German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel "The Desert Fox"
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Unit names and officer ranks are historic
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Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (November 15, 1891 - October 14, 1944) was a German Field Marshal and commander of the Africa Corps in World War II. He is also known by his nickname The Desert Fox (W?stenfuchs).
Rommel was born in Heidenheim, approximately 50km from Ulm, in the state of W?rttemberg. The child of a Protestant schoolteacher, Rommel planned to become an engineer (perhaps working with Zeppelins), but instead enlisted with the local 124th Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in 1910. Two years later, he was commissioned as a Leutnant. During World War I, Rommel served in France, as well as on the Romanian and Italian fronts, during which time he was wounded three times and awarded the Iron Cross - First and Second Class. He also became the youngest recipient of Germany's highest medal, the Pour le M?rite, which he received after fighting in the mountains of north-east Italy, specifically at the Battle of Longarone.
In 1911, as a cadet at Danzig, Rommel met his future wife, Lucie, whom he married in 1916. In 1928, they had a son, Manfred Rommel. Scholars Bierman and Smith argue that Rommel also had an affair, with Walburga Stemmer, in 1912, and that relationship produced a daughter named Gertrud.
Post World War I
After the war he held regimental commands, and was instructor at the Dresden Infantry School (1929-1933) and the Potsdam War Academy (1935-1938). His war diaries, Infanterie greift an (Infantry Attacks!), became a major textbook after being published in 1937. In 1938, Rommel (now a Colonel) was appointed commandant of the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt. He was removed after a short time however, and placed in command of Hitler's personal protection battalion. He was promoted again to Major General just prior to the invasion of Poland.
World War II
In 1940 he was given command of the 7th Panzer Division, later nicknamed the "Spook Division", for Fall Gelb, the invasion of the west. He showed considerable skill in this operation, and in reward he was appointed commander of the German troops, the 5th Light and later the 15th Panzer Division, which were sent to Libya in early 1941 to aid the defeated Italian troops, forming the Deutsches Afrika Korps. It was in Africa that Rommel achieved his greatest fame as a commander.
He spent most of 1941 building his organization and re-forming the shattered Italian units who had suffered a string of defeats at the hands of the British led by Major General Richard O'Connor. An offensive pushed the British forces back out of Libya, but it stalled a relatively short way into Egypt, and the important port of Tobruk was still held by Allied forces behind the Axis lines. The British Commander-in-Chief General Archibald Wavell swapped commands with the Commander-in-Chief of India, General Claude Auchinleck. Auchinleck launched a major offensive to relieve Tobruk which eventually succeeded. However, when this offensive ran out of steam, Rommel struck.
In a classic blitzkrieg, British forces were comprehensively outfought. Within weeks they had been pushed back into Egypt. Rommel's offensive was eventually stopped at the small railway halt of El Alamein, just 60 miles from Cairo. The First Battle of El Alamein was lost by Rommel because he was suffering from the eternal curse of the desert war; long supply lines. The British, with their backs against the wall, were very close to their supply points, and had fresh troops on hand. Rommel tried again to break through the British lines during the Battle of Alam Haifa. He was decisively stopped by the newly arrived British commander, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery.
With British forces from Malta interdicting his supplies at sea, and the massive distances they had to cover in the desert, Rommel could not hold the El Alamein position forever. Still, it took a large set piece battle, the Second Battle of El Alamein to force his troops back. After the defeat at El Alamein, despite urgings from Hitler and Mussonlini, Rommel's forces did not again stand and fight until they had entered Tunisia. Even then, their first battle was not against the British Eighth Army, but against the US II Corps. Rommel inflicted a sharp reversal on the American forces at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass.
Turning once again to face the British forces in the old French border defences of the Mareth Line, Rommel could only delay the inevitable. He left Africa after falling sick, and the men of his former command eventually became prisoners of war.
Some say that Rommel's withdrawal of his army back to Tunesia against Hitler's dreams was much greater a success than his capture of Tobruk. Back in Germany, Rommel was for some time virtually "unemployed". However, when the tide of war shifted against Germany, Hitler made Rommel the commander of Army Group B, responsible for defending the French coast against a possible Allied invasion. After his battles in Africa, Rommel concluded that any offensive movements would be impossible due to the overwhelming Allied air superiority. He argued that the panzer forces should be kept as close to the front as possible, so they wouldn't have to move far when the invasion started. He wanted the invasion stopped right on the beaches.
However his commander, Gerd von Rundstedt, felt that there was no way to stop the invasion near the beaches due to the equally overwhelming firepower of the Royal Navy. He felt the panzers should be formed into large units well inland near Paris, where they could allow the Allies to extend into France and then be cut off. When asked to pick a plan, Hitler then vacillated and placed them in the middle, far enough to be useless to Rommel, not far enough to watch the fight for von Rundstedt.
Rommel's plan nearly came to fruition anyway. During D-Day several panzer units, notably the 12th SS Panzer (the elite Hitler Jugend) were near enough to the beaches and created serious havoc. The overwhelming Allied numbers made any success unlikely however, and soon the beachhead was secure.
In July 1944 his staff car was strafed by British aircraft, and Rommel had to be hospitalised with major head injuries. In the meantime, after the failed July 20 Plot against Adolf Hitler, Rommel's connections with the conspiracy were suspected. Bormann was sure of Rommel's involvement, Goebbels was not. The true extent of Rommel's knowledge of the plot is still unclear. Due to Rommel's popularity with the German people, Hitler gave him an option to commit suicide with cyanide or face dishonour and retaliation against his family and staff. Rommel ended his own life on October 14, 1944, and was buried with full military honours.
After the war his diary was published as The Rommel Papers.
Quotes About Erwin Rommel
The British Parliament considered a censure vote against Winston Churchill, for his failure to defeat Rommel. The vote failed, but in the course of the debate, Churchill would say:
"We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great General."
Theodor Werner was an officer who, during World War I, served under Rommel.
"Anybody who came under the spell of his personality turned into a real soldier. He seemed to know what the enemy were like and how they would react."
Quotes By Erwin Rommel
"Sweat saves blood."
Text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License