Written by Lt Col A T M Hasan Ahmed (Retd)
1. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was one of German's most popular generals during World War II, and gained his enemies' respect with his victories as commander of the Afrika Korps. There is a famous saying of FM Rommel “Sweat saves blood, blood saves lives, but brains saves both.” This is not only a quote, actually this depicts Rommel himself- a hardworking General with high intelligence, so high intelligence which was difficult to match by his counterpart. British General Harold Alexander, Commander, Allied forces in the Middle East told about FM Rommel, ”He was a tactician of the greatest ability, with a firm grasp of every detail of the employment of armour in action, and very quick to seize the fleeting opportunity and the critical turning point of a mobile battle". At certain point of time of World War II Rommel became so legendary that was echoed by British General Claude Auchinleck, "There exists a real danger that our friend Rommel is becoming a kind of magical or bogey-man to our troops, who are talking far too much about him"... ...
Although Rommel would later become known for his bold battlefield tactics, his sister described him as a gentle and docile child. Developing an interest in mathematics and engineering, he co-built a full-size glider at age 14 and later disassembled and reassembled a motorcycle. Without good enough grades to attend university, he purportedly considered working at an airship factory near his hometown in southern Germany. But his father, the headmaster of a school, urged him to consider the military instead. After being rejected by the artillery and engineers, 18-year-old Rommel received acceptance to the infantry in 1910 as an officer cadet. He would remain in the military for the rest of his life—a far cry from his father and other male relatives, who left upon completing their mandatory service.
2. Erwin Rommel was born in Heidenheim, Germany, on November 15, 1891. As said earlier the son of a teacher, Rommel joined the German infantry in 1910 and fought as a lieutenant in World War I, in France, Romania and Italy. He rejected advancement through the regular channels, choosing to remain in the infantry after the war ended. In February 1940, Rommel was named commander of the 7th Panzer division. The following year, he was appointed commander of German troops (the Afrika Korps) in North Africa. Italian losses to the British in North Africa led Adolf Hitler to send Rommel to Libya, where he laid siege to the port city of Tobruk from April to December 1941. Repulsed by the British, he returned with the Afrika Korps in June 1942 and finally took the city; this attack became known as the Battle of Gazala. Not long after, Rommel was promoted to field marshal by Hitler. Famed for leading his army from the front rather than the rear, as most Generals did, for a time, Rommel enjoyed an unbroken string of successes, and earned the nickname the "Desert Fox" for his surprise attacks. He also became known among his countrymen as the "the People's Marshal," gained popularity in the Arab world as a liberator from British rule, and was regarded as both one of Hitler's most successful Generals and one of Germany's most popular military leader.
3. Field Marshal Rommel's success would be short-lived, however. Only five months after the Battle of Gazala, in the fall of 1942, British forces recaptured Tobruk at the (Second) Battle of El Alamein, which took place near the Egyptian city of El Alamein. With North Africa lost, in 1943, Rommel was recalled to Europe to oversee the defense of the Atlantic coast. In early 1944, Rommel was entrusted with the French Channel coast's defense against a possible Allied invasion. Around this same time, Rommel began to express doubt about both Germany's reasons for participating in the war and Hitler's capability of peace-making, and the Field Marshal was told by a group of friends that he should lead the nation once Hitler was overthrown. Rommel dismissed the suggestion, unaware at the time that the men had been planning to assassinate the German leader. After the Allied invasion in June 1944 and the resulting push across France, Rommel knew that Germany would lose the war and discussed the matter with other officers. An assassination attempt against Hitler that occurred on July 20, 1944—Rommel's contact with the conspirators was revealed, thus implicating him in the plot to overthrow Hitler. Rommel was then offered the option of taking his own life to avoid a public trial and protect his family.
4. On the October 14, 1944, German officers took Erwin Rommel from his home to a remote location. There he took his own life by biting into a cyanide capsule. He was 52 years old. Rommel was given a full military burial. The incident was later described by his son Manfred Rommel: At about twelve o'clock a dark-green car with a Berlin number stopped in front of our garden gate. The only men in the house apart from my father, were Captain Aldinger [Rommel's aide] , a badly wounded war-veteran corporal and myself. Two Generals — Burgdorf, a powerful extravagant man, and Maisel, small and slender — alighted from the car and entered the house. They were respectful and courteous and asked my father's permission to speak to him alone. Aldinger and I left the room. "So they are not going to arrest him," I thought with relief, as I went upstairs to find myself a book. A few minutes later I heard my father come upstairs and go into my mother's room. Anxious to know what was occurring, I got up and followed him. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face pale.
"Come outside with me," he said in a tight voice. We went into my room. "I have just had to tell your mother," he began slowly, "that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour." He was calm as he continued: "To die by the hand of one's own people is hard. But the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason. 'In view of my services in Africa'," he quoted sarcastically, "I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It's fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you. They will also leave my staff alone." "Do you believe it?" I interrupted. " Yes," he replied. "I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement." I tried again. "Can't we defend ourselves…" He cut me off short. "There's no point," he said. "It's better for one to die than for all of us to be killed in a shooting affray. Anyway, we've practically no ammunition."
5. During his long colourful career Rommel sustained several injuries during World War I and World War II. Taking part in dangerous raids and reconnaissance missions throughout World War I, his men used to joked, “Where Rommel is, there is the front.” But all of this fighting, including one 52-hour period in which his unit captured some 9,000 Italian prisoners, came with a price. In September 1914, for example, Rommel charged three French soldiers with a bayonet after running out of ammunition, only to be shot in the thigh so badly that a hole opened up as big as his fist. Three years later in Romania, he lost quite a bit of blood from a bullet to the arm, and he also continuously suffered from stomach ailments, fevers and exhaustion. More physical hardships came during World War II, from appendicitis to a face wound caused by a shell splinter. Then, in the wake of the D-Day invasion, Allied aircraft strafed his open-topped car as it rode through Normandy, France, causing it to somersault off the road. When the dust cleared, Rommel was unconscious, with multiple skull fractures and glass fragments in his face. In order to cover up the subsequent forced suicide of the popular general, Nazi officials told the public he had died as a result of those injuries. The truth didn’t come out until the conclusion of the conflict.
6. During his career under Hitler, Rommel disobeyed some of Hitler's direct orders. After leading a tank division in the 1940 blitzkrieg of France, Rommel was transferred to North Africa in order to help the struggling Italians fight the British. Almost immediately he reversed the tide, pushing the British back hundreds of miles in a series of audacious assaults, for which he received his “Desert Fox” nickname, along with a promotion to field marshal. Finally, in October 1942, the numerically superior British halted his advance near El Alamein, Egypt. Running low on tanks, ammunition and fuel, Rommel prepared to retreat. But Hitler sent a letter telling him not to yield “even a yard of ground.” “As to your troops,” the führer added, “you can show them no other road than that to victory or death.” Despite his reverence for Hitler, Rommel disobeyed for fear his force would be completely annihilated. He also disregarded an order directing German generals to execute Allied commandos caught behind enemy lines.
7. Rommel and Allied leaders had mutual respect on each other, they didn’t hesitate to compliment each other. During the height of Rommel’s success in North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill praised before the House of Commons, “we have a very daring and skillful opponent against us,” Churchill declared, “and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.” George Patton, Bernard Montgomery and other top Allied Generals also expressed their respect for him, and Rommel responded in kind, saying of Patton that “we saw the most astonishing achievement in mobile warfare,” and that “Montgomery never made a serious strategic mistake.”
8. Rommel is praised by numerous authors as a great leader of men. The historian and journalist Basil Liddell Hart concluded that he was a strong leader who was worshipped by his troops and respected by his adversaries, and is deserving to be named as one of the "Great Captains of History. Owen Connelly concurred, writing that "No better exemplar of military leadership can be found than Erwin Rommel". Taking his opponents by surprise and creating uncertainty in their minds were key elements in Rommel's approach to offensive warfare: he took advantage of sand storms and the dark of night to conceal the movement of his forces. Rommel was aggressive, often directed battle from the front or piloted a reconnaissance aircraft over the lines to get a view of the situation. When the British mounted a commando raid deep behind German lines in an effort to kill Rommel and his staff on the eve of their Crusader offensive, Rommel was indignant that the British expected to find his headquarters 250 miles behind his front. Rommel was direct, unbending, tough in his manners, to superiors and subordinates alike, disobedient even to Hitler whenever he saw fit, although he was gentle and diplomatic to the lower ranks (German and Italian alike) and POWs. Despite being publicity-friendly, he was also shy, introverted, clumsy and overly formal even to his closest aides, judging people only on their merits, although loyal and considerate to those who had proved reliability, and displayed a surprisingly passionate and devoted side to a very small few (including Hitler) with whom he had dropped down the seemingly impenetrable barriers (many of these traits seemed to manifest even at a very young age).