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Old October 27th, 2012, 05:02 PM   #1

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What makes Erwin Rommel a military 'great'?


It's not my area of expertise, so I'm curious - why do I often see Erwin Rommel listed with the 'greats' of military history?

Since history is written by the winners, and since Rommel was, however talented, a soldier for one of the most openly grotesque regimes in human history, I'm surprised at the esteem he seems to be held in.
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Old October 27th, 2012, 05:33 PM   #2
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His involvement in the anti-Hitler plot and subsequent execution/suicide helped his reputation among the Allies.
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Old October 27th, 2012, 05:41 PM   #3

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Rommel is well respected for his tactical skill on the battlefield. Given open terrain and the ability to manuver, Rommel was a highly successful commander who was able to outmanuver or overcome the strengths of his enemies in specific instances. Much of this was also shaped by his willingness to put himself in the front lines.

In the Battle of France, his columns were attacked by British tanks near the town Arras. The heavily armored British Matildas were too well protected for the standard German anti-tank guns of the time. To break the British attack, Rommel established a gun line of 88mm Flak batteries which could take out the Matildas. In addition, his division moved with such speed and seemed to come out of nowhere in the battle seemed would earn the division the nickname "Ghost Division," though I cannot be sure who came up with the nickname. Some sources I have would give the origin to Germans because they couldn't get in contact with Rommel and didn't know where he was, and some other sources would say the French/British because he seemed to arrive where he was unexpected to arrive from.

His best campaign was in Africa, where he with a largely Italian force would drive the British from Benghazi, Libya to El Alamien Egypt. Here, with his skills in manuver was able to outflank and inflict heavy casualties on an enemy force that outnumbered him greatly and generally had more high quality troops available to them than were available to Rommel. In Tunisia, he would also rout American units in the Battle of Kasserine Pass and achieved such a victory that he could have broken Eisenhower's entire army in one fell swoop and prolong the African campaign by months.

Following Africa, Rommel was in relative obscuraty in Northern Italy and was partially responsible for disarming the Italian military after the surrender to the Allies in 1943. He would soon find himself back in France, this time to put forth the defense of the Atlantic Wall. Here, Rommel found himself increasingly at odds with other generals under his command and above him in the chain of command (some of this also occured in Africa, but not to the same degree as it was here). Rommel took the position that it would be best that Germany's tanks be placed close to the beaches so that they could hit the Allies while they were disorganized and getting off the landing craft. For, if they were allowed a toehold, the Western Allies' strengths of air power and logistics would easily defeat the Germans. However, his commander here, Gerd von Rundstedt was largely comming from the Eastern Front where Germany managed to maintain some semblence of air power and manuver up until 1943. Rundstedt argued that Germany's tanks would be better served in the interior to counter attack any possible penetration by the Allies. Hitler ultimately agreed with Rundstedt, and Rommel was left to improvise. His solution was to request mines by the millions, which the Reich couldn't provide him... and ultimately when the Allies did land in Normandy, Rundstedt's earlier victories and the Reich's inability to supply him proved Rommel's predictions right. The Allies gained a toehold and then used superior logistics and air power to outlast the Germans in Normandy. In this sense, Rommel accurately predicted how the Allies would win.

As such, Rommel's skills as a tactician were among the best in World War II. This is also not taking into account his career as a junior officer in WWI, which also included some heroic efforts. These efforts won him respect for his skills alone.

However, the respect and "honor" that has been given him doesn't come from his skills alone. His legacy, has largely been built on the fact that Rommel was not member of the Nazi Party and that there have been plenty of incidents that would create the image of an "honorable man" serving a dishonorable system. Rommel would disobey direct orders with regard to Hitler's favorite "no retreat" command. After El Alamien had gone so bad for him, Hitler gave the command as he always did, but Rommel ordered the retreat anyway to try and save the lives of his men. This action would actually set up the Battle of Kasserine Pass due to Rommel's assessment of Montgomery's caution and that it would prevent Monty from rushing to keep pressure on Rommel.

At other times in the African campaign, Hitler had issued orders that demanded the immediate execution of any commandos or Jews taken in Allied uniform. Most sources I've seen say that Rommel deliberately disobeyed these orders.

The biggest evidence of this comes from repeated incidents of criticizing the Fuhrer. Towards the end of the African campaign or while he was in Northern Italy, Rommel is famously quoted as saying that Hitler was living in some sort of "cuckoo land." The clinching factor in this argument comes from supposed connections between Rommel and the Valkyrie plot by Stauffenberg to kill Hitler. Rommel had no knowledge of the plot and wasn't actually a member of the plot, but two men that were implicated Rommel. One of them was also a member of Rommel's staff and had made the implication after being tortured by the SS. Hitler then gave Rommel a choice. He had the option of standing trial, for which he would certainly be found guilty, and his wife and son would also be executed for treason, or he could commit suicide via poison, and Rommel's family would be spared. Rommel took the poison to save his wife and son, which has created the image of an honorable man. The reason for Rommel's death that the Nazi's gave was ultimately that he had succumbed to wounds sustained in an allied air attack on his car on July 17, 1944.

These incidents created the image of an honorable warrior that fought not for Hitler but for Germany.

However, it would also bear to mind various criticisms of Rommel...

While Rommel was a great tactician, he probably was not that great a strategist. He was expressly ordered by Kesselring and by some Italian superiors not to cross into Egypt following the capture of Tobruk. Rommel ignored these orders and advanced into Egypt where he was soon facing a situation at El Alamien where his tactics of going around the flank wouldn't work. In that sense, Rommel set up his own defeat at El Alamein.

In addition, Rommel also mistakenly believed that the main Allied landings on D-Day would be at the Pas Du Calias, because the region would provide the best spot for Allied air cover. This largely left progress in the Normandy sector lacking and would help enable the Allies to win there. Rommel would be quick to realize that Normandy was the real landing zone, but the fact that he guessed wrong can not be denied. In fact, Rommel was not even at his HQ when the Allies attacked. He had gone back to Germany for either his wedding anniversery or his wife's birthday.

In addition, close examination of his political stances, while he wasn't pro-Nazi, he wasn't exactly anti-Nazi either. He has been described as apolitical, which I would agree with, but by being so, it could also mean that while he didn't agree with the Nazis, it was clear that he wasn't going to take a direct stand against them. The fact that he was not part of the Stauffenberg plot is clear of this aspect as well.

However, these things have not totally tarnished Rommel's record or removed his tactical skills.
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Old October 27th, 2012, 05:59 PM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
why do I often see Erwin Rommel listed with the 'greats' of military history?
Several reasons, in my opinion.

1. During the time, the North African campaign was spotlighted by the western media moreso than events that were occurring in the Eastern Front.

2. He had two successful campaigns in North Africa because the British were ill-prepared for a counter-attack and spread too thin to retaliate. What little is discussed is the logistics expiring on both of his campaigns (the British like to attribute this to stout British defense).

3. As you have stated, the enemy like to attribute losses to the enemy's intelligence and skill rather than being caught with their pants down and/or ineptness on their part.

4. As Salah says, he seems like the anti-hero type warrior. Father, husband, a general with morals (another example is releasing prisoners, etc...).
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Old October 27th, 2012, 06:01 PM   #5
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Rommel was -without doubt a great soldier and tactician but what is often overlooked is that his home in Herrlingen which a grateful Hitler endowed on him was before 1933 a Jewish orphanage.After 1933 the Jewish orphans went the way of all Jewish flesh in Nazi Germany and were murdered.
Hence Rommel's subsequent residency there. However, I am not saying or implying that Rommel had anything directly to do with this fact at all.
And his son Manfred was honoured post- war for his services to European democracy but the fact remains that Rommel's residence had this melancholy connection with ''The Final Solution''
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Old October 27th, 2012, 06:21 PM   #6

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Originally Posted by Sam-Nary View Post
Rommel is well respected for his tactical skill on the battlefield. Given open terrain and the ability to manuver, Rommel was a highly successful commander who was able to outmanuver or overcome the strengths of his enemies in specific instances. Much of this was also shaped by his willingness to put himself in the front lines.

In the Battle of France, his columns were attacked by British tanks near the town Arras. The heavily armored British Matildas were too well protected for the standard German anti-tank guns of the time. To break the British attack, Rommel established a gun line of 88mm Flak batteries which could take out the Matildas. In addition, his division moved with such speed and seemed to come out of nowhere in the battle seemed would earn the division the nickname "Ghost Division," though I cannot be sure who came up with the nickname. Some sources I have would give the origin to Germans because they couldn't get in contact with Rommel and didn't know where he was, and some other sources would say the French/British because he seemed to arrive where he was unexpected to arrive from.

His best campaign was in Africa, where he with a largely Italian force would drive the British from Benghazi, Libya to El Alamien Egypt. Here, with his skills in manuver was able to outflank and inflict heavy casualties on an enemy force that outnumbered him greatly and generally had more high quality troops available to them than were available to Rommel. In Tunisia, he would also rout American units in the Battle of Kasserine Pass and achieved such a victory that he could have broken Eisenhower's entire army in one fell swoop and prolong the African campaign by months.

Following Africa, Rommel was in relative obscuraty in Northern Italy and was partially responsible for disarming the Italian military after the surrender to the Allies in 1943. He would soon find himself back in France, this time to put forth the defense of the Atlantic Wall. Here, Rommel found himself increasingly at odds with other generals under his command and above him in the chain of command (some of this also occured in Africa, but not to the same degree as it was here). Rommel took the position that it would be best that Germany's tanks be placed close to the beaches so that they could hit the Allies while they were disorganized and getting off the landing craft. For, if they were allowed a toehold, the Western Allies' strengths of air power and logistics would easily defeat the Germans. However, his commander here, Gerd von Rundstedt was largely comming from the Eastern Front where Germany managed to maintain some semblence of air power and manuver up until 1943. Rundstedt argued that Germany's tanks would be better served in the interior to counter attack any possible penetration by the Allies. Hitler ultimately agreed with Rundstedt, and Rommel was left to improvise. His solution was to request mines by the millions, which the Reich couldn't provide him... and ultimately when the Allies did land in Normandy, Rundstedt's earlier victories and the Reich's inability to supply him proved Rommel's predictions right. The Allies gained a toehold and then used superior logistics and air power to outlast the Germans in Normandy. In this sense, Rommel accurately predicted how the Allies would win.

As such, Rommel's skills as a tactician were among the best in World War II. This is also not taking into account his career as a junior officer in WWI, which also included some heroic efforts. These efforts won him respect for his skills alone.

However, the respect and "honor" that has been given him doesn't come from his skills alone. His legacy, has largely been built on the fact that Rommel was not member of the Nazi Party and that there have been plenty of incidents that would create the image of an "honorable man" serving a dishonorable system. Rommel would disobey direct orders with regard to Hitler's favorite "no retreat" command. After El Alamien had gone so bad for him, Hitler gave the command as he always did, but Rommel ordered the retreat anyway to try and save the lives of his men. This action would actually set up the Battle of Kasserine Pass due to Rommel's assessment of Montgomery's caution and that it would prevent Monty from rushing to keep pressure on Rommel.

At other times in the African campaign, Hitler had issued orders that demanded the immediate execution of any commandos or Jews taken in Allied uniform. Most sources I've seen say that Rommel deliberately disobeyed these orders.

The biggest evidence of this comes from repeated incidents of criticizing the Fuhrer. Towards the end of the African campaign or while he was in Northern Italy, Rommel is famously quoted as saying that Hitler was living in some sort of "cuckoo land." The clinching factor in this argument comes from supposed connections between Rommel and the Valkyrie plot by Stauffenberg to kill Hitler. Rommel had no knowledge of the plot and wasn't actually a member of the plot, but two men that were implicated Rommel. One of them was also a member of Rommel's staff and had made the implication after being tortured by the SS. Hitler then gave Rommel a choice. He had the option of standing trial, for which he would certainly be found guilty, and his wife and son would also be executed for treason, or he could commit suicide via poison, and Rommel's family would be spared. Rommel took the poison to save his wife and son, which has created the image of an honorable man. The reason for Rommel's death that the Nazi's gave was ultimately that he had succumbed to wounds sustained in an allied air attack on his car on July 17, 1944.

These incidents created the image of an honorable warrior that fought not for Hitler but for Germany.

However, it would also bear to mind various criticisms of Rommel...

While Rommel was a great tactician, he probably was not that great a strategist. He was expressly ordered by Kesselring and by some Italian superiors not to cross into Egypt following the capture of Tobruk. Rommel ignored these orders and advanced into Egypt where he was soon facing a situation at El Alamien where his tactics of going around the flank wouldn't work. In that sense, Rommel set up his own defeat at El Alamein.

In addition, Rommel also mistakenly believed that the main Allied landings on D-Day would be at the Pas Du Calias, because the region would provide the best spot for Allied air cover. This largely left progress in the Normandy sector lacking and would help enable the Allies to win there. Rommel would be quick to realize that Normandy was the real landing zone, but the fact that he guessed wrong can not be denied. In fact, Rommel was not even at his HQ when the Allies attacked. He had gone back to Germany for either his wedding anniversery or his wife's birthday.

In addition, close examination of his political stances, while he wasn't pro-Nazi, he wasn't exactly anti-Nazi either. He has been described as apolitical, which I would agree with, but by being so, it could also mean that while he didn't agree with the Nazis, it was clear that he wasn't going to take a direct stand against them. The fact that he was not part of the Stauffenberg plot is clear of this aspect as well.

However, these things have not totally tarnished Rommel's record or removed his tactical skills.
Excellent post
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Old October 28th, 2012, 02:10 AM   #7

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Originally Posted by Salah View Post
a soldier for one of the most openly grotesque regimes in human history, I'm surprised at the esteem he seems to be held in.
I find it very irritating that some blame common soldiers for the things that Hitler did. The opinion of the soldiers wasn't asked, and mostly they didn't take part in the crimes. (There were German soldiers in Finnish Lapland, and the locals liked them because of their friendly and correct attitude.)
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Old October 28th, 2012, 02:22 AM   #8

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Rommel did as well as could have been expected during World War 11, so much of his scucess came from his daring. In France 1940 his 7th Panzer division was nicknamed the ghost division. He used speed and suprise better than most of his contemparies. But personaly on both a tactical and strategic level i rate both Guderian and Manstein above him. Rommels time in the dessert was spent fighting a British army who didnt know or believe they could win. Dunkirk, Crete, Greece and Singapore had sent the morale and self confidence of the British into a nose dive, and suddenly they were faced by a German general with daring and panache, it was simply too much for them to handle.
Rommels retreat into his own minefield at Gazala was a bold, decisive and inspired move that smacked of desperation but in war fortune really can favour the bold.
In France 1945 nothing and no one could have saved the Germans, not even the Normandy brocage that frustrated Monty, his trump card the 2000 bomber raid on Caen was a testament to the total allied superiority and no amount of Rommel magic could save the wermacht. The time for daring and swift decisive counter attacks had passed and in the battle of attrition that followed there could only be one winner.
Rommels injury saved him from the stigma of defeat and his involvement in the July bomb plot promoted him to `favourite enemy` status.
Personaly i would give Rommel no more than 7/10
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Old October 28th, 2012, 02:47 AM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
It's not my area of expertise, so I'm curious - why do I often see Erwin Rommel listed with the 'greats' of military history?

Since history is written by the winners, and since Rommel was, however talented, a soldier for one of the most openly grotesque regimes in human history, I'm surprised at the esteem he seems to be held in.
Rommel's reputation is largely based on Dr. Goebbels desire for an Aryan Hero exemplar of Nazi ideology and churchill's desire to divert attention from some of his poor decisions and to cover up British military ineptitude for the benefit of the Americans. Rommel was at best "average" when it comes to German commanders and his reputation has begun to be more objectively reassessed both inside and outside Germany. He was certainly not a military "great".
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Old October 28th, 2012, 03:11 AM   #10
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I cannot understand why all the so called Rommel experts never mention the fact that his success in the desert was due to him receiving British intel from two separate sources, and when this intel was denied him he had no further success. I think it is because the 'expersts' don't know as much as they think they do.

There was a 'agressive American Anglophobe'. (weren't they all) named Col Fellers who was given access to all British strenghts and plans etc, in North Africa.

He was so diligent in his ambition for advancement that he sent in minute detail all he knew to Washington each day. But the Italians had broken into the American Embassy in Rome. and had stolen the 'Black Code'. which Fellers was using. Therefore within hours of sending British positions strengths and intentions back to Washingron, Rommel had this intel in his hands.

Also the Germans had a radio interception station which was picking up careless British chatter before and during battles, which gave Rommel vital intelligence on British intentions.

Hitler said something like. 'I hope this American keeps giving us this vital information'. And a German radio play mentioned the fact that Rommel was being supplied with British intelligence : much to the horror of listening Nazis.

The American Fellers was instrumental in defeating the resupplying of convoys to relieve Malta, and for the slaughtering of commando raids to knock out German bases.

Rommels 'bold and inspired tactics', was because he knew what the British were doing.

The British finally suspected Fellers, but he convinced them that his codes were secure. He was recalled to Wahington after 21 months and decorated for his reports.

After Fellers left and the German radio satation was destroyed by the Aussies, Rommel's 'eyes and ears', were denied him and he had no further success.

At this time British code breakers were in a position to supply Ultra to Montgomery.

Please read

Intercepted Communications for Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
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