Rommel vs. O'Connor

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,359
U.K.
#1
Not had one of these in a while so I thought this might be an interesting ‘what if’ for the WW2 aficionados out there.

General Richard O’Connor was captured during Rommel’s counter-offensive in Cyrenaica. Beforehand O’Connor had masterminded the destruction of the Italian invasion army in a swift British ‘blitzkrieg’ offensive. Had he not been captured, he may well have been given command of the 8th Army instead of Montgomery.

So the question is, Rommel vs. O’Connor, two fine exponents of mobile warfare; how would the North African campaign been fought out? Who would have won?
 
#2
It's a tricky one but I'd give victory to O'Conner, just and with a lot of destroyed equipment. From what I've read O'Conner focused on a more combined apporach for infantry - tank traning the Rommel. So he shouldn't be as vunerable to Rommels tactics with 88s
 
Jul 2008
1,211
NE PA
#3
Suppose O'connor was able to beat Rommel and dispose of the Germans/Italians in africa earlier than it happened in RL-would this have prolonged the war in other theaters, since fewer resources would have been sent to be destroyed/captured in Africa?
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#4
There is no doubt that the loss of O'Conner was a severe blow to the British war effort at the operational/strategic level.

By February 7, 1941, there was nothing to stop his XIII Corps from proceeding on from Agedabia to Tripoli. Surely, there couldn't have been any question about whether that would have put an end to any possibility of North Africa ever becoming a theater of war - could there? Were Wavell, Churchill, et al, just over-confident about the possibility of the Axis not conducting operations there in the future? Were Greece and Abyssinia more important than Suez?

Oh, that's right, you asked a question, didn't you Belisarius?

I dunno (I prefer to ask questions). But here's a quote from B.H. Liddell Hart's The German Generals Talk -

'In a reference to the Allied commanders, Rundstedt said: "Montgomery and Patton were the two best I met."'

Of course that does not in and of itself prove that O'Conner wouldn't have been even better than Montgomery. And Rundstedt was notorious for currying favor with the western allies. Hmmmmmmmm.

Oh, yeah, the question. I'm going to guess O'Conner would have beat Rommel.

In his campaign against the Italians, O'Conner was outnumbered more than 2 to 1. Sure, he wasn't going up against the Germans, but nevertheless he depended on surprise, speed, and precise planning. I'm guessing Rommel and O'Conner would have spent most of '41 and '42 learning from each other, but in the end, the result would have been the same and for the same reasons.
 

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,359
U.K.
#5
So how would O’Connor have coped with his veteran Western Desert Force/XIII Corps being split apart for the Balkans and East African campaigns? This gave Rommel a massive qualitative edge over the British. The ‘newbies’ that took over were largely from the ‘tanks can do anything, cavalry charge’ school that played into Rommel’s hands so often during the Battleaxe, Brevity and Crusader operations. Could O’connor have reined them in or deflected Churchill’s constant demands for a premature offensive? How effective would “Jock Columns” have been against the DAK Panzer Divisions?
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#6
Well, if the question is about O’Connor taking command of 8th Army on August 13th of '42 instead of Montgomery, then I don't think the British advance to Tripoli would have been any less "workmanlike." By that date, the British could send, from all over the world, resupply for more troops and planes via the Red Sea than the Axis could over the 600 miles across the Mediterranean. By all means, the advance of the 8th Army over the next 5 months was characterized by repeatedly flanking the Axis right - what else? How fancy does one want to get?

So, after February 7th of '41, the way to get to Tripoli became destroying the German divisions barring the way, regardless of the date or circumstances. I think O’Connor would have coped with losing his best troops to other theaters by retreating back under the cover of his airfields in Egypt until he could amass enough men and materiel to get all the way to Tripoli. This was the trouble with the CRUSADER operation. The Brits had a large enough edge to defeat Rommel(eventually), but not large enough to keep on defeating him all the way back to Tripoli and into the sea.

I'm just guessing. I guess O'Conner would have been a quicker study than Alan Cunningham or Neil Ritchie were.
 

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,359
U.K.
#7
After Alamein, Montgomery's 'pursuit' is seen as lacklustre; he appeared to just want to follow Rommel (rather than destroy him) and let the Anglo-American forces from the Torch landings finish him off. Would O'Connor have tried to finish Rommel earlier, and would such a strategy been too risky?
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
#8
After Alamein, Montgomery's 'pursuit' is seen as lacklustre; he appeared to just want to follow Rommel (rather than destroy him) and let the Anglo-American forces from the Torch landings finish him off. Would O'Connor have tried to finish Rommel earlier, and would such a strategy been too risky?
O'Conner drove from Mersa Matruh to Agedabia in two months; Montgomery from El Alamein to Tripoli in three. I don't know enough (!) about the tactical maneuvers at the respective signposts along the road to compare the lustre. I think that during the months of Rommel's second offensive (21st of January - July 7th of '42) the Axis air/sea position in the Mediterranean had improved greatly, right?

In fact, I think I've probably already said more than I know about the entire subject. What do you think, Belisarius? (I mean about the original question :D )
 

Belisarius

Forum Staff
Jun 2006
10,359
U.K.
#9
Difficult to say. O'Connor was aggressive, but might have thought twice about engaging Rommel on his terms. I suspect he'd have given General Tuker a more prominent role which would have resulted in the 8th Army adopting combined arms tactics faster than they did in real life.
 

Similar History Discussions