Erwin Rommel Essay, Research Paper
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel Jr. was born on November 15th, 1891, in the town of Heidenheim. His father, Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel Sr., was the local schoolmaster. Erwin Rommel Jr. was one of five children to be born in his family, although his one brother, Manfred, died early in life. His father died suddenly in 1913, and his mothers, Helena, lived on until 1940, just long enough to see her second son become a Major General (Microsoft Online Encarta Encyclopedia, 1997).
The Rommel family had little to no military history. They were only a simple, respectable Swabian family with an average income and they did not have any ties or any influential friends in military circles. This was strange considering Erwin Rommel s military success, since most of the high-ranking officers within the German military usually were born into military families or had aristocratic ties. By the age of 19 Rommel joined the 124th Infantry Regiment at Weingarten, and in March of 1911 he was posted to the War Academy in Danzig. While he was at the War Academy, Rommel would eventually meet his future wife, Lucie Mollin. Also while he was at the War Academy in 1912, Rommel would study hard and be promoted to a 2nd Lieutenant and he soon returned to the 124th Infantry Regiment. Erwin Rommel was never physically a big man, but his immense stamina made up for his lack of girth. Erwin Rommel Jr. remained complacent in his personal life; he neither drank nor smoked, and was not one for the local nightlife; he was by all means a family man. The Field Marshal would always approach everything he did seriously and determined and his demeanor would reflect this. He would also never really enter into any discussions, but would rather sit back and take in what was being said. In March of 1914 Rommel would be assigned to the Field Artillery Regiment in Ulm, but only a few months later, he would be recalled to the 124th Infantry Regiment. On August 1st of 1914, Erwin Rommel Jr. would be sent off to the battlefields and would begin his illustrious battlefield military career.
Rommel s record in France during World War I was both exemplary and renowned. His eagerness to use surprise and bold tactics on the front lines to overcome his enemies would prepare him forever-greater successes. Erwin Rommel would be wounded several times during WWI, but he would eventually be promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Soon after his promotion Rommel found himself in Austria for rigorous training in mountain warfare. After the training Rommel would be sent off to the Rumanian front lines. In November 1916, Erwin Rommel Jr. would wed Lucie Mollin in the town of Danzig. After he was wed, Rommel began to lead an assault on the Italian and Rumanian forces. His reputation was quickly known throughout the entire division and his men began to look up to him, even though he was still only 25 years old (The Rommel Papers, 1982).
An example of Rommel s military genius can be shown in one particular victory at Monte Matajur during World War I. In October of 1912, Rommel s battalion would move to the Italian front and unleash their 1000+ artillery guns on their enemies. After a huge advance by Rommel s forces, Rommel was stopped by a Bavarian high-ranking officer and was told that he was to stay behind and to join with the Bavarians. Young Rommel would exchange a few words with him and then left. A few days later Rommel courageously decided to stray from the original attack plan and concocted his own plan to outflank his opponent. When he successfully did so, he captured both Mt. Matajur and the Kolovrat Ridge. Rommel then peacefully took several hundred prisoners at Kolovrat Ridge with little to no gunfire. Rommel then moved onward, he would surprise an Italian offensive from behind and capture 12 officers and 500 more men, bringing the total of captured enemy soldiers to 1200 prisoners. Rommel was now facing troops in the front and the rear he needed a plan. He knew it called for a bold and tactical move so he embarked on the boldest achievement in his career. Rommel quickly rushed his battalion 2 miles behind the enemy front lines and cut off their supply line, and then Rommel confronted an entire Italian brigade, consisting of 50 officers and 2000 men, he did this with only 150 of his own men. The brigade promptly surrendered under the notion that Rommel had been commanding a much larger force than he actually had. Erwin Rommel wasted no time and hastily doubled back and captured the town of Jevszek, where he captured 1000 more prisoners. Rommel then moved onward to the crown of the Mrzli Mountain and gambled with another very bold tactic. Rommel simply walked up to the Italians waving a single white handkerchief and shouted for their surrender, and astonishingly the 1500 defenders laid down their weapons and surrendered. Rommel s audacity had paid off; with this success he had ended up capturing a total of 150 Italian officers, 9000 enemy soldiers, and 81 guns, which is astounding considering he only had a 2000 man battalion. Rommel was rewarded and soon he was promoted to the rank of Captain.
After his promotion to Captain Rommel was given a quiet staff position and sent on leave, which was very disappointing to the new Captain. Erwin Rommel would spend the remainder of the war in this position. All of his recent experiences would forever leave their mark on Rommel and when war again called he would eagerly seek out some more action. By 1920 Rommel was given a post in Stuttgart, where he commanded a company of Infantry. He would remain the commander for the next 9 years of his life. He and Lucie continued their lives during this period, they both found time for each other and began a pastime of canoeing, mountain trekking, and skiing, and in December 1928 their only child Manfred was born. The young Captain was extremely successful and soon caught the attention of his battalion commander, Rommel was appointed as a junior instructor at the Dresden School of Infantry. In April of 1932 Rommel would be promoted to the rank of Major and in October of 1933 he became a battalion commander with 17th Infantry Regiment at Goslar in the Harz Mountains district.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany he would personally demand an oath of allegiance from the military. Erwin Rommel Jr. first came to Adolf Hitler s attention in 1934 during Hitler s visit to review the troops at Goslar. In 1935 he was appointed as the War Ministry s special liaison officer to Baldur von Schirach s Hitler Youth Organization. It took no time for him to realize that he had no use for the young von Schirach s methods and Rommel s heavy Swabian accent did not sit well with the Hitler Youth leader s expectations. Even though the two would not see eye to eye and they eventually go their own ways, Rommel was able to complete his brilliant book on infantry tactics called Infantry Attacks. This book would eventually come to Hitler s attention and he was tremendously impressed by it, because in 1938 when Hitler decided to visit his newly acquired Sudetenland he personally chose Rommel as the commandant for his Escort Battalion. The appointment was what Rommel needed to help raise him into the spotlight, where he would remain for many years to come.
In November of 1938 Rommel was posted as Commandant of the officer cadet school at Wiener-Nuestadt near Vienna, Austria. These would soon become some of his and his families happiest years. Again in March of 1939 Hitler chose Rommel to personally command his mobile headquarters during the occupation of Prague. Rommel was promoted to the rank of Major General and was soon made responsible for Hitler s safety during his frequent visits to the front lines. During the invasion of Poland Erwin Rommel began to become versed in the use of the German Panzer units and the combination of artillery and air support, along with motorized infantry to achieve the desired famous Blitzkrieg results. With the end of warfare in Poland, Rommel was back to his mundane duties. But Rommel was keen to the fact that he had a relationship with Hitler. He knew that the Invasion of France and the Low Countries were inevitable and decided to ask Hitler for a fighting command. In February of 1940 Hitler granted his request and Rommel assumed the command of Germany s 7th Panzer Division.
The Army High Command objected to this appointment particularly because of Rommel s lack of experience with armored troops. Hitler would not listen and Rommel remained in command.
With the start of the Western offensive on May 10th, Rommel s 7th Panzer Division crossed the front line into Belgium and had battled their way to the Meuse River by May 12th. After establishing a bridgehead across the Meuse, Rommel began to prepare to concentrate his 25th Panzer Regiment and break through the front, then drive westward without regard for his flanks. Within six days the 7th Panzer Division successfully reached the city of Cambrai. At the city of Wailly, southwest of Arras, Rommel ran into the heavily armored Matildas of the British 1 Army Tank Brigade. The standard 37mm German anti-tank guns could not penetrate the thick-skinned Matilda s and Rommel was forced to hold them off with his 88mm anti-aircraft guns. When Rommel had the situation under control he again moved onward, he and his 7th Panzer Division went south of Arras. On May 24th a halt was ordered, by the German High Command, to allow the infantry to move up to protect the exposed armored spearheads. By May 26th they were on the move again with Rommel commanding now both 7th and 5th Panzer Divisions. They were on an attack course for Lille. On June 2nd Hitler personally requested Rommel s attendance at a conference in Charleville, where he was greeted enthusiastically by the Fuhrer. The excitement was short-lived and Rommel s 7th Panzer began an exhaustive battle toward the coast, they quickly swept aside any enemy they encountered. On June 8th they reached the coast at Les Petites Dalles, destroying an entire enemy motorized column on the way. Rommel wasted no time and he headed north and focused his 7th Panzer Division on held up forces of British and French forces. Late in the evening on June 12th the allied defenders were defeated and Rommel had successfully beaten over a dozen generals and captured almost 13,000 prisoners. The French henceforth referred to Rommel s fast moving 7th Panzer Division as the Ghost Division . With the major fighting done, Rommel and his entire unit took a much-needed rest for several days. However it was not long lasted, because on June 17th the Ghost Division was back in action. This time they were off to capture the seaport of Cherbourg. They quickly captured Cherbourg and defeated its fortress, but by the time it surrendered the 7th Panzer Division had captured 30,000 prisoners. Rommel was a German military hero.
An armistice was signed on June 21st, 1940 and Rommel then returned home for some rest and relaxation with his family. During the final months of 1940 Rommel and his 7th Panzer Division conducted extensive training, this was in preparation for the Invasion of England. Operation Sea Lion required numerous trials of loading and unloading the converted river barges, which was to carry the division across to the British coast. Has history has written, this invasion was finally postponed and then finally cancelled completely, in favor of air attacks by the Luftwaffe on Great Britain. With the cancellation of the invasion, Hitler then chose Erwin Rommel to lead the attack in North Africa (The Columbia Electronic Library, 1995). Rommel would not deviate from his previous tactics; he would continue to use the Blitzkrieg, especially throughout the desert. After a successful campaign in North Africa, Rommel flew to Hitler s headquarters in the Ukraine. He went there to plead with Hitler for a timely withdrawal of his forces from Africa, but Hitler would not agree. Hitler then ordered him to take a long delayed sick leave, and his faithful Afrika Korps was left to face its fate on Cape Bon (The Rommel Papers, 1982).
On July 23rd, 1943 Rommel received orders from Hitler to go to Saloniki to assess the situation in Greece. He was also told that he needed to prepare to take the command of an Army Group north of the Swiss Alps. This Army Group was going to ensure the security of German troops in Italy. By November 5th he and his staff had been assigned to examine the defenses of the Atlantic Wall to help defend Italy and on December 31st he was officially named the Commander of Army Group B. Rommel s presence instilled confidence into the troops who were defending the coastal areas; he also had numerous beach obstacles and four million mines installed. Rommel s ultimate plan had been to stop the invasion on the beaches, before the Allies could establish a foothold. Hitler was convinced that the Pas de Calais in the north would be the obvious invasion site, and the available armor had been positioned to suit this belief. When the weather turned stormy in early June, Rommel felt confident that the invasion would not take place for several weeks, so on June 5th he left his headquarters at La Roche-Guyon by car for a quick visit with his family in Herrlingen. On the following morning Rommel received word that the invasion was taking place and by noon on D-Day he was speeding back to France. The Allies were able to gain a firm beachhead in Normandy, and by June 11th it was clear to Rommel that Normandy had been lost. Rommel knew that a tactical withdrawal was their only hope. When he approached Hitler with this place, he would not hear of this and ordered Rommel to shore up the sagging German defenses. Rommel was hoping that Hitler would release some of the armor that was still waiting for the non-existent landing at Calais (The Rommel Papers, 1982).
On July 17th, during a return trip to La Roche-Guyon from the front, two enemy attack planes near Livarot spotted Rommel s staff car and quickly attacked it. His driver was severely wounded and the car swerved into a ditch out of control, throwing the Field Marshal onto the roadway, Rommel was badly injured. He first was taken to a monastery where a French doctor in Livarot cared for him. Rommel s skull was severely fractured, and the wounds were to the temple and the face. The British attacked the next day at the exact location that Rommel had previously said they would. The British hammered the Germans for over 3 hours with aerial bombardment. The Germans did not break however, and the defenses that Rommel had prepared for their attack proved well planned. This would be his last victory, and his last battle. On August 8th he was allowed to return to his home and the following day the German press simply announced that he had been wounded in action (Knight s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 1994).
Previously on July 20th an attempt on Hitler s life was made, codenamed Operation Valkyrie . A bomb was planted in a room where Hitler was supposed to be at the time of its detonation, which it did detonate and killed several people, except Hitler. Operation Valkyrie was in effect and soon the word was out, even though in error, that the Fuhrer was dead. Many radios soon began to report that the Fuhrer was dead. Meanwhile, many of the conspirators and the department heads sent out contradicting messages reporting both that the Fuhrer was alive and he was dead. Chaos had set in, Officers were sent on errands only to be sent back with contradicting orders.
There was mass confusion throughout Berlin, no one could tell which was the truth, was the Fuhrer alive or dead. Many of the conspirators were getting extremely nervous, they were not sure it was successful or not. A General by the name of von Hase was supposed to call out the reserves to contain the SS, but he hesitated until 4:00pm before he gave the order. Unfortunately for the conspirators, Dr. von Hagen of Goebbel s propaganda office was speaking to a Major by the name of Remer, and when Remer told him of the situation, Goebbels was informed. Von Hagen went into hiding after telling Goebbels for fear of being arrested by the soldiers that the conspirators had dispatched to arrest him. Von Hagen wrote a message to Major Remer telling him to meet Goebbels himself. Remer sneaked out of the compound and headed to the Reichsminister’s office. After an answer of I am completely loyal to the Fuhrer, he was handed the phone. Hitler was on the other line and gave Remer direct orders. He told Remer that he had full authority to do whatever he judged necessary to save the government of the Reich (The Goebbels Diaries, 1939-1941, 1983).
He first ordered a Panzer unit to move, but the unit told him that they received order from General Heinz Guderian alone. Was General Guderian loyal to the Fuhrer? The help of Lieutenant-Colonel Gehrke, who appeared and persuaded the men that all of this business was the direct orders of the Fuhrer, avoided the obstacle. Remer then realized that the nerve center of the coup seemed to be the OKW building in the Bendlerstrasse. He immediately sent a unit to secure the building and investigate. They secured the building and Remer now had confirmation of the military putsch that was underway.
Meanwhile, Ludwig Beck phoned General Stulpnagel, a cousin of Colonel Stauffenberg, and other key members of the conspiracy in France that even if the Fuhrer was alive, the plan should continue. A General named Kluge, who they hoped would endorse their plan, was not going to give in to such a rebellion, especially if the Fuhrer were still alive. The next day, General Keitel ordered Stulpnagel to report immediately to Berlin. The loyal Fuhrer s forces soon restored order in Berlin and then the Gestapo was ordered to do a full-scale investigation of every officer, citizen, or foreigner who might have said anything against the best wishes of the Fuhrer. Unfortunately for Rommel he was sure to fall into this category. Many of the conspirators quickly chose suicidal means rather than face persecution by the loyal forces.
In mid to late August Rommel was officially relieved of his command. His chief of staff was also dismissed but was not given a reason. The reason would soon become clear with his arrest on September 4th, he was after all a conspirator. Rommel knew that he would certainly be implicated and began to become worried. During his frequent walks with his son Manfred, Rommel not only armed himself, but also his son.
On October 7th, Rommel received a message asking him to report to Berlin via a special train. When Rommel inquired as to the reason of his summons, he was simply told that it was about his future employment in the Reich. On October 11th, a Major by the name of Streicher visited Rommel, and Rommel told him of how he thought that Hitler wanted him dead. Major Streicher was not the only one that Rommel told his story to. Anyone who came to visit him during the next days would hear about Rommel s suspicions. On October 14th, two generals name Burgdorf and Maisel arrived at Rommel s home. An interrogation ensued for over 45 minutes, questioning his involvement with the conspiracy.
Previously Rommel had talked with a General named Speidel about capturing Hitler, but never about killing him. Rommel only talked about the plight of the soldiers, and that the war should end. He actually voiced his opinion on overthrowing Hitler, but never about killing him. He thought that this would make Hitler a martyr to the German people, and no peace could be pursued. The war would be fought for Hitler s memory, and Rommel thought that it would be self-defeating to kill him. Speidel himself admitted only to knowing about a plot to overthrow Hitler, but he did not know any of the details. The most damaging evidence to Rommel s case came from a Colonel named Caesar von Hofacker. Hofacker told a colleague that he had informed Rommel and Speidel of the coming coup, and Rommel had said that he was content to play his own part to bring the plan to success. Another interpretation was handed down by Speidel who said that Hofacker told him that he gave Rommel that response, when asked if he would help in the coup. Either way, Rommel could not live after allegedly saying these things with two witnesses. Rommel was presented with an ultimatum.
There were two actions that the Generals made available to Rommel. They could either take him with them back to Berlin, where he would be tried for high treason with repercussions on his family or he could take the officer s way. In the latter case he would be given a state funeral, his family would not be penalized, and his death would be proclaimed as natural. Rommel s choice was clear.
Rommel left the General s company to see his family and friends for the last time. He told Lucie that he had been given a choice, by Hitler s order, suicide or to appear before a people s court. He also told her about the evidence that they used against him, and no matter how circumstantial, the Fuhrer s life was in danger, and all those who opposed him should be dealt with. Then his son Manfred arrived, and he too heard Rommel s story. The family said their goodbyes. He had already made up his mind and his choice would keep his family safe.
Hitler gave him a full military funeral as was promised, with von Rundstedt replacing Hitler in his stead. Rundstedt spoke of Rommel s career and exploits, and he claimed, His heart belonged to the Fuhrer. His heart belonged to the Fatherland, Germany, not to Hitler. His wife Lucie watched in agony and a sense of shock as those who attended knew the truth but still grieved her husband. Rundstedt, obviously knowing about the truth and loathing it, could only say a few words to the widow and son. He left promptly. Germany would lose the war just as Rommel and virtually all the German Generals and Field Marshals had thought. Hitler would self inflict his end by suicide just as Rommel did, with the exception of a pistol being also used by Hitler. Hitler, in his paranoia, had killed one of his best subordinates, and so ended the chapter of history dominated by the Desert Fox (The Rommel Papers, 1982).
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Liddell-Hart, B.H. The Rommel Papers. New York: DaCapo Press, 1982
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