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Who was general rommel?

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attle of France, commander of the 7th Panzer Division

Rommel certainly showed a great deal of initiative and dash in the Battle of France. He epitomized Blitzkrieg tactics, using the speed of his advance to confuse and dismay his opponents, giving them no respite to organize their defences. He also liked to lead from the front and had a knack for being at the right place and right time to fend off a counterattack or intervene directly in a crucial attack.

While Rommel's lead from front command style earned him public plaudits and a privileged position as one of Hitler's favorite generals, his superiors were not so pleased. Rommel's command style put him out of communication with higher headquarters and they were often puzzled about what he was up to.

Whatever tactical genius he displayed, the truth is Rommel played a small part in the Battle of France; he did not conceive of the overall plan (Erich von Manstein did) and did not orchestrate it and while the 7th Panzer Division won some surprising and celebrated victories, the main effort was elsewhere.

North African campaign, commander of the Afrika Korps

After his standout performance as a division commander, Rommel was appointed commander of the Afrika Korps, the next command rung up from division commander, thanks in some part for his close relationship with Hitler. Rommel was tasked with reversing the disastrous defeats inflicted by the British 8th Army on the Italian Army in Libya.

The fighting in North Africa was a see-saw campaign, each side staging spectacular advances and equally humiliating retreats. Rommel continued his lead from the front style and preferred to position himself where he regarded the critical point was.

However, the limits to Rommel's skills were starting to become apparent. When he was a division commander, he had a lot less ground to cover. In North Africa, he was in charge of more than three German divisions and more than six Italian divisions. He was not able to cover the the vast distances over which his command was spread and was often out of touch with his headquarters and so unable to control the overall battle.

For all its dramatic changes of fortune, the fighting in North Africa was dictated by supply. Any force - German or British - that didn't have fuel and water had to retreat. There were great distances to cover and only one supply line, the coastal highway over which all supplies passed.

Rommel did not show the same flair for logistics as he did for tactics. Rommel preferred to seize the moment and while he often won tactical victories, they often left his forces in positions where they could not be supplied and subsequently had to be withdrawn. He had little patience for the build up of supplies that could carry his forces to larger goals.

The fighting in North Africa showed up another weakness in Rommel's skills: fighting in coalition. While Germany had supplied the panzers that were the cutting edge of the Afrika Korps, the Italian Army supplied most of the infantry (a crucial commodity) and two good armored divisions as well. Rommel's relations with Italian commanders was often strained and deteriorated over time. Unlike the Allies, Rommel never learned how to effectively command and fight in harness with an ally.

The overall strategy of the North Africa campaign was not Rommel's to dictate. It involved an ally, Italy, different military branches, the Luftwaffe, the Regia Aeronautica, the Kriegsmarine and the Regia Marina, different command structures and headquarters. All this meant that strategic direction was lacking, coordination was lacking and supplies were lacking. Not all of this was Rommel's fault, but he certainly showed a preference for tactical victories rather than pursuing an overall strategic plan.

France, commander of Army Group B

Hitler preferred not to see his favorite commander defeated in North Africa, so he promoted Rommel out of the Afrika Korps before it was crushed by Allied armies. Rommel was put in charge of Army Group B, first to defend Italy and then he and he and Army Group B were moved to France.

Once in France, Rommel set about thickening up the coastal defenses in Normandy, then largely neglected, and formulated a strategy of defense at the water's edge as the response to the Allied invasion.

Rommel's focus on Normandy was not due to superior strategic insight, he subscribed to the general German appreciation that the Allies would land at several points in France - possibly Normandy - but the main Allied effort would be at Pas-de-Calais

Rommel's strategy of repulsing the Allied invasion on the beaches was not really part of an overall German strategy; it was not truly shared by the overall commander in the West, Gerd von Rundstedt, and Rommel's Army Group B contained only a portion of German forces in Western Europe.

Defending the beaches would work only if the overall German response was swift and coordinated, but as usual the German command structure was overly convoluted and unlikely to respond swiftly and in a coordinated fashion.

As commander of Army Group B, Rommel made three major mistakes:

  • Rommel's staking everything on the defense of the beaches did not work; there weren't troops to defend everywhere and it put the German defenders in range of Allied naval gunfire and air power. Movement under Allied air and naval power was was costly and difficult.
  • Rommel did not recognize the superb defensive potential of the Norman bocage and did not build up a line of defenses in it. The bocage was out of range of Allied warships and offered the best chance of containing the Allied invasion.
  • Rommel was not at his post on D-Day. He was not alone in this, other commanders were on leave or otherwise absent, but he was not available at the critical moment to carry out his strategy.
Rommel did get back to Normandy and personally supervised the fighting around Caen, the key target of the invasion, and is due some credit for discomfiting Allied plans. However, Army Group B was drawn into a grinding attritional defense of Caen that they ultimately could not win. By that time, Rommel was out of action, having been wounded in an aerial strafing attack.

Rommel gets further historical credit for his involvement in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler but in truth his involvement was peripheral. He was aware of the plot but opposed the assassination of Hitler and played no part in organizing it. Knowledge of the plot was enough to condemn Rommel (and other leading German generals) by Hitler's lights, though he was spared a court martial and was given the chance to commit suicide.
You can shed more lights on his brilliant miltary career
 

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