Early LifeRommel was born in Heidenheim an der Brentz, approximately 50km from Ulm, in the state of Wurttemberg. The child of a Protestant schoolteacher, Rommel planned to become an engineer (perhaps working with Zeppelins), but instead enlisted with the local 124th Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet in 1910. Two years later, he was commissioned as a Leutnant. During World War I, Rommel served in France, as well as on the Romanian and Italian fronts, during which time he was wounded three times and awarded the Iron Cross - First and Second Class. He also became the youngest recipient of Germany's highest medal, the Pour le Mérite, which he received after fighting in the mountains of north-east Italy, specifically at the Battle of Longarone.
In 1911, as a cadet at Danzig, Rommel met his future wife, Lucie, whom he married in 1916. In 1928, they had a son, Manfred Rommel. Bierman and Smith argue that Rommel also had an affair, with Walburga Stemmer, in 1912, and that relationship produced a daughter named Getrud (1 p. 56).
Post World War IAfter the war he held regimental commands, and was instructor at the Dresden Infantry School (1929-1933) and the Potsdam War Academy (1935-1938). His war diaries, Infanterie greift an (Infantry Attacks!), became a major textbook after being published in 1937. In 1938, Rommel (now a Colonel) was appointed commandant of the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt. He was removed after a short time however, and placed in command of Hitler's personal protection battalion. He was promoted again to Major General just prior to the invasion of Poland.
In 1940 he was given command of the 7th Panzer Division for Fall Gelb, the invasion of the west. He showed considerable skill in this operation, and in reward he was appointed commander of the German troops which were sent to Libya in early 1941 to aid the defeated Italian troops, forming the Deutsches Afrika Korps. It was in Africa that Rommel achieved his greatest fame as a commander.
He spent most of 1941 building his organization and re-forming the shattered Italian units who had suffered a string of defeats at the hands of the British led by Claude Auchinleck. In 1942 he started a classic blitzkrieg, and within weeks the British forces had been pushed back to the Egyptian border where he was stopped at the First Battle of El Alamein, although Australian forces held out in the important port city of Tobruk.
Tobruk eventually fell, but British air and naval operations from Malta in the Mediterranean Sea starved his forces of supplies. Infighting soon started at higher levels of the German command, and a planned invasion of Malta was called off. By the end of the year Tobruk had become useless as a port, and supplies had to instead be shipped to ports in western Libya where they were out of range of British aircraft, creating a logistics nightmare. From that point on the British forces continued to grow in strength while his own were faltering. After the Second Battle of El Alamein he was unable to stop the allied forces, eventually being ordered home by Hitler in 1943, just prior to the surrender of the DAK.
When Rommel was back in Germany, Hitler made him the commander of Army Group B, responsible for defending the French coast against a possible Allied invasion. After his battles in Africa, Rommel concluded that any offensive movements would be impossible due to the overwhelming Allied air superiority. He argued that the panzer forces should be kept as close to the front as possible, so they wouldn't have to move far when the invasion started. He wanted the invasion stopped right on the beaches.
However his commander, Gerd von Rundstedt, felt that there was no way to stop the invasion near the beaches due to the equally overwhelming firepower of the Royal Navy. He felt the panzers should be formed into large units well inland near Paris, where they could allow the Allies to extend into France and then be cut off. When asked to pick a plan, Hitler then vacillated and placed them in the middle, far enough to be useless to Rommel, not far enough to watch the fight for von Rundstedt.
Rommel's plan nearly came to fruition anyway. During D-Day several panzer units, notably the 12th SS Panzer (the elite Hitler Jugend) were near enough to the beaches and created serious havoc. The overwhelming Allied numbers made any success unlikely however, and soon the beachhead was secure.
In July 1944 his staff car was strafed by British aircraft, and Rommel had to be hospitalised with major head injuries. In the meantime, after the failed July 20 Plot against Adolf Hitler, Rommel's connections with the conspiracy came to light. Due to Rommel's popularity with the German people, Hitler gave him the option to commit suicide with cyanide or face dishonour and retaliation against his family and staff. Rommel ended his own life on October 14, 1944, and was buried with full military honours.
After the war his diary was published as The Rommel Papers.
Quotes About Erwin Rommel
- The British Parliament considered a censure vote against Winston Churchill, for his failure to defeat Rommel. The vote failed, but in the course of the debate, Churchill would say:
- "We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great General."
- Theodor Werner was an officer who, during World War I, served under Rommel.
- "Anybody who came under the spell of his personality turned into a real soldier. He seemed to know what the enemy were like and how they would react."
Quotes By Erwin Rommel
- "Sweat saves blood."
Battles of Erwin Rommel
- Battle of Bir Hakeim (1942)
- First Battle of El Alamein
- Second Battle of El Alamein
- Battle of the Kasserine Pass
- The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II by Bierman and Smith (2002)
- Hart, B. H. Liddell, The Rommel Papers (1953)
- Manvell, Roger, Heinrich Fraenkel, The Men Who Tried to Kill Hitler (1964).