Erwin Rommel, (1891-1944), German general, known as the "Desert Fox for his
brilliant military exploits in World War II
battles in North Africa.
Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born in Heidenheim, Wurttemberg,
on Nov. 15, 1891. He joined the 124th Infantry Regiment as an officer cadet
in 1910, and two years later was commissioned a 2d lieutenant. During World
War I he served in France and on the Romanian and Italian fronts. After the
war he held regimental commands and was instructor at the Dresden Infantry
School (1929-1933) and the Potsdam War Academy (1935-1938). His
textbook on tactics, Infanterie greift an, was published in 1937.
In 1938, Colonel Rommel was appointed commandant of the
War Academy at Wiener Neustadt. Shortly thereafter he was placed in command
of the battalion responsible for Adolf Hitler's safety during the march into
the Sudetenland and the entry into Prague. Promoted major general on the eve
of World War II, he was again responsible for Hitler's safety during the invasion
In 1940 he commanded the 7th Panzer Division in the advance
into France. In 1941, with the rank of lieutenant general, he was given command
of the German troops in Libya. On June 21, 1942, he was made a field marshal,
the youngest in the German Army, in recognition of his success in forcing
the British back from Cyrenaica into Egypt as far as El Alamein. However,
he was unable to advance to capture Alexandria. In the months that followed,
during which he commanded all Italo-German troops in North Africa, he was
driven back into Cyrenaica and across Tripolitania into Tunisia, where he
encountered fresh Allied forces. After the battle at Medenine on March
5, 1943, he returned to Germany because of ill health.
In July he was given command of Army Group B in northern
Italy, and in November he was ordered to report on the coastal defense in
the west, from the Skagerrak to the Spanish frontier. He was made commander
in chief of all German armies from the Netherlands to the Loire River in January
1944. Despite his great efforts, the Germans were unable to prevent the Allies
from landing in Normandy in the following June. On July 17, while Rommel was
motoring near Livarot, he was severely wounded by fire from Allied aircraft,
and he returned to his home in Germany to convalesce.
Never a member of the Nazi party, he had become increasingly
outspoken in his criticism of Hitler's leadership. On Oct. 14, 1944, he was
visited by two German generals investigating the cases of officers suspected
of complicity in the July 20 plot against Hitler's life. He was given, on
orders from Hitler, the choice between taking poison and having his death
reported as resulting from his wounds, or facing trial by the People's Court.
He elected the former course, ending his life in the generals' automobile
near Ulm, Germany, on Oct. 14, 1944.
Hitler ordered national mourning, and Rommel was buried
with full military honors. A man of the greatest personal bravery, he earned
the deep respect of his adversaries for his brilliant achievements.
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