that the farmers
were hardy and best equipped for the tasks set out for the new army.
The highly decorated Rommel was a shoe-in for an officer position,
and retained his Captain status. However, von Seeckt trained every
officer to be fully able to occupy a rank two to three slots higher
when the German army was allowed to rebuild. He also made it possible
for the Reichswehr to be ready to expand to seven or eight fold its
current size, a force necessary in defending their country in case
of invasion. In 1924, Rommel took command of a machine gun company.
He then attended classes on driving, gas, and so forth: qualified
as a ski instructor and gave ski lessons to troops. In September 1929,
Rommel was sent as instructor to the infantry school at Dresden. This
had moved to Dresden from Munich by an angry von Seeckt after the
abortive putsch of 1923 led by Adolf Hitler when the staff and cadets
had been entirely on his side. He spent 4 years at Dresden. In 1937,
he published his book Infanterie greift an-"Infantry Attacks." He
became a major in April 1932 at the age of 40, 23 years after commission.
son, Manfred, had been born in December 1928, on Christmas Eve (This
was quite possibly Rommel Jr.'s greatest Christmas present.) Erwin
Rommel continued to learn and apply mathematics (By 1927, he had learned
the logarithm table), which would come in handy when he became the
notorious Panzer General extraordinaire. In October 1933, Rommel was
promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and given battalion command-3rd
Jager Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, at Goslar in the Harz Mountains.
1934, Rommel first met Hitler. Rommel was devoted to Hitler because
of Hitler's acceptance of the army over the SA. Rommel thought Hitler
was a good man, and he was swept up in the patriotic pride that now
ran rampant throughout Germany. Hitler was just as impressed with
Rommel, and Rommel's character soon gained him the position of Major-General
of Hitler's Special Guard, a very prestigous honor.
Rommel: Hitler's Pre-War Moves
1936, German troops marched into the Rhineland, a part of Germany
demilitarized under the provisions of Versailles, and a place of obvious
and symbolic significance. On February 4, 1938, Hitler announced his
new position of Supreme Commander of All German Armed Forces. In March
1938, Hitler "annexed" Austria by intimidation. In September 1938,
Britain's Neville Chamberlain negotiated the gift of over half of
Czech-Slovakia to Germany. During this occupation of the Sudetenland,
Rommel actually commanded Hitler's escort battalion. In late August,
1939, Hitler came to a mutual understanding with the Soviet Union,
today known as a nonaggression pact, that said that both countries
would not attack each other, but instead joint attack Poland. Germany
would get most of Poland including the important port of Danzig, and
the Soviets would get a troublesome monkey off of their backs. The
Stage was set for war.
Rommel: World War II begins
4, 1939, Rommel crossed the Polish border with the elements of the
Fuhrer's special field headquarters. During these opening operations,
Rommel viewed the success and advantages of Panzer columns on open
ground. He saw countless enemies beaten by these fast, mobile, armor
plated monsters. Rommel noted their speed and weaponry, and even noted
the things that they lacked. Rommel also became close friends with
Hitler, because he accompanied him everyday. On September 10, Rommel
and the Hitler envoy were already at Kielce, just South of Warsaw.
On September 17, the Soviets began their attack on the eastern border
of Poland. Warsaw fell on the 27th of September. The whole Polish
affair lasted a little more than three weeks, a humiliating shock
to the Allies. Although Rommel played no major role in the destruction
of Poland, he did gain valuable information on armoured columns, and
most importantly, he learned how the Fuhrer thought and how he made
Rommel: The 7th Panzer Division
consulted with Rommel on where Rommel would like to go from there.
Rommel told him he would like to lead an armoured division. Rommel
apparently had Hitler's favor, for in early February, 1940, Rommel
was appointed to command the 7th Panzer Division, now stationed at
Bad Godesberg in the west and soon deployed in the nearby balley of
the Ahr. He took leave of Hitler and was given an inscribed copy of
Mein Kampf as a present. Britain and France had declared war on Germany
on September 3rd. Hitler expected France to be rattled, but he did
not expect Britain to declare war on him. In fact, Hitler always,
even to his last days, hoped for an alliance with Britain. He had
nothing against Britain and was reportedly infuriated by their declaration
of war. Together, these two superpowers outweighed Germany in divisions,
naval power, tanks, aircraft, and well, actually they outnumbered
Germany in everything. Hitler knew even before Britain declared war
on Germany that he would have to deliver a crippling blow to France.
However, now that Britain was in the picture, the blow had to not
only be crippling, but fatal.
7th Panzer Division was a component of Kluge's Army Group A and consisted
of a Panzer regiment (25th regiment) of three tank battalions- a total
of 218 tanks- and an armoured reconnaissance battalion (refers to
a band of armoured cars): two rifle regiments, each of three battalions;
a motorcycle battalion and an engineer battalion; and a divisional
artillery with one field regiment (nine batteries, 36 guns) and an
anti-tank battalion of seventy-five anti-tank guns. The division had
not been armoured until that winter, and was only done so because
of top Generals like Guderian and Rommel's insistence on more armoured
divisions. Half of Rommel's tanks were the lightly armoured Czech
models, and the other half were the excellent PzKw III and IV's.
Rommel: The Opening Objective of the French Campaign: The Meuse
On May 10, 1940, the beginning elements of Rommel's 7th Panzer Division
began their advance. The Luftwaffe, of which 1500 planes were to support
Army Group A, were legendary during these open marches, and fended
off any Allied attack quite easily. By the second day, the 7th Panzer
was across the river Ourthe at Hotton: already 40 miles had been gained.
Twenty-four hours later Rommel had gained 58 miles. The Corps Commander,
Hoth, saw that he had a leader and reinforced his new found thruster
with the 31st Panzer Regiment. Rommel's leading armoured groups encountered
the Meuse River on May 12 only to find the bridges blown. Rommel's
motorcycle brigade was the first to arrive and boldly moved across
the Meuse via an old stone wier. They had no idea if the island was
held by the enemy or not but the brigade commander thought the rewards
outweighed the risks. They were unopposed and found a crossable lock
gate on the opposite shore. The first elements of the 7th Panzer crossed
the Meuse, and established a bridgehead. However, the French Army
soon caught on to this breach of the Meuse and attacked the bridgehead
in force. Rommel arrived on May 13 to take command of the crossing
and counterattack the French forces. He had his work cut out for him.
The French and Belgian forces were well concealed and wreaking havoc
on any German movement. Rommel crossed the Meuse from a wier and grasped
the situation. The rifle companies had dug in, but they had no anti-tank
equipment. Not 20 minutes after he landed, a tank attack began. Rommel's
answer was small arms. Even though the tanks were invulnerable to
these weapons, the effect of Rommel's concentrated effort checked
the French attack and repulsed them. Rommel then recrossed the river
and went north to supervise the building of a 16 ton limit bridge.
After giving direct orders to the engineers, Rommel crossed the river
again to the West side. The Germans had established a formidable bridgehead
here with anti-tank guns and several rifle companies, but no tanks.
Rommel rushed up 35 tanks in a matter of hours. He then climbed in
one of them and headed toward Onhaye, a key objective in the advance
on the Maginot Line. During his approach, Rommel's tank was hit twice
by anti-tank fire. Rommel was injured by a metal splinter, but was
okay. He and the crew exited the tank and sought cover in the woods.
He then ordered all 34 remaining tanks and 2 rifle companies to
take out the artillery and anti-tank guns that were firing. The order
was executed, and the guns were stopped. For the Rommel's actions
during the 13th and 15th, he received clasps on his Iron Cross First
Class and Second Class. The village was taken very easily, and Rommel
approached the Maginot Line.
Rommel: The "Impregnable" Maginot Line
Rommel came to the Maginot Line, he came up with an idea. Instead
of blowing up or dealing with every fortification in his way, he ordered
his tanks to race at full speed past the fortifications while firing
at anything that looked hostile. The mechanized rifle companies were
to do the same. The French were surprised to say the least. Most of
them simply surrendered to the rear guards that came up. The Maginot
Line had been breached, and the Engineers were having a field day
with the pillboxes and steel anti-tank hedgehogs they found along
the way. The demoralized French surrendered at every turn. By the
time Rommel had reached Avesnes, he had captured two French Divisions.
In the early morning hours of May 17, Rommel and his advance guard
had reached Landrecies, a full day ahead of most of the German army.
At Le Cateau, Rommel stopped and waited for resupply. By afternoon,
the rearguard of the 7th Panzer had accompanied him along with supplies.
Rommel then doubled back to deal with a French counter attack on his
rear guard near Pommereuil. He then pushed on until he reached Cambrai,
a full 175 miles from his starting point. He was then ordered to stop
for two days (An order that Rommel "bent" to less than one day of
rest.) At this point Rommel had captured 10,000 prisoners, destroyed
over 100 tanks, 30 armoured cars and twenty-seven guns, and had lost
only 35 men killed, 59 wounded, and one tank rendered useless.
Rommel vs. The British Expeditionary Force
way to Arras, Rommel's men were counterattacked by a massive armoured
column and light infantry near Wailly during the afternoon
of May 21st. At the time, Rommel had no tanks with him to face the
heavy Matilda tanks that were attacking him. He did however have anti-tank
guns, including the feared 88 millimeter anti-air/tank gun. This formidable
weapon scored many hits on the armoured column and because of Rommel's
determined defense with these pieces, the remaining Matildas turned
and fled. However, the enemy attacked near Tilloy and wreaked havoc
on Rommel's 6th Rifle Regiment. Rommel ordered the 25th Panzer Regiment
to turn around and attack the enemy tanks on their flank. The resulting
battle was a classic tank vs. tank contest in which the Matildas destroyed
9 PzKwIII and IV's along with some other Czech models, and only lost
7 Matildas; a clear British "points" victory, but Rommel held the
field. This may seem like a very small loss to the British, but actually
the British had only seventy-two Matildas in France, of which only
16 had anti-tank weapons. This meant that only 9 tank-killing Matildas
were left in France. Rommel also lost 400 men, of which 90 were dead
including his aide-de-camp Lieutenant Most- replaced by a wounded
Major Schraepler. Although the counter attack was fully repelled by May 21st,
it managed to halt the German army until May 26th because of the psychological
effects of an armoured counterattack. The Belgian army was pushed
back on the 25th, and were pushed even further back on the 26th. On
that same day, Rommel was decorated with the Knight's Cross of the
Rommel: The Error in Dunkirk
the evening of May 26, elements of Rommel's 7th Rifle Regiment began
crossing the La Bassee canal in the area of Cuinchy, and the bridgehead
widened to two rifle battalions on the northern bank. With snipers
hiding around every corner, Rommel pointed at targets, organized the
two battalions, supervised another heavy bridge, and directed tanks,
anti-tank guns, and artillery pieces to the other side. Again Hoth
saw Rommel's potential and transferred the lead brigade of the 5th
Panzer Division, 5th Panzer Brigade, to Rommel's command. To Rommel's
North, von Kleist was taking port after port trying to cut off the
Allied Forces escape. Meanwhile, Rommel was pushing toward Lille.
On May 28th, the entire surrounded Belgian army surrendered. The British
were in the meantime, trying to escape. Their only port was Dunkirk,
and they scurried as fast as they could. Rommel's entire command was
given a six-day reprieve while the enemy retreated, something that
Rommel much regretted after the huge victory celebrations had ceased.
The result was 337,000 Allied troop evacuations (two thirds British,
and one third French) by June 3rd, all of which Rommel and the Germans
would see again. Only next time, they would be more seasoned and much
more heavily armed.
Rommel: "Gespensterdivision": The Ghost Division
of Rommel's elusiveness, and his lack of communications with headquarters
throughout the French campaign, both the Allies and the Axis powers
coined his division "The Ghost Division" or "Gespensterdivision."
During this campaign, Rommel had captured just under 7,000 prisoners
and over 20 tanks, and destroyed over 300 tanks- including 18 French
"heavies", a tank that outgunned and outarmed anything anyone had
at this time. Hitler visited Rommel's victorious command on the same
day that the last British soldier left Dunkirk and received Rommel's
report personally. Adolf Hitler was so impressed that he asked Rommel
to accompany him for the rest of the day- the only divisional commander
to do so. When they were alone, Hitler remarked "We were all very
worried about you!", a remark that showed not only affection, but
Rommel: France's Last Offensives
27th, the 1st Armoured Division was ordered to attack the Germans
near Amiens. However, without infantry or artillery support against
a well deployed foe, the attack was severely repulsed with 65 busted
tanks. Another attack was made with two French Colonial Divisions
but met with minimal success. On June 4th, The 51st Division and two
French IX Corps' divisions attacked bridgeheads across the Somme and
acquired almost all of its objectives. However, by June 7th, General
Hoth had penetrated their ranks with Rommel's 7th Panzer Division.
The penetration started on June 5th at 4:30 a.m. Rommel was actually
the first person across the Somme and led his army on. The French
now changed strategies to strongpoints instead of fronts. These strongpoints
were built for all-around defense, especially anti-tank defense. One
such strongpoint at Hangest riddled Rommel's armoured car with over
20 shells. The effects of the artillery, anti-tank, and infantry fire
from these strongpoints lowered German morale, but not enough to turn
them around. Rommel personally directed the annahilation of the Quesnoy
strongpoint by Rommel's 25th Panzer Regiment. Then, on June 6th, he
ordered the 25th Panzer to march in a "Flachenmarsch", literally "area
march", on a front of 2000 yards with a depth of 12 miles. This massive
rectangular box marched 13 miles on June 6th and 16 miles on June
7th until he reached Menerval, over 40 miles from the Somme. Rommel
now tried to obtain the town of Rouen, but the town was heavily fortified
and did not capitulate until June 10th. Then Rommel received urgent
orders to redirect. The Allies were again trying to evacuate all the
soldiers that they could. This time the destination was the port Le
Havre. Rommel raced to the sea with his armor and anti-tank guns reaching
his objective the same day and cutting off the evacuation. Then Rommel
moved South toward St Valery. Rommel rode behind the leading three
tanks, until they came to a lone anti-tank gun. The gun took out the
leading tank, the commander exited and the two undamaged tanks moved
off the road without returning fire. Rommel was left alone in his
armoured car, and was shot at seven times without a hit. Rommel dismounted,
organized return fire, took out the gun, and scolded the commanders
of the tanks for cowardice.
Rommel: The Fall of France
then surrounded St. Valery and its port. He directed fire at the harbor
and the outskirts of the town. Transports and ferries were repeatedly
turned around and sunk until there were no more. Then Rommel inched
into the town on June 12 where he found the Commander of IX Corps,
General Ihler who told him that he had ordered General Fortune to surrender
days ago, but General Fortune refused to obey. Now, the French had
no choice. They were prisoners of war. At this time, Britain still
had troops in France. General Brook advised immediate withdrawals
to Churchill, and Churchill agreed. The troops would head to Cherbourg.
Meanwhile, Rommel's men marched and drove 150 miles on June 17, a
remarkable achievement, to the outskirts of Cherbourg. On the 18th,
Rommel demanded surrender, but the British refused. Cherbourg could
not be evacuated. Early on June 19th Rommel came in contact with a
network of forts around Cherbourg. He again demanded their surrender
or else he would attack at 1:15 p.m. There was no reply, so dive bombers
and artillery devestated the town for hours. The result was an acceptance
of unconditional surrender. The war in France was over. Well, at least
for the next four years it was.
Rommel: North Africa: Preparation
On February 6, 1941, Rommel was summoned to Berlin. There he was alerted
of the Italian's hopeless situation by Commander-in-Chief of the Army
Field Marshal von Brauchitsch. They had lost an entire army of ten
divisions in North Africa, were checked completely in Greece, on the
run in Eritrea, Somaliland, Abyssinia, Libya, and all of North Africa.
Hitler had personally selected Rommel to take two divisions-one Panzer,
15th Panzer Division, which did not arrive until May, and one light,
5th Light (totally mechanized but no tanks) division- to help the
Italians hold North Africa. The German rescue operation was coined
"Sonnenblume" or "Sun Flower," On February 11th, Rommel flew to Rome
and met the Chief of Staff, General Guzzoni. On February 14th, the
first troops from the 5th Light Division arrived in Tripoli and paraded
through the streets to raise morale. This was the 3rd Reconnaissance
Battalion. Within 48 hours, they had driven 280 miles east and established
contact with the enemy.
Rommel initially had no Panzer Regiments- much less Divisions- the
only tanks he had in North Africa were 60 obsolete light Italian models.
Therefore, as soon as he arrived, he began constructing dummy tanks
made of plywood and canvas. They were immediately sent to the front
to deceive the British of the strength of the German-Italian forces
there. Soon, all Italian troops were put under Rommel's command and
they joined the reconnaisance battalion on the battle front. On February
19th, a new title was given to the German troop formation in Africa,
the Deutsches Afrika Korps. Preparations went on for another month
until March 19th when Erwin Rommel flew to Berlin for a meeting with
Field Marshal von Brauchitsch and Colonel-General Halder. There he
received the Oak Leaves on his Iron Cross and bad news: they told
him that 15th Panzer Division would be delayed for 2 months and ordered
him not to attack until they arrived. Rommel thought otherwise.
Rommel: North Africa: The Race to Tobruk
24, Rommel ordered the 3rd Recon Battalion to attack El Agheila. The
attack went unmolested, and the airfield and water supply of El Agheila
soon fell in Rommel's hands. On March 31st, 5th Light Division advanced
on Mersa El Brega. The immediate response was stubborn, but after
a north flanking movement by Rommel and his machine gun battalion,
the defile fell and a good many vehicles were captured with it. Air
recon showed that the British were retreating. On April 2, Rommel
attacked with all the forces available to him. General Wavell had
told General Neame- the commander of Cyrennica's forces- to withdraw
if they were attacked all the way to Benghazi and further if necessary.
Thus, after Rommel began attacking, the British began retreating,
giving Rommel the impression that they were weak and vulnerable, which
wasn't far from the truth. The bulk of the armor had been sent to
Greece to fend off the German attack, and the troops were inexperienced
and led by less caliber officers. Rommel's army reached Bir Lengedir
on April 4th where it met with ellements of the 3rd armoured brigade
of 2 Armoured Division. By April 6th, the British were in flight for
Tobruk. On April 9th, Mechili had been taken after two days of fighting.
Rommel personally deployed 32 tanks of fuel to the troops and set
these operations, three generals-Neame, Gambier-Parry (of 2nd Armoured
Div.), and O'Conner, were captured. They also captured a plethura of documents that
pinpointed positions, mapped out landscapes, and outlined British
methods. On April 10th, 3rd Recon Battalion took El Adem. On April
11th, Tobruk- an important port- was enveloped by Rommel and garrisons
were set up East of Tobruk to warn of a British relief force.
Rommel: North Africa: The First Battle for Tobruk
14th, Rommel sent the Italian General Streich on an attack against
Tobruk, and General Streich timidly attacked. Casualties amounted
soon due to bombardment, anti-tank fire, and infantry volleys. Field
Marshal von Paulus, later to lose an entire Army at Stalingrad, watched
the next assault on Tobruk on April 30th. The attack came from the
West instead of the South and yielded Ras el Madamer and a good deal
of casualties. Despite the gain of Ras el Madamer, von Paulus returned
to Berlin and gave a damaging report to OKH headquarters.
Rommel: North Africa: Standstill at Tobruk
the ULTRA decoded German messages had given the British information
that the 15th Panzer Div. had not arrived yet and Rommel had been
ordered to advance no further. This meant that the time to attack
was now, before the tanks arrived. On May 15th, the long awaited British
counter-attack began. The first move was by the 7th Armoured and 22nd
Guards Brigades. Ironically, that morning Rommel had sent forward
all thirteen 88 millimeter anti-tank guns and a good deal of mechanized
troops. Thus, when the British attacked, the presence of the longer
ranging 88's gave them the impression that the information was false
and that the 15th Panzer had indeed arrived. The British consequently
withdrew, and actually withdrew past the easily defendable Halfaya
Pass that they had gained through heavy costs. A small garrison was
left at Halfaya, but there were no tanks or anti-tank guns, thus opening
the door to Rommel. Rommel immediately launched a counter-offensive
with a three-pronged attack on Halfaya Pass. The defenders were routed
after light casualties, and Halfaya was back in German hands. Rommel
then replaced the Italian Streich with General von Ravenstein, another
Pour le Merite recipient.
15th, the British mounted a renewed attack with the newly replenished
7th Armoured Division with 240 new tanks and the XIII Corps. The Germans
were in luck. On the first day of the battle, they intercepted British
code words and names used during this operation that became of great
importance when translating intercepted radio messages during the
fighting. However, Capuzza fell to the British that evening with heavy
casualties dealt to the British. Halfaya Pass and its 88's terrorized
the British, knocking out all but one of the attacking tanks. In fact,
the 88's and other anti-tank guns had knocked out 161 of the 200 attacking
tanks by the end of the first day's fighting leaving 22 cruisers and
17 infantry tanks. The next day, Rommel ordered 15th Panzer to attack
from the south, and 5th Light to attack southward creating a pincer
on the British pincer. Then, they were to attack eastwardly in one
large armoured thrust. The attack lasted throughout the 16th and 17th,
and resulted in the destruction of 91 more British tanks, nearly depleting
British reserves, to only 12 lossed German models. Not only was this
an overwhelming German victory, but it introduced a brand new type
of attack. Rommel invented a scheme of leapfrogging anti-tank guns
and tanks in an attacking role. The result was tremendous, and the
British attack was effectively repulsed. Rommel hoped this victory
would grant him more resources and attention, but he was dead wrong.
On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
Rommel: North Africa: British Operation "Crusader"
1941, Rommel's command was designated "Panzer Gruppe Afrika" and 5th
Light Division was redesignated 21st Panzer Division. He also received
another Light Division, the 90th Light Division. He also had 2 Italian
Corps under him, but only two of the Divisions it contained were mechanized-
whether tanks or motorized infantry. All in all, Rommel had three
corps of ten divisions. The supply situation was growing worse- 220,000
tons of Axis shipping sunk between June and October. Against Rommel's
two Divisions of 380 total tanks, the British had an attack force
(not counting reserves) of 600 tanks. They also had a numerical advantage
in airplanes. On November 18, the British 8th Army began Operation
"Crusader," a two-pronged attack aimed at annahilating "Panzer Gruppe
Afrika." The right wing of the attack was the XIII Corps under General
Godwin-Austen, and the left wing was the XXX Corps under Norrie which
carried the bulk of the armor from 8th Army and constituted the "hammer"
of the attack. Discordinated fighting occured around the garrisons
to the east of Tobruk. At first, Rommel did not want to believe that
he was not going to be able to attack Tobruk, so he hesitated sending
the bulk of his armor to check this massive offensive. By November
19th, the Germans had inflicted large casualties on the British, and
they began counter-attacking, but after a few days, the German tank
force was down to 40 active tanks.
Rommel: North Africa: The First Retreat
Although Rommel was sore to see all of the territory he had fought
so hard to win pass him by, he ordered the Panzer Gruppe's orderly
retreat to begin on December 20. At Agedabin, Rommel beat off an attack
losing only 14 tanks to 60 British tanks, a huge morale booster, although
morale was fine because the Afrika Gruppe knew they had never lost
a single battle. They were just simply finding more defensible and
more easily supplied ground. Without supporting troops and artillery,
Bardia surrendered on January 2nd as did Halfaya Pass on January 17th.
Rommel had gone from 350 miles to only 50 miles east of where he started
from. Even worse news came on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was
bombed by the Japanese thus bringing Germany to declare war on the
United States days later.
Rommel: North Africa: The Second Major German Offensive
At the beginning of 1942, Britain had 150 tanks. Rommel had 117 German
tanks and 79 Italian models. On January 21, 1942 Rommel received the
Swords to the Oakleaves of the Iron Cross. He would not actually receive
this until February 16th along with a month and three day retreat
with his family courtesy of a happy Hitler. On Jan. 22, Panzer Gruppe
Afrika was elevated to Panzerarmee Afrika. On Jan. 25, he was promoted
to Colonel-General. What brought about these prestigous honors? The
most brilliant accomplishments of his North African campaign had brought
them. During this attack Rommel achieved unusual surprise. The key
to his shocking endeavor was that he only issued attack orders verbally
thus nullifying ULTRA's effectiveness.
advance started on January 21st at 6:00 p.m. Rommel's army casually
entered Agedabin at 11:00 a.m. He then sacked Msus on the 25th, capturing
96 tanks and putting them to good use. He then feinted towards Mechili
and the whole British 8th Army retreated out of Cyrenaica. By Feb.
6, they were back on the Gazala position. On February 16th, Rommel
flew to Berlin, not to return until March 19th.
Rommel: North Africa: The Second Battle for Tobruk
turned his eyes once more on Tobruk, a strategic port of the Mediterranean.
His main tank force of 560 tanks (242 Panzer II's including the new
long barrelled 50 mm, 40 Panzer IV's, 50 light, and 228 Italian tanks)
would flank South while a diversionary infantry force under Cruewell
attacked along the North and center. The British had 167 of the new
American Grant tanks equipped with a 75 mm gun- the hardest hitting
gun of any desert tank, and counting these tanks, the British now
had 850 tanks. Rommel did have superiority in both airplane numbers
and quality (the new Messerschmitt 109F.) Even with the air superiority,
Rommel lost one-third of his tank force on the first day due to the
Grant tank. Then 15th Panzer Division ran completely out of fuel and
sat stranded in the middle of the desert for almost an entire day
until Rommel personally directed a supply column to replenish them.
On May 28th, Cruewell was shot down in his light aircraft and was
captured, but things would soon turn around.
then captured 3000 men and 127 guns at the Sidi Muftah Box. On June
10th, after another week's fighting, Bir Hachein and its 1000 men
capitulated to Rommel. By June 11th, Rommel had 160 German tanks and
seventy Italian models. The next day, Rommel attacked 4th Armoured
Brigade and destroyed 120 tanks with minimal casualties. By June 15th,
the British were in full retreat.
Rommel: North Africa: The Fall of Tubrok
20th, the apple of Rommel's eye was finally in reach. That day he
watched the first Stuka bombing of Tobruk at 6:00 a.m. At 7:00 a.m.,
the infantry entered the town from the Southeast while the artillery
and tanks rained down shells from high ground. By 6:00 p.m., 21st
Panzer Division was inside of the town. At 6:00 a.m. on June 21st,
32,000 men fell into Rommel's hands along with the vital port of Tobruk.
Later that day, Rommel was promoted to Field Marshal.
Rommel: North Africa: First Battle of El Alemein
pushed on to the Egyptian border. When he reached the Egyptian border,
he had to attain Italian consent to enter another country, in this
case a neutral country. Mussolini himself gave Rommel permission to
enter the country. At this time he had only 44 working tanks, but
he believed the initiative was his, and that he would lose this initiative
if he stopped to rest. On July 1st, Romme's lead columns engaged the
enemy South of El Alemein at a railway station. That same day, he
staged his first major attack, which was completely repelled and saw
a good portion of his already few tanks destroyed. The British were
ready for him, and they had heavy artillery and massive airpower to
back them up. Another attack was planned for July 10th, but the British
ULTRA gave them the knowledge before hand, and forced them to attack
first at a weakened northern flank cancelling the attack. Rommel wrote
to his wife Lucy on the 11th "No day goes by, without the most appalling
crisis. It makes one howl!" On July 15th, he narrowly repelled an
attack by the New Zealand Division, counterattacked in the afternoon,
but did not gain back all that he had lost. On July 16th and 17th
Rommel just managed to check an Australian attack, also in the northern
section. On July 17th, Rommel had a meeting with Kesselring, Cavallero,
and Bastico. On July 21st and 22nd, another attack was fended off,
but this time Rommel's Panzers and infantry inflicted heavy casualties
on the British. In fact, the casualties were so heavy that the British
could afford no more military attacks whatsoever. The same went for
the Germans, and both sides went into a much needed rest.
Rommel: North Africa: Second Battle of El Alemein
15th, a new commander was named to head the 8th Army: General Bernard
Montgomery. This man was fresh and not yet discouraged and ravaged
by the desert environment. Rommel on the other hand, was having high
blood pressure, trouble eating, stomach trouble, and various other
ailment. Thus when the battle started Rommel was uncharacteristically
not "into" the battle like he normally would be. On August 30th, at
8:30 p.m. Rommel led the Second Battle of El Alemein against a well
prepared foe with a new commander. Rommel would attack with 470 tanks
against of force of just under 700 tanks. The British plan of battle
was to let Rommel think he was flanking them in the South while a
killing pocket was set up with anti tank guns, artillery, and tanks
for his unwitting troops. The attack went exactly as ULTRA had uncovered
and Montgomery had wanted. Rommel's tanks were devestated and his
troops made slow progress: 20 miles in 3 days. By September 2nd, Rommel
reluctantly decided to withdraw. Rommel still had 430 tanks, but had
lost over 3,000 men which he could not afford. Throughout this attack,
the RAF bombed non-stop and completely devestated morale: seven of
Rommel's own staff were killed during a bombing. However, the slow
and methodical Montgomery did not follow up on his victory. Rommel
had had enough. He needed a vacation, and on September 19th, General
Stumme took temporary command of Panzerarmee. Before he left, he personally
dictated the new minefields, and formations the Panzerarmee would
hold. While Rommel was gone, over 450,000 mines were lain by both
Rommel: Rest Before Utter Destruction
came to Germany with a heroe's welcome. He spoke brave words to the
press, and on September 30th, he attended a reception held for him
at the Sportspalast in the presence of the highest dignitaries of
the Third Reich. He was assured that the supply situation would be
greatly improved, and he subsequently wrote what he had heard to General
Stumme. On the afternoon of October 24th, Rommel was telephoned by
Field Marshal Keitel, Chief of OKW. Would Rommel, Keitel enquired
be fit to return to Africa immediately? The British had begun what
seemed to be a major offensive on the previous evening, at Alamein,
and Stumme was missing. Rommel answered that he was ready. That evening
Hitler telephoned persoonally, and telephoned again at midnight. He
first expressed anxiety that Rommel should not interrupt his cure
unless the situation were serious: but in the second call he said
that it was indeed serious. He asked Rommel to fly as soon as possible,
to resume his command. Next morning, October 25th, Rommel took off.
Rommel: North Africa: The British Counter-stroke
British attack was sounded by a heavy barrage of 456 artillery pieces,
and headed by 1000 British and American tanks (the Germans had 500;
200 of which were German models.) On October 24th, the British attack
was still well contained, and no breakthroughs were as of yet happening.
The Panzerarmee commander Stumme had actually died of a heart attack
while walking behind the mindfields during an air attack. At 11:30
p.m. on October 25th, Rommel's non-stop trip found him at the Panzerarmee
headquarters. He immediately messaged "I have taken command of the
army again. Rommel." Rommel was still very sick. Rommel learned from
intelligence that the defensive area of Hill 28, or Kidney Ridge,
was being held by a weakened 15th Panzer (31 tanks left out of 119.)
He immediately ordered 90th Light Division to march south-east to
help the Littorio and 15th Panzer Divisions. By October 28th, Rommel
had stopped all British westward movement, but Montgomery had already
changed his thrustline; he would now drive north. Meanwhile, tanker
after tanker was being sunk by the RAF and Royal Navy thanks to ULTRA.
Rommel had no hope of reinforcements. Also during the 28th, an order-
known as the notorious "Commando Order"- was seen by Rommel stating
that the British would not give any Italian or German soldiers captured
any P.O.W. rights, and would instead execute them on the spot. Rommel
immediately burned the order in disbelief, because he could not understand
it. He had always treated their P.O.W.'s with the utmost respect and
this was indeed a slap in the face. The British order was by no means
extraordinary for the Soviets and Germans were doing the same thing
on the Eastern Front. The British attacked northward on October 29th
and overran elemants of the 164th German Division and an Italian Bersaglieri
battalion. Another extensive barrage heralded the event and the aerial
bombardment went on nonstop. Rommel began plans for withdrawal, even
though this would be very costly if the enemy commander was aggressive.
At 11:00 p.m. the disappointing news that the 2nd of two relief tankers
(the Proserina and the Louisiana) had been sunk reached Rommel. By
October 31st, the British were attacking with the mass of their tanks
on the coastal roads. Rommel personally led the counter-attack, and
inflicted many casualties. However, Rommel now had 230 tanks left,
of which 90 were German, and Montgomery had 800. On November 2nd,
the British again began attacking from Hill 28 in a westward probe.
That day, the British bombed a dressing station with prominently marked
red crosses on it stressing Rommel's chivalrous and soldierly attitude.
By the end of the day, Rommel would have 35 tanks. On November 3rd,
1942, Rommel decided to withdraw or lose the entire Panzerarmee in
maybe three days of more fighting. Rommel immediately received a message
from Hitler which Montgomery read as well. It said "Not a step is
to be yielded. As to your troops, you can show them no other road
than that to victory or death." General Bernard Montgomery is said
to have laughed out loud, but Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was not laughing,
not even smiling.
Rommel: North Africa: Betrayal
felt that he had been betrayed by Hitler. Up until now, Hitler had
trusted every word that Rommel had said, and openly, Hitler had admired
Rommel's bravery. Now, however, Hitler seemed to distrust him, and
ultimately, due to the "Commando Order", Hitler was sentencing, like
the 6th Army in Stalingrad, an entire army to its death. Rommel was
appalled. Rommel spent 24 hours in indecision, fretting over whether
to withdraw or obey his commander. He walked alone in the desert for
hours, until General Westphal sent a staff officer to accompany him.
Rommel talked to the officer without constraint or discretion. He
said that if the Panzerarmee remained where it was it would be totally
destroyed in three days. Hitler, Rommel said frankly, was a lunatic,
determined from wheer obstinacy on a course which would lead to the
loss of the last German soldier, and, one day, to the total destruction
of Germany. The next morning, Kesselring met with Rommel and told
him to defy the Fuhrer. Rommel was relieved, but not as relieved as
when he heard that a force of 200 enemy tanks had been checked by
20 of Rommel's tanks. Rommel still was heard saying "The Fuhrer must
be a complete lunatic" by all of his staff members.
Rommel: North Africa: British Victory at El Alemein
4th, the British broke through the defensive lines of Rommel's armies.
The battle was effectively over and the Germans and Italians were
either dead or fleeing. This was not the only bad news. The day of
the defeat, a huge Allied convoy had been spotted off Gibraltar. This
convoy would land on November 8th, and would signal the end of the
Panzerarmee. The British and Americans had landed in North Africa
at Algiers. By November 6th, Rommel was left with 7500 men, 21 tanks,
35 anti-tank guns, 65 artillery pieces, and 24 anti-aircraft guns.
The British had been brought down to 200 tanks, but still held tremendous
amounts of infantry, aircraft (Rommel had no airsupport), and artillery.
Rommel stopped momentarily at Tobruk to refuel, but was out of town
by the 12th. The following day saw him at Mersa El Brega. Hitler ordered
Rommel to stop and hold off the enemy here. Rommel saw that Hitler
was either not well informed or a complete idiot. His confidence in
the Fuhrer was waning. Meanwhile, another relief army was being built
up in Tunisia to fight the Anglo-American forces in the western desert.
On November 20th, Hitler again messaged Rommel "The Mersa El Brega
position is to be held at all costs." On that day, Rommel showed his
first anti-Hitler outbursts to his soldiers- the entire reconnaissance
battalion of the 21st Panzer Division. "The war is lost, and Germany
must seek an armistice. Hitler must abdicate his power, Germany must
change the policies toward the persecution of the Jews, and refrain
from the absence of concessions to the churches of Europe." This speech
has been summarized, but holds all the points of his speech. The battalion
was stunned, but surprisingly agreed, at least to Rommel's face. He
again referred to the Fuhrer as "living in an unreality." However,
Rommel did not believe that it was entirely Hitler's fault. He believed
that Hitler was receiving horrendous advice from his counselors and
especially the Duce in Italy. On the 24th, Bastico, Kesselring, and
Cavallero visited Rommel at Mersa El Brega. There they viewed the
terrain, assessed the situation, and heard Rommel's account of everything
that was and is wrong. After a short deliberation, they unanimously
agreed that the Panzerarmee could not sustain any offensive at Mersa
El Brega. All agreed to a retreat to Tunisia; Kesselring and Cavallero
both agreed that a holding action should be attempted at Tripolitania,
but Rommel thought only of retreating to Tunisia, and then to Europe
to strengthen the mainland forces.
Rommel: North Africa: A meeting with the Devil
28th, 1942, Rommel flew to see Hitler at Rastenburg, the Fuhrer's
headquarters in east Prussia, landing there at twenty past three in
the afternoon. For the first time, at first hand, Rommel experienced
a different and alarming side of Hitler. Hitler reprimanded Rommel
viciously and snided remarks like "How dare you disobey my orders?
Because of my 'Hold your ground at all costs' on the Eastern Front,
the Wehrmacht has stopped the enemy cold." He would then break into
long silences, and not once did Rommel finish a thought, or a sentence.
Rommel later said that Hitler appeared beyond rational thinking. Hitler
then sent him with Goering on Goering's private train to Mussolini's
resort, and Rommel tried to convince Goering of the Luftwaffe's losses
in Africa. However, Goering was more interested in his art purchases
than in anything that Rommel said, and when Rommel got off of the
train with his wife Lucy, he recognized Goering as one of the enemy.
During the meeting with the Duce, Goering, and Kesselring, ideas flew
out of every mouth, and finally Mussolini gave his orders. Rommel
could construct a rearward position at Buerat, east of Tripoli, but
Rommel should also plan an ATTACK eastward from Mersa El Brega. Rommel
was very perturbed when he flew back to Africa on December 2nd. Any
talk about Hitler still being sane would have not existed if anyone
would have heard the conversation between Hitler and Field Marshal
von Manstein on the night of November 29th.
in an unreality"
point, the 6th Army under von Paulus at Stalingrad was completely
cutoff from supply or reinforcement and the same was coming true of
the Army Group A, deep in the Caucasus. Field Marshal von Manstein
had protested to Hitler about the dangerous situation threatening
this latter Army Group (not under his command) as well as the peril
of the 6th Army, whose surrender would complicate if not render impossible,
a retreat from the Caucasus. "'Field Marshal,' Hitler said, concluding
the conversation, 'I must remind you of something I have already told
you repeatedly. We shall march over the Caucasus next spring ... You
will then join up in Palestine with Field Marshal Rommel's army, which
will come to meet you from Egypt. Then we shall march with our assembled
forces to India where we shall seal our final victory over England."
armies were almost 1000 miles from Palestine and in retreat, the Caucasus
were being held by a stubborn Soviet army, no one was threatening
India, and the Commander-in-Chief of Germany was insane.
15, 1943, the British attacked Buerat and lost a considerable amount
of tanks. Then, Rommel slipped away to a new position covering Tripoli.
This position was attacked on January 19th with a revived 8th Army.
However, Rommel said that their method of attack was far from admirable,
and if he had just a few more tanks and supplies (ie fuel), he could
have dealt them a critical blow. He was ordered to stand firm, and
Rommel found himself in another dilemma. He would be relieved by a
visit from Cavallero on January 20th. Mussolini and the rest of the
Italian Command were beginning to see the true peril to their troops
that existed in North Africa. The Italian divisions were not mechanized,
and they were marching just as far as the Germans were riding, only
slower. The Italians were surrendering in hordes. Thus in this situation,
Cavallero told Rommel to preserve the Italian armies and gain as much
time as possible. Rommel abandoned Tripoli on January 22 and saved
95 percent of the stores there. He began moving the non-mechanized
Italians back to a fortified line at Mareth, south of Gabes; a line
that could not be held without serious reinforcements. At a Fuhrer
conference at Rastenburg on December 20th 1942, Hitler declared North
Africa to be vital not only to "Plan Orient", but also the morale
of the public. By January 19th, Rommel's health was indeed failing.
He suffered from fainting fits, bad headaches and insomnia, low blood
pressure, and other various ailments. On January 31st, Bastico left
his command, and Rommel was indeed sad at his departure. He was not
sad, however, when he heard of Cavallero's dismissal. To cap it all
off, Field Marshal von Paulus' 6th Army and its 90,000 starving men
surrendered on February 3rd. On February 12th, Rommel was ordered
to relinquish command to an Italian General. They said he was replaced
because of his health, but Rommel was quite ready to leave even though
he loved his Panzerarmee. Rommel threw a party with 20 of his longest
serving Africa veterans, and all of them chipped in on a map of Africa
signed by each of them. However, Rommel would stay in Africa for a
little bit longer, but Panzerarmee was also no more. The Italians
changed its name to 1st Army.
Rommel: A Rommel out of form
his retreat from El Alemein, Rommel displayed extreme cases of indecision,
a trait wholy uncharacteristic of him. This lack of decisiveness was
mostly due to his bad health. In fact, by today's standards, he would
have been out of the war months before his retreat from El Alemein.
However, before he left, Rommel displayed his military prowess one
last time in the African theater.
Rommel: Prelude to the Last African Victory
21st Panzer Division was re-equipped and was now the most experienced
unit in Fifth Army. On February 1st, the division attacked and seized
the Faid pass, an east-west pass through the mountains known as the
Eastern Dorsale which ran from north to south parallel to the coast
and some seventy miles inland, in central Tunisia. If the Anglo-American
force was to cut von Arnim and Rommel's forces in half, it would have
to be done by crossing this mountain range. On February 9th, the German-Italian
forces agreed to attack from this launching point. The actual attack
began five days later by the 10th and 21st Panzer Divisions. 44 American
tanks, 26 guns, and nearly 100 other types of vehicles were either
captures or destroyed in the first hours of the campaign. Rommel's
divisions would be the left pincer of the attack: Operation Morgenlust,
and von Arnim's would constitute the right pincer: Operation Fruhlingswind.
Rommel: Operation Morgenlust
the first time in months, Rommel believed that this plan could work,
in giving his divisions time to evacuate from Africa. He pushed onward
hoping to disrupt and conquer as he did during his previous two marches.
On February 15th, 70 of Rommel's tanks entered Gasfa. When Rommel
arrived that day, he found that the Americans had evacuated the town
hastily and blown up an entire ammunition dump, killing many civilians
(two sources estimate up to 100 casualties. It was probably much less.)
When Rommel entered the town, there were shouts of "Hitler!" and "Rommel!"
On February 17th, Rommel's troops entered Feriana and moved to the
nearby airfield at Thelepte actually capturing American planes on
the ground! Rommel immediately wired a telegram to Kesselring in Rome.
It said "If all three Panzer divisions- 10th, 15th, and 21st- assembled
in the region of Feriana under my command, I will advance on Tebessa
with a view to overrunning the Anglo-American rear areas, and invading
Algeria." Kesselring agreed. Rommel was so happy that he ordered champagne,
something he never did. However, von Arnim had different plans. He
only wanted to attack in the Tunis sector, and indeed, did not want
to overextend his supply lines. Rommel, wanting only to protect his
troops, compromised with von Arnim on an assualt with only two divisions-
10th and 21st- to Le Kef. The main Shwerpunkt of his assualt would
be through Kasserine Pass. The battle of Kasserine pass was Rommel's
last victory in Africa.
Rommel: The Battle of Kasserine Pass
advance on the left and right flanks went slow, so he pushed the center
forward, the front that took Kasserine Pass. The Americans had lain
many mines on the pass and just south of the pass. Their main defense
lay north of the pass, thus impeding the flow of the right wing with
the 3 united, but weak , French, British, and American armies. The
pass was staunchly defended, but Rommel's troops persevered. By evening
of the 21st, Rommel had entered Thala.
Rommel: Erwin Rommel vs. von Arnim
Rommel analyzed the situtation and ordered a stop. Kesselring arrived
on the 22nd and tried to budge Rommel, but Kesselring acheived nothing.
Rommel was impressed with both the equipment and staunch resistance
that the inexperienced Americans were confronting him with. The weather
was also turning the tide. It had been cloudy, but now the superior
numbers and quality of the British air power would take full effect.
Besides that, Rommel was also deterred by the command structure. Von
Arnim had held back valuable Tiger tanks during the Battle of Kasserine
Pass, and he would not be reprimanded. He and Rommel were under separate
commands. Even though Rommel was officially promoted to command of
Army Group Africa, but von Arnim was still not under his control.
In fact, on February 26th, von Arnim launched an attack towards Beja
and Medjez-El-Bab, an operation that Rommel did not know about until
the 24th. The attack was called off after three days and Arnim returned
with only 5 tanks, thus crippling Rommel's planned offensive against
the British at Medenine. The codename for this attack was Capri, and
it was a complete failure, no thanks to von Arnim. Rommel did not
believe in this battle, and he gave full control of it to the Italian
General Messe during its first and only day of fighting.
Rommel: Operation Capri
British were fully prepared for the attack. ULTRA came through as
always and gave Montgomery every detail about Rommel's attack. Not
only did he have full details, but he had numerical superiority in
equipment. The mostly Italian infantry composed infantry was no match
for 400 tanks, 500 anti-tank guns, and an equivalent number of artillery
pieces. By the end of the day, the Afrika Korps had lost a third of
its tank strength. On March 9th, Rommel handed over command to von
Arnim and flew to Rome. He would never see Africa again.
Rommel: Hitler and His Post-Stalingrad Depression
10th, Rommel flew to report to Hitler at his headquarters in the Ukraine.
He found Hitler quite depressed over the recent loss of the entire
6th Army at Stalingrad. He talked with Hitler over the next three
days about almost everything in the war- he had no idea abou the concentration
camps. Hitler spoke to Rommel about leading an expedition against
Casablanca when his health was restored- an idea so preposterous that
Rommel could hardly believe his ears. Hitler also told Rommel that
there was a chance of shortening the front by moving it to Enfideville,
bnd that the position, like all others, should be held at all costs.
Rommel relayed this to von Arnim, and both men felt a little better.
However, the Enfideville concession lasted only a short time, and
in two months the British and American armies took the same path that
von Arnim and Rommel had feared. On May 12th, Arnim and 238,000 prisoners
(100, 000 Germans, more than Stalingrad) fell into Allied hands. Meanwhile,
on March 11th, Rommel was decorated by Hitler with the highest and
rarest order of the Iron Cross - the Swords and Diamonds to the Knight's
Cross. Even then, it was clear to Rommel that he would never go back
to Africa, and after two long years of fighting, the Afrika Korps
would be no more.
Rommel: The Imperfect General
is, even to this day, heavily criticized about his desert campaigns,
and Rommel's self-made supply crisis. They argue that, if Rommel had
thought out his plan that he should have forseen the supply limitations
and attacked accordingly. However, I think Rommel said it best to
his son Manfred. "The best plan is the one one makes when the battle
Rommel: The Position of the Reich in 1943
first task after his return to the Reich was to recover his health.
During these long weeks, he occupied himself at Wiener Neustadt in
writing his own record and lessons from the campaign. The situation
in the East remained ominous. In January of 1943, the Germans had
only 500 tanks on the whole front- less than half the number of tanks
that Montgomery had on a 30 mile front. By summer this number was
up to 2700, but the situation was no better. Medium counterattacks
brought limited success, but the armies of von Manstein and von Kluge
were poised to attack the Kursk salient in an operation known as "Citadel",
a bold attack from north and south that might result in the destruction
of a force much larger than the surrendered 6th Army. Before the attack,
Manstein, Kluge, Hitler, and colleagues-including Rommel- were to
meet at Rastenburg in July 1943 after over 3 months procrastination.
Before the meeting Manstein met Rommel quite informally while Manstein
was swimming naked in a lake. He waded ashore to the laughter of Rommel,
Kluge, and the others waiting for the meeting. The Kursk salient would
be attacked in 1943. The Western Allies' bombers were continually
demolishing whole cities in North Germany, and the Soviets were building
up at phenomenal pace. The Germans were temporarily winning the U-boat
war in early 1943, but after the British broke the U-boat code, their
luck was up too.
Rommel: An appointment for the Field Marshal?
soon got wind that he might be appointed to command the entire European
coastline On May 9th, Rommel was in Hitler's presence. Most of Germany
did not know about the surrender of von Arnim until May 10th, so Rommel
was still seen as a victorious German hero to the common folk. On
this day, Hitler reassumed Rommel's respect. Hitler wanted to talk
about he Mediterranean. "I should have listened to you before," he
told Rommel. He also wanted to reassure Romel about his prominent
position in Hitler's eyes. During the next two months Rommel was constantly
in Hitler' company. He often had lunch or dinner with the Fuhrer.
Whenever Hitler went to Bavaria, Berlin, Rastenburg, or even his Berchtesgaden
mountain retreat, Rommel was with him. By this time, Rommel had heard
about the concentration camps, but he believed that it was not the
work of Hitler. He, like anyone else who had heard, thought it was
the work of unprincipled subordinates lke Himmler or Bormann. During
Hitler and Rommel's frequent talks, Rommel told Hitler of his thoughts
on the war as a whole. He told Hitler that the only way to end the
war against an enemy with such resources at its disposal was a peace
proposal. "Nobody will make peace with me," Hitler responded with
extreme melancholly. Rommel thought that Hitler knew the war was over,
but he had no idea about the scope of Hitler's crimes. Hitler was
right. Nobody would make peace with him. Rommel continually lost faith
in his leader. In July, Rommel confided to Lucy that Hitler was no
longer "quite normal." This came after Hitler referred to the actual
possibility of defeat and said that if the German people lost the
war the survivors could rot: a great people, he said, "must die heroically."
Rommel, for obvious reasons, was appalled.
Rommel: What to do about the Italians?
the surrender of the Afrika Korps, two plans were drawn up for possible
defences for the two most likely Allied operations in the Mediterranean.
The first plan, assigned "Alaric", was to involve the trickling of
20 + German divisions into Italy if Italy was invaded. The second,
assigned "Achse", was to be carried out if the Italians defected to
the Allies before, during, or after an allied landing. The plan involved
disarming the Italians and crushing or capturing all opposition. Because
of its implications, this plan was especially top secret, and both
plans were under Rommel's authority. Rommel immediately assembled
a small staff of former Afrikaneers to help him. On June 27th, Operation
Citadel began, and gained some head way. On July 10th, there came
the news that all had been waiting for, but which all hoped would
occur after Citadel's success. British and American forces had landed
in Sicily in an operation codenamed "Husky". The invasion of Southern
Europe was on.
Rommel: A Conversation with von Manstein
summoned von Manstein and Kluge to his headquarters and told them
to cease the attack and return to their original positions. The result,
Manstein and Kluge realized, would be the collapse of the entire Eastern
front. "Manstein," Kluge said, "the end will be bad. I am prepared
to serve under you." He then left Manstein with Rommel. Rommel told
him that when the Allies landed, the fortress Europe would collapse
like a "house of cards." Manstein suggested that they should ask the
Fuhrer to give up the command to obtain more favourable peace terms,
but both of them knew this was out of the question. "Like Kluge,"
Rommel said, "I also am prepared to serve under you."
Rommel: Operation Aleric
the battle for Sicily ground on, and the Soviets launched a major
counter-attack with rumors of an overwhelming breakthrough which turned
out to be exaggerated. Hitler sent Rommel to Greece to see about defense
preparations against an allied invasion only to be urgently called
back the next day. In Rome, the Fascist Grand Council had met - a
body which for years had done little but act as a rubber stamp for
the Duce's policies. They had voted Mussolini out of power with a
vote of 18 to 10 and placed him under arrest. Operation Aleric immediately
began. On August 1st, Rommel was given permission to launch Operation
Achse if the situation presented itself. By August 16th, all of the
German soldiers and stores were out of Sicily. Almost as soon as German
troops began marching through central Italy, Italy began formal talks
with General Eisenhower.
Rommel: Operation Achse
23rd, the first large scale air raid took place in Berlin causing
moderate destruction, and on the 25th, Rommel's hometown of Wiener
Neustadt was bombed because of its aircraft industry. On September
3rd, Anglo-American forces started landing in southern Italy, at Reggio,
opposite Messina. On September 8th, the announcement of an armistice
between Italy and the Allies was made over Rome radio, and that same
day, Operation Achse was begun. On September 9th, the Allies began
to land forces in the bay of Lerno, south of Naples. In northern Italy
Rommel had eight divisions in Army Group B. His plans for Achse had
been laid thoroughly and were soon swinging into action. Within two
days, the Italians were found to be fighting on the Allied side. By
September 19th, the Germans had captured 82 Italian generals, 13,
000 officers, and 402,600 soldiers and sent them to concentration
camps under the Achse plan. The plan was a complete success. Six German
divisions made every attempt to push the Allies into the sea, but
the Salerno beachhead proved stout and survived the assaults. By September
16th, the Germans were retreating to more desirable positions. In
mid-September, Rommel developed appendicitis and went through a successful
operation. Hitler decided to fight South of Rome despite Rommel's
protests. Meanwhile, partisan activity increased in both Italy and
the Balkans. The Balkan Tito was incredibly elusive and escaped every
attack imposed on him. During these uprisings, Rommel, for the first
time, witnessed the ruthless SS at work. A large scale drowning was
ordered in Lake Garda in which many Jews were victim. Partisans were
dealt with harshly, and the SS were at work on the Italian black market,
buying and selling items that they had "confiscated."
Rommel: Coastal Defenses
21st, with Allied attack impending and Kesselring the supreme commander
of the defense of Italy, Rommel was ordered to France. Lucy and Manfred
Rommel had moved from Wiener Neustadt to a house near Ulm, only to
move again to Herrlingen the following year. The house was once the
property of an "emigrated" Jew. Before leaving Italy, Rommel confided
to the staff members that the "war is as good as over." Starting November
22nd, Rommel enjoyed a week's vacation. After his vacation, he was
to take command of the coastal defences of the Reich, an objective
he found most disheartening. Rommel had always felt that the west
coast should be thoroughly defended because Germany could not fight
a two-front war. If, Rommel conceived, Germany could check a westcoast
invasion, the Allies would need another year and a half to build up
sufficient forces to try again. Meanwhile the Germans could concentrate
all, or most of their divisions against the barbaric Soviets. Thus,
the Germans would gain favorable peace terms, since the Allies did
not yet know of the horrible concentration camps and their deadly
Rommel: Improving the Coastal Defenses
set out to improve the coastal defenses and improve he did. Rommel
laid up to 5 miles of mines from coast inland, and set up underwater
obstacles for low tide, half tide, and high tide. He constructed dummy
fortifications, machine guns, artillery posts, and even dummy staffs
to confuse the enemy. He erected large stakes in the middle of coastal
and inland fields to destroy landing gliders. From January 2nd to
5th, Rommel was on the Dutch and Belgian coast. From January 16th
to the 20th, he was at Troubille, Honfleur, Fecamp, Le Havre, the
mouth of the Seine: scenes from his Ghost Division's past. The end
of January saw him at the beaches of Normandy and Brittany. In early
February, he was in the Pas de Calais. Wherever he went, he preached
of the importance of a battle at the beaches. If the enemy got onto
the beach, he must be pushed back into the sea. 32 divisions participated
in the coastal defenses of Army Group B. These divisions were usually
quite weak with little to no transportation and were composed of East
Front wounded or depleted divisions. The SS divisions, on the other
hand, were given the newest equipment and ample reserves of transportation.
Rommel immediately increased the number of troops and vehicles due
to frequent talks with Hitler. Rommel was able to get 2000 anti-tank,
tanks, and assault guns by mid-summer. The attitude and morale of
the coastal divisions witnessed a complete 180 degree turn with the
arrival and influence of Rommel.
Rommel: Counter Measures
despite Rommel's preparations, the beaches would still be penetrated,
and Rommel knew he would have to have a sufficient armoured counterattack
force. The leader of this counterattack force woud be General von
Schweppenburg, another Wurttemberger. Although both he and Rommel
agreed that the only chance of success lie in an immediate counterattack
by armour, he only excercised this tactic when he thought he (von
Schweppenburg) had sufficient strength. Thus, he would only attack
if he felt that he had ample power to overwhelm the enemy, a tactic
neither he nor Rommel could predict because they did not know the
actual strength of the enemy. This would play a deciding factor in
the battle of Normandy. Panzer reserves were fought over until and
Rommel: Possible Landing Areas
three anticipated areas of invasion were guessed to be either north
of the Somme, between the Somme and the Seine, or in Normandy. Von
Rundstedt, Guderian, and von Schweppenburg's armour reserve plan would
be carried out, and Rommel's infantry would be at th mercy of an unprecedented
allied air and sea attack while the armor lie 170 miles away. The
focal points, in the German view, of a landing switched constantly
between these landing points due to effective deception by Allied
airwaves and by such project as the V-weapon launch sites being attacked
in the Pas de Calais. Rommel was to have his quarters at the ancient
chateau of La Roche Guyon, built on a loop of the Seine. Elaborate
tunnels had been blasted out of the cliffs overhanging the north bank
of the river giving the staff adequate protection from virtually any
non-atomic bombing. He was hardly ever staying there for long though.
During the interval of April 23rd and May 3rd, Rommel visited the
Atlantic, Pyrneean and Mediterranean defenses in the area of General
Rommel: Prelude to D-Day
often went on walks with staff and friends, and reportedly told them
about how Germany must sue for peace, but the Allies would not talk
with Hitler. He often visited the coastline defenses and found them
in much improved conditions. During his Normandy visit of May 9-11,
he was especially pleased. Meanwhile, the bombing raids on the French
coast were stepped up. During the days of May 27th and 28th, 3,000
French civilians died along with only moderate German casualties.
On June 3rd, Rommel left the front to congratulate his wife on her
fiftieth birthday, and to have an interview with the Fuhrer through
his senior adjutant, Schmundt. June 6th was her birthday, and at 6:30
a.m., while Rommel was downstairs in the drawing room arranging her
presents, the telephone rang. It was Speidel. There had been extensive
and successful enemy airborne operations in Normandy; it was not yet
clear whether this was the long-expected invasion itself or not. At
10:00 a.m., Rommel called Speidel to find out that this was the real
thing. The invasion had begun. Rommel immediately drove to France.
Rommel: Operation Overlord
had one Panzer division- the 21st Panzer- with its 127 Mark IV tanks
at his disposal for counterattack purposes. The division was badly
spread out and an effective counterattack was unthinkable. The enemy
had three solid beachheads by then and paratroopers had captured key
bridges across the Orne. Jodl would not release the Panzer reserves
and thus there was no counterattack until Rommel arrived. The two
principal areas of concern to Rommel were the sector round Caen, in
the east, and the Cherbourg peninsula in the west. During June 7th
and 8th, there was heavy fighting both west and east of the Orne River
north of Caen. 12th SS Panzer Division had now joined the battle and
on the night of June 8th attacked strongly, using Panther tanks towards
the sea: Panzer casualties due to aerial bombardment were high. On
June 10th, Geyr's headquarters was bombed killing most of his staff.
The Tiger tank was doing remarkably well and winning virtually ever
tank-vs. -tank or tank-vs-2tank battles it came to; it did not however,
win the tank-vs. -airplane battle. On June 11th, the British 7th Armored
Division, familiar to Rommel from Africa, began moving west of Caen,
and on June 13th, entered Villers-Bocage, fifteen miles south-west
of Caen itself; but here one Tiger tank moved from the south into
the town, actually checking the British advance. Panzer Lehr Division
had destroyed twenty-five of the enemies tanks on the 14th.
Rommel: Hitler's Promises
17th, Rommel was called to Hitler's quarters near Soissons in Champagne.
The meeting also brought together all of the heads of the Western
Front's Armies. The meeting was extremely one-sided with Hitler's
decisions not only lone-voiced, but also final. They were to give
no ground. Two Panzer divisions would be moved from the Eastern Front
to the Western. The port of Cherbourg was to be defended at all costs
as well. He also said that the Navy, practically non-existent, was
to lay mines behind the enemy to hamper supply lines. The supply lines
were impeded, but by a bitter four day storm and not a mine-laying
operation. The V-weapons were launched against Britain on June 12th,
and everyone was holding the enemy everywhere, but Rommel knew the
enemy's capacity and intentions. He knew that with such air superiority,
there would soon be no rallied army to command.
Rommel: Serious Doubts
27th, Cherbourg surrendered, but not before it was rendered incapable
of port capabilities for four weeks. On the 28th, Rommel met with
Rundstedt. They talked for quite sometime. Rommel told Rundstedt,
"I agree with you. The war must be ended immediately. I shall tell
the Fuhrer so, clearly and unequivocally." Rommel knew that no one
would negotiate with Hitler. Both knew what this meant. On the drive
home, Rommel told Major Wolfram "I feel myself responsible to the
German people." Rommel spent that night at home and drove the next
morning to Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden. There he talked to both
Goebbels and Himmler before speaking with Hitler. Rundstedt, Keitel,
Jodl, Goering, Donitz, and Sperrle were attending this conference
as well. Hitler asked Rommel to begin the conference with his side
of the story.
Rommel: The Last Meeting
began, "The whole world stands arrayed against Germany, and this disproportion
of strength-" Hitler immediately interrupted and told him to concern
himself with military plans, not politics. Rommel did so until the
end of the unrealistic meeting, where Hitler spoke of one thousand
newly produced aircraft that Goering would pound the Allies with,
and new U-boats to destroy the British fleets. At the end of the meeting,
Rommel again tried to speak of the situation, but Hitler declared,
"Field Marshal, I think you had better leave the room!" Rommel left
Hitler's presence for the last time.
Rommel: A War of Attrition
practically every officer, including Geyr, under Rommel's command
knew the present situation- Geyr was replaced due to his pessimism
and plans to retreat to better defensive ground. On July 7, a great
Allied air raid destroyed a great number of civilian lives in Caen.
The aerial and ground bombardment continued to take its toll. On July
14th, Rommel found one parachute regiment wherein, of a total of one
thousand reinforcements received since battle began, over eight hundred
had already fallen. On June 23rd, to make matters worse, the Russians
launched a huge offensive ripping a hole in the German center and
were marching across Poland.
Rommel: Desperate Measures for Germany
this time, Rommel often talked of suicide, but refused it because
he thought of it as desertion- a fact which made his knowledge of
the bomb threat and the actions of the SS quite obvious later on.
During one conversation with his trusted adjutant Lattmann, Rommel
confided to him, "I will try to use my reputation with the Allies
to make a truce, against Hitler's wishes." Another adjutant who fought
with Rommel in Africa and confided with him heard much of the same
talk. Warning opened up the conversation by saying, "Field Marshal,
what's really going to happen here? Twelve German divisions are trying
to contain the whole front."
tell you something," Rommel replied. "Field Marshal von Kluge and
I have sent the Fuhrer an ultimatum. Militarily, the war can't be
won and he must make a political decision."
probably looked at Rommel with astonished disbelief.
what if the Fuhrer refuses?"
"Then," Rommel said, "I open the west front. There would only be one
important matter left- that the Anglo-Americans reach Berlin before
spoke to Westphal in this same manner, and to his son Manfred.
Rommel: The Ultimatum and the Caen Offensive
"ultimatum" would be signed the next day, July 16th. Kluge had now
taken von Rundstedt's place and was shocked by Rommel's- who he had
known to be quite headstrong during France- pessimism. By now his
army had lost 117,000 men-including some 2700 officers since June
6th, with only 10,000 replacements. On July 15th, he had visited the
Caen front to see a great mass of enemy armor. "The next major offensive
shall be here." He said to his staff.
Rommel: Colonel von Stauffenberg
15th, the day before the signing of Rommel's "ultimatum," the chief
of staff of the German reserve army, the 'Home Army', Colonel Graf
Schenk von Stauffenberg, flew from Berlin to Hitler's headquarters
at Rastenburg. He arrived at eleven o'clock in the morning and telephoned
General Olbricht in Berlin. Olbricht, according to plan, then began
issuing orders for the movement of troops into Berlin. This was in
fulfillment of an official 'Alert plan', codenamed 'Valkyrie', by
which bodies of troops from the various training schools near Berlin
would be mobilized and brought into the capital. The plan was meant
to check a rebellion by the millions of forced laborers working in
Germany, but today it would be used for different purposes. Stauffenberg,
in his briefcase, had a bomb. He was due to attend a conference with
Hitler and intended to fuse the bomb and time it to detonate during
the Fuhrer's conference, killing at least the Fuhrer. This was Stauffenberg's
second visit to Rastenburg with a bomb. The first had been on July
11th, when he had returned with it to Berlin because Himmler (thought
by some of the conspirators also to be an essential target) was not
there. A new pre-planned hierarchy would follow the assassination
with von Beck as head of state, von Witzleben as commander-in-chief
of the Wehrmacht, Dr. Goerdeler as Reich Chancellor, and numerous
other appointments. The new government would then make peace with
the western Allies. However, this attempt had to be called off until
the next meeting on the 20th due to Hitler needing to leave the conference
Rommel: Previous Attempts
conspirators had planned to overthrow or kill Hitler ever since he
came to office. The first attempt to end Hitler's life was planned
for August 1941 when he was visiting Army Group Center on the Eastern
Front. Another attempt was prepared for March 1943, involving a bomb
in Hitler's aircraft on his return flight to Rastenburg. It failed;
the detonator cap of the bomb had not responded to the striker and
Hitler landed safely. Other attempts were made to kill Hitler at close
quarters -once when visiting an exhibition, once when inspecting new
uniforms. Some of the men behind these plots were arrested by the
Gestapo- Bonhoeffer in April 1943, Moltke in January 1944, and several
others. Among these conspirators were many men close to Rommel including
his Chief of Staff- General Hans Speidel.
Rommel: Covert Plans
16th saw a special covert mission applied for approval to the SAS
(Special Air Service) of England. The objective was to drop in a small
party of excellent soldiers with the task of killing or capturing
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The operation instruction was signed n
July 20th and the signal announcing the drop (scheduled for the night
of July 25th-26th) was issued on the twenty-third. The opinion at
staff level in the British 21st Army Group in Normandy had moved towards
'killing rather than capturing the gent in question.' :Source was
HQ SAS Operation Instruction 32. Copy, with associated signals, EPM
3: They would come close to this from the skies, but not from this
Rommel: An Attempt on the Field Marshal
excerpts are taken from Fraser 513.
17th, Rommel's car reached the main road leading south towards Vimoutiers.
An air sentry was riding in the back of the car, Obergefreiter Holke.
The accompanying staff officers were Major Neuhaus and Captain Lang.
Suddenly Holke yelled that there were enemy aircraft heading in on
the road they were taking; they were coming from behind, low and fast.
There was a shout to the driver, Daniel, to speed up, to race three
hundred yards to where it looked possible to pull off the road and
take cover. Before they got there the leading enemy aircraft opened
fire. The car went out of control and ended up in a ditch on the left
of the road. Rommel had already been hard hit even before the second
attacking aircraft came in, strafing the wrecked car and the prone
bodies of its occupants once again.
Rommel: A Narrow Escape and a Stiff Defense
first was taken to a monastery where a French doctor in Livarot cared
for him. Rommel's skull was severely fractured, and wounds were to
the temple and face. Daniel died of his injuries." The British attacked
the next day at the exact location that Rommel had said they would.
The British hammered the Germans for 3 hours with aerial bombardment.
Then attacked Caen. The Germans did not break however, and the defenses
that Rommel had prepared for their attack proved well planned. This
would be his last victory, and his last battle.
Rommel: The Assassination Attempt That Could Have Changed History,
For The Better
attended the conference on the 20th with Hitler present, and this
time, the bomb went off, killing several people in the room, but not
Hitler. Stauffenberg had left the room to "receive a phone call" after
placing the briefcase two seats from Hitler. He believed that no one
could have lived through a blast at that distance, but the blast was
absorbed by one of the table's oak legs. Stauffenberg immediately
initiated Operation Valkyrie with a phone call. The radios soon became
busy with chants of "Attentat! Fuhrer ist tot!", or "Attention! The
Fuhrer is dead!" The radios also broadcasted the new hierarchy of
the Reich. Meanwhile, the conspirators and the actual department heads
sent out contradicting messages of "The Fuhrer is alive and well,"
and "The Fuhrer is dead." Armies were moved, then called back. Officers
were sent on errands only to be sent back with contradicting orders.
Chaos ruled Berlin.
Rommel: Who is in Control?
in Berlin could tell which was the truth, and the conspirators were
getting nervous. General von Hase, who was supposed to call out the
reserves to contain the SS, hesitated until 4:00 p.m. before he told
Major Remer to assemble the troops because something had happened
to the Fuhrer. Unfortunately for the conspirators, Dr. Hagen of Goebbel's
propoganda office was currently speaking to Major Remer's men, and
when Remer told him of the situation, Goebbels was informed. Von Hagen
went into hiding after telling Goebbels for fear of being arrested
by the soldiers that the conspirators had dispatched to arrest him.
Hagen wrote a message to Remer telling him to meet Goebbels himself.
Remer sneaked out of the compound and headed to the Reichsminister's
office. After an answer of "I am completely loyal to the Fuhrer,"
he was handed the phone. Hitler was on the other line and gave Remer
direct orders. He told Remer that he had full authority to do whatever
he judged necessary to save the government of the Reich.
Rommel: The Plot Fails Completely
ordered a Panzer unit to move, but the unit told him that they received
order from Guderian alone. Was Guderian loyal to the Fuhrer? The obstacle
was avoided by the help of Lieutenant-Colonel Gehrke, who appeared
and persuaded the men that all of this business was the direct orders
of the Fuhrer. Remer then realized that the nerve center of the coup
seemed to be the OKW building in the Bendlerstrasse. He immediately
sent a unit under Oberleutenant Schlee to secure the building and
investigate. Schlee secured the building and told his men that if
he were not out in 20 minutes, they should storm the building. Schlee
was ordered to report to General Olbricht, the leading conspirator.
After arriving in Olbricht's room, he was ordered not to leave by
Colonel von Qurnheim. Schlee managed to escape nonetheless. Remer
now had confirmation of the military putsch that was underway.
Rommel: The Western Front Plot
in Paris, any key officers of the Nazi Party were being arrested.
Meanwhile, Beck phoned Stulpnagel, a cousin of Stauffenberg, and other
key members of the conspiracy in France that even if the Fuhrer was
alive, the plan should continue. Kluge, who they hoped would endorse
their plan, was not going to give in to such a rebellion, especially
if the Fuhrer were still alive. The next day, Keitel ordered Stulpnagel
to report immediately to Berlin. Order had been restored, Fromm was
back in power of the 'Home Army.' As soon as he was not under arrest,
Fromm sentenced the assailants to death, only to be later condemned
to death himself. Stauffenberg and the others were shot by a squad
of Unteroffizieren drawn from Schlee's company in the Bendlerstrasse
car park. Then, the Gestapo was ordered to do a full scale investigation
of every officer, citizen, or foreigner who might have said anything
against the best wishes of the Fuhrer. Rommel was sure to fall in
this category. Kluge took poison to escape his execution. Stulpnagel
tried to kill himself with his pistol, but he only blinded himself.
He and the rest of the French based conspiracy would be shot.
Rommel: Total Collapse on Three Fronts
15th, the Normandy front collapsed at Falaise, and the army began
a disorganized retreat. The Americans first occupied Brittany to the
west, and then turned east to pursue the Germans. On August 25th,
the British reached Amiens. During mid-September, the Western Allies
stopped their pursuit due to supply and logistics problems, and the
Germans turned around to fight. Rommel was officially relieved of
his command on September due to his health. His chief of staff was
dismissed but was not given a reason. The reason would soon come clear
with his arrest on September 4th. He was, after all, a conspirator.
Rommel knew this put himself in the spotlight, and he was certain
of the SS' vigil on his house. During his frequent walks with his
son Manfred, Rommel not only armed himself, but also his son. Rommel
received a warning from the SD of Ulm about his no longer believing
in victory. Rommel payed no heed.
Rommel: An Uneasy Feeling
7th, Rommel received a message from Keitel asking him to report to
Berlin via a special train. When Rommel inquired as to the reason
of his summons, General Burgdorf told him that it was about his future
employment in the Reich. On October 11, Major Streicher visited Rommel,
and Rommel told him of how he thought that Hitler wanted Rommel dead.
Streicher was not the only one that Rommel told. Anyone who came to
visit him during the next days would hear about Rommel's suspicions.
On October 14th, Keitel sent two generals (Burgdorf and Maisel) to
Rommel's home. The interrogation would go on for 45 minutes There
were two cars, one carrying the Generals, and the other carrying the
Rommel: The Evidence
had talked with Speidel about capturing Hitler, but never about killing
him. Rommel only talked about the plight of the soldiers, and that
the war should end. He actually voiced his opinion on overthrowing
Hitler, but never about killing him. He thought that this would make
Hitler a martyr to the German people, and no peace could be pursued.
The war would be fought for Hitler's memory, and Rommel thought that
it would be a bad idea. Speidel himself admitted only to knowing about
a plot to overthrow Hitler, but he did not know any of the details.
The most damaging evidence to Rommel's case came from Colonel Casar
von Hofacker. Hofacker told a colleague that he had informed Rommel
and Speidel of the coming Attentat, and Rommel had said that he was
content to play his own part to bring the plan to success. Another
interpretation was handed down by Speidel who said that Hofacker told
him, and he told Rommel, who gave him, Speidel, that response. Either
way, Rommel could not live after allegedly saying these things with
2 witnesses. In order to extract such information from Speidel or
Hofacker, one can only guess how brutal the interrogation got. However,
both Speidel and Kiessel, Hofacker's interrogator, admitted these
allegations were untrue. Nonetheless during the interrogation of Rommel,
these manufactured points were presented to Rommel, who subsequently
refused to believe such nonsense.
were two actions that the Generals made available to Rommel. They
could either take him with them to Berlin where he would be tried
for high treason with obvious repercussions on his family, includin
his son who was currently in charge of a Luftwaffe anti-air gun. The
second option was to "take the officer's way". In the latter case
he would be given a state funeral, his family would not be penalized,
and his death would be proclaimed as natural.
Rommel: Preparing For The End
left the General's company to see his family and friends for the last
time. He told Lucy that he had been given a choice, by Hitler's order;
suicide or to appear before a people's court. He also told her about
the evidence that they used against him, and no matter how circumstantial
the evidence against him, the Fuhrer's life was in danger, and all
those who opposed him should be dealt with. Then his son Manfred arrived,
and he too heard Rommel's story. The family said their goodbyes. He
had already made up his mind, and his family would be safe. He climbed
into the back of the second car with the two generals.
Rommel: The End To A Brilliant Career
minutes later the telephone rang in the house in Herrlingen. On the
line was a reserve hospital in Ulm. Field Marshal Rommel appeared
to have suffered a heart attack. He had been brought to the hospital
by two generals. He was dead. Hitler gave him a full military funeral
with von Rundstedt replacing Hitler in his stead. Rundstedt spoke
of Rommel's career and exploits, and he claimed "His heart belonged
to the Fuhrer." His heart belonged to the Fatherland, Germany, not
to Hitler. His wife Lucy watched in agony and a sense of shock as
her husband was grieved by those who attended. Rundstedt, obviously
knowing about the truth and loathing it, could only say a few words
to the widow and son. He left promptly.
Germany would lose the war
just as Rommel and virtually all the German Generals and Field Marshals
had thought. Hitler would self inflict his end by suicide just as
Rommel did, with the exception of a pistol being also used by Hitler.
Hitler, in his paranoia, had killed one of his best subordinates,
and so ends the chapter of history dominated by "the desert fox."
Most of the
information on this page is a compilation of Knight's
Cross by David Fraser.
Other information was compiled from
The German Army by Matthew Cooper and
The Mammoth Book of the Third Reich at War by Michael Veranov
If you have further questions about Erwin Rommel or history
in general, you can post them to the Erwin Rommel Discussion Board at
Biography Created: March 2000, Last Updated: May 11, 2004.