Erwin Rommel
Overview
 
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944), popularly known as the Desert Fox (Wüstenfuchs), was a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Field Marshal
Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought.

He was a highly decorated officer in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and was awarded the Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

 for his exploits on the Italian front
Italian Campaign (World War I)
The Italian campaign refers to a series of battles fought between the armies of Austria-Hungary and Italy, along with their allies, in northern Italy between 1915 and 1918. Italy hoped that by joining the countries of the Triple Entente against the Central Powers it would gain Cisalpine Tyrol , the...

. In World War II, he further distinguished himself as the commander of the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

.
Quotations

In a man to man fight, the winner is he who has one more round in his magazine.

Infanterie greift an (1937), translated as Infantry Attacks (1979); edited by Lee Allen, p.60

Courage which goes against military expediency is stupidity, or, if it is insisted upon by a commander, irresponsibility.

Letter (9 November 1942); as quoted in The Rommel Papers (1982) edited by Basil Henry Liddell Hart|Basil Henry Liddell Hart

In view of my services in Africa, I have the chance of dying by poison. Two generals have brought it with them. It is fatal in three seconds. If I take the poison, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family; that is, against you. They will also leave my staff alone.

Statement from Rommel's suicide note, choosing death by cyanide, rather than one involving the threatened persecution of his family and staff, after being implicated in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Mortal danger is an effective antidote for fixed ideas.

As quoted in The Rommel Papers (1982) edited by Basil Henry Liddell Hart|Basil Henry Liddell Hart

The German soldier has impressed the world, however the Italian Bersagliere soldier has impressed the German soldier.

On the plaque dedicated to the Bersaglieri that fought at Mersa Matruh and Alamein.

[speaking about Italians] Good soldiers, bad officers; however don't forget that without them we would not have any Civilization.

As quoted in The Rommel Papers (1982) edited by Basil Henry Liddell Hart|Basil Henry Liddell Hart

Encyclopedia
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (15 November 1891 – 14 October 1944), popularly known as the Desert Fox (Wüstenfuchs), was a German
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 Field Marshal
Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. He won the respect of both his own troops and the enemies he fought.

He was a highly decorated officer in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, and was awarded the Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

 for his exploits on the Italian front
Italian Campaign (World War I)
The Italian campaign refers to a series of battles fought between the armies of Austria-Hungary and Italy, along with their allies, in northern Italy between 1915 and 1918. Italy hoped that by joining the countries of the Triple Entente against the Central Powers it would gain Cisalpine Tyrol , the...

. In World War II, he further distinguished himself as the commander of the 7th Panzer Division during the 1940 invasion of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

. However, it was his leadership of German and Italian forces in the North African campaign
North African campaign
During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia .The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had...

 that established the legend of the Desert Fox. He is considered to have been one of the most skilled commanders of desert warfare
Desert warfare
Desert warfare is combat in deserts. In desert warfare the elements can sometimes be more dangerous than the actual enemy. The desert terrain is the second most inhospitable to troops following a cold environment...

 in the conflict. He later commanded the German forces opposing the Allied
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 cross-channel invasion in Normandy.

As one of the few generals who consistently fought the Western Allies (he was never assigned to the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

), Rommel is regarded as having been a humane and professional officer. His Afrikakorps was never accused of war crimes. Soldiers captured during his Africa campaign were reported to have been treated humanely. Furthermore, he ignored orders to kill captured commandos
Commando Order
The Commando Order was issued by Adolf Hitler on 18 October 1942 stating that all Allied commandos encountered by German forces in Europe and Africa should be killed immediately, even if in uniform or if they attempted to surrender...

, Jewish soldiers and civilians in all theaters of his command.

Late in the war, Rommel was linked to the conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

. Because Rommel was widely renowned, Hitler chose to eliminate him quietly; in trade for assurances his family would be spared, Rommel agreed to commit suicide.

Early life and career

Rommel was born on 15 November 1891 in Heidenheim, 45 kilometres (28 mi) from Ulm
Ulm
Ulm is a city in the federal German state of Baden-Württemberg, situated on the River Danube. The city, whose population is estimated at 120,000 , forms an urban district of its own and is the administrative seat of the Alb-Donau district. Ulm, founded around 850, is rich in history and...

, in the Kingdom of Württemberg
Württemberg
Württemberg , formerly known as Wirtemberg or Wurtemberg, is an area and a former state in southwestern Germany, including parts of the regions Swabia and Franconia....

 (then part of the German Empire). He was baptised on 17 November 1891. He was the second child of the Protestant
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 headmaster of the secondary school at Aalen
Aalen
Aalen is a city in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, about east of Stuttgart and north of Ulm. It is the seat of the Ostalbkreis district, and its largest city, as well as the largest city within the Ostwürttemberg region. In spatial planning, Aalen is designated a Mittelzentrum...

, Professor Erwin Rommel Senior (1860–1913), and Helene von Luz, who had two other sons and a daughter. Rommel wrote that "my early years passed quite happily."

At age 14, Rommel and a friend built a full-scale glider that was able to fly short distances. Rommel even considered becoming an engineer and throughout his life displayed extraordinary technical aptitude. Acceding to his father's wishes, Rommel instead joined the local 124th Württemberg Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in 1910 and was sent to the Officer Cadet School in Danzig. He graduated on 15 November 1911 and was commissioned as a lieutenant
Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 in January 1912.

While at Cadet School, Rommel met his future wife, 17-year-old Lucia Maria Mollin (commonly called Lucie). They married on 27 November 1916 in Danzig and on 24 December 1928 had a son, Manfred Rommel
Manfred Rommel
Manfred Rommel, Hon. CBE is a German politician , who served as Lord Mayor of Stuttgart from 1974 until 1996. He is one of the most popular local politicians of the CDU....

, who later became the Mayor of Stuttgart
Stuttgart
Stuttgart is the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany. The sixth-largest city in Germany, Stuttgart has a population of 600,038 while the metropolitan area has a population of 5.3 million ....

. Some historians believe Rommel also had a relationship with Walburga Stemmer
Walburga Stemmer
Walburga Stemmer was a fruit-seller living in Weingarten who allegedly had an affair with Erwin Rommel and gave birth to his daughter, Gertrud Stemmer , on December 8, 1913...

 in 1913, which allegedly produced a daughter, Gertrud.

World War I

During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Rommel fought in France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 as well as in Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 (see: Romanian Campaign
Romanian Campaign (World War I)
The Romanian Campaign was part of the Balkan theatre of World War I, with Romania and Russia allied against the armies of the Central Powers. Fighting took place from August 1916 to December 1917, across most of present-day Romania, including Transylvania, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian...

) and Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 (see: Italian Campaign
Italian Campaign (World War I)
The Italian campaign refers to a series of battles fought between the armies of Austria-Hungary and Italy, along with their allies, in northern Italy between 1915 and 1918. Italy hoped that by joining the countries of the Triple Entente against the Central Powers it would gain Cisalpine Tyrol , the...

), first in the 6th Württemberg Infantry Regiment, but through most of the war in the Württemberg Mountain Battalion of the elite Alpenkorps
Alpenkorps (German Empire)
The Alpenkorps was a provisional mountain unit of division size formed by the Imperial German Army during World War I. It was considered by the Allies to be one of the best units of the German Army.-Formation:...

. He gained a reputation for great courage, making quick tactical decisions and taking advantage of enemy confusion. He was wounded three times and awarded the Iron Cross, First and Second Class
Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

. Rommel also received Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

's highest award, the order of Pour le Mérite
Pour le Mérite
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

, after fighting in the Battles of the Isonzo
Battles of the Isonzo
The Battles of the Isonzo were a series of 12 battles between the Austro-Hungarian and Italian armies in World War I. They were fought along the Soča River on the eastern sector of the Italian Front between June 1915 and November 1917...

 in the north-eastern Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

 on the Isonzo river front. The award was for the Battle of Longarone
Longarone
Longarone is a town and comune on the banks of the Piave in the province of Belluno, in North-East Italy. It is situated 35 kilometers from Belluno....

 and the capture of Mount Matajur and its Italian defenders, which totalled 150 officers, 9,000 men, and 81 artillery pieces. In contrast, Rommel's detachment suffered only 6 dead and 30 wounded during the two engagements, a remarkable achievement.

For a time, Rommel served in the same infantry regiment as Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall during World War II, and is best known for having commanded the Sixth Army's assault on Stalingrad during Operation Blue in 1942...

, who like Rommel rose to the rank of Field Marshal during World War II. While fighting at Isonzo, Rommel was caught behind Italian lines but managed to escape capture, though almost all of his staff were taken prisoner. In the Second World War, when the Germans and Italians were allies, Rommel tempered his initial disdain of Italian soldiers, when he realized that their lack of success was principally due to poor leadership and equipment. When these difficulties were overcome they were equal to German forces. Erwin Rommel wrote a book, Infanterie Greift An (Infantry Attacks), in which he examined and analyzed the many battles he fought in during World War I. It was published in 1937 and became essential reading for both German and allied commanders during World War II. He taught his men to dig in whenever they paused for any length of time. This paid off many times when French artillery fired upon his position, only to be shrugged off by the entrenchments built by Rommel's men.

Career between the world wars

Rommel turned down a post in the Truppenamt
Truppenamt
The Truppenamt or 'Troop Office' was the cover organisation for the German General Staff from 1919 through until 1933 when the General Staff was re-created. This subterfuge was deemed necessary in order for Germany to be seen to meet the requirements of the Versailles Treaty...

 (the camouflaged General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

), whose existence was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

—the normal path for advancing to high rank in the German army. Instead, he preferred to remain a frontline officer.

Rommel held battalion commands and was an instructor at the Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

 Infantry School from 1929 to 1933. In 1934, his book for infantry training, “Gefechts-Aufgaben für Zug und Kompanie : Ein Handbuch für den Offizierunterricht“ (Combat tasks for platoon and company: A manual for the officer instruction), appeared. This book was printed until 1945 in five editions, with revisions and changes of title. From 1935 to 1938, Rommel held commands at the Potsdam War Academy. Rommel's war diaries, Infanterie greift an (Infantry Attacks
Infantry Attacks
Infanterie Greift An , is a classic book on military tactics written by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel about his experiences in World War I. In it were his Stoßtruppen tactics, which used speed, deception and deep penetration into enemy territory to surprise and overwhelm...

), published in 1937, became a highly regarded military textbook and attracted the attention of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, who placed Rommel in charge of the War Ministry liaison with the Hitler Youth
Hitler Youth
The Hitler Youth was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party. It existed from 1922 to 1945. The HJ was the second oldest paramilitary Nazi group, founded one year after its adult counterpart, the Sturmabteilung...

 (Hitler Jugend), Headquarters of Military Sports, the branch involved with paramilitary activities, primarily terrain exercises and marksmanship. Rommel applied himself energetically to the task. The army provided instructors to the Hitler Youth Rifle School in Thuringia
Thuringia
The Free State of Thuringia is a state of Germany, located in the central part of the country.It has an area of and 2.29 million inhabitants, making it the sixth smallest by area and the fifth smallest by population of Germany's sixteen states....

, which in turn supplied qualified instructors to the HJ's regional branches.

In 1937, Rommel conducted a tour of Hitler Youth meetings and encampments and delivered lectures on German soldiering while inspecting facilities and exercises. Simultaneously, he was pressuring Baldur von Schirach
Baldur von Schirach
Baldur Benedikt von Schirach was a Nazi youth leader later convicted of being a war criminal. Schirach was the head of the Hitler-Jugend and Gauleiter and Reichsstatthalter of Vienna....

, the Hitler Youth leader, to accept an agreement expanding the army's involvement in Hitler Youth training. Schirach interpreted this as a bid to turn the Hitler Youth into an army auxiliary, a "junior army" in his words. He refused and denied Rommel (whom he had come to dislike personally, apparently out of envy for his "real soldier's" appeal) access to the Hitler Youth. An agreement was concluded, but on a far more limited scope than Rommel sought; cooperation was restricted to the army's providing personnel to the rifle school. By 1939 the Hitler Youth had 20,000 rifle instructors. Simultaneously, Rommel retained his place at Potsdam. Rommel was awarded the highest war ribbons for excellent performance.

In 1938 Rommel, now a colonel, was appointed Kommandant (commander) of the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt
Wiener Neustadt
-Main sights:* The Late-Romanesque Dom, consecrated in 1279 and cathedral from 1469 to 1785. The choir and transept, in Gothic style, are from the 14th century. In the late 15th century 12 statues of the Apostles were added in the apse, while the bust of Cardinal Melchior Klesl is attributed to...

 (Theresian Military Academy
Theresian Military Academy
The Theresian Military Academy is an academy, where the Austrian Armed Forces train their officers. The Academy is located in the castle of Wiener Neustadt in Lower Austria.- History :...

). Rommel was removed after a short time, however, to take command of Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

's personal protection battalion (FührerBegleitbataillon
Führer Begleit Brigade
The Führerbegleitbrigade was a German armoured brigade and later armoured division , in World War II...

), assigned to protect him in the special railway train (Führersonderzug) used during his visits to occupied Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 and Memel
Klaipėda Region
The Klaipėda Region or Memel Territory was defined by the Treaty of Versailles in 1920 when it was put under the administration of the Council of Ambassadors...

. It was during this period that he met and befriended Joseph Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

, the Reich's minister of propaganda
Propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

. Goebbels became a fervent admirer of Rommel and later ensured that Rommel's exploits were celebrated in the media.

Poland 1939

Rommel acted as commander of the Führerbegleithauptquartier (Führer escort headquarters) during the Poland campaign
Invasion of Poland (1939)
The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War in Poland and the Poland Campaign in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the start of World War II in Europe...

, often moving up close to the front in the Führersonderzug and seeing much of Hitler. After the Polish defeat, Rommel returned to Berlin to organize the Führer's victory parade, taking part himself as a member of Hitler's entourage. During the Polish campaign, Rommel was asked to intervene on behalf of one of his wife's relatives, a Polish priest who had been arrested. When Rommel applied to the Gestapo
Gestapo
The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany. Beginning on 20 April 1934, it was under the administration of the SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police...

 for information, the Gestapo found no information about the man's existence.

Panzer commander

Rommel asked Hitler for command of a panzer division. On 6 February 1940, three months before the invasion of France, Rommel was given command of the 7th Panzer Division
German 7th Panzer Division
The 7th Panzer Division was a German elite armored formation which participated in the Battle of France. General Erwin Rommel commanded the division, which was nicknamed the "Ghost Division" because of its speed and independent movement, which even the German High Command had difficulty following...

, for Fall Gelb ("Case Yellow"), the invasion of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and the Low Countries
Low Countries
The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany....

. This promotion provoked resentment among some of his fellow officers. Rommel's initial request for command had been rejected by the Chief of Army Personnel, who cited his lack of previous experience with armored units and his extensive prior experience in an Alpine unit made him a more suitable candidate to assume command of a mountain division that had recent need to fill its commanding officer post. Rommel had, however, emphasized the use of mobile infantry and recognized the great usefulness of armoured forces in the Poland campaign. He set about learning and developing the techniques of armoured warfare with great enthusiasm. The decision to place him in command of an armoured division was borne out to be an excellent one. In May, 1940 his 7th Panzer Division became known as the "Ghost Division" because its rapid advances and fast paced attacks often placed them so far forward that they were frequently out of communication with the rest of the German army.

Invasion of France and Belgium

On 10 May 1940 a part of XV Corps under General Hoth
Hermann Hoth
Hermann "Papa" Hoth was an officer in the German military from 1903 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generaloberst during World War II. He fought in France, but is most noted for his later exploits as a panzer commander on the Eastern Front...

 advanced into Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 to proceed to the Meuse river
Meuse River
The Maas or Meuse is a major European river, rising in France and flowing through Belgium and the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea...

 near the Walloon municipality of Dinant
Dinant
Dinant is a Walloon city and municipality located on the River Meuse in the Belgian province of Namur, Belgium. The Dinant municipality includes the old communes of Anseremme, Bouvignes-sur-Meuse, Dréhance, Falmagne, Falmignoul, Foy-Notre-Dame, Furfooz, Lisogne, Sorinnes, and Thynes.-Origins to...

. At the Meuse, 7th Panzer was held up owing to the bridges having been destroyed and to determined sniper and artillery fire from the Belgian defenders. The Germans lacked smoke grenades, so Rommel, having assumed personal command of the crossing, ordered a few nearby houses to be set on fire to conceal the attack. The German Panzergrenadiers crossed the river in rubber boats, with Rommel leading the second wave. The Division dashed further inland, always spurred on by Rommel and far in front of any friendly forces.

Rommel's technique of pushing forward boldly, ignoring risks to his flanks and rear and relying on the shock to enemy morale to hinder attacks on his vulnerable flanks, paid large dividends during his rapid march across France. When encountering resistance, Rommel would simply order his tanks forward, all guns blazing, relying on the shock of the sudden assault to force the enemy to surrender. This method offset the disadvantage the German tanks had in terms of armour and low-calibre guns, often causing large formations of enemy heavy tanks to simply give up a fight they would otherwise have had a good chance of winning. This approach, although it saved lives on both sides by avoiding prolonged engagements, did cause mishaps. On one occasion his tanks, following this tactic, closed with a convoy of French trucks and fired into them only to realise that the trucks were acting as ambulances ferrying wounded from the front.

Battle of Arras

By 18 May the Division had captured Cambrai
Cambrai
Cambrai is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included...

, but here Rommel's advance was checked briefly. His chief of staff, still with the unmotorized part of the Division in Belgium and not having received radio reports from Rommel, had written off Rommel and his combat group as lost and so had not arranged for fuel to be sent up. There was a degree of controversy over this issue, with Rommel furious at what he perceived as a negligent attitude on the part of his supply officers, whereas his chief of staff was critical of Rommel's failure to keep his staff officers informed of his actions.

On 20 May Rommel's tanks reached Arras
Arras
Arras is the capital of the Pas-de-Calais department in northern France. The historic centre of the Artois region, its local speech is characterized as a Picard dialect...

. Here he wanted to cut off the British Expeditionary Force
British Expeditionary Force (World War II)
The British Expeditionary Force was the British force in Europe from 1939–1940 during the Second World War. Commanded by General Lord Gort, the BEF constituted one-tenth of the defending Allied force....

 from the coast and Hans von Luck
Hans von Luck
Hans-Ulrich von Luck und Witten , usually shortened to Hans von Luck, was a Colonel in the German Armored Forces during World War II. He served with the 7th Panzer Division and 21st Panzer Division, seeing action in Poland, France, North Africa, Italy and Russia...

, commanding the reconnaissance battalion of the Division, was tasked with forcing a crossing over the La Bassée canals near the city. Supported by Stuka
Junkers Ju 87
The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka was a two-man German ground-attack aircraft...

 dive bombers, the unit managed to cross whereupon the British launched a counterattack (the Battle of Arras
Battle of Arras (1940)
The Battle of Arras took place during the Battle of France, in the early stages of World War II. It was an Allied counterattack against the flank of the German army, that took place near the town of Arras, in north-eastern France. The German forces were pushing north toward the channel coast, in...

) on 21 May. Facing the British Matilda tank
Matilda Mk I
The Tank, Infantry, Mk I, Matilda I was a British infantry tank of the Second World War. It is not to be confused with the later model Tank, Infantry Mk II , also known as the "Matilda II" which took over the "Matilda" name after the early part of the war when the first Matilda was withdrawn from...

s, the Germans found their 3.7-cm guns useless against the heavy armour and a battery of 88 mm gun
88 mm gun
The 88 mm gun was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognizable German weapons of the war...

s had to be brought up to deal with the threat, with Rommel personally directing the fire.

After Arras, Hitler ordered his tanks to hold their positions, while the British, in Operation Dynamo
Operation Dynamo
The Dunkirk evacuation, commonly known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 26 May and the early hours of 3 June 1940, because the British, French and Belgian troops were...

, evacuated their troops at Dunkirk, and the 7th Panzer Division was given a few days of much-needed rest. On 26 May, 7th Panzer continued its advance, reaching Lille
Lille
Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

 on 27 May. For the assault on the town, General Hoth placed his other tank division, 5th Panzer Division, under Rommel's command, to the chagrin of its commander, General Max von Hartlieb. The same day, Rommel received news that he had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

; the first divisional commander to be so honoured during the campaign. This award, which had been secured for Rommel at Hitler's behest, caused more animosity among fellow officers, who were critical of Rommel's close relationship with Hitler. They believed that this was further evidence that Hitler seemed to give Rommel preferential treatment.

On 28 May, while making the final push into Lille and far in front of friendly forces, 7th Panzer came under heavy fire from French artillery. Rommel drove his forces on, capturing Lille, trapping half of the French First Army, and preventing their retreat to Dunkirk. After this coup, Rommel's forces were again given time to rest.

Drive for English Channel

Rommel, resuming his advance on 5 June, drove for the River Seine to secure the bridges near Rouen
Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

. Advancing 100 kilometres (62.1 mi) in two days, the division reached Rouen only to find the bridges destroyed. On 10 June, Rommel reached the coast near Dieppe
Dieppe, Seine-Maritime
Dieppe is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in France. In 1999, the population of the whole Dieppe urban area was 81,419.A port on the English Channel, famous for its scallops, and with a regular ferry service from the Gare Maritime to Newhaven in England, Dieppe also has a popular pebbled...

, sending his "Am at coast" signal to the German HQ.

On 15 June, 7th Panzer started advancing on Cherbourg. On 17 June, the Division advanced 35 kilometres (21.7 mi), capturing the town on the following day. The Division then proceeded towards Bordeaux
Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...

 but stopped when the armistice was signed on 21 June. In July, the Division was sent to the Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 area to start preparations for Operation Seelöwe, Sea Lion the planned invasion of Britain. The preparations were half-hearted, however, as it soon became clear that the Luftwaffe would not be able to secure air superiority over the Royal Air Force.

Ghost Division

7. Panzer-Division was later nicknamed Gespenster-Division (the "Ghost Division"), because of the speed and surprise it was consistently able to achieve, to the point that even the German High Command at times lost track of its whereabouts. It also set the record for the longest thrust in one day by tanks up to that point, covering nearly 320 kilometres (198.8 mi).

Rommel received both praise and criticism for his tactics during the French campaign. Many, such as General Georg Stumme
Georg Stumme
Georg Stumme was a World War II German general most notable for his brief command of the Axis forces at the beginning of the Second Battle of El Alamein.-Biography:...

, who had previously commanded 7th Panzer Division, were impressed with the speed and success of Rommel's drive; however, others were more reserved, some out of envy, others because they felt Rommel took unnecessary risks. Hermann Hoth
Hermann Hoth
Hermann "Papa" Hoth was an officer in the German military from 1903 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generaloberst during World War II. He fought in France, but is most noted for his later exploits as a panzer commander on the Eastern Front...

 publicly expressed praise for Rommel's achievements but had private reservations, saying in a confidential report that Rommel should not be given command over a corps unless he gained "greater experience and a better sense of judgment." Hoth also accused Rommel of an unwillingness to acknowledge the contributions of others to his victories.

The Fourth Army commander, General Günther von Kluge
Günther von Kluge
Günther Adolf Ferdinand “Hans” von Kluge was a German military leader. He was born in Posen into a Prussian military family. Kluge rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Wehrmacht. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords...

, also criticised Rommel for falsely claiming all the glory for his achievements. Rommel did not, Kluge felt, acknowledge the contribution of the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

, and Rommel's manuscript describing his campaign in France misrepresented the advances of neighbouring units to elevate the achievements of his own dazzling advances. Kluge also cited the complaint by General Hartlieb that Rommel had misappropriated 5th Panzer's bridging tackle on 14 May after his own supplies had run out in order to cross the Meuse, delaying 5th Panzer for several hours. Rommel had repeated this procedure on 27 May at the River Scarpe crossing.

North Africa 1941–1943

Rommel's reward for his success was to be promoted and appointed commander of the 5th Light Division (later reorganised and redesignated 21.Panzer-Division
German 21st Panzer Division
The 21st Panzer Division was a German armoured division best known for its role in the battles of the North African Campaign from 1941–1943 during World War II when it was one of the two armoured divisions making up the Afrika Korps.-Origins:...

) and of the 15.Panzer-Division which, as the Deutsches Afrikakorps, were sent to Libya
Libya
Libya is an African country in the Maghreb region of North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Sudan to the southeast, Chad and Niger to the south, and Algeria and Tunisia to the west....

 in early 1941 in Operation Sonnenblume
Operation Sonnenblume
Operation Sonnenblume was the deployment of German troops to North Africa in February 1941, during the Second World War...

 to aid the demoralised Italian
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 troops which had suffered a heavy defeat from British Commonwealth forces in Operation Compass
Operation Compass
Operation Compass was the first major Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940 to February 1941. The attack was a complete success...

. It was in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 where Rommel achieved his greatest fame as a commander.

First Axis offensive

His campaign
Western Desert Campaign
The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign was heavily influenced by the availability of supplies and transport. The ability of the Allied forces, operating from besieged Malta, to...

 in North Africa earned Rommel the nickname "The Desert Fox." On 6 February 1941 Rommel was ordered to lead the Afrika Korps
Afrika Korps
The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

, sent to Italian Libya
Italian Libya
Italian Libya was a unified colony of Italian North Africa established in 1934 in what represents present-day Libya...

 to help shore up the Italian forces which had been driven back during Operation Compass
Operation Compass
Operation Compass was the first major Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940 to February 1941. The attack was a complete success...

, launched by British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 forces under Major-General Richard O'Connor
Richard O'Connor
General Sir Richard Nugent O'Connor KT, GCB, DSO & Bar, MC, ADC was a British Army general who commanded the Western Desert Force in the early years of World War II...

 during December 1940. Initially ordered to assume a defensive posture and hold the front line, the Axis High Command had slated a limited offensive towards Agedabia and Benghazi
Benghazi
Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya, the main city of the Cyrenaica region , and the former provisional capital of the National Transitional Council. The wider metropolitan area is also a district of Libya...

 for May, planning then to hold the line between those cities. Rommel argued that such a limited offensive would be ineffective, as the whole of Cyrenaica
Cyrenaica
Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya.Also known as Pentapolis in antiquity, it was part of the Creta et Cyrenaica province during the Roman period, later divided in Libia Pentapolis and Libia Sicca...

 would have to be captured if the front lines were to be held. The task of even holding the remaining Italian possessions seemed daunting, as the Italians had only 7,000 troops remaining in the area after O'Connor's successful capture of 130,000 prisoners and almost 400 tanks during the previous three months of advance.

On 24 March 1941 Rommel launched a limited offensive with only the 5th Light Division supported by two Italian divisions. This thrust was to be minor, in anticipation of Rommel receiving the 15th Panzer Division in May. The British, who had been weakened by troops being withdrawn to fight in the Battle of Greece
Battle of Greece
The Battle of Greece is the common name for the invasion and conquest of Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941. Greece was supported by British Commonwealth forces, while the Germans' Axis allies Italy and Bulgaria played secondary roles...

, fell back to Mersa el Brega and started constructing defensive works. Rommel decided to continue the attack against these positions in order to prevent the British from building up the fortifications. After a day of fierce fighting, the Germans prevailed and the advance continued as Rommel disregarded holding off the attack on Agedabia until May. The British Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command
Middle East Command
The Middle East Command was a British Army Command established prior to the Second World War in Egypt. Its primary role was to command British land forces and co-ordinate with the relevant naval and air commands to defend British interests in the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean region.The...

, General Archibald Wavell, overestimating the strength of the Axis forces and already apprehensive about the extent of his advances during the previous winter, ordered a withdrawal from Benghazi in early April to avoid being cut off by Rommel's thrust.

Rommel, seeing the British reluctance to fight a decisive action, decided on a bold move: the seizure of the whole of Cyrenaica despite having only light forces. He ordered the Italian Ariete armoured division to pursue the retreating British while the 5th Light Division was to move on Benghazi. Generalmajor Johannes Streich
Johannes Streich
Johannes Streich was a highly decorated Generalleutnant in the Wehrmacht during World War II who commanded several divisions. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or successful...

, the 5th Light Division's commander, protested this order on the grounds of the state of his vehicles, but Rommel brushed the objections aside because, in his words, "One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles." The Italian Commander-in-Chief, General Italo Gariboldi
Italo Gariboldi
Italo Gariboldi was a senior officer in the Italian Royal Army before and during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

, tried repeatedly to halt Rommel's advance but was unable to contact him.

After Benghazi had been secured following the British withdrawal, Cyrenaica as far as Gazala
Gazala
Gazala, or Ain el Gazala , is a small Libyan village near the coast in the northeastern portion of the country. It is located west of Tobruk....

 was captured by 8 April. This was despite fervent protests from Italian GHQ, which felt Rommel was going beyond his orders, especially since he was supposedly under Italian command. Rommel had received orders from the German High Command that he was not to advance past Maradah, but he turned a blind eye to this as well as to protests from some of his staff and divisional commanders. He believed he was grasping a great possibility to largely destroy the Allied presence in North Africa and capture Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. Rommel decided to keep up the pressure on the retreating British and launched an outflanking offensive on the important port of Tobruk
Tobruk
Tobruk or Tubruq is a city, seaport, and peninsula on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border with Egypt. It is the capital of the Butnan District and has a population of 120,000 ....

during which he managed to capture on 9 April the Military Governor of Cyrenaica, Lieutenant-General Philip Neame
Philip Neame
Lieutenant General Sir Philip Neame VC, KBE, CB, DSO, KStJ was a British Army officer and recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces...

 as well as O'Connor, who at this time was his advisor. With Italian forces attacking along the coast, Rommel decided to sweep around to the south and attack the harbour from the southeast with the 5th Light Division, hoping to trap the bulk of the enemy force there. This outflanking could not be carried out as rapidly as was necessary owing to logistical problems from lengthening supply lines and spoiling flank attacks from Tobruk, so Rommel's plan failed. By 11 April the envelopment of Tobruk was complete and the first attack was launched. Other forces continued pushing east, reaching Bardia
Bardia
Bardia is a geographic region in the Democratic Republic of Nepal.Bardia comprises a portion of the Terai, or lowland hills and valleys of southern Nepal. The Terai is over 1,000 feet in elevation, and extends all along the Indian border...

 and securing the whole of Libya by 15 April.

Siege of Tobruk

The following siege of Tobruk
Siege of Tobruk
The siege of Tobruk was a confrontation that lasted 240 days between Axis and Allied forces in North Africa during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War...

 lasted 240 days, with the garrison consisting of the Australian 9th Division under Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

 Leslie Morshead
Leslie Morshead
Lieutenant General Sir Leslie James Morshead KCB, KBE, CMG, DSO, ED was an Australian soldier, teacher, businessman, and farmer, with a distinguished military career that spanned both world wars...

 and reinforced by all the British troops who had withdrawn to the port city, bringing the defenders to a total of 25,000. Impatient to secure success, Rommel launched repeated small-scale attacks. These were easily defeated by the defenders. Rommel later criticised the Italian High Command for failing to provide him with the blueprints of the port's fortifications (which the Italians had built before the war), but this was due to his surprising advance so far beyond the agreed point, hardly allowing them time to produce the plans. Reflecting on this period, General Heinrich Kirchheim
Heinrich Kirchheim
Heinrich Kirchheim was a German generalleutnant who served in both World War I and World War II. He is also one of few German officers who were awarded the Pour le Mérite and the Knight's Cross...

, then commander of the 5th Light Division, said: "I do not like to be reminded of that time because so much blood was needlessly shed." Kirchheim had been reluctant to launch further attacks on Tobruk, as the costs of earlier assaults had been very high .

Rommel remained optimistic that success was imminent. In his memoirs, he claimed that he immediately realised that the enemy was determined to cling to Tobruk; however, this seems to be in doubt. In a letter to his wife dated 16 April, he wrote that the enemy was already abandoning the town by sea, and he remained confident that the enemy were not going to defend the town until well into April. In reality, the ships arriving at the port were not evacuating the defenders but unloading supplies and even some reinforcements. A letter of his written on 21 April, suggests that he was beginning to realise this while the arrival of the Italian blueprints of fortifications provided further grounds for discouragement. Nonetheless, Rommel continued to insist that success was imminent. His relations with his subordinate commanders were at their nadir at this point, especially with Streich, who was openly critical of Rommel's decisions and refused to assume any responsibility for the attacks. Rommel began holding a series of courts-martial, though ultimately he signed almost none of the verdicts. This state of affairs led Army Chief Walther von Brauchitsch
Walther von Brauchitsch
Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres in the early years of World War II.-Biography:...

 to write to him that instead of making threats and requesting the replacement of officers who "hitherto had excelled in battle", rather "... a calm and constructive debate might bring better results." Rommel remained unmoved.

At this point Rommel requested reinforcements for a renewed attack, but the High Command
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht
The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht was part of the command structure of the armed forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.- Genesis :...

, then completing preparations for Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, could not spare any. When Chief of Staff General Franz Halder
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

 also told Rommel before the latter left for Africa that a larger force could not be logistically sustained, Rommel had responded "that's your pigeon." Now Halder sarcastically commented: "Now at last he is constrained to state that his forces are not sufficiently strong to allow him to take full advantage of the 'unique opportunities' offered by the overall situation. That is the impression we have had for quite some time over here." Angry that his order not to advance beyond Maradah had been disobeyed and alarmed at mounting losses, Halder, never an admirer of Rommel, dispatched Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall during World War II, and is best known for having commanded the Sixth Army's assault on Stalingrad during Operation Blue in 1942...

 to (in Halder's words) "head off this soldier gone stark mad."

Upon arrival on 27 April, Paulus was initially persuaded to authorise yet another attack on Tobruk. Back in Berlin, Halder wrote: "In my view it is a mistake" but deferred to Paulus. When the attack, launched on 4 May, seemed to turn into a disaster, Paulus intervened and ordered it halted. In addition, he now forbade Rommel from committing forces in any new attack on Tobruk and further ordered that the attacks were to halt until regrouping was completed. No new assault was to take place without OKH's specific approval.

Rommel was furious with what he perceived as the lack of fighting spirit in his commanders and Italian allies. However, on the insistence of Paulus and Halder, he held off further attacks until the detailed plans of the Tobruk defences could be obtained, the 15th Panzer Division could be brought up to support the attack, and more training of his troops in positional warfare could be conducted, For Streich, however, it was too late. He was transferred from command of 5th Light Division. When he met Rommel for the last time as he was taking his leave, Rommel told him that he had been "too concerned for the well-being of your troops"; Streich shot back: "I can recognise no greater words of praise", and a new quarrel ensued. After the decision was made to hold off attacks on Tobruk for an indefinite period, Rommel set about creating defensive positions, with Italian infantry forces holding Bardia, the Sollum–Sidi Omar line and investing Tobruk. The mobile German and Italian formations were held in reserve to fight any British attacks from Egypt. To this end, Halfaya Pass
Halfaya Pass
Halfaya Pass is located in Egypt, near the border with Libya. A high escarpment extends south eastwards from the Egyptian-Libyan border at the coast at as-Salum , with the scarp slope facing into Egypt...

 was secured, the high water mark of Rommel's offensive. An elaborately prepared great assault was scheduled for 21 November 1941, but this attack never took place.

Whereas the defenders of Tobruk could be supplied by sea, the logistical problems of the Afrika Korps greatly hampered its operations, and a concentrated counterattack southwards by the besieged Allies might have succeeded in reaching El Adam and severing the lines of communication and supply of the Axis forces at Bardia, Sollum and Halfya covering the Egyptian border. General Morshead, however, was misled by intelligence overestimates of the German forces investing Tobruk, and so no major action was attempted.

General Wavell made two unsuccessful attempts to relieve Tobruk (Operation Brevity
Operation Brevity
Operation Brevity was a limited offensive conducted in mid-May 1941, during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Conceived by the commander-in-chief of the British Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell, Brevity was intended to be a rapid blow against weak Axis front-line...

 (launched on 15 May 1941) and Operation Battleaxe
Operation Battleaxe
Operation Battleaxe was a British Army operation during the Second World War in June 1941 with the goal of clearing eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian forces; one of the main benefits of this would have been the lifting of the Siege of Tobruk....

 (launched on 15 June 1941). Both operations were easily defeated, as they were hastily prepared, partly owing to Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

's impatience for speedy action. During Brevity the important Halfaya Pass was briefly recaptured by the British but was lost again on 27 May. Battleaxe resulted in the loss of 87 British for 25 German tanks in a four-day battle raging on the flanks of the Sollum and Halfaya Passes, with the British being unable to take these well-fortified positions.

In August, Rommel was appointed commander of the newly created Panzer Group Africa. His previous command, the Afrika Korps, comprising the 15th Panzer Division and the 5th Light Division, which by then had been redesignated 21st Panzer Division, was put under command of Generalleutnant Ludwig Crüwell
Ludwig Crüwell
Ludwig Crüwell , was a German general known for his involvement with the Afrika Korps. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grade Oak Leaves was awarded to recognise extreme battlefield bravery or...

, with Fritz Bayerlein
Fritz Bayerlein
Fritz Bayerlein was a German panzer general during the Second World War.Fritz Bayerlein was born in Würzburg, Franconia, Germany. During the First World War, Bayerlein was drafted into the 9th Bavarian Infantry in 1917 and fought on the Western front. He was wounded and received an Iron Cross when...

 as chief of staff. In addition to the Afrika Korps, Rommel's Panzer Group had the 90th Light Division and six Italian divisions, the Ariete and Trieste Divisions forming the Italian XX Motorized Corps, three infantry divisions investing Tobruk, and one holding Bardia.
Allied counter offensive


Following the costly failure of Battleaxe, Wavell was replaced by the Commander-in-Chief of India, General Claude Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE , nicknamed "The Auk", was a British army commander during World War II. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he developed a love of the country and a lasting affinity for the soldiers...

. Allied forces were reorganised and strengthened to two corps, XXX and XIII
XIII Corps (United Kingdom)
XIII Corps was a British infantry corps during World War I and World War II.-World War I:XIII Corps was formed in France on 15 November 1915 under Lieutenant-General Walter Congreve to be part of Fourth Army. It was first seriously engaged during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. On the First day on...

, and became the British Eighth Army under the command of Alan Cunningham
Alan Gordon Cunningham
General Sir Alan Gordon Cunningham GCMG, KCB, DSO, MC was a British Army officer, noted for victories over Italian forces in the East African Campaign during the Second World War. Later he was the seventh and last High Commissioner of Palestine...

. Auchinleck, having 770 tanks and 1,000 aircraft to support him, launched a major offensive to relieve Tobruk (Operation Crusader
Operation Crusader
Operation Crusader was a military operation by the British Eighth Army between 18 November–30 December 1941. The operation successfully relieved the 1941 Siege of Tobruk....

) on 18 November 1941. Rommel had two armoured divisions, the 15th and 21st with a total of 260 tanks, the 90th Light Infantry division, and three Italian corps, five infantry and one armoured division with 154 tanks, with which to oppose him.

The Eighth Army deeply outflanked the German defences along the Egyptian frontier with a left hook through the desert, and reached a position from which they could strike at both Tobruk and the coastal road, the "Via Balbia". Auchinleck planned to engage the Afrika Korps with his armoured division, while XXX Corps assaulted the Italian positions at Bardia
Bardia
Bardia is a geographic region in the Democratic Republic of Nepal.Bardia comprises a portion of the Terai, or lowland hills and valleys of southern Nepal. The Terai is over 1,000 feet in elevation, and extends all along the Indian border...

, encircling the troops there. But the British operational plan had one major flaw. When XXX corps reached the area of Qabr Salih, it was assumed that the Afrika Korps would attack eastward, allowing the British to surround them with a southerly armour thrust. Rommel, however, did not find it necessary to do as the British planned, and instead attacked the southernly armoured thrust at Sidi Rezegh.

Rommel was now faced with the decision of whether to continue the planned attack on Tobruk in late May, trusting his screening forces to hold off the advancing British, or to reorient his forces to hit the approaching British columns. He decided the risks were too great and called off the attack on Tobruk.

The British armoured thrusts were largely defeated by fierce resistance from antitank positions and tanks. The Italian Ariete Armoured Division was forced to give ground while inflicting heavy losses on the advancing British at Bir el Gobi, whereas the 21st Panzer Division checked the attack launched against them and counterattacked on Gabr Saleh. Over the next two days the British continued pressing their attack, sending their armoured brigades into battle in a piecemeal fashion, while Rommel, aware of his numerical inferiority, launched a concentrated attack on 23 November with all his armour. The 21st Panzer Division held their defensive positions at Sidi Rezegh, while 15th Panzer Division and the Italian Ariete Division attacked the flanks and enveloped the British armour. During this battle, among the biggest armoured battles of the North African campaign, the British tanks were surrounded, with about two-thirds destroyed and the survivors having to fight themselves out of the trap and head south to Gabr Saleh.
Rommel's counterattacks

On 24 November Rommel, wanting to exploit the halt of the British offensive, counterattacked into the British rear areas in Egypt with the intention of exploiting the disorganisation and confusion in the enemy's bases and cutting their supply lines. Rommel considered the other, more conservative, course of action of destroying the British forces halted before Tobruk and Bardia too time consuming. Rommel knew his forces were incapable of driving such an effort home, but believed that the British, traumatised by their recent debacle, would abandon their defences along the border at the appearance of a German threat to their rear.

General Cunningham did, as Rommel had hoped, decide to withdraw the Eighth Army to Egypt, but Auchinleck arrived from Cairo
Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

 just in time to cancel the withdrawal orders. The German attack, which began with only 100 operational tanks remaining, stalled as it outran its supplies and met stiffening resistance. The counterattack was criticised by the German High Command and some of his staff officers as too dangerous with Commonwealth forces still operating along the coast east of Tobruk, and a wasteful attack as it bled his forces, in particular his remaining tank force. Among the Staff officers who were critical was Friedrich von Mellenthin
Friedrich von Mellenthin
Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin was a Generalmajor in the German Army during World War II. A participant in most of the major campaigns of the war, he became well-known afterwards for his memoirs Panzer Battles, first published in 1956 and regularly reprinted since then.- Early life :Mellenthin...

, who said that "Unfortunately, Rommel overestimated his success and believed the moment had come to launch a general pursuit." In Rommel's favour, the attack very nearly succeeded: Cunningham ordered a withdrawal, and only Auchinleck's timely intervention prevented this.
Tobruk relieved, Axis retirement to El Agheila

While Rommel drove into Egypt, the remaining Commonwealth forces east of Tobruk threatened the weak Axis lines there. Unable to reach Rommel for several days, Rommel's Chief of Staff, Oberstleutnant
Oberstleutnant
Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

 Westphal, ordered the 21st Panzer Division withdrawn to support the siege of Tobruk. On 27 November the British attack on Tobruk linked up with the defenders, and Rommel, having suffered losses that could not easily be replaced, had to concentrate on retrieving and regrouping the divisions that had attacked into Egypt. By 6 December the Afrika Korps had averted the danger, and on 7 December Rommel fell back to a defensive line at Gazala, just west of Tobruk, all the while under heavy attacks from the RAF
Desert Air Force
The Desert Air Force , also known chronologically as Air Headquarters Western Desert, Air Headquarters Libya, AHQ Western Desert, the Western Desert Air Force, Desert Air Force, and the First Tactical Air Force , was an Allied tactical air force initially created from No...

. The Italian forces at Bardia and on the Egyptian border were now cut off from the retreating Axis. The Allies, briefly held up at Gazala, kept up the pressure to some degree, although they were almost as exhausted and disorganised as Rommel's force, and Rommel was forced to retreat all the way back to the starting positions he had held in March, reaching El Agheila
El Agheila
El Agheila is a coastal city at the bottom of the Gulf of Sidra in far western Cyrenaica, Libya. In 1988 it was placed in Ajdabiya District; between 1995 and 2001 the district name is not known; however, it was again placed into Ajdabiya District in 2001...

 on 30 December. His main concern during his withdrawal was being flanked to the south, so the Afrika Korps held the south flank during the retreat. The Allies followed, but never attempted a southern flanking move to cut off the retreating troops as they had done in 1940. The German-Italian garrison at Bardia surrendered on 2 January 1942.
Recapture of Gazala

On 5 January 1942 the Afrika Korps received 55 tanks and new supplies and Rommel started planning a counterattack. On 21 January the attack was launched, which mauled the Allied forces, costing them some 110 tanks and other heavy equipment. The Axis forces retook Benghazi
Benghazi
Benghazi is the second largest city in Libya, the main city of the Cyrenaica region , and the former provisional capital of the National Transitional Council. The wider metropolitan area is also a district of Libya...

 on 29 January, Timimi
Timimi
Timimi, At Timimi or Tmimi, is a small village in Libya about 75 km east of Derna and 100 km west of Tobruk. It is on the eastern shores of the Libyan coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.-Geography:...

 on 3 February, and the Allies pulled back to the Tobruk area and commenced building defensive positions at Gazala.

During the confusion caused by the Crusader operation, Rommel and his staff found themselves behind Allied lines several times. On one occasion, he visited a New Zealand Army field hospital that was still under Allied control. "[Rommel] inquired if anything was needed, promised the British [sic] medical supplies and drove off unhindered." Eventually, Rommel did supply the medical unit with some medical equipment.

Second German offensive: Battle of Gazala

Following General Kesselring
Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring was a German Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. In a military career that spanned both World Wars, Kesselring became one of Nazi Germany's most skilful commanders, being one of 27 soldiers awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords...

's successes in creating local air superiority and suppressing the Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 defenders in April 1942, an increased flow of vital supplies reached the Panzer Armee Afrika. Previously it had been receiving about a third of its needed supplies for several months. With his forces thus strengthened, Rommel began planning a major push for the summer. He felt the very strong British positions around Gazala could be outflanked, and he could then drive up behind them and destroy them. The British were planning a summer offensive of their own and their dispositions were more suited for an attack rather than a defence.

The British had 900 tanks in the area, 200 of which were new Grant
M3 Lee
The Medium Tank M3 was an American tank used during World War II. In Britain the tank was called "General Lee", named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and the modified version built with a new turret was called the "General Grant", named after U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant.Design commenced...

 tanks, whereas Rommel's Panzer Army Africa
Panzer Army Africa
As the number of German armed forces committed to the North Africa Campaign of World War II grew from the initial commitment of a small corps the Germans developed a more elaborate command structure and placed the now larger Afrika Korps, with Italian units under this new German command structure,...

 commanded a mere 320 German, 50 of which were the obsolete Panzer II
Panzer II
The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II...

 model, and 240 Italian tanks, which were no better than the Panzer IIs. Therefore Rommel had to rely predominantly on 88 mm gun
88 mm gun
The 88 mm gun was a German anti-aircraft and anti-tank artillery gun from World War II. It was widely used by Germany throughout the war, and was one of the most recognizable German weapons of the war...

s to destroy the British heavy tanks, but even these were in short supply. In infantry and artillery Rommel found himself vastly outnumbered also, with many of his units under-strength following the campaigns of 1941. In contrast to the previous year, the Axis had more-or-less air parity.

On 26 May 1942 Rommel's army attacked in a classic outflanking Blitzkrieg
Blitzkrieg
For other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...

operation in the Battle of Gazala
Battle of Gazala
The Battle of Gazala was an important battle of the Second World War Western Desert Campaign, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya from 26 May-21 June 1942...

. His Italian infantry assaulted the Gazala fortifications head on, with some armour attached to give the impressions that this was the main assault, while all his motorized and armoured forces outflanked the positions to the south. On the following morning Rommel cut through the flank and attacked north, but throughout the day a running armour battle occurred, where both sides took heavy losses. The attempted encirclement of the Gazala position failed and the Germans lost a third of their heavy tanks. Renewing the attack on the morning of 28 May, Rommel concentrated on encircling and destroying separate units of the British armour. Heavy British counterattacks forced Rommel to assume a defensive posture and not pursue his original plan of a dash north for the coast. On 30 May he attacked eastwards to link with elements of Italian X Corps which had cleared a path through the Allied minefields to establish a line of supply. On 2 June 90th Light Division and the Trieste Division surrounded and reduced the Allied strongpoint at Bir Hakeim
Battle of Bir Hakeim
Bir Hakeim is a remote oasis in the Libyan desert, and the former site of a Turkish fort. During the Battle of Gazala, the 1st Free French Division of General Marie Pierre Kœnig defended the site from 26 May-11 June 1942 against attacking German and Italian forces directed by Lieutenant-General ...

, capturing it on 11 June. With his communications and the southern strongpoint of the British line thus secured, Rommel attacked north again, forcing the British back, relying on the minefields of the Gazala lines to protect his left flank. On 14 June the British began a headlong retreat eastwards, the so-called "Gazala Gallop", to avoid being completely cut off.

On 15 June Axis forces reached the coast eliminating any escape for the Commonwealth forces still occupying the Gazala positions. With this task completed, Rommel set off in pursuit of the retreating Allied formations, aiming to capture Tobruk while the enemy was confused and disorganised. Tobruk, isolated and alone, was now all that stood between the Axis and Egypt. The defenders were the 2nd South African Infantry Division and some disorganised units recovering from the Gazala battle. On 21 June, after a swift, coordinated and fierce combined arms
Combined arms
Combined arms is an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different branches of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects...

 assault, the city surrendered along with its 33,000 defenders, including most of the South African 2nd Division. Only at the fall of Singapore
Battle of Singapore
The Battle of Singapore was fought in the South-East Asian theatre of the Second World War when the Empire of Japan invaded the Allied stronghold of Singapore. Singapore was the major British military base in Southeast Asia and nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the East"...

, earlier that year, had more British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 troops been captured. Hitler made Rommel a Field Marshal
Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 for this victory.

By this time, Rommel's gains caused considerable alarm in the Allied camp. He appeared to be poised to deliver a crippling blow to the British by conquering Egypt. The Allies feared Rommel would then turn northeastward to conquer the valuable oil fields of the Middle East and then link up with the German forces besieging the equally valuable Caucasian oil fields. However, these required substantial reinforcements that Hitler refused to allocate. Ironically, Hitler had been sceptical about sending Rommel to Africa in the first place. He'd only done so after constant begging by naval commander Erich Raeder
Erich Raeder
Erich Johann Albert Raeder was a naval leader in Germany before and during World War II. Raeder attained the highest possible naval rank—that of Großadmiral — in 1939, becoming the first person to hold that rank since Alfred von Tirpitz...

, and even then only to relieve the Italians. Hitler never understood global warfare, despite Raeder and Rommel's attempts to get him to see the strategic value of Egypt.
Drive for Egypt

Rommel determined to press the attack on Mersa Matruh despite the heavy losses he had suffered at Gazala and Tobruk. He also wanted to prevent the British from establishing a new frontline, and felt the weakness of the British formations had to be exploited by a thrust into Egypt. This decision met with some criticism, as an advance into Egypt meant a significant lengthening of the supply lines. It also meant that a proposed attack on Malta would have to wait, as the Luftwaffe would be required to support Rommel's drive eastwards. Kesselring strongly disagreed with Rommel's decision, and went as far as threatening to withdraw his aircraft to Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. Hitler agreed to Rommel's plan, despite protest from Italian HQ and some of his staff officers, seeing the potential for a complete victory in Africa. Rommel, apparently aware of his growing reputation as a gambler, defended his decision by claiming that merely to hold the lines at Sollum would confer upon the British a distinct advantage, in that they could more easily outflank the positions at Sollum and the overseas supply lines would still have to be routed via Tripoli
Tripoli
Tripoli is the capital and largest city in Libya. It is also known as Western Tripoli , to distinguish it from Tripoli, Lebanon. It is affectionately called The Mermaid of the Mediterranean , describing its turquoise waters and its whitewashed buildings. Tripoli is a Greek name that means "Three...

 unless he secured a front further east.

On 22 June Rommel continued his offensive eastwards and initially little resistance was encountered. Apart from fuel shortages, the advance continued until Mersa Matruh was encircled on 26 June, surrounding four infantry divisions. One of the divisions managed to break out during the night, and over the next two days some elements of the remaining three divisions also slipped away. The fortress fell on 29 June, yielding enormous amounts of supplies and equipment, in addition to 6,000 POWs.

On 25 June Auchinleck had assumed direct command of Eighth Army and decided to form his main defensive line at El Alamein, where the proximity to the south of the Qattara Depression
Qattara Depression
The Qattara Depression is a depression in the north west of Egypt in the Matruh Governorate and is part of the Libyan Desert. It lies below sea level and is covered with salt pans, sand dunes and salt marshes. The region extends between latitudes of 28°35' and 30°25' North and longitudes of 26°20'...

 created a relatively short line to defend which could not be outflanked to the south because of the impossibility of moving armour into and through the depression. Rommel continued his march eastwards, but with the supply situation steadily worsening and his men exhausted after five weeks of constant warfare, the offensive on El Alamein
El Alamein
El Alamein is a town in the northern Matrouh Governorate of Egypt. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, it lies west of Alexandria and northwest of Cairo. As of 2007, it has a local population of 7,397 inhabitants.- Climate :...

 seemed in doubt. On 1 July the First Battle of El Alamein
First Battle of El Alamein
The First Battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought between Axis forces of the Panzer Army Africa commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Allied forces The First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942) was a battle of the Western Desert...

 started, but after almost a month of inconclusive fighting both sides, completely exhausted, dug in, halting Rommel's drive eastwards. This was a serious blow to Rommel who had hoped to drive his advance into the open desert beyond El Alamein where he could conduct a mobile defence. The Eighth Army suffered higher casualties in the fighting around El Alamein, some 13,000, compared with Axis losses of 7,000 men, 1,000 of which were Germans, but Rommel could afford the losses to a much lesser degree.

More significantly, Rommel only had 13 operational tanks by the time he reached El Alamein. Although he was only a few hundred miles from the Pyramids
Egyptian pyramids
The Egyptian pyramids are ancient pyramid-shaped masonry structures located in Egypt.There are 138 pyramids discovered in Egypt as of 2008. Most were built as tombs for the country's Pharaohs and their consorts during the Old and Middle Kingdom periods.The earliest known Egyptian pyramids are found...

, he knew he didn't have the resources to push forward. On 3 July, he wrote in his diary that his momentum had "faded away."
Summer standoff

After the stalemate at El Alamein, Rommel hoped to go on the offensive again before massive amounts of men and material could reach the British Eighth Army. Allied forces from Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 were, however, intercepting his supplies at sea and the Desert Air Force kept up a relentless campaign against Axis supply vessels in Tobruk, Bardia and Mersa Matruh. Most of the supplies reaching the Axis troops still had to be landed at Benghazi and Tripoli, and the enormous distances supplies had to travel to reach the forward troops meant that a rapid resupply and reorganisation of the Axis army could not be done. Further hampering Rommel's plans was the fact that the Italian divisions received priority on supplies, with the Italian authorities shipping material for the Italian formations at a much higher rate than for German formations. It seems the Italian HQ was uneasy with Rommel's ambitions and wanted their own forces, whom they at least had some control over, resupplied first.

The British, themselves preparing for a renewed drive, replaced C-in-C Auchinleck with General Harold Alexander. The Eighth Army also got a new commander, Bernard Montgomery. They received a steady stream of supplies and were able to reorganise their forces. In late August they received a large convoy carrying over 100,000 tons of supplies, and Rommel, learning of this, felt that time was running out. Rommel decided to launch an attack with the 15th and 21st Panzer Division, 90th Light Division, and the Italian XX Motorized Corps in a drive through the southern flank of the El Alamein lines. The terrain here was without any easily defensible features and so open to attack. Montgomery and Auchinleck before him had realised this threat, and the main defences for this sector had been set up behind the El Alamein line along the Alam El Halfa Ridge, where any outflanking thrust could be more easily met from overlooking defensive positions.
Battle of Alam El Halfa

The Battle of Alam el Halfa was launched on 30 August, with Rommel's forces driving through the south flank. After passing the El Alamein line to the south, Rommel drove north at the Alam el Halfa Ridge, just as Montgomery had anticipated. Under heavy fire from British artillery and aircraft, and in the face of well prepared positions that Rommel could not hope to outflank due to lack of fuel, the attack stalled. By 2 September, Rommel realized the battle was unwinnable, and decided to withdraw.

Montgomery had prepared to pursue the Germans but in the afternoon of 2 September, he gave Corps commander Brian Horrocks
Brian Horrocks
Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Gwynne Horrocks, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC was a British Army officer. He is chiefly remembered as the commander of XXX Corps in Operation Market Garden and other operations during the Second World War...

 clear orders to allow the enemy to retire. This was for two reasons: to preserve his own strength and to allow the enemy to observe, and be misled by, the dummy preparations for an attack in the area. Nevertheless, Montgomery was keen to inflict casualties on the enemy and orders were given for the as yet inexperienced 2nd New Zealand Division, positioned to the north of the retreating Axis forces, and 7th Armoured Division to attack on 3 September. The attack was repelled, however, by a fierce rearguard action by the 90th Light Division and Montgomery called off further action to preserve his strength. On 5 September Rommel was back where he had started, with only heavy losses to show for it. Rommel had suffered 2,940 casualties, lost 50 tanks, a similar number of guns and, perhaps worst of all, 400 trucks, vital for supplies and movement. The British losses, except tank losses of 68, were much less, further adding to the numerical inferiority of Panzer Army Afrika. The Desert Air Force inflicted the highest proportions of damage to Rommel's forces. He now realized the war in Africa was unwinnable without more air support which was impossible since the Luftwaffe was already stretched to breaking point on other fronts.
Second Battle of El Alamein

In September British raiding parties attacked important harbours and supply points. The flow of supplies successfully ferried across the Mediterranean had fallen to a dismal level. Some two-thirds of the supplies embarked for Africa were destroyed at sea. In addition, Rommel's health was failing and he took sick leave in Italy and Germany from late September. Thus he was not present when the Second Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein
The Second Battle of El Alamein marked a major turning point in the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The battle took place over 20 days from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The First Battle of El Alamein had stalled the Axis advance. Thereafter, Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery...

 began on 23 October 1942. Although he returned immediately, it took him two vital days to reach his HQ in Africa. The defensive plan at El Alamein was more static in nature than Rommel preferred, but with shortages of motorized units and fuel, he had felt it was the only possible plan. The defensive line had strong fortifications and was protected with a large minefield which in turn was covered with machine guns and artillery. This, Rommel hoped, would allow his infantry to hold the line at any point until motorized and armoured units in reserve could move up and counterattack any Allied breaches.

General Georg Stumme
Georg Stumme
Georg Stumme was a World War II German general most notable for his brief command of the Axis forces at the beginning of the Second Battle of El Alamein.-Biography:...

 was in command in Rommel's absence but during the initial fighting he died of a heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

. This paralyzed the German HQ until General Ritter von Thoma took command. After returning, Rommel learned that the fuel supply situation, critical when he left in September, was now disastrous. Counterattacks by the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions on 24 October and 25 October had incurred heavy tank losses due to the intensity of the British artillery and air attack. Rommel's main concern was to counterattack in full force and throw the British out of the defensive lines, which was in his view the only chance the Axis had of avoiding defeat. The counterattack was launched early on 26 October but the British units that had penetrated the defensive line inflicted heavy losses on Rommel's armour at the position code-named Snipe (often mis-named Kidney Ridge due to faulty interpretation of the ring contour - it was actually a depression). The Allies continued pushing hard with armoured units to force the breakthrough, but the defenders' fire destroyed many tanks, leading to doubts among the officers in the British armoured brigades about the chances of clearing a breach.

Montgomery, seeing his armoured brigades losing tanks at an alarming rate, stopped major attacks until 2 November when he launched Operation Supercharge and achieved a 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) penetration of the line. Rommel immediately counterattacked with what tanks he had available in an attempt to encircle the pocket during 2 November, but the heavy Allied fire stopped the attempt. By this time Panzer Army Africa had only one-third of its initial strength remaining, with only 35 tanks left operational, virtually no fuel or ammunition and with the British in complete command of the air, yet the British armour had been fought to a standstill, having taken murderous losses with some armoured brigades reporting losses of 75%.
Rommel's retreat

On 3 November Montgomery found it impossible to renew his attack, and he had to wait for more reinforcements to be brought up. This lull was what Rommel needed for his withdrawal, which had been planned since 29 October, when Rommel determined the situation hopeless. At midday, however, Rommel received the infamous "victory or death" stand-fast order from Hitler. Although this order demanded the impossible and virtually ensured the destruction of Panzer Army Africa, Rommel could not bring himself to disobey a direct order from his Führer. The Axis forces held on desperately.

On 4 November Montgomery renewed the attack with fresh forces, and with almost 500 tanks against the 20 or so remaining to Rommel. By midday the Italian XX Motorized Corps was surrounded, and several hours later was completely destroyed. This left a 20 km gap in Rommel's line, with British armoured and motorized units pouring through, threatening the entire Panzer Army Africa with encirclement. At this point Rommel could no longer uphold the no-retreat order and ordered a general retreat. Early on 5 November he received authorization by Hitler to withdraw, 12 hours after his decision to do so—but it was far too late, with only remnants of his army streaming westward. Most of his unmotorized forces (the bulk of the army) were caught.

Part of the Panzer Army Africa escaped from El Alamein, but this remnant took heavy losses from constant air attacks. Despite urgings from Hitler and Mussolini, the Panzer Army did not turn to fight, except for brief holding actions, but withdrew under Allied pressure all the way to Tunisia
Tunisia
Tunisia , officially the Tunisian RepublicThe long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is: , is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area...

. However, the retreat was conducted most skilfully, employing scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 tactics and leaving behind booby traps, making the task of the pursuers very difficult. The Allied forces had great numerical superiority and air supremacy, while most of Rommel's remaining divisions were reduced to combat groups.

End of Africa campaigns

Having reached Tunisia, Rommel launched an attack against the U.S. II Corps
U.S. II Corps
The II Corps was a corps of the United States Army and the first US formation of any size to see combat in Europe or Africa during World War II.-World War I:...

 which was threatening to cut his lines of supply north to Tunis. Rommel inflicted a sharp defeat on the American forces at the Kasserine Pass
Battle of the Kasserine Pass
The Battle of the Kasserine Pass was a battle that took place during the Tunisia Campaign of World War II in February 1943. It was a series of battles fought around Kasserine Pass, a wide gap in the Grand Dorsal chain of the Atlas Mountains in west central Tunisia...

 in February.

Rommel immediately turned back against the British forces, occupying the Mareth Line
Mareth Line
The Mareth Line was a system of fortifications built by the French between the towns of Medenine and Gabès in southern Tunisia, prior to World War II...

 (old French defences on the Libyan border). But Rommel could only delay the inevitable. At the end of January 1943, the Italian General Giovanni Messe
Giovanni Messe
Giovanni Messe was an Italian general, politician, and Field Marshal . He is considered by many to have been the best Italian general of the Second World War.-Early life and career:Born in Mesagne, Apulia, Giovanni Messe pursued a military career in 1901...

 had been appointed the new commander of Rommel's Panzer Army Africa
Panzer Army Africa
As the number of German armed forces committed to the North Africa Campaign of World War II grew from the initial commitment of a small corps the Germans developed a more elaborate command structure and placed the now larger Afrika Korps, with Italian units under this new German command structure,...

 while Rommel had been at Kasserine, which was renamed the Italo-German Panzer Army (in recognition of the fact that it consisted of one German and three Italian corps). Though Messe replaced Rommel, he diplomatically deferred to him, and the two coexisted in what was theoretically the same command. On 23 February Armeegruppe Afrika was created with Rommel in command. It included the Italo-German Panzer Army under Messe (renamed 1st Italian Army) and the German 5th Panzer Army in the north of Tunisia under General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Hans-Jürgen Bernhard Theodor von Arnim was a German Generaloberst who served during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

.

The last Rommel offensive in North Africa was on 6 March 1943, when he attacked Eighth Army at the Battle of Medenine. The attack was made with 10th
German 10th Panzer Division
The 10th Panzer Division was a formation of the German Wehrmacht during World War II.It was formed in Prague in March 1939, and served in the Army Group North reserve during the invasion of Poland of the same year. The division participated in the Battle of France in 1940, where it captured Calais,...

, 15th, and 21st
German 21st Panzer Division
The 21st Panzer Division was a German armoured division best known for its role in the battles of the North African Campaign from 1941–1943 during World War II when it was one of the two armoured divisions making up the Afrika Korps.-Origins:...

 Panzer Divisions. Warned by Ultra intercepts, Montgomery deployed large numbers of anti-tank guns in the path of the offensive. After losing 52 tanks, Rommel called off the assault. On 9 March he handed over command of Armeegruppe Afrika to General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
Hans-Jürgen Bernhard Theodor von Arnim was a German Generaloberst who served during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

 and left Africa, because of health reasons, never to return. On 13 May 1943, General Messe surrendered the remnants of Armeegruppe Afrika to the Allies.

Some historians contrast Rommel's withdrawal to Tunisia against Hitler's wishes with Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Paulus
Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Paulus was an officer in the German military from 1910 to 1945. He attained the rank of Generalfeldmarschall during World War II, and is best known for having commanded the Sixth Army's assault on Stalingrad during Operation Blue in 1942...

's obedience of orders to have the German Sixth Army
German Sixth Army
The 6th Army was a designation for German field armies which saw action in World War I and World War II. The 6th Army is best known for fighting in the Battle of Stalingrad, during which it became the first entire German field army to be completely destroyed...

 stand its ground at the Battle of Stalingrad
Battle of Stalingrad
The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle of World War II in which Nazi Germany and its allies fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in southwestern Russia. The battle took place between 23 August 1942 and 2 February 1943...

 which resulted in its annihilation. Field Marshal
Generalfeldmarschall
Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

 Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring
Albert Kesselring was a German Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall during World War II. In a military career that spanned both World Wars, Kesselring became one of Nazi Germany's most skilful commanders, being one of 27 soldiers awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords...

, appointed overall Axis commander in North Africa, saw things differently. He believed the withdrawals, some of which were carried out against his orders, unnecessary and ruinous since they brought forward British airfields ever closer to the port of Tunis. As far as he was concerned, Rommel was an insubordinate defeatist and string-puller. The increasingly acrimonious relations between the two did nothing to enhance performance.
Axis

The Axis had some major SIGINT successes in North Africa. They intercepted the reports of the U.S.
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 military attaché
Military attaché
A military attaché is a military expert who is attached to a diplomatic mission . This post is normally filled by a high-ranking military officer who retains the commission while serving in an embassy...

 in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

, who was briefed by the British on their forces and plans. Some authorities believe this information explains much of Rommel's success.

In addition, the Afrika Korps had a Radio Intercept Section (RIS) attached to its HQ. The RIS monitored radio communications among British units. The British were very "gabby" and most of this chatter was in clear, that is, uncoded, allowing the Germans to more easily identify British units and deployments. During the first Battle of El Alamein, a British counter-attack reached the German HQ. The RIS was wiped out in the fighting and many of their files captured. This alerted the British to the problem, and they tightened up on radio chatter. The loss of this resource is considered an important factor in Rommel's later lack of success.
Allies

Allied codebreakers read much enciphered German message traffic, especially that encrypted with the Enigma machine
Enigma machine
An Enigma machine is any of a family of related electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines used for the encryption and decryption of secret messages. Enigma was invented by German engineer Arthur Scherbius at the end of World War I...

. This Ultra intelligence included daily reports from Africa on the numbers and condition of Axis forces. It also included information about Axis supply shipments across the Mediterranean. This information enabled the weak Allied air and naval forces there to intercept and destroy much of these shipments. To protect the source of the intelligence (ULTRA), Allied air and naval forces were forbidden to destroy the convoys carrying war supplies to North Africa until a flyover to "discover" the convoy was arranged and completed.

France 1943–1944

The inglorious end of the North African campaign meshed poorly with the Nazi propaganda machine's relentless portrayal of Rommel as an unbeatable military genius. This opened in Berlin the awkward question of precisely what use now to make of the erstwhile Desert Fox. Back in Germany he was for some time virtually "unemployed". On 23 July 1943 he moved to Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 as commander of Army Group E
Army Group E
Army Group E was a German Army Group active during World War II.Army Group E was created on 1 January 1943 from the 12th Army...

 to defend the Greek coast against a possible Allied landing that never happened, and which the Germans were led to expect due to the elaborate British deception plan known as "Operation Mincemeat
Operation Mincemeat
Operation Mincemeat was a successful British deception plan during World War II. As part of the widespread deception plan Operation Barclay to cover the intended invasion of Italy from North Africa, Mincemeat helped to convince the German high command that the Allies planned to invade Greece and...

"—only to return to Germany two days later upon the overthrow of Mussolini. On 17 August 1943 Rommel moved his headquarters from Munich
Munich
Munich The city's motto is "" . Before 2006, it was "Weltstadt mit Herz" . Its native name, , is derived from the Old High German Munichen, meaning "by the monks' place". The city's name derives from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city; hence the monk depicted on the city's coat...

 to Lake Garda
Lake Garda
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. It is located in Northern Italy, about half-way between Brescia and Verona, and between Venice and Milan. Glaciers formed this alpine region at the end of the last ice age...

 as commander of a new Army Group B
Army Group B
Army Group B was the name of three different German Army Groups that saw action during World War II.-Battle for France:The first was involved in the Western Campaign in 1940 in Belgium and the Netherlands which was to be aimed to conquer the Maas bridges after the German airborne actions in Rotterdam...

 created to defend northern Italy
Northern Italy
Northern Italy is a wide cultural, historical and geographical definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the northern part of the Italian state, also referred as Settentrione or Alta Italia...

.

After Hitler gave Kesselring sole Italian command, on 21 November, Rommel moved Army Group B to Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

 in France with responsibility for defending the French coast against the long anticipated Allied invasion. He was dismayed by the lack of completed works and the slow building pace and feared he had just months before an invasion. Rommel reinvigorated the fortification effort along the Atlantic coast. The Commander-in-Chief West, Gerd von Rundstedt
Gerd von Rundstedt
Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was a Generalfeldmarschall of the German Army during World War II. He held some of the highest field commands in all phases of the war....

, expected the Allies to invade in the Pas-de-Calais because it was the shortest crossing point from Britain, its port facilities were essential to supplying a large invasion force, and the distance from Calais to Germany was relatively short. Hitler's HQ, although agreeing with this assessment, also considered a landing at Normandy as a possibility. Rommel, believing that Normandy was indeed a likely landing ground, argued that it did not matter to the Allies where they landed, just that the landing was successful. He therefore toured the Normandy defenses extensively in January and February 1944. He ordered millions of mines laid and thousands of tank traps and obstacles set up on beaches and throughout the countryside, including in fields suitable for glider aircraft landings, the so-called Rommelspargel
Rommelspargel
Rommelspargel were logs that were placed in the fields and meadows of Normandy to cause damage to the expected invasion of Allied military gliders and paratroopers. Also known in German as Holzpfähle , the wooden defenses were placed in early 1944 in coastal areas of France and Holland against...

("Rommel's asparagus").

After his experience with Allied air superiority at the end of the North Africa campaign, Rommel concluded that future Allied offensives would also enjoy overwhelming Allied air superiority, exposing any German armoured counter movements to severe punishment from above. He argued that the tank forces should be dispersed in small units and kept in heavily fortified positions as close to the front as possible. In doing so they would not have to move far and en masse when the invasion started. He felt their best chance was to confront the invading force immediately and drive it into the sea. However, von Rundstedt felt that there was no way to stop the invasion near the beaches due to the equally overwhelming firepower of the Allied navies. He felt the German armour should be held in reserve well inland near Paris
Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 where they could be used to counter attack in force in a more traditional military doctrine. The allies could even be allowed to extend themselves deep into France, exposing their flanks for a pincer movement to cut off the supplies and retreat of the Allied troops. This notion of defending France was supported by other officers, most notably Heinz Guderian
Heinz Guderian
Heinz Wilhelm Guderian was a German general during World War II. He was a pioneer in the development of armored warfare, and was the leading proponent of tanks and mechanization in the Wehrmacht . Germany's panzer forces were raised and organized under his direction as Chief of Mobile Forces...

 and Panzer Group West commander Geyr von Schweppenburg
Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg
Leo Dietrich Franz Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg was a German cavalry officer in World War I and a general during World War II. He was particularly noted for his expertise in armoured warfare and his command of Panzer Group West during the Invasion of Normandy.- Biography :Geyr was born in...

, who strongly disagreed with Rommel and wanted the armour placed far inland.

When asked to pick a plan, Hitler vacillated. In late April, he ordered them placed in the middle, far enough inland to be useless to Rommel but not far enough for von Rundstedt. Rommel did move some of the armoured formations under his command as far forward as possible, ordering General Erich Marcks
Erich Marcks
Erich Marcks was a German general of artillery in World War II.-Biography:Born in Schöneberg, Marcks was the son of the German historian Erich Marcks. He began advanced studies in philosophy in Freiburg in 1909. He broke off his studies after only three semesters and became a career officer of...

, commanding the 84th Corps defending the Normandy section, to move his reserves into the frontline.

The Allies staged elaborate deceptions for D-Day
D-Day
D-Day is a term often used in military parlance to denote the day on which a combat attack or operation is to be initiated. "D-Day" often represents a variable, designating the day upon which some significant event will occur or has occurred; see Military designation of days and hours for similar...

 (see Operation Fortitude
Operation Fortitude
Operation Fortitude was the codename for a World War II military deception employed by the Allied nations as part of an overall deception strategy during the build up to the 1944 Normandy Landings...

), giving the impression that the landings would be at Calais. Although Hitler himself expected a Normandy invasion for a while, Rommel and most Wehrmacht commanders in France also started believing in a Pas-de-Calais landing. Rommel concentrated fortification building in the River Somme estuary and let the work in Normandy lag. By D-Day on 6 June 1944 virtually all German officers, including Hitler's staff, firmly believed that Pas-de-Calais was going to be the invasion site.

During the confusing opening hours of D-Day, the German command structure in France was in disarray. Rommel, and several other important officers were on leave. Several tank units, notably the 12th SS Panzer Division
12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
The 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend was a German Waffen SS armoured division during World War II. The Hitlerjugend was unique because the majority of its junior enlisted men were drawn from members of the Hitler Youth, while the senior NCOs and officers were generally veterans of the Eastern...

 and Panzer-Lehr-Division, were close enough to the beaches to create serious havoc. The absence of Rommel and continued confusion in the army and theater HQs led to hesitation in releasing the armoured reserves to Normandy when they might be needed to meet a second invasion further north. Facing only small-scale German attacks, the Allies quickly secured a beachhead
Beachhead
Beachhead is a military term used to describe the line created when a unit reaches a beach, and begins to defend that area of beach, while other reinforcements help out, until a unit large enough to begin advancing has arrived. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Bridgehead and Lodgement...

. According to the official history of the SAS
SAS
- Special forces :* Special Air Service, a special forces unit of the British Army* Australian Special Air Service Regiment * New Zealand Special Air Service * Rhodesian Special Air Service...

, a British sniper could have killed Rommel, but was ordered not to, because by that time the allies understood the German's mind and felt they could anticipate his strategies but not that of his unknown successor. Rommel personally oversaw the bitter fighting around Caen
Caen
Caen is a commune in northwestern France. It is the prefecture of the Calvados department and the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. It is located inland from the English Channel....

 where only the determined defence of Kampfgruppe von Luck
Hans von Luck
Hans-Ulrich von Luck und Witten , usually shortened to Hans von Luck, was a Colonel in the German Armored Forces during World War II. He served with the 7th Panzer Division and 21st Panzer Division, seeing action in Poland, France, North Africa, Italy and Russia...

prevented a British breakout on the first day. Here, again, the on-site commanders were denied freedom of action and the Germans did not launch a concentrated counterattack until mid-day on 6 June.

The Allies pushed ashore and expanded their beachhead despite the best efforts of Rommel's troops. By mid-July the German position was crumbling. On 17 July 1944, Rommel was being driven along a French road near the front in his staff car. According to a widely accepted version of events, an RCAF Spitfire of 412 Squadron
No. 412 Squadron RCAF
No. 412 Transport Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force is one of 3 transport squadrons attached to CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ontario. This squadron, however, is based out of Ottawa, Ontario. It had formerly been attached to CFB Ottawa, which closed in 1994. The squadron operates with a strength...

 piloted by Charley Fox
Charley Fox
Charles William Fox, DFCand Bar, CD was a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II...

 strafed the car near Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery
Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery
Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery is a commune in the Calvados department in the Basse-Normandie region in northwestern France.-Population:-References:*...

 and Rommel was injured. He was hospitalised with major head injuries. In a different version, a patrol of 602 Squadron
No. 602 Squadron RAF
No 602 Squadron is a Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadron. Originally formed in 1925 as a light bomber squadron, its role changed in 1938 to army co-operation and in 1939 to that of a fighter squadron....

 led by Chris Le Roux carried out the attack. Australian Fred Cowlph, of squadron 453, also claims he shot up the Mercedes carrying Rommel. He claims his camera that activated automatically on firing his cannons verified this. He recorded this action in his aircraft log book.

Plot against Hitler

There had always been opposition to Hitler in conservative circles and in the Army, the Schwarze Kapelle
Schwarze Kapelle
The Schwarze Kapelle was a term used by the Gestapo to refer to a group of conspirators within the German military who plotted to overthrow Adolf Hitler. It included many senior officers within the Wehrmacht.-Membership:...

 (Black Orchestra), but Hitler's dazzling successes in 1938–1941 had stifled it. However, after the Russian campaign failed, and the Axis suffered more defeats, this opposition underwent a revival.

Early in 1944, three of Rommel's closest friends—, the Oberbürgermeister of Stuttgart, SA Brigadeführer Karl Strölin (who had served with Rommel in the First World War), Alexander von Falkenhausen
Alexander von Falkenhausen
Alexander Ernst Alfred Hermann Freiherr von Falkenhausen was a German general. He was the head of the military government of Belgium from 1940–44 during its occupation by Germany in World War II....

 and Carl Heinrich von Stülpnagel—began efforts to bring Rommel into the conspiracy. They felt that as by far the most popular officer in Germany, he would lend their cause badly needed credibility with the populace. Additionally, the conspirators felt they needed the support of a field marshal on active duty. Erwin von Witzleben
Erwin von Witzleben
Job-Wilhelm Georg Erdmann Erwin von Witzleben was a German army officer and in the Second World War an Army commander and a conspirator in the July 20 Plot.-Early years:...

, who would have become commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht if Hitler had been overthrown, was a field marshal, but had not been on active duty since 1942. Sometime in February, Rommel agreed to lend his support to the conspiracy in order to, as he put it, "come to the rescue of Germany."

Rommel, however, opposed assassinating Hitler. After the war, his widow—among others—maintained that Rommel believed an assassination attempt would spark civil war in Germany and Austria and Hitler would have become a martyr for a lasting cause. Instead, Rommel insisted that Hitler be arrested and brought to trial for his crimes. By the time of his head injuries, Rommel had made up his mind to do his part to get rid of Hitler.

After the failed bomb attack of 20 July, many conspirators were arrested and the dragnet expanded to anyone even suspected of participating. Rommel was fairly perturbed at this development, telling Hans Speidel
Hans Speidel
Hans Speidel: Born in Metzingen, was a German general during World War II and the first German NATO Commander during the Cold War.- 1914–1945 :...

 that Hitler's behavior after the attack proved that the dictator had "gone completely mad." It did not take long, however, for Rommel's involvement to come to light. His name was first mentioned when Stülpnagel blurted it out after a botched suicide attempt. Later, another conspirator, Caesar von Hofacker
Caesar von Hofacker
Caesar von Hofacker was a German Lieutenant Colonel and member of the 20 July plot against Adolf Hitler....

, admitted under particularly severe Gestapo torture that Rommel was actively involved.

Additionally, Carl Goerdeler, the main civilian leader of the Resistance, wrote on several letters and other documents that Rommel was a potential supporter and an acceptable military leader to be placed in a position of responsibility should their coup succeed. Nazi party officials in France reported that Rommel extensively and scornfully criticised Nazi incompetence and crimes.

Rommel's death

The "Court of Military Honour"—a drumhead court-martial
Drumhead court-martial
A drumhead court-martial is a court-martial held in the field to hear urgent charges of offences committed in action. The term is said to originate from the use of a drumhead as an improvised writing table, altar for religious services, and a traditional gathering point for a regiment for orders...

 convened to decide the fate of officers involved in the conspiracy—included two men with whom Rommel had crossed swords before: Heinz Guderian and Gerd von Rundstedt. The Court decided that Rommel should be expelled from the Army in disgrace and brought before Roland Freisler
Roland Freisler
Roland Freisler was a prominent and notorious Nazi lawyer and judge. He was State Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice and President of the People's Court , which was set up outside constitutional authority...

's People's Court
People's Court (German)
The People's Court was a court established in 1934 by German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who had been dissatisfied with the outcome of the Reichstag Fire Trial . The "People's Court" was set up outside the operations of the constitutional frame of law...

, a kangaroo court
Kangaroo court
A kangaroo court is "a mock court in which the principles of law and justice are disregarded or perverted".The outcome of a trial by kangaroo court is essentially determined in advance, usually for the purpose of ensuring conviction, either by going through the motions of manipulated procedure or...

 that always decided in favour of the prosecution. However, Hitler knew that having Rommel branded as a traitor would severely damage morale on the home front. He and Keitel thus decided to offer Rommel a chance to commit suicide
Suicide
Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death. Suicide is often committed out of despair or attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse...

.

Rommel was approached at his home by Wilhelm Burgdorf
Wilhelm Burgdorf
Wilhelm Burgdorf was a German general. Born in Fürstenwalde, Burgdorf served as a commander and staff officer in the German Army during World War II.- Military career :...

 and Ernst Maisel
Ernst Maisel
Lieutenant General Ernst Maisel was a German army officer who served in the Wehrmacht during World War II....

, two generals from Hitler's headquarters, on 14 October 1944. Burgdorf informed him of the charges and offered him a choice: he could face the People's Court or choose to commit suicide quietly. In the former case, his staff would have been arrested and his family would suffer
Sippenhaft
Sippenhaft or Sippenhaftung was a form of collective punishment practised in Nazi Germany towards the end of the Second World War. It was a legalized practice in which relatives of persons accused of crimes against the state were held to share the responsibility for those crimes and subject to...

 even before the all-but-certain conviction and execution. In the latter case, the government would assure his family full pension
Pension
In general, a pension is an arrangement to provide people with an income when they are no longer earning a regular income from employment. Pensions should not be confused with severance pay; the former is paid in regular installments, while the latter is paid in one lump sum.The terms retirement...

 payments and a state funeral
State funeral
A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony, observing the strict rules of protocol, held to honor heads of state or other important people of national significance. State funerals usually include much pomp and ceremony as well as religious overtones and distinctive elements of military tradition...

 claiming he had died a hero. Burgdorf had brought a capsule of cyanide for the occasion. After a few minutes' thought alone, Rommel announced that he chose to end his own life and explained his decision to his wife and son. Carrying his field marshal's baton, Rommel went to Burgdorf's Opel
Opel
Adam Opel AG, generally shortened to Opel, is a German automobile company founded by Adam Opel in 1862. Opel has been building automobiles since 1899, and became an Aktiengesellschaft in 1929...

, driven by SS Master Sergeant Heinrich Doose, and was driven out of the village. Doose walked away from the car leaving Rommel with Maisel. Five minutes later Burgdorf gestured to the two men to return to the car, and Doose noticed that Rommel was slumped over, after taking the cyanide pill. Doose, while sobbing, replaced Rommel's fallen cap on his head. Ten minutes later the group phoned Rommel's wife to inform her that Rommel was dead.

After the war, an edited version of his diary was published as The Rommel Papers. He is the only member of the Third Reich establishment to have a museum dedicated to him. His grave can be found in Herrlingen, a short distance west of Ulm
Ulm
Ulm is a city in the federal German state of Baden-Württemberg, situated on the River Danube. The city, whose population is estimated at 120,000 , forms an urban district of its own and is the administrative seat of the Alb-Donau district. Ulm, founded around 850, is rich in history and...

.

The official story of Rommel's death, as initially reported to the general public, stated that Rommel had either suffered a heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

or succumbed to his injuries from the earlier strafing of his staff car
Staff car
A staff car is a vehicle used by a senior military officer, and is part of their country's white fleet. The term is most often used in relation to the United Kingdom where they were first used in quantity during World War I, examples being the Vauxhall D-type and Crossley 20/25.Staff cars are...

. To further strengthen the story, Hitler ordered an official day of mourning in commemoration and Rommel was buried with full military honours. Hitler sent Field Marshal von Rundstedt as his representative at Rommel's funeral. Rommel had specified that no political paraphernalia were to be displayed on his corpse, but the Nazis made sure he was fully festooned with swastikas. The truth behind Rommel's death did not come out until Field Marshal Keitel testified about it during the Nuremberg Trials.

Logistics and strategy

Rommel was a skilled tactician, but some allege that he had little sense of logistics or military strategy. They consider as an example of this his proposal to postpone Operation Herkules
Operation Herkules
Operation Herkules was the German code-name given to a planned but never-executed Italo-German invasion of Malta during World War II...

, the invasion of Malta
Malta
Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

 in favour of the immediate advance to the Suez Canal, which would cut the island off from the western Mediterranean. In the event, the operation did not take place, and he ran out of supplies in Egypt, principally because Malta-based forces were sinking Axis supply ships Those that allege that Rommel had little sense of logistics think that his eagerness to drive for Egypt, when the necessary logistical support was lacking, meant that these drives ultimately failed with great losses.

In his analysis of the logistical aspects of the North African Campaign, military historian Martin van Creveld
Martin van Creveld
Martin Levi van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and theorist.Van Creveld was born in the Netherlands in the city of Rotterdam, and has lived in Israel since shortly after his birth. He holds degrees from the London School of Economics and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he has...

 wrote:

Given that the Wehrmacht was only partly motorized and unsupported by a really strong motor industry; that the political situation necessitated the carrying of much useless Italian ballast; that the capacity of the Libyan ports was so small, the distances to be mastered so vast; it seems clear that, for all of Rommel's tactical brilliance, the problem of supplying an Axis force for an advance into the Middle East was insoluble. ... Rommel's repeated defiance of his orders and attempts to advance beyond a reasonable distance from his bases, however, was mistaken and should never have been tolerated.

Personality

Contemporaries who had to work with him under adversity often had very few kind words to say about him and his abilities. Following Paulus' return from his inspection of Rommel's doings in North Africa and also considering the reports submitted by Alfred Gause, Halder concluded: "Rommel's character defects make him very hard to get along with but no one cares to come out in open opposition because of his brutality and the backing he has at top level." Others mentioned his leadership style, which expected much of his commanders, while not being open to criticism or objections. He had little patience for sub-commanders who did not do their jobs properly. Only three weeks after assuming command of the 7th Panzer Division in February 1940, Rommel found a battalion commander performing below par and had the man relieved of command and sent on his way in 90 minutes. This management style would certainly send a signal that he demanded the utmost of his men, but it was bound to create a feeling of resentment among some of his officers.

F. W. von Mellenthin
Friedrich von Mellenthin
Friedrich Wilhelm von Mellenthin was a Generalmajor in the German Army during World War II. A participant in most of the major campaigns of the war, he became well-known afterwards for his memoirs Panzer Battles, first published in 1956 and regularly reprinted since then.- Early life :Mellenthin...

, who served on Rommel's staff during the Africa campaign, wrote that Rommel took great chances on several occasions, gambling entire battles on decisions made almost on the spur of the moment and with incomplete information. He cited Rommel's counterattack during Operation Crusader as just one such instance. Others who served under him in Africa, most notably General Fritz Bayerlein, said he took risks but only after carefully weighing the potential dangers and rewards. Rommel himself was aware of his growing reputation as a gambler and added careful notes in his papers explaining and defending his actions, especially concerning his decision to drive into Egypt during the 1942 Summer Offensive.

While some aggressive subordinates, like Hans von Luck
Hans von Luck
Hans-Ulrich von Luck und Witten , usually shortened to Hans von Luck, was a Colonel in the German Armored Forces during World War II. He served with the 7th Panzer Division and 21st Panzer Division, seeing action in Poland, France, North Africa, Italy and Russia...

, praised his leadership from the front, Mellenthin questioned this leadership style as it often led to disinvolvement of his staff officers in the fight instead of their maintaining an overview of the situation. His consequential long absences from HQ also meant that subordinates had to make decisions without consulting Rommel, leading to confusion.

Rommel was a teetotaler and a non-smoker.

Relations with the Italians

Rommel's relations with the Italian High Command in North Africa were in the worst possible terms. That is hardly surprising, as Rommel was nominally subordinate to the Italians for much of the campaign but was also direct commander of the DAK, by far the strongest component of the Axis forces, and enjoyed direct access and the strongest relationships with the highest German political authority. This allowed him to ignore blatantly any sort of order or even simple advice coming from his Italian counterparts, and Rommel's abrasive and often impolite manners did nothing to smoothe the resentment that this perceived insubordination and lack of respect generated in his Italian allies.

The belated expedient to nominate Field Marshall Kesselring as Supreme Commander Mediterranean, to act as a buffer between Rommel and the Italians, failed miserably, as Rommel quite simply ignored Kesselring exactly as he ignored the Italians.

Besides Rommel's impolite manners and insubordination, there were also strong professional points of disagreements, mostly related to the handling of the logistical part of the campaign. While certainly much less proficient than Rommel in their tactical outlook and mobile warfare skills, the Italian commanders were competent "old school" professionals, with full staff training and a sound grasp of logistics and artillery doctrine, that is the true weak points of Rommel professional preparation. As such the Italian commanders were repeatedly at odds with Rommel, particularly when their conservative logistical calculations - regularly ignored by Rommel - were actually confirmed as accurate, leaving the Axis forces stranded in exposed position from where the Italians - with their puny motorized resources - were much less able than the Germans to extricate themselves.

This generated a widespread lack of respect among the Italian commanders for Rommel's professional skills in anything but tactical situation, that further ruined any possibility of implementing good working relations. This lack of trust reached its acme during the retreat up to Tunisia after the El Alamein battle, when an utterly spent and dispirited Rommel eluded all requests by the Italians to stand up and attempt to fight in defence of Libya on the favourable traditional back-up line at the el Agheila bottleneck or even before the main logistical base of Tripoli, a fact that the Italian commanders did consider just short of outright cowardice and treason.

Much different was the perception of Rommel among the Italian common soldiers and lower officers, that reserved for him the highest sort of admiration and respect.

Aggression and tactical capability

In France, Rommel's aggressive drive through the French and British lines, disregarding the safety of his flanks and rear, succeeded to a remarkable degree. His bold attacks often caused larger enemy formations to surrender but his aggressiveness did cause resentment among fellow officers, however, who felt he at times acted too recklessly and failed to keep his sub-commanders and colleague commanders properly informed of his intentions. He was also criticized for claiming too much of the glory himself, neglecting support from other elements of the Wehrmacht and downplaying other units' achievements.

British General Harold Alexander commanded Allied forces in the Middle East facing Rommel in Egypt (from August 1942) and later commanded 18th Army Group in Tunisia. In his official despatch on the campaign in Africa, he wrote of Rommel :

Sir David Hunt
David Hunt (diplomat)
Sir David Hunt KCMG, OBE was a British diplomat, best remembered as winner of the BBC's Mastermind television quiz in 1977....

, one of Alexander's intelligence officers, expressed the view in his own book that:

During the siege of Tobruk, Rommel launched frequent costly attacks during the first month of the siege. The level of losses incurred caused Rommel to have several arguments with his unit commanders, and also with the German High Command. Indeed, some sources indicate that Chief of Staff Halder
Franz Halder
Franz Halder was a German General and the head of the Army General Staff from 1938 until September, 1942, when he was dismissed after frequent disagreements with Adolf Hitler.-Early life:...

 had to send Friedrich Paulus to Africa to rein Rommel in, although Rommel himself maintained he had realized the futility of further attacks on the fortress on his own accord.

Popular perception

Rommel was extraordinarily well known in his lifetime, not only by the German people, but also by his adversaries. Popular stories of his chivalry and tactical prowess earned him the respect of many opponents, including Claude Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE , nicknamed "The Auk", was a British army commander during World War II. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he developed a love of the country and a lasting affinity for the soldiers...

, Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

, George S. Patton
George S. Patton
George Smith Patton, Jr. was a United States Army officer best known for his leadership while commanding corps and armies as a general during World War II. He was also well known for his eccentricity and controversial outspokenness.Patton was commissioned in the U.S. Army after his graduation from...

, and Bernard Montgomery. Rommel, for his part, was both complimentary and respectful of his foes. Hitler counted Rommel among his favorite generals. Rommel was among the few Axis commanders (others being Isoroku Yamamoto
Isoroku Yamamoto
was a Japanese Naval Marshal General and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II, a graduate of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and a student of Harvard University ....

 and Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Heydrich
Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich , also known as The Hangman, was a high-ranking German Nazi official.He was SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, chief of the Reich Main Security Office and Stellvertretender Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia...

) directly targeted for assassination by Allied planners. However, unlike the other two, the attempt
Operation Flipper
Operation Flipper was a British commando raid, during the Second World War, that included among its objectives an attack on the headquarters of Erwin Rommel, the commander of the Axis forces in North Africa. It was timed to strike on the night of 17/18 November 1941, just before the start of...

 on Rommel's life was a failure.

The Afrika Korps were never accused of any war crimes, and Rommel himself referred to the fighting in North Africa as Krieg ohne Hass—war without hate. Numerous examples exist of Rommel's chivalry towards Allied POW
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

s, such as his defiance of Hitler's infamous Commando Order
Commando Order
The Commando Order was issued by Adolf Hitler on 18 October 1942 stating that all Allied commandos encountered by German forces in Europe and Africa should be killed immediately, even if in uniform or if they attempted to surrender...

 following the capture of Lt. Roy Woodridge and Lt. George Lane as part of Operation Fortitude
Operation Fortitude
Operation Fortitude was the codename for a World War II military deception employed by the Allied nations as part of an overall deception strategy during the build up to the 1944 Normandy Landings...

. He also refused to comply with Hitler's order to execute Jewish POWs.

During Rommel's time in France, Hitler ordered him to deport the country's Jewish population; Rommel disobeyed. Several times he wrote letters protesting against the treatment of the Jews. When British Major Geoffrey Keyes
Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes
Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes, VC, MC was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces...

 was killed during a failed commando raid to kill or capture Rommel behind German lines, Rommel ordered him buried with full military honours. Also, during the construction of the Atlantic Wall
Atlantic Wall
The Atlantic Wall was an extensive system of coastal fortifications built by Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1944 along the western coast of Europe as a defense against an anticipated Allied invasion of the mainland continent from Great Britain.-History:On March 23, 1942 Führer Directive Number 40...

, Rommel directed that French workers were not to be used as slaves, but were to be paid for their labour.

His military colleagues also played their part in perpetuating his legend. His former subordinate Kircheim, though privately critical of Rommel's performance, nonetheless explained: "thanks to propaganda, first by Goebbels, then by Montgomery, and finally, after he was poisoned (sic), by all former enemy powers, he has become a symbol of the best military traditions. ...Any public criticism of this legendary personality would damage the esteem in which the German soldier is held."

After the war, when Rommel's alleged involvement in the plot to kill Hitler became known, his stature was enhanced greatly among the former Allied nations. Rommel was often cited in Western sources as a general who, though a loyal German, was willing to stand up to Hitler. The release of the film The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel is a 1951 biographical film about Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in the later stages of World War II. It stars James Mason in the title role, was directed by Henry Hathaway, and was based on the book Rommel by Brigadier Desmond Young, who served in the Indian Army in...

(1951) helped to further enhance his reputation as one of the most widely known and well-regarded leaders in the German Army
Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

. In 1970 a Lütjens-class destroyer
Lütjens class destroyer
The Type 103 Lütjens class was the last class of destroyers in service with the German Navy. They were replaced by the new Sachsen-class frigates, designated frigate even though they are much larger and more capable in all aspects than the Lütjens class destroyers.Basically the ships were Charles F...

 was named the FGS Rommel
FGS Rommel (D187)
D187 Rommel was a guided missile destroyer of the Bundesmarine and later the Deutsche Marine . It was the third and last ship of the Lütjens class, a modification of the Charles F. Adams class....

 in his honour.

Quotations about Rommel

The British Parliament considered a censure vote against Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 following the surrender at Tobruk
Tobruk
Tobruk or Tubruq is a city, seaport, and peninsula on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border with Egypt. It is the capital of the Butnan District and has a population of 120,000 ....

. The vote failed, but in the course of the debate, Churchill stated:
Churchill again:
Theodor Werner was an officer who, during World War I, served under Rommel:
British General Claude Auchinleck
Claude Auchinleck
Field Marshal Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO, OBE , nicknamed "The Auk", was a British army commander during World War II. He was a career soldier who spent much of his military career in India, where he developed a love of the country and a lasting affinity for the soldiers...

, one of Rommel's opponents in Africa, in a letter to his field commanders:

Medals and decorations

  • Württembergische Goldene Verdienstmedaille on 25 February 1915
  • Military Merit Order
    Military Merit Order (Bavaria)
    The Bavarian Military Merit Order was established on July 19, 1866 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was the kingdom's main decoration for bravery and military merit for officers and higher-ranking officials. Civilians acting in support of the army were also made eligible for the decoration...

     Fourth Class with Swords
  • Military Merit Order
    Military Merit Order (Bavaria)
    The Bavarian Military Merit Order was established on July 19, 1866 by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was the kingdom's main decoration for bravery and military merit for officers and higher-ranking officials. Civilians acting in support of the army were also made eligible for the decoration...

     Second Class
  • Württembergischer Friedrich Order
    Friedrich Order
    The Friedrich Order, German: "Friedrichs-Orden" or "Friedrichsorden" was an order of merit of the German Kingdom of Württemberg. It was instituted on the first of January 1830 by the second king of Württemberg, Wilhelm I in remembrance of his father, King Friedrich I.The order had one class...

     with Swords First Class
  • Military Merit Order
    Military Merit Order (Württemberg)
    The Military Merit Order was a military order of the Kingdom of Württemberg, which joined the German Empire in 1871. The order was one of the older military orders of the states of the German Empire...

     on 8 April 1915
  • Military Merit Cross
    Military Merit Cross (Austria-Hungary)
    The Military Merit Cross was a decoration of the Empire of Austria and, after the establishment of the Dual Monarchy in 1867, the Empire of Austria-Hungary. It was first established on October 22, 1849 and underwent several revisions to its design and award criteria over the years of its existence...

     III. Klasse
  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     (1914) 2nd Class on 30 September 1914
  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     (1914) 1st Class on 22 March 1915
  • Pour le Mérite
    Pour le Mérite
    The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max , was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order for German soldiers until the end of World War I....

     on 10 December 1917
  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     (1918) in Silver in 1918
  • Cross of Honor
    Cross of Honor
    The Cross of Honor, also known as the Honor Cross or, popularly, the Hindenburg Cross, was a commemorative medal inaugurated on July 13, 1934 by Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg for those soldiers of Imperial Germany who fought in World War I...

     in 1934
  • Sudetenland Medal
    Sudetenland Medal
    The The Sudetenland Commemorative Medal was a decoration of Nazi Germany awarded in the interwar period.-Description:...

     (invasion of the Wehrmacht in the Sudetenland
    Sudetenland
    Sudetenland is the German name used in English in the first half of the 20th century for the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans, specifically the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia being within Czechoslovakia.The...

    )
  • Memel Medal
    Memel Medal
    The Return of Memel Commemorative Medal was a decoration of Nazi Germany awarded in the interwar period, and the last of the series of Occupation Medals.-Description:...

  • Wehrmacht Long Service Award
    Wehrmacht Long Service Award
    The Wehrmacht Long Service Award was a military service decoration of Nazi Germany issued for satisfactory completion of a given years of military service...

     IV. bis I. Stufe
  • Ornate Samurai Sword from the Emperor of Japan

  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     2nd Class on 17 May 1940
  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     1st Class on 21 May 1940
  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

     with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
    • Knight's Cross on 27 May 1940 as Generalmajor and commander of the 7. Panzer-Division
    • 10th Oak Leaves on 20 March 1941 as Generalleutnant and commander of the 7. Panzer-Division
    • 6th Swords on 20 January 1942 as General der Panzertruppe
      General der Panzertruppe
      General der Panzertruppe was a rank of German Army General introduced by the Wehrmacht in 1935. As the commander of a Panzer Corp this rank corresponds to a US Army Lieutenant-General...

      and commander of the Panzergruppe Afrika
    • 6th Diamonds on 11 March 1943 as Generalfeldmarschall
      Generalfeldmarschall
      Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

      and commander in chief of the Heeresgruppe Afrika
  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     in Gold on 7 August 1944
  • Panzer Badge
    Panzer Badge
    The Panzer Badge was a German medal awarded to armour troops during World War II. It was introduced during World War II in December 1939 .- History :The Tank Combat Badge, or Panzer Badge, first existed in the German Army during World War I, and was later...

     in Silver
  • Italian Medaglia d'Argento al Valor Militare (Silver Medal for Military Valour)
    Silver Medal of Military Valor
    The Silver Medal of Military Valor is an Italian medal for gallantry.Italian medals for valor were first instituted by Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia on May 21, 1793, with a gold medal, and, below it, a silver medal...

     on 22 April 1941
  • Knight of the Colonial Order of the Star of Italy
    Colonial Order of the Star of Italy
    The Colonial Order of the Star of Italy was founded as a colonial order of knighthood on 18 June 1914 by King Victor Emmanuel III, to reward soldiers deployed to the colony of Libya. The order had fallen into abeyance by 1943, when Allied forces re-took the colonies of Italian North Africa.The...

     on 28 April 1942
  • Grand Officer of the Italian Military Order of Savoy
    Military Order of Italy
    The Military Order of Italy is the highest military order of the Italian Republic and the former Kingdom of Italy. It was founded as the Military Order of Savoy, a national order by the King of Sardinia, Vittorio Emanuele I, Duke of Savoy in 1815...

     Mid-1942
  • Romanian Order of Michael the Brave
    Order of Michael the Brave
    The Order of Michael the Brave is Romania's highest military decoration, instituted by King Ferdinand I during the early stages of the Romanian Campaign of World War I, and was again awarded in World War II...

     3rd and 2nd Class on 12 July 1944
  • Mentioned twice on the Wehrmachtbericht
    Wehrmachtbericht
    The Wehrmachtbericht was a daily radio report on the Großdeutscher Rundfunk of Nazi Germany, published by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht regarding the military situation on all fronts of World War II....

     (26 June 1942 and 10 September 1943)


Dates of ranks

  • Fähnrich
    Fähnrich
    Fähnrich is a German and Austrian military rank in armed forces which translates as "Ensign" in English. The rank also exists in a few other European military organizations, often with historical ties to the German system. Examples are Sweden, Norway and Finland . The French Army has a similar...

    —19 July 1910
  • Leutnant—27 January 1912
  • Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

    —18 September 1915
  • Hauptmann
    Hauptmann
    Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

    —18 October 1918
  • Major
    Major (Germany)
    Major is a rank of the German military which dates back to the Middle Ages.It equates to Major in the British and US Armies, and is rated OF-3 in NATO.During World War II, the SS equivalent was Sturmbannführer....

    —1 April 1932
  • Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant
    Oberstleutnant is a German Army and Air Force rank equal to Lieutenant Colonel, above Major, and below Oberst.There are two paygrade associated to the rank of Oberstleutnant...

    —1 October 1933


  • Oberst
    Oberst
    Oberst is a military rank in several German-speaking and Scandinavian countries, equivalent to Colonel. It is currently used by both the ground and air forces of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. The Swedish rank överste is a direct translation, as are the Finnish rank eversti...

    —1 October 1937
  • Generalmajor—1 August 1939
  • Generalleutnant—9 February 1941
  • General der Panzertruppe
    General der Panzertruppe
    General der Panzertruppe was a rank of German Army General introduced by the Wehrmacht in 1935. As the commander of a Panzer Corp this rank corresponds to a US Army Lieutenant-General...

    —1 July 1941
  • Generaloberst—24 January 1942
  • Generalfeldmarschall
    Generalfeldmarschall
    Field Marshal or Generalfeldmarschall in German, was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire; in the Austrian Empire, the rank Feldmarschall was used...

    —21 June 1942


In popular culture

Rommel has been portrayed by:
  • Erich von Stroheim
    Erich von Stroheim
    Erich von Stroheim was an Austrian-born film star of the silent era, subsequently noted as an auteur for his directorial work.-Background:...

     in the 1943 film
    Film
    A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

     Five Graves to Cairo
    Five Graves to Cairo
    Five Graves to Cairo is a 1943 World War II film by Billy Wilder, starring Franchot Tone and Anne Baxter. It is one of a number of films based on Lajos Biró's play Színmü négy felvonásban, including Hotel Imperial .-Plot:...

  • James Mason
    James Mason
    James Neville Mason was an English actor who attained stardom in both British and American films. Mason remained a powerful figure in the industry throughout his career and was nominated for three Academy Awards as well as three Golden Globes .- Early life :Mason was born in Huddersfield, in the...

     in both the 1951 The Desert Fox
    The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel
    The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel is a 1951 biographical film about Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in the later stages of World War II. It stars James Mason in the title role, was directed by Henry Hathaway, and was based on the book Rommel by Brigadier Desmond Young, who served in the Indian Army in...

     and the 1953 The Desert Rats
    The Desert Rats (film)
    The Desert Rats is a 1953 American war film about the World War II siege of Tobruk. It stars Richard Burton and was directed by Robert Wise.-Plot:...

  • Albert Lieven
    Albert Lieven
    Albert Lieven was a German actor. He was born Albert Fritz Liévin in Hohenstein, East Prussia. He died in London, England. He was married four times, including to the actresses Susan Shaw and Valerie White....

     in Foxhole in Cairo
    Foxhole in Cairo
    Foxhole in Cairo is a 1960 British war film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey and based on a novel by Leonard Mosley itself based upon the real-life Operation Salaam. It starred James Robertson Justice, Adrian Hoven, Fenella Fielding and Henry Oscar...

     in 1960
  • Werner Hinz
    Werner Hinz
    Werner Hinz was a German film actor. He appeared in 70 films between 1935 and 1984.-Selected filmography:* Die Buntkarierten * No Greater Love * The Last Witness...

     in 1962's The Longest Day
    The Longest Day (film)
    The Longest Day is a 1962 war film based on the 1959 history book The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan, about "D-Day", the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944, during World War II....

  • Christopher Plummer
    Christopher Plummer
    Arthur Christopher Orne Plummer, CC is a Canadian theatre, film and television actor. He made his film debut in 1957's Stage Struck, and notable early film performances include Night of the Generals, The Return of the Pink Panther and The Man Who Would Be King.In a career that spans over five...

     in 1966's Night of the Generals
  • Karl Michael Vogler
    Karl Michael Vogler
    Karl Michael Vogler was a German actor probably best known for his appearances in several big-budget English-language films of the 1960s and 1970s, including The Blue Max where he co-starred with George Peppard and Ursula Andress followed a few years later by Patton, in which he portrayed Erwin...

     in the 1970 Patton
    Patton (film)
    Patton is a 1970 American biographical war film about U.S. General George S. Patton during World War II. It stars George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Michael Bates, and Karl Michael Vogler. It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner from a script by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H...

    .
  • Wolfgang Preiss
    Wolfgang Preiss
    Wolfgang Preiss was a German theatre, film and television actor.The son of a teacher, in the early 1930s Preiss studied philosophy, German and drama. He also took private acting classes with Hans Schlenck, making his stage début in Munich in 1932...

     in the 1971 Raid on Rommel
    Raid on Rommel
    Raid on Rommel is an American B movie from 1971, set in North Africa during the Second World War. It stars Richard Burton as a British commando attempting to destroy German gun emplacements in Tobruk...

  • Friedrich Siemers in the 1971 TV movie Operation Walküre
  • Robert Culp
    Robert Culp
    Robert Martin Culp was an American actor, scriptwriter, voice actor and director, widely known for his work in television. Culp first earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy , the espionage series in which he and co-star Bill Cosby played a pair of secret agents...

     in the 1985 TV movie (based upon the novel of the same name) The Key to Rebecca
    The Key to Rebecca
    The Key to Rebecca is a novel by British author Ken Follett. Published in 1980 by Pan Books , it was a noted bestseller that achieved popularity both in the United Kingdom and worldwide...

  • Hardy Krüger
    Hardy Krüger
    Hardy Krüger is a German actor. He is thought of as one of the greatest German actors of the 1960s. He was born in Wedding, Berlin, German Reich...

     in the 1988 television mini-series War and Remembrance
    War and Remembrance
    War and Remembrance is a novel by Herman Wouk, published in 1978, which is the sequel to The Winds of War. It continues the story of the extended Henry family and the Jastrow family starting on 15 December 1941 and ending on 6 August 1945. This novel was adapted into a mini-series presented on...

  • Michael York
    Michael York (actor)
    Michael York, OBE is an English actor.-Early life:York was born in Fulmer, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, the son of Florence Edith May , a musician; and Joseph Gwynne Johnson, a Llandovery born Welsh ex-Royal Artillery British Army officer and executive with Marks and Spencer department stores...

     in the 1990 TV movie Night of the Fox
  • Helmut Griem
    Helmut Griem
    Helmut Griem was a German actor.Griem was primarily a German-speaking stage actor, appearing at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, the Burgtheater in Vienna, the Staatliches Schauspielbühnen in Berlin, in the Munich Kammerspiele, and finally in the...

     in the 1990 television movie The Plot to Kill Hitler
    The Plot to Kill Hitler (film)
    #The Plot to Kill Hitler is a 1990 television movie. It is about the 20 July 1944 plot by German officers to kill Adolf Hitler. Brad Davis stars as Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg who plants a bomb in the conference room of the Führer's headquarters in East Prussia.- Plot summary :“The...

  • Albert Welling
    Albert Welling
    Albert Welling is a British actor. He has appeared in a number of television series including Cribb, Z Cars, The Sweeney, Rumpole of the Bailey, The Bretts, Inspector Morse and A Touch of Frost. His film credits include Cemetery Junction and Wilde...

     in D-Day 6.6.1944 in 2004
  • Weodzimierz Matuszak in D-Day to Berlin in 2005
  • Steve Phillips
    Steve Phillips
    Steve Phillips is a former American baseball analyst for ESPN and baseball executive. He served as the general manager of the New York Mets from 1997–2003...

     in Rommel and the Plot to Kill Hitler in 2006
  • Brian Jackson
    Brian Jackson (actor)
    Brian Jackson is an English actor. Jackson has appeared many stage productions, including work with the Old Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company, including the award winning Afore Night Come and The Wars of the Roses. His West End theatre credits include the musical Mame and Follies.Film roles...

     in the 2007 short film Patricide

See also

  • Blitzkrieg
    Blitzkrieg
    For other uses of the word, see: Blitzkrieg Blitzkrieg is an anglicized word describing all-motorised force concentration of tanks, infantry, artillery, combat engineers and air power, concentrating overwhelming force at high speed to break through enemy lines, and, once the lines are broken,...

  • North African Campaign
    North African campaign
    During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts and in Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia .The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers, many of whom had...

  • Western Desert Campaign
    Western Desert Campaign
    The Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War, was the initial stage of the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign was heavily influenced by the availability of supplies and transport. The ability of the Allied forces, operating from besieged Malta, to...

  • Wehrmacht
    Wehrmacht
    The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

  • List of German military units of World War II

  • Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
    Hans-Jürgen von Arnim
    Hans-Jürgen Bernhard Theodor von Arnim was a German Generaloberst who served during World War II. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross...

  • Afrika Korps
    Afrika Korps
    The German Africa Corps , or the Afrika Korps as it was popularly called, was the German expeditionary force in Libya and Tunisia during the North African Campaign of World War II...

  • Panzer Army Africa
    Panzer Army Africa
    As the number of German armed forces committed to the North Africa Campaign of World War II grew from the initial commitment of a small corps the Germans developed a more elaborate command structure and placed the now larger Afrika Korps, with Italian units under this new German command structure,...

  • László de Almásy
    László Almásy
    László Ede Almásy de Zsadány et Törökszentmiklós was a Hungarian aristocrat, motorist, desert researcher, aviator, Scout-leader and soldier who also served as the basis for the protagonist in Michael Ondaatje's 1992 novel The English Patient and the movie based on it.-Biography:Almásy was born in...

  • German destroyer Rommel (D187)


External links

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