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Rommel as a General and a Human Being

An air warrior, MG has a checkered and also wields the pen forcefully with two novels and over 100 short stories

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Rommel-the Myth

When I was undergoing the staff course in preparation for the post-graduation degree in military studies, we had the opportunity to study the campaigns of Field Marshal Ervin Rommel. He is the most well-known face among the Nazi generals. This is partly because of a myth created by Winston Churchill and the British. In the early stages of the Africa campaign, Rommel defeated the forces of General Wavell. This defeat was mainly because of some strategic blunders by Wavell who was a book strategist with very little initiative and Rommel was able to win an easy victory. At that time it was inexpedient for Winston Churchill to admit defeat, so he coined up the word that Rommel was a great general and there was no shame in losing to a great general. This was Churchill's method of trying to cover up the defeat of the British Army in North Africa.

Now historians can see that Rommel's victories in North Africa were Pyrrhic and when he was advancing forward he did not follow the principles of war. Firstly, he neglected the supply lines and there were times when his panzers forged ahead and the supply lines were way behind. When he reached close to Alexandria he was at the end of his tether and was on the verge of suffering a defeat, which he did at the hands of Bernard Montgomery at El Alamein(23 October-11 November 42). There is little doubt that he lacked strategic sense, and had excessive absorption in the tactical battle, and neglect of logistics.

.A good general makes the second line of defense. This is something very important because once an army is retreating it must earmark places where it can make a stand. Rommel did not anticipate this at all and there was no second line of defense and when the British Army moved against Rommel he just retreated. A great general never leaves his troops and goes away but this is precisely what Rommel did. He just flew away from Africa in March 1943, leaving 300,000 soldiers and a number of generals and senior officers to surrender as POWs

This myth of Rommel as a great general was spread further once Montgomery won the battle of El Alamein. I have studied this battle. Rommel never stood a chance there and the British were keen to show to the world and their supporters as well as the British empire that they had won a great victory against a very formidable opponent. It was nothing like that as Rommel had by overstretching himself exposed himself and he was bound to be defeated. – A myth was created around Rommel and when the 1944 July bomb plot took place and he was implicated though he was not directly involved he became a bigger hero for the allies.

Walburga with her dfaughter

Walburga with her dfaughter

The General

People are apt to forget that Rommel owed his rise to Hitler. He was in charge of Hitler's troops and was personally loyal to him and despite the opposition of the overall commander in the West he was given command of a Panzer division when he had no experience with tanks in his life. Part of this was due to his closeness to Hitler. In October 1938, Hitler specially requested that Rommel be seconded to command the FUHRERBEGLEITBATALLION (his escort battalion). This unit accompanied Hitler whenever he traveled outside of Germany.

After his escape from North Africa, he was lucky to be made Commander of Army group B.His conduct during the battle of France when the Allies had landed at Normandy is again something that is difficult to explain. He had been overawed by the use of Allied and US airpower in North Africa and he was convinced that it was not possible to fight the Americans. This showed a defeatist mentality because in case a general is not convinced of the success of his troops how does he motivate his soldiers to fight?

The real worth of Rommel would have come out in case he had been sent to the east like Field Marshal Manestien and Paulos His approach can also be gauged from the fact that at the crucial time of the operation he was away to Berlin to celebrate the birthday of his wife. Knowing that a military invasion by the allies is imminent this is difficult to explain. Probably he had already assumed that the Allied forces will be successful and so he didn't take matters seriously. In his defence, it can be said that the type of troops under his command was of a lower category as the best soldiers were on the Russian front. Rommel did not take further part in the battle because he was injured in an air attack while he was driving in his car and was hospitalized and then went home to recuperate. That is the time when his name cropped up as one of the men whom the conspirators wanted to put in power.

Rommel also is guilty of not having realized the seriousness of Malta and instead of just continuing his advance towards Egypt he could have prevailed on the German high command to make an all-out attempt to capture Malta. But then he was not a revolutionary general and was just biding his time along with Hitler and there is no record that at any stage he differed from Hitler.

rommel-as-a-general-and-a-humanbeing

The other facet

When Rommel was a young man he was posted to.East Prussia. In Danzig, he fell in love with Lucie Mollin, who came from a middle-class family with Polish ancestry. At the same time, Rommel started an affair with a teenager, Walburga Stemmer, a fruit-seller living in Weingarten, his garrison town. The relationship became pretty close. The net result was that she was impregnated by Rommel and in 1913, their daughter Gertrud was born.

However, Rommel who had promised to marry her informed her that he could not marry her as his mother was opposed to the match and had arranged another wedding. Through the poor girl gave birth to a daughter, she always loved Rommel. Walburga remained faithful to Rommel and committed suicide when his and Lucie's child, Manfred, was born in 1928.

In my opinion, this was a low act by Rommel though later he tried to make amends by giving money to his daughter. Yet his failure to honor his words resulted in the death of the woman who loved him when she was only 36. Walburga continued living her life hoping that Rommel will come back to her and so long as he did not have a child from his new wife she was always hopeful that Rommel will come back but when the son was born to him it broke her completely and she lost the will to live.

Last word

We have to assess Rommel as a general. The hallmark of a great general is; firstly, a permanence of victories, secondly anticipating the movement of the enemy and taking remedial election, and thirdly to ensure that retreat doesn't turn to panic and proper supply lines and communication lines are kept. In all these three parameters he failed and there is no way that one can rate him as a great general.

Churchill built him up as a superhero basically for his own benefit to cover up the defeat of the British Army. It would look very bad that the British Army had been defeated by an ordinary General.


Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Alan, you are right. Monty was a better general than Ike, with more battle experience. I think Churchill did back Monty for Allied Commander but as you rightly say Marshall and Roosevelt overruled because they held the purse. I always refer to Monty's voluminous book 'history of warfare' which is a classic. He was the man who added administration as a principle of war. He was the best Allied general in Europe, though overall I rate him below Slim. Yes, I have read 'the man who never was'and seen the movie on Youtube. Great deception to keep a dead body, dress him up to mislead the Germans.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 10, 2020:

Ike was a West Point desk jockey, as opposed to Monty who'd had battle experience that dated back to Ike's predecessor Pershing. Naturally Monty was disappointed that Churchill hadn't backed him, but Roosevelt held the purse strings and called the shots.

Monty was lucky in the 'backroom boys' he had in North Africa. This was the age of 'misinformation' after all, and the masters certainly weren't in the German camp. It takes imagination to run an intelligence war. The German education system encouraged obedience, not ingenuity. Remember "The Man Who Never Was"? (Otherwise known as 'Operation Mincemeat' - even German counter-intelligence couldn't summon that kind of wit).

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Thanks Alan. This Maskelyne must have been a cut above most magicians. Fantastic ideas to fool Rommel. Von Kluge was a good general but he committed suicide. He knew what was waiting for him. Rundstedt was a old fashioned soldier and he had little regard for Hitler but he survived in the cloak and dagger politics after the July plot. He had also suggested a different plan for the battle of the bulge but Hitler rejected it. Monty had a not high opinion of Ike. He didn't like comments on him in his autobiography. Monty wanted to be overall commander but Marshal and Roosevelt decided on Ike another medicore general.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Rommel was good against mediocre generals. Even Monty was not brilliant but Rommel had over extended himself. Italian were useless. They had hard time in Ethiopia as.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Kluge headed one of the army groups in the Russian invasion. In Aug 1944 he commited suicide after Hitler called him for a meeting. He was a supporter though passive in the plot to kill Hitler.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 10, 2020:

Jasper Maskelyne, that's the one. (I've got a page on him as well, "It's all done with mirrors"), I couldn't remember his name properly, been that long since I wrote the page.

Anyway, yes, It's Von Rundstedt maybe who should've been sent to the desert with the Afrika Korps. He was a wily old lad who didn't court Hitler's favours. When told by one of his senior staff after requesting the tanks be sent to Normandy, and being told Hitler was asleep still, he famously snarled, "What me, call this Bohemian corporal?"

Maybe didn't get to Hitler, but Von Lundstedt wasn't worried anyway. As it happened, the war would be over before the next twelve months was up (might've been over quicker if Monty had been given air cover (Typhoons, to take out the SS Panzers) for 'Operation Market Garden'.

tom on November 10, 2020:

kluge was field marshal,rommel was propganda hype,raf typhoon hit rommrls car,runsdert was better

tom on November 10, 2020:

german generals disliked rommel,cheap publicity,rommel defeated wavell,auchinleck,neilritchie .italians worth less

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Alan, That's a lot of interesting information provided by you. I remember reading somewhere I think it was Von Kluge who had given his assessment of Rommel being just an average army officer. The information about the magicianJasper Masekelyine Is true. I believe he created a fake bay also and the lights of Alexandria were switched off for three days. Too bad the Germans did not have GPS. Rommel was not lucky and when you don't have luck with you you don't win. I read somewhere else that before he was struck in his car by a fighter and had to be hospitalized he had already decided to hand over the Western front to Monty and Ike. It was the old warhorse Von Rundstedt who continued the fight despite his misgivings. He also gave his best during the battle of the bulge and was one man the Allies did not punish as a war criminal.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Thanks, Tom, That's a lot of interesting information given by you.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

Tom, great information; Jasper Masekelyine was a magician from a family of magicians. It is surprising but he did create all those illusions.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 10, 2020:

TOM, Von Arnim surrendered to the Allies and was interned along with 24 other German general officers at Camp Clinton, Mississippi, and released on 1 July 1947. There is some evidence that he exploited Jews as labor to dig defenses and also stole their gold.

tom on November 10, 2020:

jurgen von arnim replaced rommel in north africa

tom on November 09, 2020:

movie dambusters book by paul brickhill,jasper masekelyine illusionist el alamein

tom on November 09, 2020:

alan you are right movie is rommel ruft cairo,i have read the book by illusionist ,

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 09, 2020:

Until shortly before El Alamein Rommel received intelligence... from a British Army officer who had a thing going with an Egyptian club dancer who lived in a houseboat on the Nile (near Cairo I think). His radio messages were intercepted and he was given a stark choice, whether to shoot himself or take poison. I think he shot himself, Tom might verify that. Anyway, from then on the messages Rommel was given were fed to him by MI5, including a map reference that took some of his panzers to the El Qattara Depression - which as you know is an area of soft sand, quicksand and sand-covered mud.

Further, rubber tanks were positioned away from Monty's real tanks. The Germans intercepted messages meant for them, sent by military intelligence to wrongfoot them, 'airfields' were simulated, also with rubber fighters and bombers, then swapped around with the real thing. This was the idea put forward by an illusionist, commissioned as an officer. He also used searchlights trained across the Suez Canal to make it seem like dry land at night (another programme on the 'Yesterday' TV channel). His name was Maskell, and the Germans 'swallowed' the ruses. Thus they didn't know what to expect and from where. On the first night, however, Monty's tanks suffered badly from the German 88's as only narrow corridors has been marked by the sappers through their minefields. A second battle was needed, in which the Germans lost heavily in tanks and manpower. Without his 'spy' Rommel was lost. He was substituted - I think - when he left for Germany to recuperate, by Siegfried von Westphal (I think that's right, the man was interviewed after the war).

You're probably right that Rommel was no strategist. Nor was he a 'poker player', as many generals were. He was completely taken by surprise at news of the Allies' landing in Normandy (see 'The Longest Day'). Nor was he 'lucky', a must demanded even by Napoleon.

I think I've mentioned elsewhere, that where many 'historians' belittled the effect of the Dambusters' raid in mid-May, 1943; had it not taken place the West Wall may well have been more complete than it was and Allied losses would've been much higher. As it was, the 'Todt Organisation' had to take slave workers from the Atlantic Wall to repair or rebuild the Ruhr dams, Albert Speer admitted they were on their chinstraps from the effect of concentrated Allied bombing on the Ruhr, and that more of the same kind of raid would've shortened the war.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 09, 2020:

Tom, sad to hear this news.

tom on November 09, 2020:

uncle williams died many years ago ,he had no children, lived in cochin,he actually met monty and king george 6

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 09, 2020:

Flourish, Rommel's son met his father before he consumed the cyanide poison. He did not join the army and later on, he became mayor of a German city. He lived a quiet life. Rommel's daughter Gertrud married and her son published a lot of correspondence between his grandmother and Rommel.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 09, 2020:

Tom, Much of Rommel's reputation is built on the book by Brigadier Desmond Young. I read that book and it is just an adulatory account because Young had served in North Africa. Rommel was the favourite of Hitler and he was lucky that he got command in the battle of France of the Panzer division. His role in the July 1944 plot is not clear. He was sitting on the fence I think and he should come out openly in support of the conspirators or he could have gone and surrendered to the Americans as the other German generals did. His escape from North Africa cannot be justified just as MacArthur who was defeated also ran away. I wonder why he was favored by Hitler and given command of the Army group in France. His real worth would have come out if he had been sent on the Russian front. It's good to learn about your uncle having met Rommel. Any other information about him?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 09, 2020:

Flourish, it is sweet of you to have commented. Roman has been a much-hyped figure but he was also a poor human being.

tom on November 09, 2020:

rommel failed to develop logstics lines and second line of defence,to save is reputation hitler ordered himout of africa,just like fdr ordered macarthur to escape to australia,rommel failed in france,he clashed with runsdert,agreed to be head of state ,if hitler waskilled,movies rommel the desert fox,rommel ruft cairo,kill rommel,rommel 2012,books rommel the desert foxdesmond young,david irvings biography of rommel,with rommel in normandy by admiral ruge,liddel hart rommel papers,rommel was swabian,i knew a ww2 veteran who saw rommel personally in ww2,hewas uncle williams,royal indiancorps of signal

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 09, 2020:

Learning the personal details of some of these military leaders is interesting. It’s sad that Rommel allowed his mother to bully him into missing out on the love of a lifetime and it resulted in such tragedy. I wonder what happened to the son?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on November 09, 2020:

Tom, thanks for commenting. Yes, he was a good corps commander but not a man at the level of a commanding general where one has to have a strategic concept. As far as his battle with Monty is concerned one can say that the British commander was lucky but then Rommel hadn't planned out anything as well.

tom on November 09, 2020:

all this is true, he was a good corps commander, he won pour le merite in ww1,later he was hitlers body guard commander,he did well as 7th ghost panzer division,his clash with kesselring and runsdet is famous,at the beginning of el alamein rommel was in germany on sick leave,but he skilfully retreated ,as monty was over cautitious,after el alamein he was sent to france,poor intel in normandy,a typhoon injured him,he was poisoned,his son manfred later became a mayor ,where the us armored div commander was pattons son ,patton jr,propaganda hype,many feel if he was in the opening stage of elalamein,he would have won,sas failed to kill him,