|Birth Day:||November 15, 1891|
|Death Date:||Oct 14, 1944 (age 52)|
As per our current Database, Erwin Rommel died on Oct 14, 1944 (age 52).
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He built a working, full-scale glider that could travel short distances when he was fourteen years old.
Rommel was born on 15 November 1891, in Southern Germany at Heidenheim, 45 kilometres (28 mi) from Ulm, in the Kingdom of Württemberg, then part of the German Empire. He was the third of five children to Erwin Rommel Senior (1860–1913) and his wife Helene von Lutz, whose father, Karl von Luz, headed the local government council. As a young man, Rommel's father had been an artillery lieutenant. Rommel had one older sister who was an art teacher and his favourite sibling, one older brother named Manfred who died in infancy and two younger brothers, of whom one became a successful dentist and the other an opera singer.
At age 18 Rommel joined the local 124th Württemberg Infantry Regiment as a Fähnrich (ensign), in 1910, studying at the Officer Cadet School in Danzig. He graduated in November 1911 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in January 1912 and was assigned to the 124th Infantry in Weingarten. He was posted to Ulm in March 1914 to the 46th Field Artillery Regiment, XIII (Royal Württemberg) Corps, as a battery commander. He returned to the 124th when war was declared. While at Cadet School, Rommel met his future wife, 17-year-old Lucia (Lucie) Maria Mollin (1894–1971), of Polish and Italian descent.
While at Cadet School in 1911, Rommel met and became engaged to 17-year-old Lucia (Lucie) Maria Mollin (1894–1971). While stationed in Weingarten in 1913, Rommel developed a relationship with Walburga Stemmer, which produced a daughter, Gertrude, born 8 December 1913. Because of elitism in the officer corps, Stemmer's working-class background made her unsuitable as an officer's wife, and Rommel felt honour-bound to uphold his previous commitment to Mollin. With Mollin's cooperation, he accepted financial responsibility for the child. Rommel and Mollin were married in November 1916 in Danzig. Rommel's marriage was a happy one, and he wrote his wife at least one letter every day while he was in the field.
During World War I, Rommel fought in France as well as in the Romanian (notably at the Second Battle of the Jiu Valley) and Italian campaigns. He successfully employed the tactics of penetrating enemy lines with heavy covering fire coupled with rapid advances, as well as moving forward rapidly to a flanking position to arrive at the rear of hostile positions, to achieve tactical surprise. His first combat experience was on 22 August 1914 as a platoon commander near Verdun, when – catching a French garrison unprepared – Rommel and three men opened fire on them without ordering the rest of his platoon forward. The armies continued to skirmish in open engagements throughout September, as the static trench warfare typical of the First World War was still in the future. For his actions in September 1914 and January 1915, Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class. Rommel was promoted to Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) and transferred to the newly created Royal Wurttemberg Mountain Battalion of the Alpenkorps in September 1915, as a company commander. In November 1916 in Danzig, Rommel and Lucia married.
In August 1917, his unit was involved in the battle for Mount Cosna, a heavily fortified objective on the border between Hungary and Romania, which they took after two weeks of difficult uphill fighting. The Mountain Battalion was next assigned to the Isonzo front, in a mountainous area in Italy. The offensive, known as the Battle of Caporetto, began on 24 October 1917. Rommel's battalion, consisting of three rifle companies and a machine gun unit, was part of an attempt to take enemy positions on three mountains: Kolovrat, Matajur, and Stol. In two and a half days, from 25 to 27 October, Rommel and his 150 men captured 81 guns and 9,000 men (including 150 officers), at the loss of six dead and 30 wounded. Rommel achieved this remarkable success by taking advantage of the terrain to outflank the Italian forces, attacking from unexpected directions or behind enemy lines, and taking the initiative to attack when he had orders to the contrary. In one instance, the Italian forces, taken by surprise and believing that their lines had collapsed, surrendered after a brief firefight. In this battle, Rommel helped pioneer infiltration tactics, a new form of maneuver warfare just being adopted by German armies, and later by foreign armies, and described by some as Blitzkrieg without tanks. He played no role in the early adoption of Blitzkrieg in World War II though. Acting as advance guard in the capture of Longarone on 9 November, Rommel again decided to attack with a much smaller force. Convinced that they were surrounded by an entire German division, the 1st Italian Infantry Division – 10,000 men – surrendered to Rommel. For this and his actions at Matajur, he received the order of Pour le Mérite.
In January 1918, Rommel was promoted to Hauptmann (captain) and assigned to a staff position in the 64th Army Corps, where he served for the remainder of the war.
Rommel was an ambitious man who took advantage of his proximity to Hitler and willingly accepted the propaganda campaigns designed for him by Goebbels. On one hand, he wanted personal promotion and the realization of his ideals. On the other hand, being elevated by the traditional system that gave preferential treatment to aristocratic officers would be betrayal of his aspiration "to remain a man of the troops". In 1918, Rommel refused an invitation to a prestigious officer training course, and with it, the chance to be promoted to general. Additionally, he had no inclination towards the political route, preferring to remain a soldier ("Nur-Soldat"). He was thus attracted by the Common Man theme which promised to level German society, the glorification of the national community, and the idea of a soldier of common background who served the Fatherland with talent and got rewarded by another common man who embodied the will of the German people. While he had much indignation towards Germany's contemporary class problem, this self-association with the Common Man went along well with his desire to simulate the knights of the past, who also led from the front. (The dominant parent in Rommel's life was his mother Helene, a minor "von" and a loving but ambitious and class-conscious mother who strongly stirred him towards a military career) While Rommel was greatly attached to his profession ("the body and soul of war", a fellow officer commented), he seemed to equally enjoy the idea of peace, as shown by his words to his wife in August 1939: "You can trust me, we have taken part in one World War, but as long as our generation live, there will not be a second", as well as his letter sent to her the night before the Invasion of Poland, in which he expressed (in Maurice Remy's phrase) "boundless optimism": "I still believe the atmosphere will not become more bellicose." Butler remarks that Rommel was center in his politics, leaning a little to the left in his attitude.
Rommel remained with the 124th Regiment until October 1920. The regiment was involved in quelling riots and civil disturbances that were occurring throughout Germany at this time. Wherever possible Rommel avoided the use of force in these confrontations. In 1919 he was briefly sent to Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, where he restored order by "sheer force of personality" in the 32nd Internal Security Company, which was composed of rebellious and pro-communist sailors. He decided against storming the nearby city of Lindau, which had been taken by revolutionary communists. Instead, Rommel negotiated with the city council and managed to return it to the legitimate government through diplomatic means. This was followed by his defence of Schwäbisch Gmünd, again bloodless. He was then posted to the Ruhr, where a red army was responsible for fomenting unrest. Historian Raffael Scheck praises Rommel as a coolheaded and moderate mind, exceptional amid the many takeovers of revolutionary cities by regular and irregular units and the associated massive violence.
On 1 October 1920 Rommel was appointed to a company command with the 13th Infantry Regiment in Stuttgart, a post he held for the next nine years. He was then assigned as an instructor at the Dresden Infantry School from 1929 to 1933, and during this time was promoted to major, in April 1932. While at Dresden, he wrote a manual on infantry training, published in 1934. In October 1933 he was promoted to Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel) and given his next command, the 3rd Jäger Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, stationed at Goslar. Here he first met Hitler, who inspected his troops on 30 September 1934. In September 1935 Rommel was moved to the War Academy at Potsdam as an instructor, for the next three years. His book Infanterie greift an (Infantry Attacks), a description of his wartime experiences along with his analysis, was published in 1937. It became a bestseller, which, according to Scheck, later "enormously influenced" many armies of the world; Adolf Hitler was one of many people who owned a copy.
After the end of the First World War, the couple settled initially in Stuttgart, and Stemmer and her child lived with them. Gertrude was referred to as Rommel's niece, a fiction that went unquestioned because of the enormous number of women widowed during the war. Walburga died suddenly in October 1928, and Gertrude remained a member of the household until Rommel's death in 1944. The incident with Walburga seemed to affect Rommel for the rest of his life: he would always keep women distant. A son, Manfred Rommel, was born on 24 December 1928, later served as Mayor of Stuttgart from 1974 to 1996.
Hearing of Rommel's reputation as an outstanding military instructor, in February 1937 Hitler assigned him as the War Ministry liaison officer to the Hitler Youth in charge of military training. Here he clashed with Baldur von Schirach, the Hitler Youth leader, over the training that the boys should receive. Trying to fulfill a mission assigned to him by the Ministry of War, Rommel had twice proposed a plan that would have effectively subordinated Hitler Youth to the army, removing it from NSDAP control. That went against Schirach's express wishes. Schirach appealed directly to Hitler; consequently, Rommel was quietly removed from the project in 1938. He had been promoted to Oberst (colonel), on 1 August 1937, and in 1938 he was appointed commandant of the Theresian Military Academy at Wiener Neustadt. In October 1938 Hitler specially requested that Rommel be seconded to command the Führerbegleitbatallion (his escort battalion). This unit accompanied Hitler whenever he travelled outside of Germany. During this period Rommel indulged his interest in engineering and mechanics by learning about the inner workings and maintenance of internal combustion engines and heavy machine guns. He memorized logarithm tables in his spare time and enjoyed skiing and other outdoor sports. Ian F. Beckett writes that by 1938 Rommel drifted towards uncritical acceptance of Nazi regime quoting Rommel's letter to his wife in which he stated "The German Wehrmacht is the sword of the new German world view" as a reaction to speech by Hitler. During his visit to Switzerland in 1938 he reported that Swiss soldiers he met showed "remarkable understanding of our Jewish problem". Butler comments that he did share the view (popular in Germany and many European countries during that time) that the Jews were loyal to themselves as a people more than their nations. Despite this, other pieces of evidence show that he considered the Nazi racial ideologies to be rubbish. Samuel Mitcham states that "Yet after years of propaganda even Rommel was infected with the anti-Semitic virus, at least to a minor degree. ... Rommel did not approve of Jewish clannishness, and he was suspicious of Jews for the wealth they had acquired", but was more focused on his family and career than this issue Searle comments that Rommel knew the official stand of the regime, but in this case, the phrase was ambiguous and there is no evidence after or before this event that he ever sympathised with the antisemitism of the Nazi movement. Rommel's son Manfred Rommel stated in documentary The Real Rommel, published in 2001 by Channel 4 that his father would "look the other way" when faced with anti-Jewish violence on the streets. According to the documentary Rommel also requested proof of "Aryan descent" from the Italian boyfriend of his illegitimate daughter Gertrud. According to Remy, during the time Rommel was posted in Goslar, he repeatedly clashed with the SA who terrorized the Jews and dissident Goslar citizens. After the Röhm Purge, he mistakenly believed that the worst was now over, although there were still restrictions on Jewish businesses and agitation against their community. According to Remy, Manfred Rommel recounts that his father knew about and privately disagreed with the government's anti-semitism, but by this time, he had not actively campaigned for them. Uri Avnery notes that he protected the Jews in his district even as a low-ranking officer. Manfred Rommel tells the Stuttgarter Nachrichten that their family lived in isolated military lands but knew about the discrimination against the Jews outside. They could not imagine the enormity of the impending atrocities, about which they only knew much later.
Rommel was promoted to Generalmajor on 23 August 1939 and assigned as commander of the Führerbegleitbatallion, tasked with guarding Hitler and his field headquarters during the invasion of Poland, which began on 1 September. According to Remy, Rommel's private letters at this time show that he did not understand Hitler's true nature and intentions, as he quickly went from predicting a swift peaceful settlement of tensions to approving Hitler's reaction ("bombs will be retaliated with bombs") to the Gleiwitz incident (a false flag operation staged by Hitler and used as a pretext for the invasion). Hitler took a personal interest in the campaign, often moving close to the front in the Führersonderzug (headquarters train). Rommel attended Hitler's daily war briefings and accompanied him everywhere, making use of the opportunity to observe first-hand the use of tanks and other motorized units. On 26 September Rommel returned to Berlin to set up a new headquarters for his unit in the Reich Chancellery. Rommel returned briefly to occupied Warsaw on 5 October to prepare for the German victory parade. In a letter to his wife he claimed after several days of blockade of movement and exposure to danger in the ruined city, the inhabitants were now rescued.
At least initially, Rommel opposed assassinating Hitler. According to some authors, he gradually changed his attitude. 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 reportedly suggested that Hitler be arrested and brought to trial for his crimes; he did not attempt to implement this plan when Hitler visited Margival, France, on 17 June. The arrest plan would have been highly improbable, as Hitler's security was extremely tight. Rommel would have known this, having commanded Hitler's army protection detail in 1939. He was in favour of peace negotiations, and repeatedly urged Hitler to negotiate with the Allies, which is dubbed by some as "hopelessly naive", considering no one would trust Hitler, and "as naive as it was idealistic, the attitude he showed to the man he had sworn loyalty". According to Reuth, the reason Lucie Rommel did not want her husband to be associated with any conspiracy was that even after the war, the German population neither grasped nor wanted to comprehend the reality of the genocide, thus conspirators were still treated as traitors and outcasts. On the other hand, the resistance depended on the reputation of Rommel to win over the population. Some officers who had worked with Rommel also recognized the relationship between Rommel and the resistance: Westphal said that Rommel did not want any more senseless sacrifices. Butler, using Ruge's recollections, reports that when told by Hitler himself that "no one will make peace with me", Rommel told Hitler that if he was the obstacle for peace, he should resign or kill himself, but Hitler insisted on fanatical defense. Reuth, based on Jodl's testimony, reports that Rommel forcefully presented the situation and asked for political solutions from Hitler, who rebuffed that Rommel should leave politics to him. Brighton comments that Rommel seemed devoted, even though he did not have much faith in Hitler anymore, considering he kept informing Hitler in person and by letter about his changing beliefs, despite facing a military dilemma as well as a personal struggle. Lieb remarks that Rommel's attitude in describing the situation honestly and requiring political solutions was almost without precedent and contrary to the attitude of many other generals. Remy comments that Rommel put himself and his family (which he had briefly considered evacuating to France, but refrained from doing so) at risk for the resistance out of a combination of his concern for the fate of Germany, his indignation at atrocities and the influence of people around him.
Going against military protocol, this promotion added to Rommel's growing reputation as one of Hitler's favoured commanders, although his later outstanding leadership in France quelled complaints about his self-promotion and political scheming. The 7th Panzer Division had recently been converted to an armoured division consisting of 218 tanks in three battalions (thus, one tank regiment, instead of the two assigned to a standard panzer division), with two rifle regiments, a motorcycle battalion, an engineer battalion, and an anti-tank battalion. Upon taking command on 10 February 1940, Rommel quickly set his unit to practising the maneuvers they would need in the upcoming campaign.
The invasion began on 10 May 1940. By the third day Rommel and the advance elements of his division, together with a detachment of the 5th Panzer Division under Colonel Hermann Werner, had reached the River Meuse, where they found the bridges had already been destroyed (Guderian and Reinhardt reached the river on the same day). Rommel was active in the forward areas, directing the efforts to make a crossing, which were initially unsuccessful because of suppressive fire by the French on the other side of the river. Rommel brought up tanks and flak units to provide counter-fire and had nearby houses set on fire to create a smokescreen. He sent infantry across in rubber boats, appropriated the bridging tackle of the 5th Panzer Division, personally grabbed a light machine gun to fight off a French counterattack supported by tanks, and went into the water himself, encouraging the sappers and helping lash together the pontoons. By 16 May Rommel reached Avesnes, and contravening all orders and doctrine, he pressed on to Cateau. That night, the French II Army Corps was shattered and on 17 May, Rommel's forces took 10,000 prisoners, losing 36 men in the process. He was surprised to find out only his vanguard had followed his tempestuous surge. The High Command and Hitler had been extremely nervous about his disappearance, although they awarded him the Knight's Cross. Rommel's (and Guderian's) successes and the new possibilities offered by the new tank arm were welcomed by a small number of generals, but worried and paralysed the rest.
There are reports that during the fighting in France, Rommel's 7th Panzer Division committed atrocities against surrendering French troops and captured prisoners of war. The atrocities, according to Martin S. Alexander, included the murder of 50 surrendering officers and men at Quesnoy and the nearby Airaines. According to Richardot, on 7 June, the commanding French officer Charles N'Tchoréré and his company surrendered to the 7th Panzer Division. He was then executed by the 25th Infantry Regiment (the 7th Panzer Division did not have a 25th Infantry Regiment). Journalist Alain Aka states simply that he was executed by one of Rommel's soldiers and his body was driven over by tank. Erwan Bergot reports that he was killed by the SS. Historian John Morrow states he was shot in the neck by a Panzer officer, without mentioning the unit of the perpetrators of this crime. The website of the National Federation of Volunteer Servicemen (F.N.C.V., France) states that N'Tchoréré was pushed against the wall and, despite protests from his comrades and newly liberated German prisoners, was shot by the SS. Elements of the division are considered by Scheck to have been "likely" responsible for the execution of POWs in Hangest-sur-Somme, while Scheck reports that they were too far away to have been involved in the massacres at Airaines and nearby villages. Scheck says that the German units fighting there came from the 46th and 2nd Infantry Division, and possibly from the 6th and 27th Infantry Division as well. Scheck also writes that there were no SS units in the area. Morrow, citing Scheck, says that the 7th Panzer Division carried out "cleansing operations". French historian Dominique Lormier counts the number of victims of the 7th Panzer Division in Airaines at 109, mostly French-African soldiers from Senegal. Historian Daniel Butler agrees that it was possible that the massacre at Le Quesnoy happened given the existence of Nazis, such as Hanke, in Rommel's division, while stating that in comparison with other German units, few sources regarding such actions of the men of the 7th Panzer exist. Butler believes that "it's almost impossible to imagine" Rommel authorising or countenancing such actions. He also writes that "Some accusers have twisted a remark in Rommel's own account of the action in the village of Le Quesnoy as proof that he at least tacitly condoned the executions—'any enemy troops were either wiped out or forced to withdraw'—but the words themselves as well as the context of the passage hardly support the contention." Showalter writes: "In fact, the garrison of Le Quesnoy, most of them Senegalese, took heavy toll of the German infantry in house-to-house fighting. Unlike other occasions in 1940, when Germans and Africans met, there was no deliberate massacre of survivors. Nevertheless, the riflemen took few prisoners, and the delay imposed by the tirailleurs forced the Panzers to advance unsupported until Rommel was ordered to halt for fear of coming under attack by Stukas." Claus Telp comments that Airaines was not in the sector of the 7th, but at Hangest and Martainville, elements of the 7th might have shot some prisoners and used British Colonel Broomhall as a human shield (although Telp is of the opinion that it was unlikely that Rommel approved of, or even knew about, these two incidents). Historian David Stone notes that acts of shooting surrendered prisoners were carried out by Rommel's 7th Panzer Division and observes contradictory statements in Rommel's account of the events; Rommel initially wrote that "any enemy troops were wiped out or forced to withdraw" but also added that "many prisoners taken were hopelessly drunk." Stone attributes the massacres of soldiers from the 53ème Regiment d'Infanterie Coloniale (N'Tchoréré's unit) on 7 June to the 5th Infantry Division.
According to Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies, the Jews were deported in 1940 and 1941 to concentration camps and forced labour camps by the Italian authorities. Maurice Roumani writes that: "German influence in Libya had been felt since 1938. However, Germany' s direct involvement in the colonial authorities' affairs and management did not completely materialize until 1941. Libyan Jews noted that in daily matters, the Germans largely acted out of pragmatic economic interest rather than adopting the political and ideological practices known elsewhere." Relying upon Jews for goods needed for military activities, they perceived the Jews in Libya as similar to the Muslims, "by the end of their time in Libya". The situation only became radicalized for the Jews when Italy entered the war in 1940. Deportation to Giado, the worst experience that happened to Libyan Jews, was implemented by Italian authorities under the order of Mussolini when he deemed Libyan Jews as traitors in 1942.
The notion of holding the armour inland to use as a mobile reserve force from which they could mount a powerful counterattack applied the classic use of armoured formations as seen in France 1940. These tactics were still effective on the Eastern Front, where control of the air was important but did not dominate the action. Rommel's own experiences at the end of the North African campaign revealed to him that the Germans would not be allowed to preserve their armour from air attack for this type of massed assault. Rommel believed their only opportunity would be to oppose the landings directly at the beaches, and to counterattack there before the invaders could become well established. Though there had been some defensive positions established and gun emplacements made, the Atlantic Wall was a token defensive line. Rundstedt had confided to Rommel that it was for propaganda purposes only.
On 6 February 1941, Rommel was appointed commander of the new Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK), consisting of the 5th Light Division (later renamed 21st Panzer Division) and of the 15th Panzer Division. He was promoted to Generalleutnant three days later and flew to Tripoli on 12 February. The DAK had been sent to Libya in Operation Sonnenblume to support Italian troops who had been roundly defeated by British Commonwealth forces in Operation Compass. His efforts in the Western Desert Campaign earned Rommel the nickname the "Desert Fox" from British journalists. Allied troops in Africa were commanded by General Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Command.
Rommel requested reinforcements, but the OKW, then completing preparations for Operation Barbarossa, refused. General Friedrich Paulus, head of the Operations Branch of OKH, arrived on 25 April to review the situation. He was present for a second failed attack on the city on 30 April. On 4 May Paulus ordered that no further attempts should be made to take Tobruk via a direct assault. This order was not open to interpretation, and Rommel had no choice but to comply. Aware of this order from intelligence reports, Churchill urged Wavell to seize the initiative. While awaiting further reinforcements and a shipment of 300 tanks that were already on their way, Wavell launched a limited offensive code named Operation Brevity on 15 May. The British briefly seized Sollum, Fort Capuzzo, and the important Halfaya Pass, a bottleneck along the coast near the border between Libya and Egypt. Rommel soon forced them to withdraw. On 15 June Wavell launched Operation Battleaxe. The attack was defeated in a four-day battle at Sollum and Halfaya Pass, resulting in the loss of 98 British tanks. The Germans lost 12 tanks, while capturing and seriously damaging over 20 British tanks. The defeat resulted in Churchill replacing Wavell with General Claude Auchinleck as theatre commander. Rommel appointed Heinrich Kirchheim as commander of 5th Light Division on 16 May, became displeased and replaced him with Johann von Ravenstein on 30 May 1941.
Auchinleck launched Operation Crusader, a major offensive to relieve Tobruk, on 18 November 1941. The XIII Corps on the right were assigned to attack Sidi Omar, Capuzzo, Sollum, and Bardia; the XXX Corps (which included most of the armour) were to move on the left southern flank to a position about 30 miles (48 km) south of Tobruk, with the expectation that Rommel would find this move so threatening that he would move his armour there in response. Once Rommel's tanks were written down, the British 70th Infantry Division would break out of Tobruk to link up with XXX Corps. Rommel reluctantly decided on 20 November to call off his planned attack on Tobruk.
Historian Richard J. Evans has stated that German soldiers in Tunisia raped Jewish women, and the success of Rommel's forces in capturing or securing Allied, Italian and Vichy French territory in North Africa led to many Jews in these areas being killed by other German institutions as part of the Holocaust. Anti-Jewish and Anti-Arab violence erupted in North Africa when Rommel and Ettore Bastico regained territory there in February 1941 and then again in April 1942. While committed by Italian forces, Patrick Bernhard writes "the Germans were aware of Italian reprisals behind the front lines. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, they seem to have exercised little control over events. The German consul general in Tripoli consulted with Italian state and party officials about possible countermeasures against the natives, but this was the full extent of German involvement. Rommel did not directly intervene, though he advised the Italian authorities to do whatever was necessary to eliminate the danger of riots and espionage; for the German general, the rear areas were to be kept "quiet" at all costs. Thus, although he had no direct hand in the atrocities, Rommel made himself complicit in war crimes by failing to point out that international laws of war strictly prohibited certain forms of retaliation. By giving carte blanche to the Italians, Rommel implicitly condoned, and perhaps even encouraged, their war crimes". In his article Im Rücken Rommels. Kriegsverbrechen, koloniale Massengewalt und Judenverfolgung in Nordafrika, Bernhard writes that North African campaign was hardly "war without hate" as Rommel described it, and points out rapes of women, ill treatment and executions of captured POWs, as well as racially motivated murders of Arabs, Berbers and Jews, in addition to establishment of concentration camps. Bernhard again cites discussion among the German and Italian authorities about Rommel's position regarding countermeasures against local resurrection (according to them, Rommel wanted to eliminate the danger at all costs) to show that Rommel fundamentally approved of Italian policy in the matter. Bernhard opines that Rommel had informal power over the matter because his military success brought him influence on the Italian authorities. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes relationship between Rommel and the proposed Einsatzgruppen Egypt as "problematic". The Museum states that this unit was to be tasked with murdering Jewish population of North Africa, Palestine, and it was to be attached directly to Rommel's Afrika Korps. According to museum Rauff met with Rommel's staff in 1942 as part of preparations for this plan. The Museum states that Rommel was certainly aware that planning was taking place, even if his reaction to it isn't recorded, and while the main proposed Einsatzgruppen were never set in action, smaller units did murder Jews in North Africa.
Rommel's victories in France were featured in the German press and in the February 1941 film Victory in the West, in which Rommel personally helped direct a segment reenacting the crossing of the Somme River. Rommel's victories in 1941 were played up by the Nazi propaganda, even though his successes in North Africa were achieved in arguably one of Germany's least strategically important theaters of World War II. In November 1941, Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels wrote about "the urgent need" to have Rommel "elevated to a kind of popular hero." Rommel, with his innate abilities as a military commander and love of the spotlight, was a perfect fit for the role Goebbels designed for him.
In the spring of 1941, Rommel's name began to appear in the British media. In the autumn of 1941 and early winter of 1941/1942, he was mentioned in the British press almost daily. Toward the end of the year, the Reich propaganda machine also used Rommel's successes in Africa as a diversion from the Wehrmacht's challenging situation in the Soviet Union with the stall of Operation Barbarossa. The American press soon began to take notice of Rommel as well, following the country's entry into the war on 11 December 1941, writing that "The British (...) admire him because he beat them and were surprised to have beaten in turn such a capable general." General Auchinleck distributed a directive to his commanders seeking to dispel the notion that Rommel was a "superman". Rommel, no matter how hard the situation was, made a deliberate effort at always spending some time with soldiers and patients, his own and POWs alike, which contributed greatly to his reputation of not only being a great commander but also "a decent chap" among the troops.
Rommel was among the few Axis commanders (the others being Isoroku Yamamoto and Reinhard Heydrich) who were targeted for assassination by Allied planners. Two attempts were made, the first being Operation Flipper in North Africa in 1941, and the second being Operation Gaff in Normandy in 1944.
According to the BBC, on 9 October 1942, Italian racial laws were extended to Libya, and by the end of the war, hundreds of Jews used as slave labour would perish from ill treatment.
Historian Jens Hoppe notes that Libya was the colony of an Axis power and thus it was unlike Tunisia, which was directly under Nazi Germany's control. In November 1942, Rudolf Rahn, the Plenopotentỉary Minister of the Reich notified Admiral Esteva that the Jewish question would be under his jurisdiction. The Germans then hold a meeting to decide the deployment of Jewish forced labour, with the significant authority being Rahn, Rauff and Nehring. Libyan Jews deported to Tunisia were under the control of the Sicherheitsdienst, led by Rauff, and the Wehrmacht's use of Jewish forced labour in Tunisia began under Nehring on 6 December 1942. According to Rahn, it was von Arnim (who had led the Axis forces in North Africa since 8 December) who assigned Jewish labour companies to individual units. In Libya, it was Bastico, the antisemitic governor of Libya and commander-in-chief of Italian forces in North Africa, who ordered the use of Jewish forced labour and controlled the camps.
According to the publication Jewish Communities of the World edited by Anthony Lerman, in 1942 under the German occupation, the Benghazi quarter that housed Jewish population was plundered and 2000 Jews were deported across the desert, out of which circa a fifth have perished Malka Hillel Shulewitz in Forgotten Millions: The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab writes that up to 1945, the only anti-Jewish riots since centuries in Libya happened during German occupation and plunder in Banghazi The Illustrated Atlas of Jewish Civilization: 4,000 Years of Jewish History by Martin Gilbert state that that German occupation led to first anti-Jewish pogrom in 1942 and subsequent plunder of the Jewish district alongside of expulsion of Jews The Moment magazine in an article "Once upon a time in Libya" published in May 1987 stated that "on orders from the German military commander, the Axis forces, in 1942, plundered Jewish shops and deported 2,600 Benghazi Jews to Giado". Historians like Mark Avrum Ehrlich and Jacques Roumani describes the pogrom and riots in 1941 as "Italian-led". According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J, most of the looting against the Jews in Benghazi after British withdrawal in 1941 was done by local Italian residents. As the Germans appeared in 1941, Jews initially feared the Germans but when things calmed down, they sold merchandise to the German and thus improved their business situation. In 1942 though, except for a few wealthy families, the Jews were sent by Italians to concentration camps in Giado, Gharian and Yefren, under the order of Mussolini. According to Robert Rozett and Georges Bensoussan, from 1938 (when Italian anti-Jewish legislation was introduced), most of the harsher measures against Libyan Jews were prevented because they had a powerful protector in Italo Balbo, the Governor. The situation became worse after Balbo died in an aircraft accident. In 1941, when the Italians regained control, they accused the Jews of betrayal. Bensoussan says that 870 British Jews and 1,600 French Jews were expelled by the Italian Minister of Colonies.
Christian Gerlach writes that: "There is no evidence of German extermination efforts against the 100,000—130,000 Jews in Libya and Tunisia – Italian and French colonies, respectively – where German troops operated in 1942—43. This was in contrast to the fact that in the protocol of the Wannsee conference French northern Africa was included in the figures of Jews to be targeted. Measures, which began in November 1942, were largely restricted in Tunisia to German- and Italian- organized forced labor and official plunder; and in Libya to the Italian internment of foreign Jews and those from the region of Cyrenaica." Gerlach estimates the number of Jews who died due to internment and bad living conditions at 1500 in Tunisia in 1943 and 500 in Libya in 1941–1942, stating that unknown number of foreign interned Jews also died in Libya and Algeria.
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, Siegfried 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 regrouping the divisions that had attacked into Egypt. By 7 December Rommel fell back to a defensive line at Gazala, just west of Tobruk, all the while under heavy attack from the Desert Air Force. The Bardia garrison surrendered on 2 January and Halfaya on 17 January 1942. The Allies kept up the pressure, and Rommel was forced to retreat all the way back to the starting positions he had held in March, reaching El Agheila in December 1941. The British had retaken almost all of Cyrenaica, but Rommel's retreat dramatically shortened his supply lines.
On 5 January 1942 the Afrika Korps received 55 tanks and new supplies and Rommel started planning a counterattack. On 21 January, Rommel launched the attack. Caught by surprise by the Afrika Korps, the Allies lost over 110 tanks and other heavy equipment. The Axis forces retook Benghazi on 29 January and Timimi on 3 February, with the Allies pulling back to a defensive line just before the Tobruk area south of the coastal town of Gazala. Rommel placed a thin screen of mobile forces before them, and held the main force of the Panzerarmee well back near Antela and Mersa Brega. Between December 1941 and June 1942, Rommel had excellent information about the disposition and intentions of the Commonwealth forces. Bonner Fellers, the US diplomat in Egypt, was sending detailed reports to the US State Department using a compromised code.
Following Kesselring's successes in creating local air superiority around the British naval and air bases at Malta in April 1942, an increased flow of supplies reached the Axis forces in Africa. With his forces strengthened, Rommel contemplated a major offensive operation for the end of May. He knew the British were planning offensive operations as well, and he hoped to pre-empt them. While out on reconnaissance on 6 April, he was severely bruised in the abdomen when his vehicle was the target of artillery fire. The British had 900 tanks in the area, 200 of which were new Grant tanks. Unlike the British, the Axis forces had no armoured reserve; all operable equipment was put into immediate service. Rommel's Panzer Army Africa had a force of 320 German tanks; 50 of these were the light Panzer II model. In addition, 240 Italian tanks were in service, but these were under-gunned and poorly armoured.
Historian Martin Kitchen states that the reputation of the Afrika Korps was preserved by circumstances: The sparsely populated desert areas did not lend themselves to ethnic cleansing; the German forces never reached the large Jewish populations in Egypt and Palestine; and in the urban areas of Tunisia and Tripolitania the Italian government constrained the German efforts to discriminate against or eliminate Jews who were Italian citizens. Despite this, the North African Jews themselves believed that it was Rommel who prevented the "Final Solution" from being carried out against them when German might dominated North Africa from Egypt to Morocco. According to Curtis and Remy, 120,000 Jews lived in Algeria, 200,000 in Morocco, about 80,000 in Tunisia. Remy writes that this number was unchanged following the German invasion of Tunisia in 1942 while Curtis notes that 5000 of these Jews would be sent to forced labour camps. and 26,000 in Libya. According to Marshall, Rommel sharply protested the Jewish policies and other immoralities and was an opponent of the Gestapo. He also refused to comply with Hitler's order to execute Jewish POWs. Bryan Mark Rigg writes: "The only place in the army where one might find a place of refuge was in the Deutsches Afrika-Korps (DAK) under the leadership of the "Desert Fox," Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. According to this study's files, his half-Jews were not as affected by the racial laws as most others serving on the European continent." He notes, though, that "Perhaps Rommel failed to enforce the order to discharge half-Jews because he was unaware of it". Captain Horst van Oppenfeld (a staff officer to Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and a quarter-Jew) says that Rommel did not concern himself with the racial decrees and he had never experienced any trouble caused by his ancestry during his time in the DAK even if Rommel never personally interfered on his behalf.) Another quarter-Jew, Fritz Bayerlein, became a famous general and Rommel's chief-of-staff, despite also being a bisexual, which made his situation even more precarious.
The Field Marshal was the German commander most frequently covered in the German media, and the only one to be given a press conference, which took place in October 1942. The press conference was moderated by Goebbels and was attended by both domestic and foreign media. Rommel declared: "Today we (...) have the gates of Egypt in hand, and with the intent to act!" Keeping the focus on Rommel distracted the German public from Wehrmacht losses elsewhere as the tide of the war began to turn. He became a symbol that was used to reinforce the German public's faith in an ultimate Axis victory.
In the wake of the successful British offensive in November 1942 and other military reverses, the Propaganda Ministry directed the media to emphasize Rommel's invincibility. The charade was maintained until the spring of 1943, even as the German situation in Africa became increasingly precarious. To ensure that the inevitable defeat in Africa would not be associated with Rommel's name, Goebbels had the Supreme High Command announce in May 1943 that Rommel was on a two-month leave for health reasons. Instead, the campaign was presented by Berndt, who resumed his role in the Propaganda Ministry, as a ruse to tie down the British Empire while Germany was turning Europe into an impenetrable fortress with Rommel at the helm of this success. After the radio program ran in May 1943, Rommel sent Berndt a case of cigars as a sign of his gratitude.
The close relationship between Rommel and Hitler continued following the Western campaign; after Rommel sent to him a specially prepared diary on the 7th Division, he received a letter of thanks from the dictator. (According to Speer, he would normally send extremely unclear reports which annoyed Hitler greatly.) According to Maurice Remy, the relationship, which Remy calls "a dream marriage", only showed the first crack in 1942, and later gradually turned into, in the words of German writer Ernst Jünger (in contact with Rommel in Normandy), "hassliebe" (a love-hate relationship). Ruge's diary and Rommel's letters to his wife show his mood fluctuating wildly regarding Hitler: while he showed disgust towards the atrocities and disappointment towards the situation, he was overjoyed to welcome a visit from Hitler, only to return to depression the next day when faced with reality.
The myth then took shape during the opening years of World War II, as a component of Nazi propaganda to praise the Wehrmacht and instill optimism in the German public, with Rommel's willing participation. When Rommel came to North Africa, it was picked up and disseminated in the West by the British press as the Allies sought to explain their continued inability to defeat the Axis forces in North Africa. The British military and political figures contributed to the heroic image of the man as Rommel resumed offensive operations in January 1942 against the British forces weakened by redeployments to the Far East. During parliamentary debate following the fall of Tobruk, Churchill described Rommel as an "extraordinary bold and clever opponent" and a "great field commander".
Giordana Terracina writes that: "On April 3, the Italians recaptured Benghazi and a few months later the Afrika Korps led by Rommel was sent to Libya and began the deportation of the Jews of Cyrenaica in the concentration camp of Giado and other smaller towns in Tripolitania. This measure was accompanied by shooting, also in Benghazi, of some Jews guilty of having welcomed the British troops, on their arrival, treating them as liberators." Some of the Jewish prisoners were later transferred to Italy where they were used for exhausting forced labour on German fortifications, Giordana cites a testimony of one Jewish camp survivor, Sion Burbea, who states that he witnessed Rommel inspecting their work together with general Albert Kesselring According to the witness, the inspection happened on a certain day after 26 October 1943 (when they were transferred to the line "Gustav"). Terracina says it must have happened before 20 November 1943, when Rommel was recalled to Germany. According to other historians, Rommel's Italian responsibility ended on 19 October 1943, when Northern Italy was left under Kesselring's authority, and Rommel received his new mission as Inspector General of Defence in the West on 5 November. According to Remy, on this same day, Rommel was already back in Germany discussing the fortifications with Hitler and Speer, before returning to Italy briefly to prepare for the move to France. By 21 November 1943, Rommel and his Army Group B headquarters were in France.
Robert Satloff writes in his book Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands that as the German and Italian forces retreated across Libya towards Tunisia, the Jewish population became victim upon which they released their anger and frustration. According to Satloff Afrika Korps soldiers plundered Jewish property all along the Libyan coast. This violence and persecution only came to an end with the arrival of General Montgomery in Tripoli on 23 January 1943. According to Maurice Remy, although there were antisemitic individuals in the Afrika Korps, actual cases of abuse are not known, even against the Jewish soldiers of the Eighth Army. Remy quotes Isaac Levy, the Senior Jewish Chaplain of the Eighth Army, as saying that he had never seen "any sign or hint that the soldiers [of the Afrika Korps] are antisemitic.". The Telegraph comments: "Accounts suggest that it was not Field Marshal Erwin Rommel but the ruthless SS colonel Walter Rauff who stripped Tunisian Jews of their wealth."
Michael FitzGerald comments that the treasure should be named more accurately as Rauff's gold, as Rommel had nothing to do with its acquisition or removal. Jean-Christoph Caron comments that the treasure legend has a real core and that Jewish property was looted by the SS in Tunisia and later might have been hidden or sunken around the port city of Corsica, where Rauff was stationed in 1943. The person who gave birth to the full-blown legend was the SS soldier Walter Kirner, who presented a false map to the French authorities. Caron and Jörg Müllner, his co-author of the ZDF documentary Rommel's treasure (Rommels Schatz) tell Die Welt that "Rommel had nothing to do with the treasure, but his name is assocỉated with everything that happened in the war in Africa."
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, 15th, and 21st Panzer Divisions. Alerted 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 returned to Germany. Command was handed over to General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim. Rommel never returned to Africa. The fighting there continued on for another two months, until 13 May 1943, when General Messe surrendered the Armeegruppe Afrika to the Allies.
On 23 July 1943 Rommel was moved to Greece as commander of Army Group E to counter a possible British invasion. He arrived in Greece on 25 July, but was recalled to Berlin the same day because of the overthrow of Mussolini. Rommel was to be posted to Italy as commander of the newly formed Army Group B. On 16 August 1943 Rommel's headquarters moved to Lake Garda in northern Italy and formally assumed command of the army group, which consisted of the 44th Infantry Division, the 26th Panzer Division and the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. When Italy announced its armistice with the Allies on 8 September, his forces took part in Operation Achse, disarming the Italian forces.
Hitler met with Rommel and Kesselring to discuss future operations in Italy on 30 September 1943. Rommel insisted on a defensive line north of Rome, while Kesselring was more optimistic and advocated holding a line south of Rome. Hitler preferred Kesselring's recommendation, and therefore revoked his previous decision for the subordination of Kesselring's forces to Rommel's army group. On 19 October Hitler decided that Kesselring would be the overall commander of the forces in Italy, sidelining Rommel.
On 4 November 1943, Rommel became General Inspector of the Western Defences. He was given a staff that befitted an army group commander, and the powers to travel, examine and make suggestions on how to improve the defences, but not a single soldier. Hitler, who was having a disagreement with him over military matters, intended to use Rommel as a psychological trump card.
James J. Sadkovich states examples of Rommel for abandoning his Italian units, refusing cooperation, rarely acknowledging their achievements and other improper behaviour towards his Italian allies, Giuseppe Mancinell who was liaison between German and Italian command accused Rommel of blaming Italians for his own errors. Sadkovich names Rommel as arrogantly ethnocentric and disdainful towards Italians However, others point out that the Italians under Rommel, in comparison with many of their compatriots in other areas, were better led, supplied, and trained, fighting well as a result, with a ratio of wounded and killed Italians similar to that of the Germans. In one case, a false accusation of Rommel's supposed mistreatment of Italians made by Goering was refuted by Mussolini himself. In 1943, Jodl stated that the only German commander numerous officers and soldiers in Italy would willingly subordinate themselves to would be Rommel.
According to Maurice Remy, orders issued by Hitler during Rommel's stay in a hospital resulted in massacres in the course of Operation Achse, disarming the Italian forces after the armistice with the Allies in 1943, but according to Remy Rommel treated his Italian opponents with his usual fairness, requiring that the prisoners should be accorded the same conditions as German civilians. Remy opines that an order in which Rommel, in fact protesting against Hitler's directives, called for no "sentimental scruples" against "Badoglio-dependent bandits in uniforms of the once brothers-in-arms" should not be taken out of context. Peter Lieb agrees that the order did not radicalize the war and that the disarmament in Rommel's area of responsibility happened without major bloodshed. Italian internees were sent to Germany for forced labour, but Rommel was unaware of this. Klaus Schmider comments that the writings of Lieb and others succeed in vindicating Rommel "both with regards to his likely complicity in the July plot as well as his repeated refusal to carry out illegal orders."
In the Normandy campaign both Allied and German troops murdered prisoners of war on occasion during June and July 1944. But Rommel withheld Hitler's Commando Order to execute captured commandos from his Army Group B, with his units reporting that they were treating commandos as regular POWs. It is likely that he had acted similarly in North Africa. Historian Szymon Datner argues that Rommel may have been simply trying to conceal the atrocities of Nazi Germany from the Allies. Other authors argue that generosity to opponents was a natural trait of the man. Telp states that Rommel was chivalrous by nature and not prone to order needless violence. Robert Forczyk considers Rommel a true great captain with chivalry. Remy states that although Rommel had heard rumours about massacres while fighting in Africa, his personality, combined with special circumstances, meant that he was not fully confronted with the reality of atrocities before 1944. When Rommel learned about the atrocities that SS Division Leibstandarte committed in Italy in September 1943, he allegedly forbade his son from joining the Waffen-SS.
Some authors cite, among other cases, Rommel's naive reaction to events in Poland while he was there: he paid a visit to his wife's uncle, famous Polish priest and patriotic leader, Edmund Roszczynialski who was murdered within days, but Rommel never understood this and, at his wife's urgings, kept writing letter after letter to Himmler's adjutants asking them to keep track and take care of their relative. Knopp and Mosier agree that he was naive politically, citing his request for a Jewish Gauleiter in 1943. Despite this, Lieb finds it hard to believe that a man in Rommel's position could have known nothing about atrocities, while accepting that locally he was separated from the places where these atrocities occurred. Der Spiegel comments that Rommel was simply in denial about what happened around him. Alaric Searle points out that it was the early diplomatic successes and bloodless expansion that blinded Rommel to the true nature of his beloved Führer, whom he then naively continued to support. Scheck believes it may be forever unclear whether Rommel recognized the unprecedented depraved character of the regime.
The political scientist and historian Randall Hansen suggests that Rommel chose his whole command style for the purpose of spreading meritocracy and egalitarianism, as well as Nazi ideals he shared with Hitler because of their common non-aristocratic background. His egalitarianism extended to people of other races: in replying to white South African officers' demands that the black POWs should be housed in separated compounds, he refused, commenting that the black soldiers wore the same uniforms and had fought alongside the whites and thus were their equals. On the other hand, Watson comments that, regarding the Afrika Korps, any Nazi indoctrination was minimised, allowing Rommel the freedom to reinvent his army in his own style. Rommel's proposals were not always practical: in 1943, he surprised Hitler by proposing that a Jew should be made into a Gauleiter to prove to the world that Germany was innocent of accusations that Rommel had heard from the enemy's propaganda regarding the mistreatment of Jews. Hitler replied, "Dear Rommel, you understand nothing about my thinking at all."
Messenger argues that Rommel's attitude towards Hitler changed only after the Allied invasion of Normandy, when Rommel came to realise that the war could not be won, while Maurice Remy suggests that Rommel never truly broke away from the relationship with Hitler but praises him for "always [having] the courage to oppose him whenever his conscience required so". The historian Peter Lieb states that it was not clear whether the threat of defeat was the only reason Rommel wanted to switch sides. The relationship seemed to go significantly downhill after a conversation in July 1943, in which Hitler told Rommel that if they did not win the war, the Germans could rot. Rommel even began to think that it was lucky that his Afrika Korps was now safe as POWs and could escape Hitler's Wagnerian ending. Die Welt comments that Hitler chose Rommel as his favourite because he was apolitical, and that the combination of his military expertise and circumstances allowed Rommel to remain clean.
Upon arriving in Northern France Rommel was dismayed by the lack of completed works. According to Ruge, Rommel was in a staff position and could not issue orders, but he took every effort to explain his plan to commanders down to the platoon level, who took up his words eagerly, but "more or less open" opposition from the above slowed down the process. Finally, Rundstedt, who only respected Rommel grudgingly (he called him Field Marshal Cub), intervened and supported Rommel's request for being made a commander. It was granted on 15 January 1944, when "much valuable time had been lost."
He set out to improve the fortifications along the Atlantic Wall with great energy and engineering skill. This was a compromise: Rommel now commanded the 7th and 15th armies; he also had authority over a 20-kilometer-wide strip of coastal land between Zuiderzee and the mouth of the Loire. The chain of command was convoluted: the airforce and navy had their own chiefs, as did the South and Southwest France and the Panzer group; Rommel also needed Hitler's permissions to use the tank divisions. Undeterred, Rommel had millions of mines laid and thousands of tank traps and obstacles set up on the beaches and throughout the countryside, including in fields suitable for glider aircraft landings, the so-called Rommel's asparagus.(The Allies would later counter these with Hobart's Funnies) In April 1944 Rommel promised Hitler that the preparations would be complete by 1 May, but by the time of the Allied invasion the preparations were far from finished. The quality of some of the troops manning them was poor and many bunkers lacked sufficient stocks of ammunition.
The Allies staged elaborate deceptions for D-Day (see Operation Fortitude), giving the impression that the landings would be at Calais. Although Hitler himself expected a Normandy invasion for a while, Rommel and most Army commanders in France believed there would be two invasions, with the main invasion coming at the Pas-de-Calais. Rommel drove defensive preparations all along the coast of Northern France, particularly concentrating fortification building in the River Somme estuary. By D-Day on 6 June 1944 nearly all the German staff officers, including Hitler's staff, believed that Pas-de-Calais was going to be the main invasion site, and continued to believe so even after the landings in Normandy had occurred.
By mid-July the German position was crumbling. On 17 July 1944, as Rommel was returning from visiting the headquarters of the I SS Panzer Corps, a fighter plane piloted by either Charley Fox of 412 Squadron, Jacques Remlinger of No. 602 Squadron RAF, or Johannes Jacobus le Roux of No. 602 Squadron RAF strafed his staff car near Sainte-Foy-de-Montgommery. The driver sped up and attempted to get off the main roadway, but a 20 mm round shattered his left arm, causing the vehicle to veer off of the road and crash into trees. Rommel was thrown from the car, suffering injuries to the left side of his face from glass shards and three fractures to his skull. He was hospitalised with major head injuries (assumed to be almost certainly fatal).
According to a post-war account by Karl Strölin, three of Rommel's friends—the Oberbürgermeister of Stuttgart, Strölin (who had served with Rommel in the First World War), Alexander von Falkenhausen and Stülpnagel—began efforts to bring Rommel into the anti-Hitler conspiracy in early 1944. According to Strölin, sometime in February, Rommel agreed to lend his support to the resistance. On 15 April 1944 Rommel's new chief of staff, Hans Speidel, arrived in Normandy and reintroduced Rommel to Stülpnagel. Speidel had previously been connected to Carl Goerdeler, the civilian leader of the resistance, but not to the plotters led by Claus von Stauffenberg, and came to Stauffenberg's attention only upon his appointment to Rommel's headquarters. The conspirators felt they needed the support of a field marshal on active duty. Erwin von Witzleben, who would have become commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht had the plot succeeded, was a field marshal, but had been inactive since 1942. The conspirators gave instructions to Speidel to bring Rommel into their circle.
Two generals from Hitler's headquarters, Wilhelm Burgdorf and Ernst Maisel, visited Rommel at his home on 14 October 1944. Burgdorf informed him of the charges and offered him three options: he could choose to defend himself personally to Hitler in Berlin, or if he refused to do so (which would be taken as an admission of guilt), he would either face the People's Court—which would have been tantamount to a death sentence—or choose a quiet suicide. In the former case, his family would have suffered even before the all-but-certain conviction and execution, and his staff would have been arrested and executed as well. In the latter case, the government would claim that he died a hero and bury him with full military honours, and his family would receive full pension payments. Burgdorf had brought a cyanide capsule.
In France, a Wehrmacht propaganda company frequently accompanied Rommel on his inspection trips to document his work for both domestic and foreign audiences. In May 1944 the German newsreels reported on Rommel's speech at a Wehrmacht conference, where he stated his conviction that "every single German soldier will make his contribution against the Anglo-American spirit that it deserves for its criminal and bestial air war campaign against our homeland." The speech led to an upswing in morale and sustained confidence in Rommel.
When Rommel was seriously wounded on 17 July 1944, the Propaganda Ministry undertook efforts to conceal the injury so as not to undermine domestic morale. Despite those, the news leaked to the British press. To counteract the rumors of a serious injury and even death, Rommel was required to appear at 1 August press conference. On 3 August, the German press published an official report that Rommel had been injured in a car accident. Rommel noted in his diary his dismay at this twisting of the truth, belatedly realising how much the Reich propaganda was using him for its own ends.
Rommel was interested in propaganda beyond the promotion of his own image. In 1944, after visiting Rommel in France and reading his proposals on counteracting Allied propaganda, Alfred-Ingemar Berndt remarked: "He is also interested in this propaganda business and wants to develop it by all means. He has even thought and brought out practical suggestions for each program and subject."
Kesselring described Rommel's own power over Hitler as "hypnotic". In 1944, Rommel himself told Ruge and his wife that Hitler had a kind of irresistible magnetic aura ("magnetismus") and was always seemingly in an intoxicated condition. Maurice Remy identifies that the point at which their relationship became a personal one was 1939, when Rommel proudly announced to his friend Kurt Hesse that he had "sort of forced Hitler to go with me (to the Hradschin Castle in Prague, in an open top car, without another bodyguard), under my personal protection ... He had entrusted himself to me and would never forget me for my excellent advice."
According to Der Spiegel following the war's end, West Germany yearned for father figures who were needed to replace the former ones who had been unmasked as criminals. Rommel was chosen because he embodied the decent soldier, cunning yet fair-minded, and if guilty by association, not so guilty that he became unreliable, and additionally, former comrades reported that he was close to the Resistance. While everyone else was disgraced, his star became brighter than ever, and he made the historically unprecedented leap over the threshold between eras: from Hitler's favourite general to the young republic's hero. Cornelia Hecht notes that despite the change of times, Rommel has become the symbol of different regimes and concepts, which is paradoxical, whoever the man he really was. Ulrich vom Hagen reports that Rommel, for the admiration shown towards him by all sides after the war, was used as a unity symbol that led to the "elegant settlement" of the conflict between fascistic, small-bourgeois elements and the aristocratic traditionalists during the early years after the formation of the Bundeswehr. Simon Ball describes how various elements in the German and British armies and governments extensively used Rommel's image in dealing with their inner struggles, promoting aspects of his that each group associated with themselves. Eric Dorman-Smith claimed that it was a "pity we could not have combined with Rommel to clean up the whole mess on both sides". Already in September 1944, the officer Heinz Eugen Eberbach (later a leading figure in the Bundeswehr) anticipated that the Allied victors would have to turn to Rommel and men like him, because he was accepted by both the old regime and the working class, whom the English would not be able to win over by telling them: "The entire previous system is rotten to the core".
The official story of Rommel's death, as reported to the public, stated that Rommel had died of either a heart attack or a cerebral embolism—a complication of the skull fractures he had suffered in the earlier strafing of his staff car. To strengthen the story still further, Hitler ordered an official day of mourning in commemoration. As previously promised, Rommel was given a state funeral. The fact that his state funeral was held in Ulm instead of Berlin had, according to his son, been stipulated by Rommel. Hitler sent Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who was unaware that Rommel had died as a result of Hitler's orders, as his representative at Rommel's funeral. The body was cremated so no incriminating evidence would be left. The truth behind Rommel's death became known to the Allies when intelligence officer Charles Marshall interviewed Rommel's widow, Lucia Rommel, as well as from a letter by Rommel's son Manfred in April 1945.
The German rearmament of the early 1950s was highly dependent on the moral rehabilitation that the Wehrmacht needed. The journalist and historian Basil Liddell Hart, an early proponent of these two interconnected initiatives, provided the first widely available source on Rommel in his 1948 book on Hitler's generals, updated in 1951, portraying Rommel in a positive light and as someone who stood apart from the regime.
Further in 1953 was the publication of Rommel's writings of the war period as The Rommel Papers, edited by Liddell Hart. The book contributed to the perception of Rommel as a brilliant commander; in an introduction, Liddell Hart drew comparisons between Rommel and Lawrence of Arabia, "two masters of desert warfare". Liddell Hart had a personal interest in the work: by having coaxed Rommel's widow to include material favorable to himself, he could present Rommel as his "pupil". The controversy was described by the political scientist John Mearsheimer, who concluded that, by "manipulating history", Liddell Hart was in a position to show that he was at the root of the dramatic German success in 1940.
The German Army's largest base, the Field Marshal Rommel Barracks, Augustdorf, is named in his honour; at the dedication in 1961 his widow Lucie and son Manfred Rommel were guests of honour. The Rommel Barracks, Dornstadt, was also named for him in 1965. A third base named for him, the Field Marshal Rommel Barracks, Osterode, closed in 2004. A German Navy Lütjens-class destroyer, Rommel, was named for him in 1969 and christened by his widow; the ship was decommissioned in 1998.
Numerous streets in Germany, especially in Rommel's home state of Baden-Württemberg, are named in his honor, including the street near where his last home was located. The Rommel Memorial was erected in Heidenheim in 1961. The Rommel Museum opened in 1989 in the Villa Lindenhof in Herrlingen; there is also a Rommel Museum in Mersa Matruh in Egypt which opened in 1977, and which is located in one of Rommel's former headquarters; various other localities and establishments in Mersa Matruh, including Rommel Beach, are also named for Rommel. The reason for the naming is that he respected the Bedouins' traditions and the sanctity of their homes (he always kept his troops at least 2 kilometers from their houses) and refused to poison the wells against the Allies, fearing doing so would harm the population.
Historian Bruce Allen Watson offers his interpretation of the myth, encompassing the foundation laid down by the Nazi propaganda machine. According to Watson, the most dominant element is Rommel the Superior Soldier; the second being Rommel the Common Man; and the last one Rommel the Martyr. The German news magazine Der Spiegel described the myth in 2007 as "Gentleman warrior, military genius".
In Italy, the annual marathon tour "Rommel Trail", which is sponsored by the Protezione Civile and the autonomous region of Friuli Venezia Giulia through its tourism agency, celebrates Rommel and the Battle of Caporetto. The naming and sponsoring (at that time by the center-left PD) was criticized by the politician Giuseppe Civati in 2017.
The role that Rommel played in the military's resistance against Hitler or the 20 July plot is difficult to ascertain, as most of the leaders who were directly involved did not survive and limited documentation on the conspirators' plans and preparations exists. One piece of evidence that points to the possibility that Rommel came to support the assassination plan was General Eberbach's confession to his son (eavesdropped on by British agencies) while in British captivity, which stated that Rommel explicitly said to him that Hitler and his close associates had to be killed because this would be the only way out for Germany. This conversation occurred about a month before Rommel was coerced into committing suicide. Other notable evidence includes the papers of Rudolf Hartmann (who survived the later purge) and Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel, who were among the leaders of the military resistance (alongside Rommel's chief of staff General Hans Speidel, Colonel Karl-Richard Koßmann, Colonel Eberhard Finckh and Lieutenant Colonel Caesar von Hofacker). These papers, accidentally discovered by historian Christian Schweizer in 2018 while doing research on Rudolf Hartmann, include Hartmann's eyewitness account of a conversation between Rommel and Stülpnagel in May 1944, as well as photos of the mid-May 1944 meeting between the inner circle of the resistance and Rommel at Koßmann's house. According to Hartmann, by the end of May, in another meeting at Hartmann's quarters in Mareil–Marly, Rommel showed "decisive determination" and clear approval of the inner circle's plan.
Currently, Erwin Rommel is 129 years, 11 months and 2 days old. Erwin Rommel will celebrate 130th birthday on a Monday 15th of November 2021.
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