During World War II Field Marshal Erwin Rommel became known as the “Desert Fox”, a name earned for his brilliant leadership of Germany’s Afrika Korps in North Africa. Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born on 15 November 1891 in Heidenheim in Germany, the son of a schoolmaster. He was one of five children. When he was 19, he enlisted in the 124th Wurttemberg Infantry Regiment as a cadet, and two years later (1912) was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. He took part in World War I in France and on the Romanian and Italian fronts, and in January 1915 won the Iron Cross Second Class for bravery in the field. At this stage of his career he showed promise of great leadership skills.
Following the war Rommel held regimental commands, and served as instructor at the Dresden Infantry School until 1933, and the Potsdam War Academy up to 1938). His textbook on tactics, “Infanterie greift an” (Infantry Attacks), was published in 1937. In 1938 he was appointed commandant of the War Academy at Wiener Neustadt an officers’ school near Vienna, Austria.
As a major general just before the beginning of World War II, he was commanding troops protecting Adolf Hitler’s headquarters. In February 1940 he was put in charge of the 7th Panzer Division (armored unit) in the advance into France. A year later he was promoted to lieutenant general, and when Benito Mussolini asked for help in North Africa Adolf Hitler sent Rommel to command the new Deutsches Afrika Korps and successfully drove the British 8th Army out of Libya, North Africa. He was an outstanding tactician who purposely turned down the chance to become a member of the German general staff in order to remain a front-line officer. On 21 June 1942 he was promoted to field marshal, the youngest in the German Army.
World War II
Rommel’s record of a substantial number of consecutive successes was broken when he was defeated in October 1942 by much larger forces under the command of General Bernard Montgomery at the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt. Because of ill health he was ordered home in 1943. In July of ’43 he was given command of Army Group B in northern Italy and in January 1944 he became the commander-in-chief of all German armies from the Netherlands down to the Loire River.
He was entirely responsible for the Northern French coastline. The beaches at Normandy were littered with his anti-tank traps which were invisible at full-tide. As it was, the planning at D-Day meant that Rommel’s defences were of little concern to the enormous Allied attack. At the time of D-Day, Erwin Rommel commanded the important Army Group B. On 17 July 1944 he was severely wounded by Aircraft fire near Livarot, and returned to Germany to recuperate.
He participated in the plot to oust Hitler from leadership as he became convinced that Germany would lose the war. The plot failed, and Hitler learned of Rommel’s involvement. Because of his military reputation Rommel was allowed to commit suicide. The alternative was a trial for high treason in the People’s Court, and the accompanying publicity. He took poison in the generals’ automobile near Ulm in Germany on 14 October 1944. Hitler ordered national mourning, and Rommel was buried with full military honours.