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Erwin Rommel was born in Heidenheim, Germany, on 15th November, 1891. He wanted to study engineering but his father disapproved so in 1910 he joined the German Army.
In 1917 Rommel served on the Italian Front and after leading the attack on Monte Matajur, was promoted to captain. Soon afterwards Rommel and a small group of men swam the Piave River in order to capture the Italian garrison at Lognaroni.
After the war Rommel remained in the German Army and in 1929 he was appointed an instructor at the Infantry School in Dresden. In October 1935 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and began teaching at the Potsdam War Academy.
An excellent teacher, Rommel's lectures were published as a book on infantry tactics in 1937. The book was read by Adolf Hitler. Greatly impressed by Rommel's ideas Hitler arranged for him to command his HQ staff in Austria and Czechoslovakia. The following year he did the same job in Poland.
Rommel was given command of the 7th Panzer Division that invaded France in May, 1940. Rommel's troops moved faster and farther than any other army in military history. After reaching the Channel he turned south and raced along the coast until he reached the Spanish border.
As a result of his exploits in France he was promoted to the rank of general. When Benito Mussolini asked for help in North Africa Adolf Hitler sent Rommel to command the new Deutsches Afrika Korps and successfully drove the British 8th Army out of Libya. He moved into Egypt but was defeated at El Alamein. With the USA Army landing in Morocco and Algeria, his troops were forced to leave Tunisia.
In the early months 1944 Rommel was approached by Ludwig Beck and Carl Goerdeler about joining the July Plot. Rommel refused, criticising the tactic of assassination claiming that it would turn Adolf Hitler into a martyr. Instead he suggested that he should be arrested and brought to trial.
Rommel was now sent to head the German Army in France that was preparing for the Allied invasion. Unable to halt the Allied troops during Operation Overlord, on 15th July, 1944, Rommel warned Hitler that Germany was on the verge of defeat and encouraged him to bring the war to an end.
In the summer of 1944 Rommel was approached about joining the July Plot. He refused, criticising the tactic of assassination claiming that it would turn Adolf Hitler into a martyr. Instead he suggested that he should be arrested and brought to trial.
In the autumn of 1944 Hitler discovered that Rommel was plotting against him. On 14th October, 1944, Rommel was visited by two generals who had been sent by Hitler with an ultimatum: suicide with a state funeral and protection for his family and staff, or trial for high treason. Erwin Rommel took poison and officially it was stated that he had died of a brain seizure.
(1) Winston Churchill, The Second World War (1950)
In 1910 Rommel was an officer cadet in the Wurtemberg Regiment. When he did his training at the military school at Danzig his instructors reported that he was physically small, but strong. Mentally he was not remarkable. He fought in the First World War in the Argonne, in Roumania, and in Italy, being twice wounded and awarded the highest classes of the Iron Cross and of the order Pour le Mérite.
(2) Erwin Rommel, led the 7th Panzer Division that broke through French defences in May, 1940.
The way to the west was now open. The moon was up and for the time being we could expect no real darkness. I had already given orders, in the plan for the breakthrough, for the leading tanks to scatter the road and verges with machine and anti-tank gunfire at intervals during the drive to Avesnes, which I hoped would prevent the enemy from laying mines.
The tanks now rolled in a long column through the line of fortifications and on towards the first houses, which had been set alight by our fire. Occasionally an enemy machine-gun or antitank gun fired, but none of their shots came anywhere near us.
Troops lay bivouacked beside the road, military vehicles stood parked in farmyards and in some places on the road itself. Civilians and French troops, their faces distorted with terror, lay huddled in the ditches, alongside hedges and in every hollow beside the road. We passed refugee columns, the carts abandoned by their owners, who had fled in panic into the fields.
On we went, at a steady speed, toward our objective. Every so often a quick glance at the map by a shaded light and a short wireless message to Divisional HQ to report the position and thus the success of 25th Panzer Regiment. Every so often a look out of the hatch to assure myself that there was still no resistance and the contact was being maintained to the rear. The flat countryside lay spread out around us under the cold light of the moon.
We were through the Maginot Line! It was hardly conceivable. Twenty-two years before we had stood for four and a half years before this selfsame enemy and had won victory after victory and yet finally lost the war. And now we had broken through the renowned Maginot Line and were driving deep into enemy territory.
(3) (3)Brian Horrocks fought in the British Army during the Desert War. In his autobiography he compared the merits of Bernard Montgomery and Erwin Rommel.
One of the most fascinating studies of the last war was the contrast between these two great commanders, Montgomery and Rommel, each in his own way an outstanding general, yet utterly and absolutely different in almost every respect. Rommel was probably the best armoured corps commander produced by either side. Utterly fearless, full of drive and initiative, he was always up in front where the battle was fiercest. If his opponent made a mistake, Rommel was on to it like a flash, and he never hesitated to take personal command of a regiment or battalion if he thought fit. On one occasion he was found lifting mines with his own hands. His popularity with the soldiers was immense, but a great many officers resented his interference with their commands.
All this reads like the copybook general but, in point of fact, this is not the best way to control a swift-moving, modern battle. Very often at a critical moment no one could find Rommel, because he was conducting personally some battalion attack. He tended to become so involved in some minor action that he failed to appreciate the general picture of the battlefield.
Monty was not such a dashing, romantic figure as his opponent; nor would you find him leading a forlorn hope in person, for the simple reason that if he was in command forlorn hopes did not occur. He had an extraordinary capacity for putting his finger straight on the essentials of any problem, and of being able to explain them simply and clearly. He planned all his battles most carefully - and then put them out of his mind every night. I believe he was awakened in the night only half a dozen times during the whole war.
Their handling of the battle of Alam Haifa makes the contrast clear. Having made the best possible plan to win the battle, yet at the same time to husband his resources, Monty dismissed Alam Haifa entirely from his mind and concentrated on the next one.
While Rommel was leading his troops in person against strongly-held defensive positions on the Alam Halfa ridge, Montgomery was planning the battle of Alamein. That was the difference between the two.
(4) In his autobiography, Memoirs: 1940-1945, General Harold Alexander, wrote about the abilities of General Erwin Rommel.
Many of the soldiers I talked to had taken part in victorious advances which had led them to Benghazi and beyond, and had then been pushed back: for months, of course, the desert campaign had been a see-saw between the Eighth Army and the Afrika Korps. And the final result of this contest of arms, when I arrived in Cairo, was, as I have said, that we were back on the final ditch of resistance.
During these conversations I detected, not unexpectedly, a belief that Field-Marshal Rommel, who had commanded the
German forces in Africa since their first arrival in February 1941, was a wizard of the battlefield: his publicity build-up had been enormous. There is no question that the Field-Marshal was a most able battle commander and a fine tactician for an independent force like the Afrika Korps, but it was hardly necessary to attribute to him preternatural gifts in order to explain his successes.
Incidentally, he was a very chivalrous enemy. I am told that when he took wounded prisoners he would go round the hospitals and praise them for having put up a good show, thereby sustaining and extending, no doubt, the Rommel legend.
(5) On 15th July, 1944, Erwin Rommel warned Adolf Hitler that Allied forces would breakthrough German defences in France in two or three weeks.
The consequences will be immeasurable. The troops are fighting heroically everywhere, but the unequal struggle is nearing its end. I must beg you to draw the conclusions without delay. I feel it my duty as Commander-in-Chief of the Army Group to state this clearly.
(6) Adolf Hitler, radio broadcast (20th July, 1944)
I speak to you today in order that you should hear my voice and should know that I am unhurt and well, and secondly that you should know of a crime unparalleled in German history. a very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible, and at the same time senseless and stupid officers had formed a plot to eliminate me and the High Command of the Armed Forces.
(7) Erwin Rommel's son, Manfred Rommel, later recalled the day his father committed suicide.
We went into my room. "I have just had to tell your mother," he began slowly, "that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour. Hitler is charging me with high treason. In view of my services in Africa I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. Its fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family. I'd be given a state funeral. It's all been prepared to the last detail. In a quarter of an hour you will receive a call from the hospital in Ulm to say that I've had a brain seizure on the way to a conference.