Field marshal Johannes Erwin Eugen Rommel or Eugen Rommel served in the German armed forces almost 100 years ago.
He is remembered even today as an immortal legend, who perfected the art of bold, rapid, daring, mobile warfare as well as deceit and deception in the deserts.
These military operations established his reputation as one of the best tank commanders and earned him the nickname der Wüstenfuchs, “the Desert Fox”. He was even admired by the British adversaries for his concept of “war without hate.”
It did not take long for him to become a larger-than-life legendary figure in both Allied and Nazi HQs. Rommel was highly praised in post-war German, United Kingdom, and the United States for conducting ‘clean war’.
Born in a middle-class German family in Heidenheim, Germany, on November 15, 1891, Erwin Rommel joined the German infantry in 1910 as a lieutenant in the 124th Württemberg Infantry Regiment and saw action in France, Romania, and Italy. Even though there was no military tradition in his family and both his father and grandfather had been school teachers –Rommel started demonstrating unusual courage, and leadership qualities for a bright and promising career ahead.
Rommel was awarded Pour le Mérite – a highly coveted order of merit for his gallantry deeds on the Italian Front in World War I.
In 1937 he published his classic book Infanterie greift an (“Infantry Attacks”) on military tactics. The book documenting his battle experiences and firsthand knowledge is even today a must-read in training academies all over the world. In 1938, Colonel Rommel was appointed commandant of the officers’ school in Wiener Neustadt, near Vienna. During the initial stages of World War II, Rommel was appointed commander of the troops guarding the Führer’s headquarters and came to know Hitler personally. A few years later he added another feather in his cap and won appreciation while commanding the 7th Panzer Division during the invasion of France (1940) in World War II
A typical infantry officer who had never commanded an armored division, Rommel’s big challenge was to prove his capabilities as a commander when he assumed command of the 7th Panzer Division in February 1940. But his bold and daring raid on France’s Channel in May 1940 proved beyond doubt that he was second to none when it came to leading infantry, armored and mechanized troops in any offensive battle.
Less than a year later, Rommel was assigned to lead the German troops in the deserts of North Africa where he turned several sure defeats into victories against vastly superior enemy forces. His swift, bold, and daring surprise attacks in this theatre of war earned him the title “Desert Fox,” who could come and go anywhere. Rommel became a popular figure in the Arab world for liberating them from the British.
Rommel’s tenure as the Commander of the German troops (the Afrika Korps) in North Africa proved to be the best time in his life. Adolf Hitler wanted him lay siege on the port city of Tobruk. Rommel’s Afrika Korps managed to capture the city in June 1942 in what came to be called the Battle of Gazala. Hitler was so happy that he promoted Rommel to the rank of Field marshal. The German propaganda ministry went out of the way to portray him as an invincible “people’s marshal” (Volksmarschall)
But this is when differences of opinion between the two started and were exploited by people who did not like them to be friends. Hitler wanted Rommel to guard against Allied invasion in northern France but Rommel had other ideas that were ignored. As a result, Rommel started losing confidence in Hitler and Germany’s ability to win the war.
This is when some people approached Rommel to agree to head the German government if and when they managed to overthrow Hitler. Rommel agreed – although he did not explicitly wish to be involved in the assassination.
Rommel’s luck ran out and he was implicated in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. But since he was a national hero, Hitler gave him the option to silently eliminate himself or face the firing squad like others.
On October 14, 1944, Gen. Erwin Rommel was given the option to face a public trial for trying to assassinate Adolf Hitler or taking cyanide. He chooses the latter. After his death, Rommel was given a state funeral, and his death was attributed to war wounds.