History is written by the victors, they say. But who are these victors and at what costs are their victories held in great celebrated vein over the defeatists? Would you count a blood sucking venomous soldier as a hero who brutally indulged in butchery over his opponents in the light of nationalistic fervor? A true hero, in the military and defence line of affairs is one who showcases outstanding courage, exemplary leadership and valour in the face of overwhelming odds.
One such hero was amidst Germany, the battle torn land that unleashed upon an entire world the tremors of a World War, for the second time in a row.
In a Germany dreaded for its brutality during the war of epic proportions and defeated by triumphant Roosevelt led America and Churchill led England, it was Field Marshall Rommel that commanded worldwide headlines and honor for his eminent and checkered military achievements.
Rommel, unlike others in Nazi leadership never fought for personal glories in a war that was vested on Hitler’s selfish interests, evil butchery and shallow thinking that ravaged Europe and bled it almost to death in his inglorious idea of attaining German domination over the whole of Europe. An honest German by birth, being born into a middle class family, away from the spoils and riches of the elite in a tectonic Heidenheim, still recovering from the savagery of World War I, which Germany had lost, Erwin Rommel grew amidst a strict but caring, disciplinarian German family that took pride in hailing from the great Fatherland.
It seemed that young Erwin was always meant to serve in Germany armed forces. At 15, he had made a hand glider and excelled at Math and Physics. He used his sharp acumen and great observational skills to judge and decipher war time situations that he heard about from neighboring German families at the wake of the First World War. Prodded by a motivating father, Rommel first confessed to Mother Clara of his intentions of serving in the army. And once he was 19, he never looked back.
A teetotaler for his entire life despite being the admirable Military figure, Rommel dedicated his efforts, intelligence and genius toward garnering respect for a Germany that the likes of Stalinist Russia, Churchill’s Britain and other Allied forces hated. He was to secure such potent achievements that were never garnered by any German military leader before him and since his untimely death haven’t yet been equaled, let alone the thought of being surpassed.
North Africa Campaign
The North Africa campaign was a series of exemplary and tectonic battles that were fought for the control of the Western front between the Allied powers and the Axis powers during the Second World War. Intense firing, raging assaults were exchanged between an indomitable Britain and a fired up Germany on the desserts of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Under Adolf Hitler’s personal orders Erwin Rommel was asked to command the Afrikacorps on January 11, 1941 at North Africa. This was to be a series of fiercely contested battles that would see Germany surrender ultimately in 1943, but not before dominating the massive African campaign for two and a half years, under the supreme leadership of Rommel.
For 3 long years, dreaded battles preceded over the desert outlay marred by intense competition and tactical ploys from which arose frequent shifts of power from one side to the other, mostly wilting toward the German side of triumph but, eventually gravitating toward the British who finally won the campaign in 1943.
Hitler made Rommel Field Marshall and his awarding of the highest military decoration to Rommel was part of the faith that his favorite commander had earned for his bravery and great leadership.
The Desert Fox
The 7th Panzer division under Rommel was like an underpowered Gladiator, never short of self confidence and immense grit while winning over a threatening enemy. Brilliant armored attacks, blazing rifle attacks and defiant enemy bombardment at the hands of Mark V Valentine tanks led to an unstoppable German onslaught onto Britain.
The 7th Panzer Division, which Rommel led by example also took part in critical battles such as the Battle of France, Invasion of Stalingrad and the occupation of Vichy France.
A master of ingenious tactical plans, Rommel often deceived his enemy by creating false sand storms by way of ground firing on the dessert sand. This enabled the enemy to think big of Rommel’ 7th Panzer division’s misconceived military strengths. Huge dust waves made his adversaries think that Rommel was gunning for big attacks soon while truth was that on many occasions Rommel commanded a military arsenal often half the size of Montgomery’s military muscle.
Rommel’s great determination to counter and defeat his enemies earned him the moniker “The Desert Fox”. No other Field Marshall, at least in the history of Germany, has ever commanded such fear and enjoyed great respect from his enemies as that of Rommel.
For his brilliant tactics, sensational leadership at Africa, and for leading with exemplary courage an army under-stocked by men when compared from the nemesis’ eye, Rommel garnered incredible heights and fame for his exploits.
Earning respect from opponents
Under the tyranny of the dreaded Nazi regime, Germany commanded fear and the average German was hated and seen as the devil-incarnate.
Hitler’s terribly insane SS, the “Schutzstaffel”, the massive paramilitary unit was responsible for for inhuman brutality inflicted upon the European Jewry, most of which perished at the concentration camps. Evil men such as Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heidrich, in conjunction with Adolf Eichmann commanded a bastion of horrific Nazi soldiers who left little to imagination in their treatment of innocent Jews from Hungary, Poland, Russia, Romania, Belgium, France, Austria and Germany.
But away from the gas chambers at the concentration camps of Dachau (outskirts of Munich), Treblinka( Kosow Lacki, Poland), Majdanik (Poland) and Auschwitz(also at Poland) where millions were exterminated, there stood a lofty and grand figure of immense regard and reverence determined to cater to Germany’s need to win ground battles of supremacy. He wasn’t barbaric but was fighting battles which were fought cleanly and with honesty and a sense of purpose, unlike the savagery exulted by Hitler’s mindless Nazi regime.
In fact, such lofty was Rommel’s impact over his adversaries, most commonly Bernard Montgomery, the popular British Field Marshall that his picture was kept framed inside the enemy tents where Montgomery looked up to the image of Rommel, at least once a day, to remind himself of the man’s character, grit and might, one which he swore to conquer under the harsh sun at the African deserts. Most opponents took to reading “Infantry Attacks”, Rommel’s marvelously penned account of military tactics used in World War I. The book first shook Hitler who was drawn to the mind of this military genius.
One glorious account that proves that even Winston Churchill couldn’t shy away from bestowing great honor on his nation’s dreaded enemy goes on to confirm the respect Rommel commanded from the enemy lines. “We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us and may I say, across the havoc of war, a darn good general”, said the supreme leader of Britain.
Afrikacorps’ humane treatment of its enemies
The Rommel led German expeditionary division in stark contrast to their oppressive Nazi leaders in Germany had known to be the most civilian, decent, sober and decent army regimes in the entire Africa.
Not a single Jew was attacked or harmed while not a single prisoner of war under Rommel’s famous 7th Panzer divison has ever been mistreated. In fact, legend has it that upon the end of a regular battle day, in the cool of the desert heat, Rommel was known to interact with his captured British oppressors, who were treated to beer and meat by the great German soldier. One Major General Michael Gambier Parry, captured in 1942 by Rommel speaks highly of the Field Marshall’s civilian ways of treating the captured.
In fact, not many know, the captured man from the 2nd armored division of the British Army came to be so close to Rommel who was regarded by the Brit utterly for his bravery that he presented the Field Marshall with a pair of glasses that became inseparable from Rommel’s every day war gear.
The defeat at El-Alamein followed by Rommel’s undoing
Rommel’s famous Afrikacorps were finally defeated at El-Alamein, 150 miles from Cairo, Egypt in 1943, the final year of the memorable and intensely fought Africa campaign. This victory would have given Germany control of the Suez Canal which would have been not just a major morale shaking victory over the Allies (US, Britain) but would have given the tactical advantage to the Axis powers enabling them to suppress armored supply to the Allies by way of capturing of the canal. But, it was never to be.
Back at Berlin, under the cunning and supremely determined but extremely dangerous move of one Colonel Von Stauffenberg, a major attack was being planned on Hitler. One of Hitler’s own contingent of Nazi leaders, who were anything but loyalists to the murderous regime of the Fuhrer had been lurking in the dark and planning an attack on Hitler in a bid to remove him permanently. The motive was to enable warn torn Germany strike peace with the Allied powers in order to put an end to the carnage. It is rumored that the famous July 20, 1944 bomb attack attempted on Hitler which very nearly did the evil in, had in its envelope of perpetrators, Field Marshal Rommel.
There is little evidence that suggests of Rommel’s involvement in the plot to eliminate Hitler, an operation known as Valkyrie( see the Tom Cruise starrer). Had Stauffenberg’s daring effort to blow Hitler to pieces been successful if that briefcase bomb silently placed under the table at the Wolf Lair’s (Hitler’s secret chamber away from Berlin, used for private briefings) meeting hall not been moved away from Hitler, the world’s history would have been differently scripted. It is said that those who were jealous of Rommel’s closeness to Germany’s supreme leader did him in. Rommel, who had been resting at Ulm, recovering from a closely planned attack on his chauffeured Mercedes Benz when he had returning from a briefing about the upcoming “Fortification of the Atlantic Wall” discussion was posed as being aware of the secret plot. Learning of Rommel’s involvement, Adolf Hitler didn’t take seconds before deciding the fate of Germany’s great hero.
I will choose death over humiliation
Rommel, who perhaps would have had no involvement in the plot was given an ultimatum. He was to choose between suicide by way of cyanide consumption or to go under trial which would have never acquitted him and was to have meant sending his family (wife Lucy and son, Mansfeld) toward concentration camps.
Source: jefflowdermilk.com (Rommel residence at Herrlingen)
The family man and ever respectable soldier preferred to take his own life. The ever honest and venerable Field Marshal was to die at the hands of history’s most berated figure for perhaps having done literally nothing. On October the 14th, 1944 as two men arrived at Rommel’s residence at Herrlingen( Baden-Württemberg) as sent by Hitler. Rommel, who was dressed in his valiant Africakorps uniform and armed with supreme poise shook hands with the men sent for his ‘curtains call’. He went up to the room in his house and told Manfred of what was to follow and asked him to care of his mother.
Rommel, left his residence and never even looked back once he climbed the Mercedes Benz. It is perhaps the most startling occurrence in the whole of German war history during WWII that a man of the stature of Rommel was to go this way and his funeral procession was being prepared in Berlin, as he consumed the cyanide pill at some thousand miles away from the capital. Among the largest wreath that came to sit on top of his coffin was that of Hitler’s, the man who would himself die an year later consuming the poisonous pill inside the peril of his bunker.
In the tyranny of war one that scavenges upon millions- unparalleled humiliation and utterly damaging losses, there aren’t many whose image and legend escapes the blithe associated with wide bloodshed. Germany in second Word War committed such heinous crimes that one would rather stake a permanent image of Germany next to the adjective of the word crime itself. It is a shattering and upsetting reminder of its past that to this day hurts and pinches the German conscience.
But away from the bloodshed, the conspiracies and the mindless suffering extended to harmless Jews and to its enemies, some of whom the Nazi regime regarded as useless being either old, incapable of doing slave labor, or homosexuals and gypsies as found in state records, the name of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Deutschland’s supreme war hero, at least since Bismarck, stands on grounds of morality and away from the horrors of wrong-doing. Rommel, who lived, fought, rose to glories and died a hero, had no blood on his hands.
Rommel won the Pour le Merite for his bravery during the First World War and it is no irony that he also earned the venerable Iron Cross of Swords and Diamonds, the grandest military decoration of Germany for his tactical and daring exploits on warfront.
That silent grave located at Herrlingen where Rommel breathed his last goes on to confirm that not all was wrong about Germany and perhaps there were some who did the right things in all fairness and earnestness in serving the Fatherland.
Soldiers like Rommel will always be synonymous with the good associated with Germany and a Germany that fought with a dedication to serve its people. Even in his death, he went on to serve Germany that to this day perhaps hasn’t been forgiven for its wartime misdeeds. A soldier never quits until he is dead, they say, and Field Marshall Rommel certainly didn’t till his last breath, fighting for a lost cause for a Germany he loved so abundantly and in whose service he didn’t think once before putting down his own life at the hands of a figure who was defunct and as morally corrupt as his flawed ideology.