Who Was Rommel?
Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel (1891-1944) was an outstanding German general of the Second World War, winning a great reputation as a brilliant tactician during the desert fighting in North Africa. He was born at Heidenheim, near Ulm, in the state of Baden-Württemberg and educated at Tübingen. Entering the army as a cadet in 1910, he distinguished himself in the First World War and afterwards became an instructor at Dresden Military Academy.
An early Nazi sympathizer, he was attached to Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard in 1933 and commanded his headquarters guard during the German occupations of Austria, the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia, and throughout the campaign in Poland. During the invasion of France in 1940, he led a Panzer division and displayed such drive and initiative that he was promoted to command the Afrika Korps in Libya, North Africa, with the task of driving the British out of Egypt.
Rommel pushed the British Eighth Army back to El Alamein in Egypt, recaptured Tobruk in 1942 and was raised to the rank of field marshal. His brilliance in the field gained him the title of “the Desert Fox”, and the admiration and respect of both his own soldiers and his opponents.
He was a great opportunist and had a talent for improvisation. Perhaps his chief fault was a tendency to desert his headquarters and move “up forward”, thus putting himself in danger of losing control of the battle. His troops were defeated at El Alamein in November, 1942 by the strongly reinforced Eighth Army and forced out of Egypt, Libya and Tripolitania. He was recalled from Africa at the prompting of Mussolini who claimed that the Italian generals could do better.
The final phase of Rommel’s career began with the Allied invasion of France where he commanded an army corps. In July, 1944 he was wounded in an air raid and sent home to recover. Rommel had become increasingly disillusioned with Hitler’s conduct of the war and by the atrocities that were being committed.
He acquiesced in a plot to kill Hitler and would have been proclaimed Head of State if the conspiracy had succeeded. However, the plan was discovered and Rommel was given a choice of death before a firing squad or suicide. He chose the latter to save his family from disgrace and on October 14, 1944 was taken from his home by car and handed some poison to swallow. He was given a State funeral with full military honors, and it was announced that he had succumbed to his injuries from the strafing of his staff car in Normandy.
Rommel has become a larger than life figure in both Allied and Nazi propaganda, with numerous authors considering him an apolitical, brilliant commander and a victim of the Third Reich although this assessment is contested by other authors as the Rommel myth. Rommel’s reputation for conducting a clean war was used in the interest of the West German rearmament and reconciliation between the former enemies – Britain and the United States on one side and the new Federal Republic of Germany on the other.