Erwin Rommel, the desert fox

Erwin Rommel, the desert fox

Erwin Rommel was a German general, famous for his victories in the desert during World War II. Enlisted in the army in 1910, he was quickly spotted by his instructors for his personal qualities and his aptitude for command. Rewarded many times for his bravery during the First World War, he got closer to Hitler and the Nazis from 1933. In 1942, he was given command of the Afrikakorps. A legend will be born, that of the myth of the "Desert Fox".

Erwin Rommel, German soldier

Unlike so many big names in theHeer(German Army) He is neither of aristocratic nor Prussian origin. Born in 1891 in Swabia, he will always keep the accent of his region. He comes from a relatively cultivated middle class background as his father is a high school math teacher. A dreamy child attracted to the great outdoors, he developed a passion for skiing and aviation very early on. At 18 he joined a Württemberg infantry regiment, pushed by his father, who until then had despaired of finding a suitable career for him.

Rommel quickly proved to be an excellent soldier. He compensates for his relative physical weakness (he is indeed small and of fragile constitution) with a strong will, coupled with a rare energy. Zealous and courageous, Second Lieutenant Rommel can hope to reach the rank of Major one day. Nobody could foresee the formidable rise which will lead him to the marshalate.

It was with undisguised enthusiasm that Rommel participated in the Great War. From the first weeks of the conflict, he was distinguished by a spirit of initiative and unusual daring. After making a name for himself in France, at the end of 1915 he joined the Württemberg Royal Mountain Battalion. This elite unit will soon shine in the Carpathians against the Romanian troops. In the fall of 1917 this battalion was assigned like other German units to theAlpenkorps, German expeditionary force sent to reinforce Austrian troops against the Italians. It’s there in the area ofCaporetto, that Rommel the future savior of Italian Libya will begin to write his legend.

Already consumed by ambition, the Swabian officer is ready to do anything to win the most prestigious decorations. He succeeded, after many reckless helping hands, on December 18, 1917 when he was awarded the medal ‘For Merit’, The most famous German decoration. A well-deserved decoration, since a month earlier he captured 8,000 Italian soldiers while losing only 14 men. When the guns fell silent in November 1918, Rommel was a captain, a captain certainly covered in glory but utterly appalled by the collapse of his country.

Like many German officers, Rommel was unwilling or unable to understand the reasons for the German defeat. He fully supports the idea of ​​"stab in the back And therefore hardly carries the Weimar Republic in its heart. Taking refuge in the convenient myth of an apolitical army, he expects no less the day when a savior will come to restore the greatness of the country.

In 1933, Major Rommel had been chomping at the bit for a few years. A military instructor at an infantry school in Saxony, he tries to instill in his students the values ​​and tactics he was able to develop during the Great War. However, his career stagnated ... the coming to power of the Nazis will then give him a tremendous boost.

The meeting with Hitler

Dynamic leader of a battalion of hunters (alpine infantry) in October 1933, Rommel metHitler on September 30, 1934, during a military ceremony. The "love at first sight" is mutual and immediate. The young officer is already fully committed to the national socialist program and he is captivated by the charisma of the dictator. As for the latter, just likeGoebbels also present on this occasion, he perceives in this proud and young officer covered with medals the incarnation of the new germanic hero that the Third Reich wants to promote.

6 months later, Rommel is a lieutenant colonel and soon to be a senior instructor at the Potsdam War School. Extremely popular, enjoying the support of the regime, Colonel Rommel stood out as a brilliant, charismatic and innovative officer. His tactics manual "Infantry attack » (Greift year infantry) is a real bestseller (500,000 copies) and one of the Führer's favorite works.

Rommel's ascent continues unabated thereafter. Colonel in July 37, liaison officer with the head of the Hitler Youth, he was chosen to command Hitler's personal guard battalion during the Sudetenland crisis (September 1938) ... which is to say whether the confidence the dictator has in him . Devoured by ambition, the Swabian officer takes advantage of his proximity to the Führer to advance his own cause. On August 23, 1939, he was appointed head of the personal headquarters of the Nazi leader with the rank of Major-General. Together, the two men will experience the Polish campaign, without Rommel expressing any reservations about the political program behind it.

Rommel and the French countryside

The young general was able to observe during the fighting the effectiveness of the new armored divisions (Panzer-Divisionen). Convinced that they are the future of the army, he does not hesitate to ask his leader to take command of one of them. On February 6, 1940, it was done. Rommel, the photogenic light infantry specialist, takes the lead of the 7th Armored Division. He intends to command his tanks and his infantry during the great war, as assault troops.

After intensive training, the 7th Armored Division entered Belgium on May 10, 1940. From the first day of the campaign, Rommel, often accompanied by photographers, imposed a command style of rare dynamism. Always at the front posts of the front, whether on specialized tanks or descending from hisFieseler Storch (a small reconnaissance plane that he flies himself), he is leading his campaign at an infernal pace. On May 13, after hard fighting against French troops, he managed to cross the Meuse near Dinant. Without air support and on more difficult terrain, it does better thanGuderian the great German specialist in armored vehicles ...

On May 21, Rommel was in Arras and somehow stopped a counter attack by British tanks. Devoured by ambition, the general has exposed his troops to often extreme combat conditions and the state of his division suffers. It was then by far the Panzer-Division which suffered the most losses during the campaign. Rommel, himself often at the forefront of the fight, has come close to being killed several times ... but no matter how bold he pays, time and time again.

During the continuation of the campaign of June 1940, his division will advance so quickly, will appear so often on the rear of the opposing troops, that it will be given the name of "Phantom division ". At the signing of the Franco-German armistice, it will have taken approximately 100,000 prisoners (sic.) And put out of action more than 400 armored vehicles. In the pantheon ofWehrmacht (German armed forces), Rommel already stands out, admirably served by Goebbels' propaganda.

The desert fox

In February 1941, Rommel was a 49-year-old general emblematic of a new type of officer put forward by the National Socialist regime. Noted for his tactical sense, he was promoted lieutenant general the following year and assumed command of the Afrikakorps in North Africa. A great tactician of military art in the desert, which earned him the nickname of "desert fox", recognized and admired by international military experts, he led his army to El Alamein in June 1942, but was repulsed by Montgomery and must surrender Egypt, Cyrenaica and Tripolitania to British forces. The battle of El-Alamein was a turning point: forced to retreat to Tunis, Rommel joined Germany in March 1943 before the final surrender of the Afrikakorps.

Promoted to Field Marshal in 1942, Rommel was posted to Northern Italy and then to the Atlantic Wall Inspection. Appointed in January 1944 to head Army Group B in France, he became convinced of the inevitable defeat of the German army. In this context, he participated in the preparation of the conspiracy against Hitler, himself having to assume the interim leadership of the state after the fall of the Führer. Wounded in the battle following the Normandy landings in June 1944, he was not directly involved in the attack of July 20, 1944, but he was accused of complicity by the Gestapo. On October 14, 1944, on Hitler’s orders, he poisoned himself rather than being sentenced to death, and was given a state funeral. His notebooks were published under the title War Without Hate (1953).


  • - Benoît Rondeau, Rommel, a biography. Perrin, 2018.

Video: The Desert Fox 1951 - Rommel stands up to Hitler